NBC and TBS, "shut out" of the NFL's recent TV deals,
"might decide to combine their considerable resources and
start their own pro football league," according to Rogers &
Pasquarelli of the ATLANTA CONSTITUTION. In a statement
released yesterday, TBS said it was "speaking to" NBC "about
the possibility" of starting a new league. The early
"working title" is the "Fan Appreciation League." NFL
VP/Communications Greg Aiello said the NFL had "no comment
and no reaction." However, Patriots Owner Robert Kraft and
Broncos Owner Pat Bowlen, both members of the NFL's
broadcast committee, reacted to the news, with Kraft saying
"[W]hen CBS got shut out [on the NFL contract], it talked
about the same thing and nothing ever happened." Bowlen:
"You never say never, but there are a lot of bones out there
of leagues that attempted to compete with the NFL" (ATLANTA
CONSTITUTION, 1/30). The two are considering a league that
would play Sunday afternoons in the fall, "competing
directly with the NFL," according to Pope & Shapiro of the
WALL STREET JOURNAL. Pope & Shapiro write that an
NBC/Turner "alliance would have an edge in its programming
and vast distribution network" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/30).
SOUR GRAPES OR REAL ALTERNATIVE? USA TODAY's Rudy
Martzke reports that the league would consist of 10-12 teams
and begin play in '99. Players "would come from" the CFL, a
"few NFL stars, taxi-squaders and late training-camp cuts."
TV "possibilities" include NBC with a Sunday doubleheader
and TNT "having one, or possibly two" prime-time games a
week, while cities "could include" N.Y., Chicago, L.A.,
Atlanta, Boston and "possibly" teams in other markets with
NBC O&Os, such as DC and Miami (USA TODAY, 1/30).
FEASIBILITY STUDIES: The Marquee Group's Mike Trager
projects that NBC could achieve a 2-3 rating for the league,
which "likely would take a ratings point away" from NFL
broadcasts, equating to a 10% drop. That drop would affect
CBS' "ability to make a profit" because it would base its ad
rates on a 10 rating. Trager: "The issue is, can they sell
the ad inventory in the (year's) fourth quarter, when
there's already so much pro football inventory?" (Rudy
Martzke, USA TODAY, 1/30). In S.F., Glenn Dickey said that
for a new league, the old AFL "must be the model." Dickey
said he would be "surprised if a new league doesn't start
within the next couple of years" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/30).
MARTIN CASE: PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem and
Casey Martin's attorney William Wiswall have contributed
opinion pieces to ESPN's SportsZone regarding Martin's case,
which goes to trial Monday. Finchem: "The PGA Tour strongly
supports the spirit of the [ADA] ... [b]ut we also have an
obligation to our members and the sport to provide
tournament conditions that are equitable for all golfers."
Wiswall: "The PGA Tour has missed a golden opportunity to
embrace a highly talented golfer. It should accommodate
Casey Martin" (ESPN SportsZone, 1/30)....In the Bergen
RECORD, Adrian Wojnarowski criticized Tiger Woods for not
supporting Martin's quest and wrote that Nike's "most famous
golfing pitchman is nowhere to be found." Last year, Woods'
"mandate" was to make golf "the game of all the people. ...
Sadly, Woods has learned his Madison Avenue lessons well,
the ones Michael Jordan has perfected: Courageous stands
don't push product." Wojnarowski: "So far, [Woods] seems
perfectly content to win majors, collect his endorsements,
and never miss a Planet Hollywood bash" (RECORD, 1/29).
NHL: Blues F Brett Hull, who lashed out against the
league Wednesday, saying the quality of play "sucks," spoke
with Commissioner Gary Bettman yesterday, according to Tom
Wheatley of the ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH. Hull: "[Bettman]
said 'We see everything you do on the ice. We're addressing
it. But we don't need you to say the game sucks.' And he's
right" (POST-DISPATCH, 1/30). In Calgary, Jim Kernaghan
writes that the NHL "will be whatever marketing dictates ...
[t]his isn't about sports you know, it's about what Bettman
likes to call 'growing the league' and establishing a
greater NHL 'footprint'" (FREE PRESS/CALGARY SUN, 1/30).
Results of a new survey show that "more Canadians are
becoming football fans," but don't want the NFL in Canada
"if it spells the end of" the CFL, according to Dan Ralph of
the Toronto GLOBE & MAIL. The Gallup Poll, which carries a
margin of error of +/- 3%, surveyed 1,006 Canadians who
follow pro football. Of those surveyed, 18% "don't want the
NFL in Canada" at all, 12% want it only if it coexists with
the CFL, and 8% want the NFL "even if it meant the demise"
of the CFL. A "resounding" 62% said they "didn't care." In
terms of interest, 21% of respondents said that they follow
the NFL, "up from" 11% in '90. Fifty-nine percent of NFL
supporters "also follow the CFL," while 63% of CFL fans
"keep tabs on" the NFL (Toronto GLOBE & MAIL, 1/30).
The use of Sudafed by NHL players is examined by
Michael Farber of SI under the header "Hockey's Little
Helpers." Farber: "It's the NHL's dirty little secret, and
with the Olympics imminent, it is of great concern to the
league because although Sudafed is legal, it is on the
Olympic list of banned substances." Farber writes that the
"exact number of players who use Sudafed, a nonprescription
drug that contains the stimulant pseudoephedrine, in an
effort to boost their performance on the ice, is unclear."
Two NHL trainers "estimate that before a game 20% of the
league's players routinely take" such over-the-counter
medications "to feel a little buzz." The NHL, however,
"disputes that figure, saying the percentage of players
using drugs such as Sudafed is much lower and that they use
them for medicinal purposes only" (SI, 2/2 issue).
REBUTTAL: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, on SI's
article: "The evidence that we have indicates that [SI's]
anecdotes aren't born out by the facts, and that if there
was a problem -- and we're not so sure that there ever was -
- that it was a while ago." More Bettman: "[I]f we thought
we had a problem, our substance abuse program would be
directed at it, even though we're talking about a perfectly
legal substance" ("CNN/SI," 1/29). NHLPA Exec Dir Bob
Goodenow declined to discuss specific results of pre-Olympic
drug tests but said those results contained "no shocking
revelations of drug abuse, nor any indication the use of
Sudafed was as high" as depicted in SI (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/29).
Latrell Sprewell testified for the first time at his
grievance hearing yesterday, answering questions before
arbitrator John Feerick for "about 6 hours and 15 minutes,"
according to David Steele of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Sprewell
started at 9:00am PT, broke for lunch at 12:30pm, and then
returned at 2:30pm. In between, Feerick heard testimony
from Warriors team doctor Robert Albo. The final witness of
the day was Warriors VP Al Attles (S.F. CHRONICLE, 1/30).
In N.Y., Mike Wise reports sources who said that "in the
morning session Sprewell answered questions clearly, that he
never grew upset or became emotional and that his demeanor
ran between calm and attentive" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/30). In San
Jose, Jesse Barkin writes the case "ultimately" might be
decided on whether Feerick "believed Sprewell" during his
testimony (S.J. MERCURY NEWS, 1/30). NEWSDAY's Greg Logan
reports that "no other witnesses were in the same room when
Sprewell testified. So, the atmosphere was not as
emotionally charged as on Wednesday when [Warriors coach
P.J.] Carlesimo and Sprewell sat across a table from each
other." The hearing will continue today in OR and resume
next week in New York through Thursday (NEWSDAY, 1/30).
BEHIND THE SCENES: A gag order imposed by Feerick has
prevented hearing participants from speaking to the media.
But while the NBPA is arguing the league's claim that
Sprewell returned to the team's practice a second time on
December 1 in a premeditated attack on Carlesimo, sources
told Thomas Heath of the WASHINGTON POST that "at least one
player who testified" has said that "he did not see Sprewell
strike Carlesimo a second time" (WASHINGTON POST, 1/30).
BULLISH BEHAVIOR: The Bulls were in Portland last night
and Michael Jordan commented on the Sprewell case: "There's
a morality clause in each and every contract. ... Anything
detrimental to the league or to the team can terminate you.
That's not hidden in the contract." But Jordan questioned
the league's disciplinary process: "[T]hey gave three
different penalties, and it raised a lot of questions and, I
guess, created an argument for Sprewell" (NEWSDAY, 1/30).
Bulls coach Phil Jackson, on the one-year suspension: "I
think there's some reason to say that might be a little bit
long" (Terry Armour, CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 1/30).