There are "rumblings that certain big-market teams want to drop the A's and Rays, even though the idea stands little chance of actually becoming reality," according to Ken Rosenthal of FOXSPORTS.com. Sources said that the MLBPA "would regard any proposal to eliminate 50 major-league jobs as an act of war." Contraction would be an "extreme solution, but one that addresses the big-market concern: Why keep struggling clubs afloat?" Eliminating the A's and Rays, "both of whom face severe ballpark concerns, would remove two leading revenue-sharing recipients, reducing the burden on the big-money teams." For the A's, a "move to a proposed new ballpark in San Jose would rescue the franchise, if only baseball would get its act together and cut a deal with the Giants to relinquish their territorial rights to the area." However, the Rays "have nowhere to go." A threat of contraction "probably would not rally the community to build the Rays a new publicly financed ballpark," but it would "change the tenor of the upcoming labor negotiations, raising the tension considerably." Rosenthal wrote the "answer is to get the A's to San Jose and help the Rays find some better alternative -- be it in Tampa or Orlando, San Antonio or Charlotte" (FOXSPORTS.com, 2/22). In St. Petersburg, John Romano writes, "Contraction always has struck me as more of a bluff than a legitimate threat, but it might just work in the Rays' favor as the stadium debate continues to drag on. And, trust me, it will drag on." Relocation "may not be much of a factor" in the Rays' case because of Owner Stuart Sternberg's "previous statements and because there are so few attractive cities available." But contraction "has some appeal for MLB as a threat," and that threat "will continue to grow day by day, dollar by dollar and empty seat by empty seat." Romano: "Whether you want to acknowledge it or not, Tampa Bay is now on the clock" (ST. PETERSBURG TIMES, 2/24).
CLOCK IS TICKING: A's Owner Lew Wolff said he is satisfied the MLB committee members that for three years have been studying the A's relocation options are "putting their arms around this." Wolff: "I know that we're all -- especially me -- frustrated. But it's important that when a decision is made, that it's a comprehensive decision. A patient account. It makes the path going forward to a new ballpark as easy for us as possible." MLB.com's Barry Bloom noted Wolff "asked MLB in 2008 for permission to move from Oakland 35 miles south to San Jose and Commissioner Bud Selig put together a committee to review the A's relocation options inside and outside the Bay Area." The Giants "have opposed the A's request to move to San Jose," citing their territorial rights (MLB.com, 2/23).
DirecTV late yesterday filed a motion in Minnesota federal court seeking to block the unsealing of its confidential records in the closely watched NFL media fees case. Two local Minnesota newspapers are seeking a complete unsealing of records in the NFLPA’s case against the NFL, in which the union alleges the league took lower media payments in return for guaranteed payments during a possible lockout. The arguments in that case, and on the unsealing, are set to be heard this morning. The NFLPA is also seeking a broad unsealing, though DirecTV’s arguments are directed against the newspapers, the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. DirecTV said unsealing the records, which includes the contract and privileged communications, would expose the satellite channel’s NFL strategy, thereby impairing its ability to renew the deal in ‘14. The newspapers are also seeking to unseal the transcript of former DirectTV president Chase Carey’s testimony. “The same strategic information used to negotiate the 2009 contract extension will be relevant to negotiate the next contract before the expiration of the current agreement in 2014,” the company wrote the court. “Indeed, Mr. Carey’s testimony provided an invaluable glimpse into how DirecTV values NFL Sunday Ticket, the exclusivity of NFL Sunday Ticket programming, digital media rights, the Work Stoppage provision and many other issues likely to again be the subject of fierce negotiation involving billions of dollars of rights fees. This information is also of competitive significance with respect to DirecTV’s contract negotiations with other sports leagues, such as Major League Baseball, where similar terms and issues are at stake. Consequently, the public release of confidential DirecTV contract terms and information is likely to cause immediate and irreparable harm to the company.”
DIRECT CLAIMS: DirecTV said it only agreed to testify and produce roughly 4,000 pages of documents after a strict confidentiality agreement that made the records only available to the NFL’s and NFLPA’s outside counsel and expert witnesses. NFL employees were not allowed to see the material. The materials and Carey were made available during the special master phase of the proceedings. The special master ruled for the NFL, but the NFLPA has appealed to the federal court. The special master put in place the confidentiality restrictions.
If NFL owners and the NFLPA do not agree on a new CBA by March 3, the "meticulously regimented world of the NFL will be stuck in suspended animation until one gets done," according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. There will be "no free agency, no player trades, no football activity of any kind other than preparations for the draft in late April, the last event built into the current labor deal." Even now, teams "have been slow to re-sign their own players ... until they know what rules and salary cap will govern activity in a new deal." The uncertainty is "so acute" that the league has called a meeting of head coaches and GMs for today at the NFL Combine to "brief them on what to expect in the off-season if there is no deal by March 3." Rookies and coaches "have no idea when they will open a playbook together," so agents are "making plans for ... rookie clients to work out at specialized facilities." Agents "do not know when they can negotiate rookie contracts ... and they do not know what kind of rookie salary scale might be in place as part of a new agreement." CAA's Tom Condon: "It certainly is different. Everybody just goes into limbo. Rookies in the past would go to the off-season program. There's no place to go" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/24). In Indianapolis, Mike Chappell notes it is "uncertain when, or in what form, veteran free agency will occur." NFL Network's Mike Mayock: "You don't even know what free agency is going to look like this year. Four years (to be unrestricted)? Six years? What's it going to be and who's going to be available?" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 2/24).
THE WAITING GAME: ESPN.com's John Clayton cited sources as saying that the "seven days of federal mediation" between owners and the players' union "were productive but that no new CBA is expected to be agreed upon at this time." Clayton: "What needs to be clarified in the next week is whether owners feel good enough about the seven days of mediation that they might delay a lockout of players, declare an impasse and operate under their last offer or whether they might simply lock out the players" (ESPN.com, 2/23). In Philadelphia, Rich Hofmann wrote the "act of sitting with the mediator for several consecutive days is not, in and of itself, a sign that good things are happening, or that progress is being made." The two sides "cannot leave until the mediator dismisses them, or until the end of some time limit that was agreed upon beforehand; there has been reporting that this time limit was 7 days." The reason for this is the "unfair labor practice charge that the NFL filed recently with the NLRB, accusing the union ... of not taking bargaining seriously." As soon as that charge was made, the "mediator stepped in." Hofmann: "The act of staying should not be read as a sign of true optimism. They're staying because they have no choice" (PHILLY.com, 2/23). In Seattle, Danny O'Neil writes, "While representatives for the players union and ownership are meeting under the supervision of a federal mediator, everyone -- from fans to prospective free agents to the 32 franchises -- waits" (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/24).
STILL NOT CLOSE? ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported he has “not gotten the sense from anybody that that deal is anywhere close at this point.” Schefter: “I'd love to be wrong ... but more and more it's looking like we're going to miss at least the start of the new league year on March 4, and the big question is how soon they can get a deal down. I think right now it’s days, if not weeks and maybe even months" ("NFL Live," ESPN, 2/23). CNBC's Darren Rovell said a CBA "is not going to get done until there is some sort of urgency and that urgency won't come until we're close" the start of the season ("Chronicle Live," Comcast SportsNet Bay Area, 2/23).
In Atlanta, David O'Brien noted as MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner tours Spring Training camps, neither MLB owners nor union officials "seem overly concerned about potential obstacles preventing them from working out" a new CBA after the '11 season. Weiner met with Braves players yesterday for 90 minutes, and 3B Chipper Jones said, "Realignment, another round of the playoffs -- there’s a bunch of things that need to be talked about. But I don’t think it’s anything that’s going to put us in a lockout situation." He added, "I’ve been in a work stoppage before, and the tone (before that) was completely different" (AJC.com, 2/23).
LOOKING FOR CRUISING CONTROL: CBSSPORTS.com's Pete Pistone wrote the business of NASCAR is "off to a rousing start" after Sunday's Daytona 500, and there are "no doubt smiles on the faces of NASCAR and track officials, television and radio executives as well as sponsors." There has been "much worry over falling television ratings and attendance woes and quite frankly if the bubble had burst on NASCAR’s incredible popularity." The sport "needed to come out of the box with the biggest race of the year in a big way." Still, the "lift of the 500 will only go so far." The "casual fans that tuned in and witnessed an interesting and thrilling race at Daytona may surf over to Fox's telecast from Phoenix on Sunday," and it is "up to the drivers to put on a good show" (CBSSPORTS.com, 2/22).
THE MORE THE MERRIER? In Houston, Jose de Jesus Ortiz noted MLS announced its new playoff format yesterday and it "seems more in line with other major American sports leagues." This year, 10 of MLS' 18 teams will reach the playoffs. The "top three from each division will qualify automatically," while the "remaining four with the best records will qualify to play a single-elimination play-in game for a spot in the Conference semifinals" (CHRON.com, 2/23).
A BRIGHT OUTLOOK: NBCSPORTS.com's Matt Reitz cited a USA Hockey report that indicates participation in the sport is "exploding in the Sun Belt." North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee and Florida are the "fastest growing states in terms of youth registration." There is "no question" that the presence of the Hurricanes, Thrashers, Predators, Panthers and Lightning "only helps plant the seed into children when they are playing sports during their childhood." Reitz: "Take those teams away and the NHL can kiss growth in non-traditional markets goodbye. It’s easy for fans to pick on Gary Bettman for his failures -- but looking at these numbers, one has to wonder if this ever would have been possible 15-20 years ago. These teams are taking hold in their communities" (NBCSPORTS.com, 2/24).