SBJ/September 5-11, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

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  • Outgoing ATP chief Helfant breaks deadlock over control of scoring data

    A split ATP board of directors last week voted to take control of tournament scoring data away from the events and ultimately sell the bundled data to a third party, with outgoing executive chairman Adam Helfant breaking a deadlock between tournament and player representatives in favor of the latter, sources said.

    It is believed to be the first time since the ATP formed in 1990 that the leader cast a tie-breaking vote on a commercial matter, the sources said. The development also underscores apparent growing tension between tournaments and players.

    The two leading internal candidates to succeed Helfant — Mark Young and Brad Drewett — were not interviewed in New York last week, despite the board having met. The sources, who did not wish to be identified because of the confidential nature of the board discussions, said player representatives were opposed to ATP management assuming the top spot, and the search will now expand into the rest of tennis.

    “The Board is pleased with the level of interest so far,” ATP spokeswoman Kate Gordon wrote in an email, about the search. “They’re going through the process of developing a short list of candidates and an interview process that will likely take another couple of months. … I can tell you that there aren’t any formal interviews happening during the U.S. Open. The schedule is too chaotic and the difficulty to maintain confidentiality too great.”

    Helfant departs at the end of the year. Absent consensus on a successor, the ATP could turn instead to identifying an interim leader.

    The ATP board has six members: three officials representing tournaments and three player representatives. The ATP leader is the seventh vote, but is almost never called on to break a tie. The role traditionally has been one to form consensus.

    Player interests favor Helfant, in part for raising prize money. Tournaments, however, opposed his bid for a lucrative new contract, part of the reason he declined to re-sign with the ATP, sources said.

    The issue with the scoring data, the sources said, is that the players wanted, and got, a rule that required the data to be pooled and sold; the tourneys wanted limitations on the sale.

    The move behind selling scoring data is tied to concerns that gambling sites have been sending people to matches to transmit the information. Earlier this year, the ATP and WTA jointly hired London law firm Couchmans to represent them and advise on how best to sell the data.

    In the United States, Stats LLC is the go-to licensee for live scoring. Many leagues sign some type of omnibus licensing deal with Stats — the company essentially owns the market, but there are others — and Stats deals with individual media entities, fantasy hubs, legal gambling outfits, and so forth, to resell the data. Stats and the leagues share the revenue.

    Overseas, the business is a country-by-country affair, with the answer varying as to the legal question of whether live scores are proprietary content. Currently, the tournaments handle the issue independently.

    “The ATP Board approved rule changes intended to prevent the unauthorized distribution of live scoring data,” Gordon wrote, while declining to confirm the split on the board. “Currently, such data is being collected and sold by numerous unauthorized sources and the practice presents an integrity risk at tournaments. We will work through a third party vendor to package and distribute ATP/WTA official data, as many sports do.”

    The WTA was expected to review the issue at its board meeting last week, but a spokesman did not respond for comment.

    Staff writer Eric Fisher contributed to this report.

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  • Drivers fanning out to promote Chase

    After seven years of taking all the drivers who qualify for its postseason to New York for a media blitz, NASCAR is shifting its promotional strategy to focus on the markets where those drivers will race.

    The sanctioning body will scatter the 12 drivers who qualify for this year’s Chase for the Sprint Cup across 12 markets. Each of the 10 tracks hosting a race will have a Chase driver make an appearance during the next two weeks, and the two remaining drivers will go to New York and Bristol, Conn., for a media tour and appearances on ESPN.

    The change is one of the first visible shifts in the sport’s public relations strategy since it overhauled its communications division and hired Brett Jewkes, a former Taylor executive, earlier this year.

    The sport’s top executives hope that by taking drivers to the 10 host tracks they will be able to drive ticket sales and raise awareness of the Chase locally in a way that benefits TV ratings.

    “Everyone who’s heard about this has said, ‘Boy, that makes a lot of sense,’” said NASCAR chief marketer Steve Phelps. “It should give us great coverage and visibility as we enter the playoffs. We think this will get buzz on both a local level in those markets but also nationally.”

    The in-market appearances are slated to begin this week when Carl Edwards travels to New Hampshire on Sept. 6, Kyle Busch appears in Dover on Sept. 7 and six drivers visit the White House to meet President Obama. The final driver appearance will take place in Charlotte on Sept. 20.

    Each race market has the ability to decide how it wants to use the driver it’s assigned. For example, Texas Motor Speedway is focused on raising awareness of its races among young people, so it plans to host a pep rally for defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson at a high school in nearby Roanoke, Texas.

    “We want high school kids to test the product, taste it,” said Mike Zizzo, Texas’ vice president of media relations and a former communications official at NASCAR. “It’s great to bring Jimmie Johnson to town and talk to them about the Chase.”

    NASCAR changed its public relations efforts around the Chase in part because of scheduling changes it made this year. It previously opened the Chase in New Hampshire, and the sport’s leaders thought it could raise visibility for that event by taking drivers to New York for a media dinner similar to what the Masters golf tournament once did.

    This year, though, the sport is opening the Chase season in Chicago. That shift combined with a sense that it was becoming increasingly difficult to book driver appearances in New York led NASCAR to consider other options.

    Phelps said the sport will track local media exposure and attendance to measure the effectiveness of the new strategy. After it collects and reviews that data, NASCAR officials will determine whether to take a similar approach in 2012.

    “We’ll be able to measure this pretty quickly,” Phelps said. “Giving the tracks an opportunity to get some driver participation in their marketplace as we head into the Chase is a great way to reach out to that community, and I think it will pay dividends.”

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  • Timeline tightens for NBA to avoid losing games

    NBA Commissioner David Stern emerged from last week’s first collective-bargaining session in a month with a message: We’re going to keep talking.

    For many observers who have seen the gap remain wide between labor and management, that’s about as positive a tone as could have been hoped for.

    Since the lockout was declared on July 1, there have been a total of two negotiating sessions. There hasn’t been as much public verbal jousting as there was in the NFL talks, nor the social media debates that took place on the football side. But there also hasn’t been a dedicated negotiating schedule and the sides remain far apart.

    It shouldn’t come as any surprise, then, that as the clock continues to tick, the possibility of an uninterrupted season grows increasingly remote. Stern said after last week’s bargaining session that there is enough time to negotiate a new deal to keep the regular season intact, but that it would take warp-speed labor negotiations to avoid lost games.

    Consider the recent NFL labor deal as a point of comparison. Talks began to seriously take shape after the league and the union held secret meetings in Chicago in early June, but even after those productive covert sessions, it still took the NFL two months of regular meetings to come to a deal just before training camps opened. That time frame certainly doesn’t bode well for the NBA, even after last week’s negotiations, though more talks are planned.

    “When both parties are ready to make a deal, it can happen in 48 to 72 hours after they call the lawyers in, but, unfortunately, neither side is ready to make major concessions, and I’d be very surprised if the league doesn’t miss games,” said former NBA Deputy Commissioner Russ Granik, who is now vice chairman for Galatioto Sports Partners. “During the 1998 [NBA lockout] there was the sense that somehow it would work out and that the league would never go that far. Nobody will be surprised this time around.”

    AP IMAGES
    David Stern, with Deputy Commissioner Adam Silver, says a complete season is still possible.
    Even if both the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association start holding productive meetings the week of Sept. 12, and are able to expedite negotiations into a rapid six weeks, that could still bring a late October date for any new CBA deal.

    Factor in teams holding training camp, and the cancellation of at least the first few weeks of the NBA season looms as a definite possibility.

    “The [NBA] needs H.G. Wells and his time machine to make the progress that they need,” said Andy Dolich, former NBA team executive with the Golden State Warriors and Memphis Grizzlies. “If you look at the history of most labor negotiations, it is when they go quiet when things really get done.”

    The new NFL labor deal came from negotiations with a profitable league that was figuring how to split billions of dollars in revenue among its teams and players. In the NBA, the negotiations center on how to forge a new deal after a season when the league said it lost $300 million, with 22 of the 30 teams losing money.

    “Three years ago, it became very apparent … that the NBA’s losses were enormous,” said one former NBA team executive who also was part of the NBA’s 1998-99 lockout. “The difference this year compared to 1998 is the need for fundamental economic change. When you have teams in the league that lose less money by not playing, it makes for a difficult negotiation.”

    The NBA is pushing for drastic financial givebacks that would affect superstars and veteran players with salary cuts, a hard cap and non-guaranteed contracts.

    “Star NBA players are at risk, unlike in the NFL, where [the new CBA] took enough hide out of the rookies with a wage scale,” said Mark Levinstein, a sports labor attorney and partner at Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C. “There is no sense of urgency to get a deal done, and nobody seems to have an issue if games are missed early in the season. Not starting a season until January is not a killer.”

    A look back at the 1998-99 NBA lockout that resulted in a truncated 50-game season provides a prospective cancellation timeline for the coming season. In 1998, the NBA announced on Sept. 24 the postponement of training camps. In mid-October, the league began canceling regular-season games. Then, in December, the NBA announced that it would cancel its All-Star Game, which was set for mid-February in Philadelphia. This year’s All-Star Game is scheduled for Feb. 26 in Orlando. The NBA and the players union finally signed a new deal on Jan. 20, 1999, to save the shortened NBA season.

    “As you get closer to training camp, by the end of September is when things start to intensify and you get pressure by your respective constituents,” said the former NBA team executive. “If you cancel the preseason, then you don’t meet for a few weeks because you want the impact to set in.”

    And it’s not the NFL labor deal that league experts like Granik said mirrors the NBA. Instead, it’s the NHL’s decision to shutter its 2004-05 season after failing to negotiate a new CBA that more closely mirrors the NBA’s current labor impasse.

    In 2004, the NHL canceled its preseason two weeks out, then canceled its regular season in mid-February, 2005.
    Granik points to that and the 1998-99 NBA lockout as examples that bring only less urgency on both sides to get a deal done prior to the start of the NBA season on Nov. 1.

    “I am concerned that the lesson learned in the 1998-99 lockout is that even in January you can still save a season,” he said. “But when you get to the first week in October, that’s when you will lose games, which means everyone loses money.”

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  • New NFL deal tunes up teams’ music choices

    The NFL has signed a multiyear deal with Banshee Music that will give the league more control over the pop tunes its teams use in-stadium, on television and online.

    The first three songs from the deal with Banshee Music will be released this week.
    The deal is described as a music-branding partnership, not a licensing deal. No money is changing hands between the NFL and Banshee.

    The first three songs from the deal will be released this week: “Knockdown” from Sammy Hagar and Joe Satriani; “The Fight’s About to Begin” by Hinder; and “Kick Off” by Darius Rucker.

    Any of the league’s teams can use these songs during games or via their media presentations, such as highlight packages online or on TV. Starting Tuesday, they will be available on the NFL’s iTunes page.

    To date, teams pay a public performance license to use music in the stadium. That cost is typically between $15,000 and $30,000 a year. Teams still will have that expense to have access to pop songs that aren’t part of Banshee’s catalogue, and teams then have to pay separate licenses if they want to use those songs elsewhere, like during a coach’s show. The Banshee deal gives the leagues and teams more control over the music.

    “Traditional licensing models can be restrictive and get costly,” said John Canaday, vice president of sports marketing for Banshee Music. “But we’re finding more artists are giving up more rights than they typically would to be associated with the NFL. … Artists are more open to working in these types of relationships than in the past.”

    The partnership plans to roll out several more songs in the coming weeks, from musical performers like James Durbin, Jordin Sparks and Kelly Rowland.

    This is a growing trend in the sports business. The NFL, so far, is the first major professional sports league to explore deals like this. Banshee has worked with a handful of college teams, from Michigan to Texas. Last year, it cut deals with four NFL teams (the Cowboys, Falcons, Packers and Panthers) to create team songs. Created in 2007, Banshee has a library of between 1,000 and 2,000 songs, all created for the firm’s clients.

    Earlier this month, Tampa Bay Buccaneers coach Raheem Morris was part of early meetings during which Banshee auditioned music to be used for a team song. The team eventually selected Tampa rapper Lil Kee to create a team song called “Battle Flags.” Morris suggested that the rapper drop some player names into the song.

    “You might see some songs stick and turn into traditions, and you might see some songs take off and fade away like other music releases,” Canaday said.

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  • League boosts in-venue stats for fantasy fans

    The NFL, working to keep its stadiums filled this season, is upgrading its official game statistics platform to satisfy fantasy league players attending the games.

    Graphics will show real-time statistics.
    The NFL is developing an enhanced video graphics package within its official Game Statistics Information System, containing more complete images for teams to display on their stadiums’ video boards. The improvements were in development as of last week, and league officials provided scant details on the program.

    The upgrades are available for all 32 teams to use at their facilities. The league said all teams would use the upgrades, but at least one club, the Carolina Panthers, said it is not looking at the technology at this time.

    Officials for the St. Louis Rams, one of the teams that will use the upgrades, said they plan to test the system at their first home game Sunday against the Eagles before rolling out the full package Sept. 25 against the Ravens. The NFL is paying for the equipment costs, said Scott Brooks, the Rams’ director of game entertainment.

    Last year, the league made the NFL Network’s RedZone channel available to all clubs for use on their facilities’ video boards for games.

    “It’s part of our fan engagement program in which we are moving toward further replicating the at-home experience at the stadium,” said NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy. “We have to do more to keep fans coming to our games.”

    Brooks said the new graphics package shows a player’s headshot, name and uniform number with real-time statistics from the action on the field, with a list of up-to-the-minute comparisons with performers in other NFL games.

    Teams can also generate more revenue by selling advertising within those statistical boxes. The Rams have a current deal with regional restaurant chain Bandana’s Bar-B-Q to sponsor halftime statistics on the stadium’s video screens and LED ribbon boards.

    The deal now expands to the “stats in a box” inventory, said Bob Reif, the Rams’ executive vice president of sales and marketing and chief marketing officer.

    Bandana’s will pay more money as part of renewing its deal, although the Rams would not say how much. All told, the statistical enhancements and other new game-day content adds more than $1 million in new sponsorship dollars for the Rams this year, Reif said.

    Some NFL teams have been more aggressive than others in consistently displaying fantasy stats at their facilities. The Rams have been at the forefront of that effort after the results of a survey three years ago showed that fans preferred a steady diet of statistical information on display at the Edward Jones Dome.

    “Each team can determine how much and how often they want to provide more information,” Brooks said. “For us, it’s not as much a new toy, but the league is pushing teams that this is something they need to do at the stadium.”

    MetLife Stadium will also use the new graphics package this season for Jets and Giants games, said Peter Brickman, the facility’s chief technology officer.

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