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Volume 24 No. 113

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr and NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman plan to meet this week to talk about the league's CBA, but neither party "wanted to say when serious labour negotiations will begin," according to David Shoalts of the GLOBE & MAIL. Fehr Saturday said that he "meets regularly with Bettman and their next get-together should not be seen as the formal commencement of talks about a new collective agreement." Fehr said that before serious talks begin, a "series of preliminary discussions about logistics and an informal list of issues need to be held." He believes that "will happen in the next couple of weeks but did not want to say when the major talks will begin." The current CBA expires on Sept. 15, and when Fehr was asked if negotiations would begin only when the season ended, he said, "No, I wouldn't say that." Fehr added that formal talks "cannot begin until the players get more financial information from the league." He said that the information the players "do have, which is mostly about hockey-related revenue and the owners' player costs, appears to be accurate but the union still needs more information about the league's other expenses." Shoalts noted the two "biggest issues involve revenue sharing." The owners want to "reduce the players’ take of hockey-related revenue from the current 57 per cent to less than 50 to mirror the agreements recently reached in the NFL and NBA." The players want the owners to "radically change their system for sharing revenues between richer and poorer teams and increase the amount of shared revenue." Fehr said that just because the NBA and NFL players "agreed to reduce their overall share of league revenue it does not mean the NHL players will follow suit" (GLOBE & MAIL, 1/29).

ON TAP:'s Pierre LeBrun noted when formal negotiations "do begin, the question is just how this process will go after the last labor battle cost the entire 2004-05 season." Bettman said Saturday, "My hope is that we can reason together and that collective bargaining will be painless and quiet and quick. That would serve everyone's best interest" (, 1/28). THE HOCKEY NEWS' Adam Proteau noted Fehr "once again raised the notion of revenue sharing as a solution that worked in his past job running the Major League Baseball Players’ Association, but didn’t talk like a man who was gearing up for a heavily rhetorical public brawl." Neither did Bettman, who "noted the union and league were able to settle the contested issue of hockey-related revenue without a protracted, negative battle." Proteau noted those "black clouds might yet appear on the league’s horizon," but for now both Bettman and Fehr were "content the NHL’s ice was solid enough for the game to continue skating on" (, 1/28). NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said of the CBA talks, "I have no idea if we see the world the same way, or whether we see it a little bit apart, or whether we see it a long way apart. I won’t be in a position to handicap that until we sit down." Senators C Jason Spezza: "I feel like Don’s done a great job of informing everyone, and I think every player to a man would tell you that. We don’t understand all of what’s going on, but we understand he’s in charge, and lets us have a voice too" (, 1/28).

RESPECT YOUR ELDERS: In Toronto, Dave Feschuk noted following the "disgruntlement of some alumni who were unhappy that none of the proceeds from the Winter Classic alumni game benefitted retired NHLers," NHL Alumni Association Exec Dir Mark Napier said that he "has been contacted by the league officials who have expressed a desire to discuss a mutually beneficial financial model for future events." Feschuk noted the NHLAA, founded in '99 "to advocate on behalf of the league’s retirees, had zero involvement" in the Winter Classic Alumni Game. A "conservative estimate" of the Dec. 31 game "put gate receipts for the event at more than $4 million, not including concessions, parking and merchandising." Participants "were given economy airfare, a hotel room and meals; Napier said he has heard exclusively positive feedback from his members about the way they were treated in Philadelphia." However, some alumni "expressed disgust that they were asked to pay for an assortment of ancillary fees to play in the game, including $50 for sticks, about $50 to $100 in airline baggage fees to ship hockey equipment, not to mention a mandatory $100 gratuity to the training staff" (TORONTO STAR, 1/28).

The NHL is Commissioner Gary Bettman's "fiefdom," and it "has been ever since 19 years ago he walked in and ... dragged the league into the late 20th century," but NHL COO John Collins "has been the jet fuel, taking it into the 21st century," according to Michael Farber of While the "lawyerly Bettman generally is about taking things step by step, Collins, the business guy, breathlessly rushes to the next thing, pushing, mining for opportunity." Collins helped turn the Winter Classic "into a phenomenon, at least in relative terms." He also helped launch HBO's "24/7," and the NHL's "media and digital revolution also has his fingerprints all over it." Collins, who was "involved in the creation of HBO's 'Hard Knocks' series, saw the possibility of slowing down the hurly-burly of the hockey season and telling stories, especially ones that dovetail with the games the league most wants you to see." Since Collins joined the league from the NFL in November '06, the NHL's "value has grown by about $1 billion." Collins said that the "strategy of events -- season openers in Europe, a heavily promoted national game [on] Thanksgiving Friday that began this year, the hullabaloo surrounding the New Year's (or thereabouts) outdoor game, the so-called Fantasy Draft and revamping of the All-Star format -- 'gives us an opportunity to reach out beyond our core fan base, the casual fans. It's a long season, and the events (are something) in which all the forces can sort of rally around.'" Making the NHL a "global brand like, say, the Barclay's Premier League might be as arduous a task as Sisyphus pushing a Rosetta Stone up the hill, but it is miles from the league not even a half-century removed from the so-called Original 6" (, 1/28). 

A NEW FOCUS: In Toronto, Kevin McGran reported the NHL "used to operate on a star system," but the league now "follows a different path, one forged by the NFL, the behemoth when it comes to sports marketing." Instead of focusing on "stars, it focuses on the game, the event." Univ. of Ottawa associate professor of sports business Norman O'Reilly said of yesterday's All-Star Game, "It would be naïve to say the loss of Crosby and Ovechkin doesn’t hurt (but) you’ll probably see ratings that are as good as last year. That’s evidence of success in marketing." Florida-based Sports & Sponsorship President Scott Becher said, "It’s important to market players, but first come the fundamentals and tweaking the game to be more fan friendly. It’s working." McGran noted the NHL "benefited by hiring" Collins, and the league, "by luck or design, has its very successful Winter Classic." There are "other things the league has done beyond the Winter Classic, like its '24/7' show on HBO and its in-house (now in multiple languages) to reach fans in underserved areas." The league is also "big on social media." O’Reilly said that videos "explaining suspensions -- released online and via Twitter -- by NHL vice-president Brendan Shanahan may well be an unintended stroke of genius, appealing to the water-cooler crowd" (TORONTO STAR, 1/29).

Novak Djokovic defeated Rafael Nadal in a record-setting Australian Open final yesterday, and men's professional tennis "may be the most satisfying sport on the planet at the moment," according to Jason Gay of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. Yesterday's match lasted for five hours and 53 minutes, becoming the longest final during the Open Era by nearly a full hour. There is "no game with so much excellence currently swirling at its top, that so reliably delivers not just entertainment, but historic greatness." The top three men's players -- Djokovic, Nadal and Roger Federer -- are as "formidable and as entangled a trio as tennis has ever witnessed." The "torrent of great tennis has undermined the old fear that the game would unravel with new technology, that it would become a tedious game of baseline heavy hitting" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 1/30). L.A. Times columnist Bill Plaschke said the “men’s game has never been better with Nadal and Djokovic and Federer in there" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 1/27).'s Jon Wertheim wrote, "Trite as it sounds, this is a golden age." Not simply because the Big Four, including Andy Murray, "reliably reach the latter rounds." Wertheim: "The dynamics and psychodynamics contained therein are really intriguing. We're talking about four guys with different games, different personalities and different sensibilities" (, 1/29).'s Richard Evans notes the fact that there were "still well more than 14,000 people in Rod Laver Arena at 1:40 on a Monday morning says everything one needs to know about just how riveting" the Djokovic-Nadal match was (, 1/30).

FORGET PARITY: In Jacksonville, David Johnson wrote parity "works well in the NFL, but it’s not doing much for women’s tennis." Diehard tennis fans "enjoy the play and the personalities of the women’s game as much as the men’s game." But the state of the game is "vastly different." With Victoria Azarenka's win over Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open finals, women’s tennis is "dominated by parity with five different winners in the last five majors" (, 1/28).

The WPS is “suspending operations for the 2012 season,” according to a post on the Twitter feed of SI’s Grant Wahl. The league sent an e-mail to players that said the legal battle with former magicJack FC owner Dan Borislow “has diverted resources from investment in the league" and forced the suspension of the ’12 season. The U.S. national women’s team Friday clinched a spot in the ’12 London Games, and the Washington Post’s Steven Goff wrote, “Feels like 2003 when, on eve of Women's World Cup, WUSA closed.”’s Bruce Ciskie wrote, “Got to think this is the end of pro women's soccer in the States” (, 1/30).

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell was profiled on CBS’ “60 Minutes” last night, with CBS’ Steve Kroft saying, “There are only two institutions in this country with the power to create almost limitless amounts of money. One is the Federal Reserve. The other is the National Football League.” Kroft asked Goodell, “How much power do you have?” Goodell replied, “I don’t look at it in those terms. I have to make a lot of decisions that aren’t in the best interest of individuals, whether they be owners, club executives, players. But I have to make sure the integrity of the game is protected at all times.” Kroft noted Goodell is “CEO, negotiator, arbitrator, disciplinarian, enforcer, cheerleader, custodian of a national pastime and no one’s errand boy.” Goodell said when he has to take action against an owner or suspend a player, the owners “don’t like it, but they also understand my responsibilities." Goodell: "I don’t expect to try to get people to like everything I do. I want them to respect what I do.” Kroft noted that in the NFL’s new TV contracts, Goodell “managed to wring more money out of the deal than most people thought possible.” Kroft said to Goodell, “I hear you’re a pretty tough customer. I hear that you can be cold, confrontational if necessary.” Goodell: “I think you have to be in this job from time to time. I take my responsibilities very seriously and I want to make the league better, and to do that you can’t make everybody happy.” Walking through the crowd at M&T Bank Stadium prior to the Ravens-Texans Divisional playoff game, Kroft said, “This is a completely different experience than sitting at home and watching it on TV.” Goodell: “That’s part of our biggest challenge going forward is how do we get people to come to our stadiums and experience the stadium because the experience is so great at home” (“60 Minutes,” CBS, 1/29). ESPN’s Mike Greenberg said, "It was an excellent interview by Steve Kroft” ("Mike & Mike in the Morning," ESPN Radio, 1/30).

: In N.Y., Judy Battista cited sources as saying that the NFL and the NFLPA -- "deadlocked during the regular season over the implementation of blood testing for human growth hormone -- have made progress in discussions over the last few weeks, creating the possibility that testing of players will begin during the off-season." No deal is "imminent, and there is no expectation that an agreement will be announced" when Goodell and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith hold separate news conferences this week leading to the Super Bowl (N.Y. TIMES, 1/29).