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  • A bigger kickoff?

    The Chick-fil-A Kickoff in Atlanta plans to expand from a season-opening game into a long weekend of college football that will rival the NFL’s celebration on the first weekend of play.

    The first two years of the kickoff have produced solid matchups with highly ranked teams, but future events could incorporate a game on the Thursday night before Labor Day weekend, a Saturday night game and possibly College Football Hall of Fame inductions on the Friday between. The Thursday game at the Georgia Dome could start as early as 2012, while the hall opens in 2013.

    “Now we’re really talking about blowing it out,” said Gary Stokan, the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Kickoff chief who also is directing the College Football Hall of Fame’s move from South Bend, Ind., to Atlanta.

    North Carolina will help launch the college
    football season in Atlanta against LSU.

    An expanded weekend of season-opening football would help the Chick-fil-A Kickoff stay a step ahead of some eager competitors who, like the Atlanta organizers, are working with ESPN to create marquee matchups.

    In Dallas, Cowboys Stadium will be the site for TCU-Oregon State. That game pays a little more than $1 million to each of the schools, with ESPN working with the Cowboys to arrange the matchup and stage the game.

    Similarly, FedEx Field will be the site for Virginia Tech-Boise State on ESPN on Sept. 6. The Hokies will earn $2.35 million, while the Broncos’ take will be $1.25 million.

    The Pac-10 also has begun talks with the Big Ten about a season-opening game in Pasadena’s Rose Bowl, but it won’t happen until 2012 at the earliest, Pac-10 Commissioner Larry Scott said.

    “There’s a lot that’s appealing about the game,” Scott said. “It builds on the narrative of the season, which has a beginning, a middle and an end. There’s so much focus on the end of the season, but the idea of a high-profile game at the beginning of the season makes sense because there’s so much buildup and anticipation in August.”

    Added Stokan: “It’s an idea that’s caught on and other people are copying it.”

    The kickoff concept was a hot idea in the 1980s and ’90s when the Pigskin Classic, Kickoff Classic and Eddie Robinson Classic dominated football’s opening weekend. Those games died off, but the addition of the 12th game to the schedule in 2002 opened the door for new kickoff ideas.

    The Atlanta game started the trend in 2008, and its games pitting the SEC against the ACC have drawn crowds in excess of 70,000 the last two years. The Alabama-Virginia Tech matchup in 2009 generated a 4.2 rating on ABC in prime time.

    North Carolina and LSU play this Saturday and payouts are expected to be in the range of $2.1 million to $2.3 million for each school, as they have been for the first two editions of the game.

    “It’s like an additional home game and, in some cases, it’s financially better than a home game,” Stokan said. “Our payouts are better than 22 of the bowl games, and the teams keep all of that money. There’s no conference split, like you do with the bowl money. Financially, it’s very beneficial.”

    The Alabama-Virginia Tech game last year
    generated a 4.2 prime-time rating for ABC.
    Chick-fil-A Kickoff games
    Georgia Dome, Atlanta
    2009
    Alabama 34, Virginia Tech 24
    Attendance: 74,954
    Rating: 4.2 on ABC
    2008
    Alabama 34, Clemson 10
    Attendance: 70,097
    Rating: 3.6 on ABC

    At the center of these games is ESPN, which works with the schools and the venues to arrange the kind of matchups that will be appealing for TV.

    Dave Brown, ESPN’s vice president of programming and acquisitions, said he hopes to get to a point where games start Thursday, run through Labor Day, take two days off, and start over again the following Thursday.

    ESPN has Dick’s Sporting Goods as the overall sponsor for opening weekend.

    “The biggest thing is to have compelling matchups,” Brown said. “And programs get plenty of promotion by playing in these games.”

    The Chick-fil-A Kickoff game’s organizers are now looking beyond the region for its future matchups. Discussions have been held with Southern Cal about next year’s game, Stokan said, although there would likely be an SEC or ACC team involved in the other half of the matchup.

    “We have to get the right matchup for us to go beyond the ACC and SEC,” Brown said. “These are backyard games. We always get great buy-ins from the fans, who typically can drive to the stadium. But if USC and Notre Dame show an interest in playing, we would listen.”

    Chick-fil-A spends in the mid-six figures annually to sponsor the kickoff game, which is a separate deal from its bowl title sponsorship, but Steve Robinson, chief marketing officer for Chick-fil-A, has let it be known that he’s on board for expansion of the opening weekend.

    “We’re game for both games,” Robinson said. “I think we’re close to getting things set for 2012. We’d love to be the sponsor of games on Thursday and Saturday nights. It’s good for the Chick-fil-A brand.

    “We’re not focused on anything else when it comes to major media and we can’t afford to dabble in a lot of other stuff. Once the College Football Hall of Fame gets here, we’re talking about inductions on that Friday, maybe a dinner on Friday night, the games. That’s a pretty great way to celebrate college football.”

    Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

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  • Adidas ups MLS bet with $200M deal

    The biggest sponsorship agreement in MLS history just got bigger.

    Despite having four years left on a 10-year, $150 million agreement with MLS, Adidas opened the contract and agreed to new terms that will see it remain the official athletic sponsor and licensed product supplier to MLS through 2018. An announcement is expected today.

    Sources valued the deal at more than $200 million, making it one of the sporting apparel company’s largest investments in the sport worldwide. The deal, which is worth $25 million annually, represents a 66 percent increase per year from Adidas’ 10-year, $150 million agreement signed in 2004.

    In addition to maintaining its position as the official supplier to all MLS clubs and youth academies, Adidas will continue to provide the league’s official ball and remain the only athletic brand with advertising rights for all MLS games. It also plans to increase its marketing support of MLS teams and broadcast partners, and make a mutual commitment with the league to player development.

    “Our new agreement with Major League Soccer will shape the future of the sport in America and create new opportunities for the next generation of American soccer stars,” said Patrik Nilsson, president of Adidas North America. “We’ve enjoyed a successful partnership with MLS during the last five years and are eager to build on that success.”

    MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, “Beyond the financial benefits, this is an important new agreement because the extension is a major statement by an international company that MLS is increasing in value. Our commitments to stadium development, strategic expansion, player development and improvement in overall quality of play are paying dividends for us.”

    The deal will keep Adidas as MLS’s official licensed
    product supplier through 2018.

    The original Adidas deal signed in 2004 was a landmark agreement for MLS. It came just three years after the league contracted by two teams and served as a vote of confidence at a time when many questioned if the fledgling U.S. soccer league would survive.

    Since then, MLS has added seven new franchises, expanded into Canada ’s three biggest cities, built seven soccer-specific stadiums, added television-rights agreements with ESPN and Univision, and increased annual attendance by 24 percent to more than 3.6 million spectators across North America.

    Because designing and producing uniforms requires two years of planning, Adidas and MLS officials planned to begin renewal talks as early as next year. Sources familiar with negotiations said discussions began earlier largely because Adidas recognized that MLS had expanded and the U.S. consumer’s interest in soccer, as illustrated by 2010 World Cup viewership, continued to flourish.

    Two weeks ago, Adidas CEO Herbert Hainer flew to Boston from Germany and joined Nilsson and David Baxter, Adidas America ’s head of sport performance, for a meeting with Garber and Kathy Carter, Soccer United Marketing’s executive vice president. What was supposed to be a two-hour meeting became a six-hour renegotiation session that resulted in the new deal.

    The results from the first six years of the Adidas-MLS partnership supported the company’s decision to extend it. Since 2005, MLS merchandise sales reportedly have increased more than 600 percent annually, to $300 million.

    Those sales increases have been aided by the league’s push to sign more designated players, who are often international stars such as English midfielder David Beckham or French striker Thierry Henry. Beckham remains the biggest designated player signed to date, and Adidas sold 300,000 of his jerseys when he joined the league in 2007.

    While outfitting elite players in Adidas jerseys was important, the prospect of outfitting youth players was equally important to the new deal. MLS clubs have begun developing youth academies for soccer players ranging in age from 9 to 18 years old and currently work with more than 20,000 youth soccer players nationwide. Most wear MLS replica jerseys made by Adidas.

    The structure of the new deal guarantees that Adidas will have a direct pipeline to some of the most talented young soccer players in the U.S. and Canada as teams such as FC Dallas expand their youth ranks from 2,500 to 5,000 players in the coming years.

    “The part of our strategy that resonated most with Adidas is our commitment to youth and player development,” Garber said. “It’s their commitment to that with us that we’re most excited about.”

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  • CBS is ready to renew deal with U.S. Open

    CBS Sports expects to renew by the end of the year its deal to broadcast the U.S. Open Tennis Championships, and the contract could include relief for the broadcaster in the event some of its coverage is delayed or canceled by rain, sources said.

    The talks come as CBS for the first time this year plans to stream its coverage of the tournament, including the men’s and women’s finals. This year’s U.S. Open begins today.

    CBS expects the new deal under discussion to have roughly the same $21 million annual rights fee of the current contract, which is due to expire after the 2011 tournament, sources said.

    The bigger development is the new agreement likely accounting for rainouts, which has hurt the Open over the last few years The last two men’s finals were pushed back from Sunday afternoon to Monday afternoon, leading to sharply lower ratings. CBS lost the 2009 women’s final altogether, with the scheduled Saturday night final getting moved to Sunday evening and being televised by ESPN2, instead.

    “They know any time you have two men’s finals in a row that are played on a Monday afternoon and you lose a women’s final and can’t air it on CBS, that is not a good situation,” said Sean McManus, president of CBS News and CBS Sports.

    Rain has played havoc at the Open lately,
    pushing the 2009 final between Kim
    Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki from
    Saturday to Sunday and onto ESPN2.

    McManus declined to comment on specifics of the negotiations other than to add, “we are having some, I would say, informal talks and would like to figure out a way to keep the Open on CBS.”

    The U.S. Tennis Association, which owns and operates the Open, appeared ready several years ago to construct a roof over the main stadium of the National Tennis Center. The group retreated from that stance, though, and McManus said there now is little chance of a venue covering.

    The USTA declined to comment.

    CBS and the USTA in 2007 announced a new broadcast deal for the tournament, running through 2011. The deal replaced an existing contract that was set to run through 2008 and paid the Open about $30 million annually.

    It’s uncertain what form rain relief could take in a new contract.

    CBS has broadcast the Open since 1968, but rain until recently had not been a major problem, so the TV contracts did not account for the problems such as those encountered in 2008 and 2009.

    Meanwhile, CBS will stream all of its matches live on CBSSports.com this year, as well on USOpen.org, after resisting the move for several years.

    The network, McManus said, is now convinced that streaming will not cannibalize its TV coverage.

    The Open initiated its first large-scale streaming last year. There were 157 matches shown on the Internet, for free, last year, with 14 million activated streams on USOpen.org and the average length of view just under three hours, said Phil Green, USTA senior director of advanced media.

    ESPN2 will also stream this year, as it did last year, using its ESPN3 outlet, but Tennis Channel is not streaming. Tennis Channel doesn’t have the rights in its affiliate contracts with cable and satellite operators to stream its programming online, sources said.

    “The USTA does a great job streaming on their site, and we elected not to do that this year,” said Eric Abner, a Tennis Channel spokesman. USOpen.org will stream the Tennis Channel matches.

    The streams are available for the five courts with TV coverage. This year, more than 200 matches are set to be streamed.

    Westin Hotels & Resorts, Stonyfield, IBM and Mercedes-Benz are sponsoring the streaming on USOpen.org.

    Also this year, the Open is dipping its toe into the much-hyped 3-D waters.

    Off-site, viewers who have a 3-D-equipped TV and who get DirecTV, which has an Open package, will be able to watch the enhanced coverage. The 3-D on DirecTV offering will be for only the CBS feed. On-site, Panasonic is sponsoring three to four viewing stations where fans can watch the coverage with 3-D glasses.

    Panasonic has signed a new three-year sponsorship to be the official TV and 3-D provider for the Open, and the 3-D offerings will carry the slogan “powered by Panasonic.”

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  • Chitwood aims to put Daytona trip on sports fans’ bucket list

    Joie Chitwood III is now a member of an elite club. Only Chitwood and John Cooper have run the two most iconic speedways in the country, Daytona and Indianapolis. Chitwood left Indianapolis Motor Speedway to go to work for International Speedway Corp. a year ago, and on Aug. 13 was named president of ISC’s crown jewel, Daytona International Speedway. Brought up in a family of stunt drivers, Chitwood knows racing and knows how to put on a show. He recently talked about the move with SportsBusiness Journal staff writer Michael Smith.

    Who would want to hinge his career to a job selling tickets right now?
    Chitwood:
    Some goofball who used to be a stuntman. I’ve never turned down a challenge. … The great opportunity is that this is the birthplace of NASCAR, this is where they were running on the beach, so we’ve got something going for us that maybe some don’t. We’ve got to tell fans how special this property is. It’s not just about the hours they’re in the grandstands, this is where it all started. A trip here needs to be on your bucket list if you’re a sports fan. I get to tell that story to anyone who will listen. Is it going to be easy? Absolutely not. We’re living in a world that has changed so much in the last three years, but people still need the opportunity to enjoy themselves and enjoy the competition and pageantry of racing.

    Chitwood

    Did you pursue this job?
    Chitwood:
    This was not the original plan when I came to ISC. I was really excited to understand the workings of a public company, how it managed capital and the racing experience across all of these venues. I’m a racer, I’ve been in motorsports all my life. When given this opportunity, how do you turn it down? I’m from Florida, my family has been purchasing tickets to the 500 for over 26 years and we still have them. To be coming here as a teenager and now to be president, it’s very exciting.

    You have said: “We are going to do it right.” How far away from “right” is it?
    Chitwood:
    We’ve got a great team here. I’m not coming in and saying that we haven’t done things right. I have expectations of setting the bar high. We should lead the industry and people should look to us for how we do things. We will set the example for others to chin up to. I don’t know exactly what that means for the guest experience or value pricing, but we are going to be the leader in this industry.

    Joie Chitwood III
    Age: 41
    First job:
    Stuntman for family at age 5
    College education:
    B.S., finance, Florida (1992); MBA, South Florida (1995)
    Resides: Lake Mary, Fla.Grew up: Joliet, Ill.
    Favorite vacation spot: Anywhere with warm weather, like the Caribbean
    Last book read: “A Civil War: Army vs. Navy,” by John Feinstein
    Last movie seen: “Shrek Forever After”
    Brand most admired: Nike
    Executive most admired: Roger Penske. He’s the consummate professional and his brand is phenomenal. You can learn so much from him.

    Any other personnel changes expected at DIS?
    Chitwood:
    I don’t have a plan per se to make significant changes. We’ll look at the resources, how we’re doing, what we can do better, and then figure out the plan moving forward. But we are living in challenging times. ISC corporate is restructuring, and there are going to be challenges moving forward that we’ve got to handle.

    While the Daytona 500 appears to be healthy, the Sprint Cup race around July 4 has really taken a hit. What are the plans there?
    Chitwood:
    Each event has its own personality. They used to run that race at 10 a.m., and by 3 everybody was at the beach having a good time. I think Dale Earnhardt Jr. putting the Wrangler No. 3 in victory lane [in the Nationwide Series event] shows that this is still a stage where special things can happen. We have to make sure its identity is different than the 500, make sure it’s unique. I like running under the lights. There’s also more of a local flavor with the 400, where the 500 pulls fans from across the country. We’ve got to appeal to the local fans. … [As for schedule changes] other than the Daytona 500 starting the season, everything is under review. Shame on me if I said, “No, everything’s fine, we’re not changing anything.” We’ll look at things very critically and if we decide we need to change dates, then we’ll do what we need to do. We’re going to do whatever makes the most sense for the customers.

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  • Diverse cast vies for NASCAR ride on BET show

    The show is billed as an opportunity to change the face of NASCAR. Ten blacks, Hispanics and women, all living in one house, competing for a job as a driver in a sport that has been dominated for 60 years by white males.

    That competition will play out this fall in “Changing Lanes,” a documentary series produced by the NASCAR Media Group that will air on BET beginning Wednesday. BET has purchased 10 episodes of the one-hour show.

    It’s a cross between MTV’s “Real World” and NBC’s “The Apprentice.” “Changing Lanes” examines the challenges of making it as a driver, with one of them being eliminated each week until there’s a lone survivor.

    The docu-series headlines the most active fall programming lineup NASCAR Media Group has ever produced. The media group’s shows and movies will appear on CMT, Speed, Discovery, Showtime, Versus, ESPN and BET this fall, giving NASCAR’s media arm more units of programming on more unique networks than it’s ever had.

    NASCAR Media Group has been producing “Inside NASCAR” for Showtime all season and it produces more than a dozen shows for Speed throughout the year, but new programming will launch this fall on BET, Discovery’s HD Theater, Versus and CMT.

    Top: Revolution Racing’s Max Siegel
    (center) with “Changing Lanes” drivers.
    Below: Driver Mackena Bell surveys
    her competition.

    “It’s a culmination of us having a strategy in place to focus on different networks with different types of programming,” said Jay Abraham, COO at NASCAR Media Group. “This fall, you’ll see programs that talk to different audiences.”

    A unique audience for NASCAR will come from BET, a Viacom network in more than 90 million homes. Abraham said it was the perfect outlet for a show that highlights NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.

    “We’ve been trying to figure out a way to talk about diversity in a meaningful way for about three years,” Abraham said.

    Internal conversations at NASCAR Media Group about Drive for Diversity programming led to discussions with Max Siegel, CEO of Revolution Racing, the NASCAR-supported team that’s trying to launch driving careers for diversity candidates. NASCAR helps fund the drivers until they reach the Camping World Truck, Nationwide or Sprint Cup levels, but stops there because of the potential for conflict of interest.

    Siegel, a former Sony executive who formerly ran Dale Earnhardt Inc., used his connections from the music and media world to take the idea of “Changing Lanes” to Scott Mills, president and chief operating officer of BET. Turned out that Mills was a huge NASCAR fan and he paved the way for the show on his network.

    “I leveraged every personal relationship I’ve had for the last 20 years,” Siegel said with a laugh, when asked how he convinced BET to take a NASCAR-themed show. “I went to see them four times, Scott is a huge motorsports enthusiast and BET is going through a rebranding initiative to grow its viewership. It’s an unusual but interesting collaboration.”

    Paul Brooks, the media group’s president and a NASCAR senior vice president, said: “This is part of our guarantee that the sport is open and welcome to all. BET reaches an audience that’s very important for us and gives the sport a chance to grow.”

    Abraham said that NASCAR Media Group two years ago committed itself to creating new programming that would appeal to a broader range of networks than its most loyal client, Speed, which hits the core fans.

    This fall, Versus will carry “Next Generation,” a new series of five episodes that chronicles the sport’s up-and-comers. “The Edge: Grand-Am Road Racing” airs on Discovery HD Theater to give viewers a closer look at the 2010 season with a high-quality, behind-the-scenes delivery that caters to HD and a more upscale viewer.

    “Petty Blue” is a documentary movie that tells the story of Richard Petty’s family in racing. DVD sales begin in September and the movie will air on CMT in October, reaching more of the core fans. Another NASCAR Media Group-produced documentary on the life of former driver Tim Richmond, who died in 1989, is slated to air in October on ESPN’s “30 for 30.”

    The ideas for most of these shows originated from the media group and were taken to the networks. The story ideas, like the one for “Changing Lanes,” typically stem from NASCAR initiatives and what it perceives to be undercovered series or drivers with good stories to tell.

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  • Is football the next Farmville?

    CBSSports.com has struck a deal with fantasy games developer Fantasy Moguls to create a Facebook-based fantasy football game called Franchise Football.

    The new game aims to merge traditional fantasy football with popular Facebook-based casual and social games, such as Mafia Wars and Farmville. In Franchise Football, users will be able to create and build fantasy rosters but do so outside the typical week-to-week setting of fantasy football. Instead, users will play simulated games with their rosters based on historical statistical data and earn virtual cash and “reputation points,” permitting the acquisition of better players and further elevation within the competition.

    The co-branded and co-marketed game will use public-domain NFL player names and statistics but not NFL team names.

    The deal expands CBSSports.com’s fantasy profile beyond its existing base of commissioner-style games and a much more limited presence in casual fantasy gaming. Fantasy Moguls, meanwhile, gains a major promotional and distribution partner.

    CBSSports.com is creating
    Franchise Football with
    developer Fantasy Moguls.

    CBS plans to promote the game online at CBSSports.com as well as via other CBS Interactive properties and with broadcast mentions during the network’s NFL and college football coverage.

    For both parties, the deal creates a 12-month window for fantasy football, given that the game is not tied to real-time NFL game results.

    “The fact that this is an evergreen product is one of my favorite things about this,” said Jason Kint, CBSSports.com senior vice president and general manager. “You can jump in and play at any point in the year, and this gives us an opportunity to talk to the fantasy football player year-round.”

    Company officials on both sides declined to discuss financial details but did say the two sides will participate in a revenue-sharing agreement based on sales of both corporate sponsorships and virtual goods, a new element for CBSSports.com. Corporate sales will be led by CBSSports.com.

    The virtual goods in this game are the players. Users can begin the game for free, but they can purchase better players for their teams along the way, giving the game a certain free agency component.

    Seattle-based Fantasy Moguls is a subsidiary of Atomic Moguls, which is led by former NBA Entertainment executive Brenda Spoonemore.

    The two companies previously worked on distribution and promotion of a World Cup-themed version of Fantasy Moguls’ Galacticos Football soccer game.

    “This allows us to jump-start this football product in a way we wouldn’t be able to do on our own,” Spoonemore said. “Nobody’s really cracked the code yet on a dual-revenue stream game [on Facebook], and I think we have a big opportunity to do that here.”

    Both sides said CBSSports.com is nearing the completion of a deal with an undisclosed company to become the presenting sponsor of Franchise Football. That deal may arrive in time for the Sept. 9 start of the NFL season.

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  • Magic signs Geico for founding partner spot at arena

    The Orlando Magic has signed Geico as the fourth founding partner for Amway Center, its new $480 million arena opening in October.

    The insurance firm signed a five-year deal valued in seven figures annually. In turn, Geico receives naming rights to a seven-level parking garage being built next to the arena and a skywalk connecting the two buildings, said Magic President Alex Martins.

    The city of Orlando owns the garage and shares in the revenue, Martins said. He would not disclose the split.

    A rendering shows the parking garage to be
    named for Magic sponsor Geico.

    Geico is also title sponsor of the 15-minute halftime countdown clock, a creative tie-in with the firm’s advertising hook, “15 minutes could save you 15 percent” on insurance. During that break, Geico’s logos will appear on all concourse and club level signs and in the arena restaurant, he said.

    As one of six Champions of the Community partners, the term the Magic uses to describe its founding partners, Geico will also receive brand exposure on two outdoor signs, the arena marquee and a digital billboard on the building’s east wall facing Interstate 4.

    Geico has been a team sponsor for 12 years and will continue to receive exclusive brand exposure in the automotive, boat, RV and motorcycle insurance categories after the team moves into Amway Center, he said.

    Geico joins PepsiCo, AirTran Airways and Harris Corp. as top-level sponsors. The team expects to announce two more in the coming weeks, Martins said.

    It’s not the first case of naming rights for arena parking garages in the NBA. The Houston Rockets and Memphis Grizzlies have deals with Toyota for their garages.

    The Magic’s first regular-season game at its new facility is Oct. 28 against the Washington Wizards. The club’s first preseason game is Oct. 10. As of last week, the first ticketed event at Amway Center was set for Oct. 7, an Eagles concert. Another concert could be booked earlier, Magic officials said.

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  • Marketers question value left in AVP brand

    Through its 22 years, the AVP Tour bounced across the American sports scene.

    The country’s top beach volleyball circuit became an Olympic favorite on television and a TV staple among niche sports, but it also had to withstand bankruptcies, player revolts and numerous ownership changes. Now, in pulling the plug on the current season with five stops left on the tour, RJSM Partners, majority owners since April 2009, may have finally killed the AVP as a brand.

    “Brand equity in the AVP name has been tarnished,” said Julie Solwold, vice president of global sports marketing at John Paul Mitchell Systems, the AVP’s longest-standing sponsor. “As far as sponsors, it definitely has been damaged. As just a tag for the players, it could endure, because it still means best of the best. But I don’t think sponsors will buy anything owned or managed by the AVP.”

    “We would need to see a real professional organization to go back to something called AVP,” said Jon Miller, NBC Sports executive vice president of programming. NBC televised the AVP for years before the league jumped to ESPN/ABC this year. “I can’t see any brand associating themselves with something when there is so much uncertainty.”

    Nivea signed a five-year, $20 million title sponsorship
    with the AVP in April. Owners shut down the pro
    beach volleyball tour earlier in August.

    Nick Lewin of RJSM said that as controlling partner of the AVP, RJSM invested more than $5 million in the volleyball tour over the past two years and was looking at a $6 million loss this year before the season was suspended on Aug. 13.  Lewin said he was negotiating a sale up to the last minute. “I am a little surprised a deal didn’t get done,” he said. “It’s tough to project profitability when you are losing six million.”

    As for the longevity of the name that has meant the best in beach volleyball for more than a quarter of a century?

    “All the value is in that AVP brand,” Lewin said. “Right now, I have no idea what that value is, but I’m working on that.”

    While there have been veiled references to a bankruptcy, no filing had taken place as of press time last week. Lewin said he will decide whether to sell, relaunch, hibernate or walk away from the AVP within 30 to 60 days.

    Until then, the beach volleyball world is somewhere between limbo and chaos, as various groups scramble to reformulate the sport at its top level.

    “There’s a lot of activity, because the sport has a passionate fan base. It just needs the right business model — one that includes all levels of volleyball, and appropriate distribution,” said Ben Sturner, whose Leverage Agency sold $6 million of sponsorships for this season, including deals for KFC, Malibu Rum, Progressive Insurance and a five-year, $20 million title deal for Nivea, but who has yet to see a commission from the AVP. Other agencies still owed money by the AVP include Omnicom’s The Marketing Arm for activation expenses.

    What’s peculiar about the AVP’s latest difficulties is that they come while beach volleyball in America is arguably stronger than it has ever been, particularly at the grassroots level.

    “The sport of beach volleyball has never been healthier in the U.S., but the business of the AVP has never been more difficult,” said Dave Williams, who left his position of vice president of operations at the AVP in late 2009 to become the first managing director of beach programs for USA Volleyball, the sport’s national governing body. Williams cites increased participation numbers, especially in the junior ranks, along with the NCAA’s adoption of what it calls “sand volleyball” as an emerging sport, starting now for Division II schools and in 2011 for Division I.

    Meanwhile, qualifying tournaments for the Olympics, where the U.S. swept the gold medals in Beijing, will be held in the United States for the first time in conjunction with the 2012 Games.

    Local tournament promoters, agencies and
    some players are looking to salvage the
    beach volleyball season or resurrect
    a league.

    “On sand and indoors, things have never been better for volleyball,” said sport hall of famer Karch Kiraly, whose Wide Open beach volleyball tour is expected to benefit from the AVP’s demise. “So it is strange.”

    In its early years, the AVP had lifestyle sports almost to itself. Now, with the proliferation of action sports, it doesn’t have that same unique standing.

    “They were an icon. Now, they are struggling to find a place within lifestyle sports,” said former AVP President Bill Berger, whose Brand X Marketing produces surfing and volleyball events for Corona. “Now it’s going to be hard to monetize something called the AVP.”

    While many in the constituency of AVP player agents, media, and sponsors questioned his business practices, Lewin blamed the economy and a model that relied on sponsorship for 80 percent of revenue.

    “I’m not sure it was fixable in the time we had,” Lewin said. “I don’t look at any one thing and say ‘If we hadn’t [messed] that up, we would be OK now.’ At the end, we just couldn’t turn it fast enough.”

    Many also questioned the sports’ viability as a TV property outside of the Olympics, noting that time-buy arrangements created overhead that were impossible to underwrite for a sport with no meaningful ticket revenue.

    “For 15 years, the sport of beach volleyball has been wrongly positioned in the same pond as basketball and football and golf. It has been TV first, and there’s really been no huge commercial activity swirling around it as a result,” said Steve Lindecke, a former AVP board member, whose Elevation Group stages the Corona Light-titled Wide Open Tour, USA Volleyball’s Junior Tour and the upcoming U.S. Open of Beach Volleyball.

    Wasserman Media Group’s Dan Levy, who represents player Misty May-Treanor, added, “There’s a lot of debt and a big question: How important is TV to this property? Maybe it should just be about an event that is beach-cool, so it is sponsors looking for grassroots not media buyers looking for ratings points.”

    Former AVP Commissioner and CEO Leonard Armato, now CMO at Skechers, said achieving national scale was important in growing the tour from six to 18 stops, and revenue to $24 million.

    “Much is made about the fact that the AVP was never profitable,” he said, “but profitability is only one factor in determining the value of a business. Many sports properties aren’t profitable but highly valuable.”

    Armato noted that shareholders derailed a plan to sell the AVP to the Shamrock Group for $40 million in 2007.

    Without a decision on the AVP’s disposition, “It’s impossible to crystal-ball anything in the sport now,” Kiraly said.

    Nonetheless, local tournament promoters, agencies as large as IMG and even some players are looking to patch together the season, or resurrect an elite pro league by whatever name. Some who contended they were close to a deal called during the writing of this story and asked that it be killed.

    A regional tour, with more USA Volleyball involvement and anchored by Olympic qualifying events, is considered an attractive alternative to some observers.

    “There is a business, but it has to be recalibrated with more modest expectations,” said former AVP general manager Gabby Roe, now president of Omnicom’s action sports company, ASA Entertainment, which stages more than 100 events a year. “The AVP took a credibility hit in the business community, but pro beach ball leading into the [2012] Olympic Games with qualifiers here for the first time has credibility.”

    Added Ryan Morgan, agent for some of the AVP’s top athletes, including Olympians Kerri Walsh, Phil Dalhausser and Todd Rogers, “An NGB could play a really nice supporting role, like USA Basketball does with the NBA, but whatever form this takes, it has to be a restart as opposed to the past, where we were trying to prop up a model that was leaking. Any time you cease operations, you’ve done damage, but as long as you can assure them that the next step isn’t going to be like the last step, you can make it work — though I’m not saying that will be easy.”

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  • NASCAR retools its communications

    NASCAR is set to announce major changes in its business structure this week that will establish an upgraded communications department with new leadership.

    The significant shift in approach is the result of a four-month study led by consultancy Taylor, much discussed within NASCAR circles, which showed a void in the sanctioning body’s marketing communications effort.

    CEO Brian France, who commissioned the study in March and worked closely with CMO Steve Phelps and Taylor managing partner Brett Jewkes on the restructuring, called the changes transformational.

    “It’s going to change the way we do business,” France said.

    Global firm Korn/Ferry International has been retained to search for a chief communications officer that would be part of NASCAR’s senior leadership and report to Phelps. Overall, the sanctioning body could add as many as 20 new positions to a media relations staff that already employs about 25 people.

    Brian France sought a model that
    was better suited to the evolving
    media landscape.

    The restructuring is centered on the creation of an integrated marketing communications department, which will oversee all the media relations and communications functions for NASCAR’s racing series.

    Members of the communications team will be embedded in other departments, such as consumer, brand and corporate marketing, in an effort to broaden and help NASCAR’s communications efforts evolve both inside the sanctioning body and with the sport’s teams, tracks and sponsors.

    Ramsey Poston, NASCAR’s managing director of corporate communications, will leave the organization at year’s end and will not pursue a role in the new integrated marketing communications structure, NASCAR said.

    Jim Hunter, a longtime NASCAR executive and the vice president of corporate communications, will move into a new role as vice president of special projects.

    No other personnel changes were announced.

    The new chief communications officer will run the division and a No. 2 position, either a vice president or managing director, will assume the role of chief of staff.

    “Things are changing so fast on the media landscape, especially in digital media,” France said. “Our [media relations] model was designed to be more of a service bureau rather than something that could attack all of these things that are evolving. Now we’ve got the right road map to address an ever-changing area and we’re putting a significant amount of resources against it.”

    The move comes at a time when the sport has been the subject of a number of national news stories focusing on declines in attendance, sponsorship and TV ratings. Privately, team executives have wished in recent years that NASCAR would take a more proactive stance in its messaging around some of these areas.

    Under the new structure, the communications department will be separated into seven divisions: competition, stakeholder relations, digital and social media, brand/consumer marketing, corporate marketing/licensing, NASCAR Media Group/entertainment, and public affairs/crisis communication. Multiple hires will be made in each of those divisions.

    NASCAR placed particular emphasis on stakeholder relations, digital and social media and brand/consumer marketing.

    The chief communications officer most likely will come from outside of motorsports and could come from outside the sports industry, Phelps said, and will be someone with broad consumer marketing communications experience on global brands.

    “This is not going to be an SID from somewhere,” Phelps said. “This will be a leader in the communications business in strategic thinking, creativity, someone who’s a proven and trusted brand thinker.”

    NASCAR hopes that its new structure, through its stakeholder relations division, will work more closely with teams, tracks, sponsors and media to present a more unified approach to communications across the industry.

    “Communications are how we deliver our sport to the fans and serve our media partners, so these moves are right on target,” said Marshall Carlson, president of Hendrick Motorsports. “I’m really impressed with Brian’s vision in this area and a commitment to make significant investments when it’s difficult to make investments.”

    Phelps said the new integrated marketing communications structure is similar to those employed at ESPN and Yahoo!. Sports leagues have also looked deeper into changes in their communications groups and sought nontraditional representatives as they place more emphasis on their messaging. The NFL recently hired Paul Hicks from Ogilvy PR, and Ari Fleischer, with a background in politics, was retained by the BCS.

    Meanwhile, MLB public relations executive Rich Levin is leaving the league after 25 years, and the NCAA is searching for a vice president of communications.

    The Taylor study, which was executed with three other agencies — Catalyst, Motiv8 Digital and MitchellCanyon Communications — surveyed close to 300 people from media, teams, tracks, the sanctioning body, sponsors and marketing agencies from March through June. The results showed that NASCAR’s public relations efforts at the track and around the competition operate at a high level.

    But the study also delved into how NASCAR reacted when challenged by a difficult economy and sagging TV ratings. It asked about NASCAR’s messaging and its ability to present unique stories to various media groups. NASCAR did not specify what specific media outlets it hoped to reach more effectively with the new structure, but Phelps mentioned business and entertainment as genres that can be better served.

    “We’re going to be building a different approach with a different leader,” France said. “This will also be a big part of pulling the industry together in a much more cohesive way.

    “Our sport by its nature is a fragmented group of owners, drivers, agents. While there’s a certain benefit to having such a group of entrepreneurial thinkers, the truth is we can do better. We can pull all of these people together.”

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  • NFL, partners push Back to Football

    The NFL’s Back to Football marketing campaign is a $50 million effort to brand the start of the season, league owners were told last week, with its initiatives reaching into schools, offices, sponsor companies, broadcasters and retailers.

    Mark Waller, the NFL’s chief marketing officer, told the owners that the league intends for Back to Football to supersede the cultural autumn touchstone of back to school.

    “Kickoff should be the crescendo, when the nation celebrates our return in the same way they celebrate the Super Bowl,” Waller told the owners at their league meeting in Atlanta, in a rare if not unprecedented occasion when the league allowed reporters into their meeting room.

    NBC, which will broadcast the Sept. 9 opener, and its sister channels are theming much of their programming next week around the concept. MSNBC, CNBC and The Weather Channel are scheduled to broadcast from New Orleans, site of the game.

    Twenty-one of the league’s sponsors and broadcast partners are committed to internal Back to Football initiatives next week. Papa John’s employees will wear NFL jerseys on Sept. 9, while PepsiCo on Sept. 7 plans to webcast a pep rally at company headquarters in Purchase, N.Y., with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, New York Jets owner Woody Johnson and New York Giants co-owner John Mara scheduled to attend. New NFL sponsor Verizon Wireless is spending $2 million to buy jerseys for its employees to be worn at offices nationwide as part of their involvement.

    The NFL plans to choose a winner among its participating partners for the best effort and will give the company a 30-second thank you spot in a future NFL broadcast.

    Three national retailers, Kohl’s, Old Navy and Dick’s Sporting Goods, are supporting the campaign with TV ads and in-store NFL gear. The Old Navy campaign is running during preseason game broadcasts, as are NFL-based spots. The NFL received its ad space as part of the league’s TV deals. It is paying for additional print ads that will complement the TV advertising.

    In total, the $50 million figure represents the value of the campaign, not what the NFL is spending. That spending figure was not available.

    Also as part of the campaign, more than 5,000 schools have signed up for a program called Back to Football Friday. The idea there is that on Sept. 10 — the day after the opening game and before the first weekend of games — schools and offices across the country will have NFL pep rallies and can win prizes for their efforts. There are 1,800 school events planned, in 49 out of the 50 states and in all 32 NFL markets, Waller said.

    Responding to a question from Giants co-owner Steve Tisch, Waller said the office signup for the program, run through United Way, had been disappointing to date but the number of schools exceeded plans.

    Back to Football targets the 10-week period from late July, when training camp begins, to kickoff weekend. Many of the 32 clubs have incorporated the slogan into their local marketing plans. The NFL also is reaching out to the NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox affiliates in the 32 teams’ markets, along with Los Angeles, by sending jerseys to the news and sports anchors with the request to wear them on Back to Football Friday.

    As for NBC nationally, its marketing around the Sept. 9 New Orleans-Minnesota game will be extensive, said Mike McCarley, NBC Universal Sports & Olympics vice president of marketing, promotions and communications. It will feature weeklong integration in shows including “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon” and “ America ’s Got Talent,” along with NFL-themed episodes of “Minute to Win It.”

    “We want to try and give the NFL as much of a bump at the beginning of the season as we did at the end of the season,” he said.

    Staff writer John Ourand contributed to this report.

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  • No Headline

  • Paciolan, StubHub launch ticket partnership

    Paciolan and StubHub have agreed to a partnership in which StubHub’s secondary ticketing functionality is offered with Paciolan’s primary ticketing systems for college football and basketball.

    Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, but the multiyear pact is based heavily on revenue sharing of secondary ticket commissions earned through the partnership, officials said.

    The deal starts with a slow rollout this football season at Florida State and Purdue, two of Paciolan’s 98 college sports accounts. More schools are expected to go online for basketball season, said Paciolan CEO Dave Butler.

    Paciolan clients are not required to use the new program and have the option to stick with their own resale operations, Butler said.

    Sixteen schools currently use Paciolan’s own Ticket Marketplace system, which allows season-ticket holders to resell tickets. FSU and Purdue are not among them, said Craig Ricks, Paciolan’s director of marketing.

    For athletic departments choosing the Paciolan-StubHub alliance, every ticket resold through the partnership will be delivered electronically through an immediate transfer of barcodes.

    The buyer prints the tickets on his computer, and the ticket seller is paid in a safe, secure environment, officials said.

    That confidence for buyers and sellers to make transactions is a point of distinction, company officials said. StubHub has its own patented guarantee for doing business on the secondary market, and Paciolan’s technology on the back end prevents mistakes such as sending e-tickets for the wrong game.

    The integration also allows StubHub to resell tickets until the day of the game compared with overnight delivery models where tickets are taken down 72 hours before the event, Ricks said.

    “This is a huge step for us,” said Danielle Maged, StubHub head of partnerships and business development. “It’s a great marriage of serving both the client and the consumer. Given that everything in this is electronic, it allows us to do so much more in that last 48 hours before an event.”

    The deal also further extends StubHub’s push into college sports. The eBay-owned outfit has aggressively targeted the college market on its own recently and now has 18 separate deals with schools, conferences and basketball tournaments.

    Butler said the partnership is good for participating schools, as well. It provides a new service to season-ticket holders, and the institutions can build a database of new prospects tied to the secondary market.

    He added that for existing season-ticket holders who are unable to attend every home game, the deal provides additional confidence for them to renew for the following season knowing that there is a convenient method to resell their tickets that is supported by the university.

    Paciolan is a subsidiary of Comcast-Spectacor.

    In the case of Purdue, the school is already a StubHub partner, but Purdue does not fulfill secondary ticket orders on its own, said Barb Kapp, associate athletic director for marketing, ticketing and technology.

     The new deal provides a more seamless process for Purdue’s season-ticket holders in addition to generating incremental revenue for the athletic department, Kapp said.

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  • PGA Tour adds women’s, youth apparel licensees

    The PGA Tour has added 10 new licensees, some of which will take the tour deeper into women’s apparel and accessories and youth clothing.

    Tour licensees have access to the PGA Tour marks, as well as those from the Champions and Nationwide tours, the Players Championship, the Tour Championship, the World Golf Championship events and 20 other tour events — known as the Tournament Collection — that turn their marks over to the tour to manage.

    The tour’s total portfolio includes more than 30 brands.

    With the addition of the 10 new licensees, the tour now has close to 70 domestic licensees and 30 internationally.

    “What we’re looking to do is extend our brand with licensees who can help us reach audiences in a new and different way,” said Tim Hawes, senior vice president of retail licensing and a 14-year veteran at the tour headquarters. “We try to bring in licensees that can take our brand into different channels of distribution.”

    Barth & McCallig is one of the new licensees and its focus will be on women’s accessories like silk scarves, golf umbrellas and shoe bags.

    Hawes said that the tour’s official partners often seek high-quality golf gifts for customers and clients and many of them are female, so the tour has been looking to go deeper into that category.

    In the youth category, Garb, a Colorado-based clothier, will create licensed product for kids.

    Other new domestic licensees include Callaway for apparel; EB Brands for fitness accessories; Excel Golf for its Zero Friction golf tees; Klutch for women’s apparel; Peter Millar for luxury apparel; and Sunice for outerwear.

    Internationally, ACI Brands will take more of the tour’s products into Canada, while Crazee Thingz is a toy company that sells into most British retailers.

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  • Smartphones next target for FanVision

    FanVision, the mobile technology venture owned by Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross, is actively developing versions of its service that will work on smartphones.

    Known until recently as Kangaroo TV, the firm thus far has operated at various football, golf, tennis and auto racing events using a dedicated wireless device that provides replays, alternate video angles, real-time statistics, radio broadcasts, fantasy football content and other information with a high degree of user control.

    This fall, the company is getting a major boost under Ross’ leadership; he acquired the business late last year. Each NFL club was offered 5,000 free units to distribute to fans in hopes of better exposing the product throughout the league. Twelve teams, including Arizona, Chicago, Denver, Seattle and the New York Jets, have accepted the offer. In addition, both the University of Miami and the University of Michigan have aligned with FanVision for football use starting this fall.

    The company, however, is well aware that some fans are and will always be loath to carry yet another portable device, so efforts are under way to migrate the technology to cellular phones.

    Because FanVision uses its own, dedicated band of wireless spectrum, it can avoid cellular and Wi-Fi networks that frequently clog under heavy use, such as what occurs in concentrated locations like a football stadium. What FanVision is attempting to do is create ways to have cell phones access that dedicated spectrum, such as through the installation of a special chip in smartphones.

    The Jets are among the 12 NFL
    teams offering FanVision units.

    Completion is still likely two to three years away and will require the cooperation of wireless carriers and device manufacturers. But what FanVision essentially is doing is planning for the division of its business model — just as it is starting to reach an entirely new level of prominence under Ross’ ownership.

    “The handheld unit is probably always going to be the ‘Cadillac solution,’ but on a core level, we want to be the ideal sports companion to the fan, and that means being accessible by [cell] phone as well,” said Robert Mimeault, FanVision president and CEO.

    Conceptually, FanVision is comparing its unit to a dedicated e-reader, such as Amazon’s Kindle. While there are plenty of other digital readers — both in terms of hardware (such as the iPad) and apps for mobile and laptop purposes — the Kindle is considered among the best in class for serious readers who specifically want to read digital books.

    Test efforts to create a wireless app version of FanVision using cellular and Wi-Fi networks have already occurred, but thus far, those offerings have had notable delays on the video content compared with the near-immediate replays available using the current units.

    The rollout of FanVision comes as the NFL is working hard to improve fans’ in-stadium experience, something under increasing threat from in-home amenities such as high-definition televisions and the continued advancement of the NFL Sunday Ticket out-of-market package. The current FanVision units, about the size and weight of a Nintendo DS, will also offer the NFL RedZone channel and live video of other select NFL games.

    Each NFL team that took Ross up on his offer was given a wide amount of latitude to distribute the 5,000 free units as it saw fit, as well as with the programming on the devices so as to implement its own content — whether that be dedicated cameras locked on a particular star player or team-produced postgame shows. Many of the participating clubs will also sell additional units to fans at $200 each.

    While team reaction to FanVision, even among the participating clubs, remains somewhat guarded, there is optimism.

    “Given that Stephen Ross is obviously part of the league and knew well what our needs were, and given that we have a lot of flexibility in how we program this, it made it really hard not to say yes to this,” said Thad Sheely, Jets executive vice president for stadium development and finance.

    Staff writer Daniel Kaplan contributed to this report.

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  • Super sales for NFL and Fox

    The NFL’s TV advertising market has moved so early this year that sources say Fox will be in the unprecedented position of heading into the regular season with just a handful of Super Bowl spots left to sell.

    Most of those remaining Super Bowl spots are in the fourth quarter, sources said. Fox is getting around $3 million for a stand-alone 30-second spot, though most of the spots are sold as larger packages.

    Typically, networks go into Super Bowl week with a few open spots to fill. But this year’s Super Bowl ad sales story is mirroring a regular season that has seen the ad market move faster than ever before, with all of the TV networks reporting sellout levels of around 95 percent.

    Fox would not comment on its Super Bowl sales, but the network said its regular-season business is more than 95 percent sold, which is 20 percent above last year’s pace, when networks were selling their NFL games in the middle of the worst recession in generations.

    “Sales levels heading into this season, led by a resurgent auto category, have exceeded our best expectations,” said Neil Mulcahy, Fox’s executive vice president for sports sales. “In addition to autos, we’ve seen year-to-year growth in almost every category we do business with.”

    The story is a stark contrast to last year, when the recession caused the NFL’s sales market to move later than ever and entire sectors, like autos and financials, cut their spending.

    NBC said its regular season is more than 95 percent sold, with several of its September games sold out. CBS says it’s more than 90 percent sold. ESPN said its “Monday Night Football” package has very few units available. Even NFL Network says its regular season is more than 90 percent sold, and its live-game schedule doesn’t start until November.

    “This is one of those rebound years you see after a recession that takes the sting out of last year,” said Seth Winter, NBC’s senior vice president for sports and Olympics sales and marketing.

    Winter added that NBC has signed about 15 multiyear deals for “Sunday Night Football.”

    ESPN said the ad sales have translated over to its digital business, where ESPN.com’s home page, plus its pages for the NFL and college football, have only a couple of positions left for the season. The NFL’s Keith Turner said NFL.com is seeing similar online activity.

    “The story to me is that the NFL is the No. 1 entertainment brand in the country,” said Ed Erhardt, ESPN’s president of customer marketing and sales. “Advertisers are going to go where there’s an audience and passion and live viewing, and NFL and college football have that.”

    By all accounts, the auto category has been the most active this year. CBS and NBC said telecom was a strong second, while Fox cited films. The consensus, though, is that increased spending from the auto sector is driving the market.

    “They basically took a year off,” said Jeremy Carey, media director for Optimum Sports, which handles Nissan and Infinity. “In order to sell cars, you have to advertise. We all know it works.”

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  • Talk of warming trend in relations gets cool reception

    Any hope that the NFL and the NFL Players Association might have a warmer era ahead — Sports Illustrated reported recently that Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith got along well during an Aug. 13 negotiating session — was privately scoffed at during last week’s owners meeting.

    Said one insider on whether the two leaders had warmed to each other: “Well, they were in the same room.”

    It’s been no secret within league circles that the NFL is not pleased with the outwardly public style of Smith, who assumed his position last year, so the SI report stoked hopes that a corner might have been turned. Green Bay Packers President and CEO Mark Murphy, who is a key figure on the owners’ labor negotiating team, when asked to describe the state of relations between the union and league, searched for his words for a few moments before answering, “It is cordial.”

    With the collective-bargaining agreement set to expire in March, the league did make somewhat of an overture toward the union by not trying to ram through an expansion of the season to 18 games from 16 without the NFLPA’s consent.

    Goodell said the CBA allows for 22
    games, but the league didn’t
    act unilaterally.

    “As you know, in the collective-bargaining agreement, we have the right to go to 22 games,” said Goodell in answering reporters’ questions on why the league did not vote at the meeting on expanding the season. “The ownership does not think that’s the right step to take.” When asked later if there was a timeline for approving the expanded season, Goodell responded, “We’d like to do it in the context of the collective-bargaining agreement. At some point, we’ll need to move forward.”

    The league plans to send the union a proposal on an 18-game season soon, though no formal talks on the subject have been set.

    Murphy is optimistic, describing the 18-game season as being if not the critical bargaining chip then one of the most important ones in getting a new labor deal done. Presumably, the extra revenue from the two added games, the league believes, would help ease the players’ concerns about changes to the labor deal owners wish to make.

    KROENKE WELCOMED: New St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, who was formally approved as owner at the meeting, spoke with the news media — briefly. He said that in the future he’ll be too busy to speak with reporters but that it’s nothing personal; he even once considered going to journalism school.

    Kroenke

    Instead, at the introductory news conference, it was a league official who was the one answering many of the questions directed at how Kroenke would handle his ownership of the NBA and NHL teams in Denver.

    To comply with the league’s policy of prohibiting ownership of other sports teams in NFL markets, Kroenke must cede all equity control of the Denver Nuggets and Colorado Avalanche by 2014 and relinquish operating control by the end of this year. His son, Josh, will assume control.

    There does not, however, appear to be a deadline for him to buy the 31 percent of the team he is leaving in the hands of the outgoing control owners Chip Rosenbloom and Lucia Rodriguez. Because Kroenke already owned 40 percent of the team, that means he is acquiring 29 percent. At a valuation of the team of $750 million, he would be paying $217.5 million to take control.

    NEW’ VENUE, SAME NAME IN K.C.: Arrowhead Stadium has undergone $375 million in renovations, but Kansas City Chiefs owner Clark Hunt said the team refers to it as a new stadium, not a renovated one. But Hunt said the Chiefs have given up for the time being on finding a naming-rights partner. The Chiefs had hoped to have a company that would incorporate the name Arrowhead into a new venue moniker, but Hunt said until the economy is more favorable, that search is on hiatus.

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  • Ticket sales, sponsors drive another big year

    This year’s U.S. Open Tennis Championships are set to have another stellar year commercially, with total revenue likely again topping $200 million.

    The Open crossed the $200 million mark in revenue for the first time in 2008 and did so again in 2009.

    The tournament last year set a record with attendance of 721,059. That figure represents approximately 99 percent of the capacity the tournament can handle, so there is little chance of growth there, but the U.S. Tennis Association said it is on track to at least top 700,000 in attendance. In addition, the potential for revenue growth from ticket sales exists because of moderate increases in most ticket price categories from last year. The highest-priced tickets were unchanged in cost.

    Meanwhile, every sponsorship up for renewal in 2010 and 2011 has been renewed, said Harlan Stone, the USTA’s chief business and marketing officer. While the USTA declined to comment on specific renewals, that would mean Open sponsor stalwarts like Heineken and American Express, with deals coming due, have renewed.

    Gross sponsorship revenue is expected to top $60 million this year, a 9 percent increase, and Stone projected a roughly 10 percent increase for next year.

    In addition, hospitality will set a record this year with 157 companies buying a package, and the 90 suites at the National Tennis Center are sold out as well, Stone said.

    — Daniel Kaplan

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  • UFC gets ex-NBA exec to lead Far East push

    UFC has hired former NBA executive Mark Fischer to lead the efforts to expand its brand in the Far East.

    Fischer worked 12 years for the NBA and was most recently senior vice president and managing director of NBA Asia, responsible for developing league businesses and operations in the Asia-Pacific region. He’s been a consultant since leaving the NBA in March 2009.

    Fischer has lived in Asia for 20 years and is fluent in Mandarin Chinese. Before joining the NBA, he ran a Beijing advertising and marketing agency.

    At UFC, Fischer will focus on expanding broadcast and digital media deals and developing relationships in a vast Asian market. The MMA group already has distribution deals for fights, highlights and episodes of the “Ultimate Fighter” reality show in China, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and the Philippines.

    Online, MMA sites in China have exposed UFC to several hundred million users, according to Fischer.
    UFC.cn, a Chinese-language site, is up and operating.

    “We are just starting to scratch the surface here and have a good base to start with,” Fischer said.

     “In China, we did a trial deal on Inner Mongolia Television last year [reaching 80 million homes] that lasted four months and gave us good exposure.”

    Down the line, UFC’s strategy in Asia includes signing native fighters and producing live events in venues such as the new Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai, managed by AEG, and the Venetian-Macao Resort Hotel, confirmed UFC co-owner Lorenzo Fertitta.

    The sky’s the limit for solidifying UFC’s brand in Asia because the sport’s individual disciplines have been rooted in its culture for centuries, Fischer said.

    “Mixed martial arts as a whole has caught fire over here for the past five or so years,” he said. “There are a number of smaller domestic organizations holding events. We need to spend a lot of time building awareness of UFC’s global leadership and its quality and class of fighters.”

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  • Women’s soccer league cuts marketing unit, vows to survive

    In an effort to control costs and improve its balance sheet, Women’s Professional Soccer has completed a restructuring of its league office that will see it replace its chief operating officer and dismantle its marketing division.

    Former COO Mary Harvey left the organization last week. Harvey, a former women’s national team player and member of FIFA’s senior management, was responsible for many on-field matters including game-day operations, player contracts, drafts, scheduling, officiating and rules.

    The league has hired Melanie Fitzgerald as WPS’s manager of league operations to replace Harvey. She most recently served as the director of operations for the second division U.S. women’s soccer league, known as the W-League.

    Mary Harvey, formerly WPS chief operating
    officer, left the organization last week.

    The league’s owners also decided to eliminate WPS’s marketing department by laying off two marketing employees in July. The owners plan to eliminate national marketing campaigns and concentrate on local marketing campaigns next season.

    “One of the things that became very clear over the last 12 months is that we have to put more emphasis on the local teams,” said Thomas Hofstetter, who owns the New York club Sky Blue FC. “We’re still too small to have a national footprint.”

    Hofstetter said the moves weren’t designed to decentralize WPS but part of a series of cost-saving initiatives. He added that the cost savings from the restructuring should make the league office profitable for the first time next year, giving the league’s seven owners another revenue stream in addition to local ticket sales and sponsorships.

    The WPS has signed two postseason partnerships with MedImmune, a flu vaccine manufacturer, and Citi, which will be the presenting sponsor of its title game, which will be played Sept. 26.

    The league also is in discussions with an ownership group from Buffalo that’s interested in becoming the league’s eighth franchise.

    “Everyone is looking at us and saying, ‘Will they make it?’ Yes we will,” Hofstetter said. “We’re focused on stuff that will do well for us as a league, and that’s expansion, ticket sales and sponsorship. We’re doing well on all those fronts.”

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