SI's Jackie MacMullan reports that the NBPA, having
"expressed skepticism" over Commissioner David Stern's
"assertion that almost one third" of the league is losing
money, "plans to randomly audit five franchises" (SI, 1/19
issue)....The ABL is profiled in the N.Y. TIMES, halfway
through its second year. As it prepares to play its second
All-Star Game in Orlando, league officials say attendance is
up 21% over last season (Jack Cavanaugh, N.Y. TIMES, 1/16).
NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman is profiled by Helene
Elliott in the L.A. TIMES. The NHL "differs greatly from
the enterprise Bettman inherited" in '93 and the fact that
Bettman "has wrought so many changes is a tribute to his
business acumen." Elliott: "But growth and change have
spawned new problems for a league that still lacks the wide
acceptance of baseball, basketball and football." Bettman:
"We've been able to do things to, hopefully, create more
interest in the game, and we're trying to eliminate
distractions (such as) work stoppages, franchises in
trouble." Bettman said that he "isn't concerned" with the
current decline in attendance, but next season will start a
week to 10 days later "to capitalize on the NHL's pattern of
drawing better later in the season" (L.A. TIMES, 1/16).
LEGAL THREAT? With the NHL's All-Star Weekend starting
today, "it seems the league is far stronger than it was
before Bettman arrived" in '93, according Iain MacIntyre of
the VANCOUVER SUN. But "how Bettman and his office handle
the current problems" -- "especially" fallout from former
NHLPA Exec Dir Alan Eagleson's admission of guilt on fraud
and theft charges and the decrease in scoring this year --
"will be crucial in determining if his next five years are
as good as first five." Bettman, on the Eagleson affair:
"The sooner we can get it behind us, the better. Hopefully
the sentencing represents the closure of the chapter." But
MacIntyre wrote that Eagleson's admission of guilt "has only
strengthened the resolve of former players who feel they
were cheated." One suit claims the league and union
"colluded to hold down player salaries" between '75 and '93.
Twenty-one clubs are named as defendants "and the suit has
the potential to cost the NHL millions, if not hundreds of
millions." Bettman: "From a civil standpoint, as a league
we're going to have to deal with it. ... But our counsel has
looked at it and advised me there should be nothing to it."
Bettman added that he is not "overly concerned" about the
drop in scoring, which is down 9% from '96 (SUN, 1/14).
TEAMS: The league has altered its All-Star format to
feature North America vs. the World teams, but in S.F., Ross
McKeon wrote that five teams will have no player reps at the
game, including the Sharks. McKeon: "Considering the NHL
ranks last in popularity and exposure in a four-horse pro
sports race, it's not a good idea to snub markets." NHL VP/
Communications Arthur Pincus: "It was apparent with the new
format it would be virtually impossible to have every team
represented" (Ross McKeon, S.F. EXAMINER, 1/14).
WEEKEND UPDATE: This evening, Canada will play the U.S.
in an exhibition women's game (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/16).
...Willie O'Ree, the first black player in the NHL, will be
honored during the weekend (VANCOUVER SUN, 1/16)....USA
TODAY features a 12-page supplement on the All-Star Weekend.
Sponsors include Philips Electronics' Norelco, Pinnacle,
IBM, Chrysler's The New Dodge and Sheraton (THE DAILY).
The NFL securing a $17.6B TV rights deal without
committing a team to L.A. was examined by Randy Harvey of
the L.A. TIMES. Harvey wrote that the L.A. factor "wasn't
one, even for the two networks that do extensive business
here, Fox and Disney." Harvey: "When it comes to acquiring
an NFL franchise, it's clearer than ever that it's a
seller's market. If [L.A.] is interested in buying, it must
do a better job of selling itself to the NFL" (L.A. TIMES,
1/15). NBC Sports President Dick Ebersol: "The league
carefully and consistently avoided telling the networks
whether an L.A. team would be in the AFC or NFC. There are
no guarantees for an L.A. team." Fox COO Chase Carey: "From
our position, it's a positive to have a team in L.A. But in
this process, there are too many uncertainties and it didn't
come into an account" (L.A. DAILY NEWS, 1/16).
MORE NFL FALLOUT: NEWSDAY's Steve Zipay quotes one
network "spy" who described dealing with the NFL owners who
led the NFL TV committee: "These were the hawks, not the
doves. They won. It was like they were wearing masks and
carrying Uzis" (NEWSDAY, 1/16)...In Toronto, Sun Media Corp.
President Paul Godfrey said that despite the fact the deal
will likely increase the cost for an expansion team, "I'll
continue to knock on their door and ask for a membership
card" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/16)....In Atlanta, Terence Moore
writes with the NFL's new riches, the Smith family should
"take the money and run" and sell the Falcons. Moore: "If
you're the Smiths ... you sell" (ATL. CONSTITUTION, 1/16).
REAX: A S.F. CHRONICLE editorial: "The NFL has become
the ultimate loss-leader for the networks in their attempt
to reach male viewers. These insane bidding wars were, on
balance, a negative for viewers. First of all, the networks
are dumping massive resources into rights to existing
programming instead of developing fresh fare. ... The only
clear winners in the war over NFL rights are the owners and
athletes who will share the bounty" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/16).
Under the header, "Breaking Point For Sports?," a SALT LAKE
TRIBUNE editorial states, "Maybe in the next eight years,
people won't watch as many NFL games, and advertisers won't
pay so much to the networks, and the networks will be left
drowning in red ink as a result of this week's unbelievable
contracts. Maybe this is when Americans will reach their
saturation point and the golden sports egg will finally
crack" (SALT LAKE TRIBUNE, 1/16). In DC, Thomas Boswell:
"The next time an NFL team raises its tickets by a penny,
there'll be outrage. And there should be. ... And what will
happen the next time an NFL team begs for tax money to build
a luxury stadium ... The vote on that referendum ought to be
1,000,000 to 0" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/16).
Anaheim Sports President Tony Tavares, "long upset
about voting rules that require three-fourths approval on
many important baseball issues, blasted that situation
Thursday, saying it was time to provide a new commissioner
with real power," according to Ross Newhan of the L.A.
TIMES. Tavares made his comments at the Sport Summit in New
York: "Anyone worth his salt is going to insist on systemic
change in league rules. If he doesn't, he will be a
powerless commissioner. (As it is), if I find three other
morons in my league, if it's a good idea for the league or
if it's not, I can block something. We've reached the level
of absurdity in baseball. The rules are absolutely absurd."
Later, in a phone interview, Tavares said his remarks were
not intended toward Acting Commissioner Bud Selig: "We have
a vacuum in leadership. I'm not saying Bud couldn't be the
commissioner, but I am saying that whoever the new
commissioner is, there has to be changes." Selig, when told
of Tavares' remarks, said, "I certainly understand Tony's
frustrations on many matters" (L.A. TIMES, 1/16).
PHOENIX NOTES: USA TODAY's Hal Bodley reports that MLB
"has commissioned an investment banking firm to study the
economic impact of a shortened regular-season schedule" (USA
TODAY, 1/16)....MLB sources "expect" the Ownership Committee
to recommend approval of the Dodgers sale to News Corp. and
also expect full ownership support. One "high-ranking" MLB
exec: "If you let Disney in and Ted Turner in and the
Tribune Co. in, how do you say no to Rupert Murdoch? He's
the biggest single investor in baseball [through his TV
deals]" (Ross Newhan, L.A. TIMES, 1/15).