SBJ/October 18-24, 2010/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Kraft’s answer contributes to mixed signals

Bob KraftGetty Images
Patriots owner Robert Kraft said he thought a deal could be reached by season’s end.
The March 3 expiration of the collective-bargaining agreement was, as expected, the big topic on the agenda for the owners’ gathering last week, but getting a read on the mood of the league proved tough. New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft was widely quoted in response to our question about labor that he thought a deal could get done by the end of the season, a sharp departure from the nearly universal projections that a deal is far off. A source close to the league dismissed any chance of an early deal, though, saying there certainly would be a lockout once the CBA expires, with the only question being whether games are lost come September.

Then there was the story that was released on The Wall Street Journal’s website late on Tuesday, appearing after the meeting ended, meaning that reporters could not ask follow-up questions to league and club executives. The story quoted Commissioner Roger Goodell and top executive Eric Grubman warning that losses are already piling up because companies are hesitant to invest in uncertainty. The message to the union: Act now, or the deal will only get worse for the players — a common tactic in labor disputes.

The union, of course, already doesn’t believe the league’s contention that its profit margins are thinning. Now, the league is asking players to further accept that $1 billion in revenue will be lost by September in the event of a lockout.

The NFL Players Association’s outside counsel, James Quinn, said in a statement e-mailed by a union spokesman: “This is a predicament of the NFL’s choosing. They took a juggernaut business in a challenged economy and then sent a message of a voluntary shutdown. NFL players proposed a ‘lock-in’ last year to get this done and they said no. We are committed to getting a deal done because it makes sense for our fans, players and business partners. At the same time, players are tired of getting threatened.”

Jeff Pash, the NFL’s chief labor negotiator, waved off a question of when the next round of labor talks would occur. Our source said nothing is scheduled but that a meeting will be set soon.


EYES ON ORNSTEIN CASE: While labor was the subject that created the most visible waves at the meeting, the issue that provided the undercurrent was the story involving Mike Ornstein, the marketing agent who has pleaded guilty to conspiracy and mail fraud charges in connection with re-selling Super Bowl tickets. It’s presumed that Ornstein bought the tickets from team and league officials, and the whispered worry is that he will name names to federal officials in order to minimize his sentence.

Sentencing is scheduled for Jan. 24.

Ornstein’s association with the New Orleans Saints is well-known. Saints coach Sean Payton even wrote about him positively in his autobiography. Dennis Lauscha, the team’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, said the club had not been contacted by federal officials and that Ornstein’s association with the club postdated the time period in his confession. He confessed to activity up to 2006.

As for the NFL, Goodell said he had been aware of the federal investigation. Asked if he would tell the clubs to break their ties to Ornstein, Goodell responded, “That’s a decision the clubs are going to have to make. We don’t tell them who to hire. He used to work for NFL Properties, as you know. He’s been an employee of a club [the Raiders, in the 1980s]. He’s had a relationship with the NFL for some period of time. I hope people will make a good judgment about the types of people they have involved with their organization.”


RALLY TIME: The NFL travels to London for its fourth annual regular-season game later this month, but this year’s trip has a new twist. The day before the Oct. 31 game between Denver and San Francisco, the league will host a pep rally in Trafalgar Square, including an appearance by Goodell. Chris Parsons, the NFL’s vice president of international, said Visit London, the city’s tourism bureau, made the square available at no fee. The league also is using Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Marisa Miller, a 49ers fan, to serve as spokeswoman for the game and for the week.


PUT DOWN THE GLASSES: 3-D TV has been the hot media-technology trend for much of the past year, but don’t look for the NFL to jump aboard the bandwagon any time soon. Brian Rolapp, the league’s senior vice president of digital media and media strategy, presented to the owners on a wide range of media issues, including 3-D. Sources said he ran through the state of 3-D, but no initiatives or new efforts are in the works. In fact, the league appears to be taking a decidedly wait-and-see attitude toward the technology, the sources said.

On Dec. 4, 2008, the NFL hosted a 3-D viewing of a Thursday night game at three movie theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Boston amid great hype that the league would be a front-runner in establishing the technology in sports. That has not proved to be the case, at least not yet. The sources said there is concern that the technology could be a passing fad and that the real boosters of it are not sports leagues but rather TV set manufacturers who are trying to generate sales.


NAMES AND NOTES: Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder plans to take Sonny Jurgensen and some other greats to the Broadway play “Lombardi,” later this month. Speaking of Snyder, while Redskins limited partner Dwight Schar has been embroiled in the Liverpool FC ownership drama, Snyder said he has no interest in getting involved and that, frankly, he doesn’t even know much about soccer. … This meeting marked the first formal meeting as owner for new St. Louis Rams boss Stan Kroenke. Following another English Premier League story line, we asked Kroenke about Arsenal, of which he is just a few shares away from gaining control, but he declined to comment. … The New York Jets have decked out a JetBlue commercial airline in their colors and logos. JetBlue is the official airline of the Jets, and the team chartered the plane to take 150 sponsors and suite holders to this past Sunday’s game in Denver. JetBlue, however, rejected a request by the team to change the name of the entire company, for one day, to JetGreen. … Miami Dolphins owner Stephen Ross’ strategy of selling tiny slices of the team to celebrities — investors include Gloria Estefan, Marc Anthony, and Venus and Serena Williams — might be paying off in one respect. The rapper Birdman told a radio station last week that he was the team’s newest investor, but Ross said it was all just a hoax to drum up publicity for the rapper, whom the owner said he had never even heard of. It can’t be a bad sign, though, if an entertainer believes pretend-aligning with your team gins up publicity.
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