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Volume 24 No. 112


Bills Owner Ralph Wilson was "as ecstatic as any of his team's fans over the signing" of DE Mario Williams to a six-year deal worth as much as $100M, according to Mark Gaughan of the BUFFALO NEWS. Wilson said, "It was a big win today, a big win for everybody; the fans, the people who work for us, everyone." The contract includes $50M guaranteed and "is the biggest for a defensive player in NFL history." It also is the "first huge-money deal the team has handed out in free agency" since '07, when it signed G Derrick Dockery for $49M. The 93-year-old Wilson said, "I'd like to see us make the playoffs and possibly the Super Bowl while I'm around. I don't expect to be around that many years." Wilson said that he "did not consider the signing any change in philosophy for him." He added, "I feel like we're not that far away." He also said that he "had no hesitation in going after Williams, despite the big cost," when GM Buddy Nix pitched the idea. Wilson: "The money had nothing to do with it. Buddy figured out how much it would take to get him. He put the price on, and we went from there" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/16).'s Andrew Brandt noted competitive balance and "parity, fueled by a cap and equally shared billions of television revenue," allowed for the small-market Bills to land Williams. Brandt wrote, "Pay close attention to the reported $50 million guarantee. That is the 'real money' of this contract, and it is eye-popping." An NFL source said that half of the $50M "is fully guaranteed for skill and injury while the other $25 million is only guaranteed for injury initially, converting to full skill guarantees later in the contract" (, 3/15).

IMPACT PLAYER: In Buffalo, Bucky Gleason notes not since the '86 deal for QB Jim Kelly has a player "signing a contract with the Bills made such an impact," and it is a sign the Bills "are relevant again."  Williams "chose to come here, a fact that will take him a long, long way in this town." Williams said Thursday at the press conference, "You hear so much about, 'Oh, it's cold.' It's cold in a lot of places. You hear so much about, 'There's really nothing to do.' Well, it's a family atmosphere here, but everything is within reach if you want to go to Toronto or fly to New York or Boston" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/16). In Rochester, Bob Matthews writes the arrival of Williams "could mean more to the Bills off the field than on the field in terms of credibility and relevancy in this region and throughout the NFL nation, proving that owner Ralph Wilson still is serious about providing a competitive product, encouraging fans to buy season tickets, and suggesting that ... Buffalo is not necessarily the Siberia of the NFL" (ROCHESTER DEMOCRAT & CHRONICLE, 3/16). The BUFFALO NEWS' Gaughan writes the deal "is a milestone in the 52-year history of the Bills" (BUFFALO NEWS, 3/16).

Williams had been with the Texans since being selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the '06 NFL Draft. Texans Owner Bob McNair said of losing Williams to the Bills, “What you’re seeing happen is there are a few stars around the league that are going to get a lot of money, and with the salary cap, that just means that there’s less money to go around for the rest of the other players. I think what this will do ultimately with the new CBA ... is going to allow the teams in the lower quartile an opportunity to move up faster because with the new rookie salary pool less money is going to go to the rookies.” Patriots Owner Robert Kraft said of big free-agent contracts, “Commissioner Goodell has done a great job helping to get us this 10-year labor agreement. We have TV agreements that guarantee our revenue streams over the next decade so teams know what they have to spend and the health of the league is very strong” ("Squawk Box," CNBC, 3/16).

Williams is arguably the highest-profile free agent to sign a deal this offseason, and Comcast SportsNet New England’s Tom Curran noted there are a "lot of teams that are rolling their eyes and saying, ‘My god, why is everybody spending so much money? We don’t have a salary cap that went up, it’s gone down!’" Curran: "The fact is you can either pay now like some teams are doing, or pay later like teams like the Patriots probably intend to do when that 2014 money comes in. I'd be a pay later guy myself. Wait till the money is there.” NBC Sports Network’s Pete Najarian: “The teams that are paying now, have to pay now. They got to fill those stadiums. I’m talking about Buffalo and I’m talking about Tampa Bay. They’re the ones paying, they got to pay now.” NBC Sports Network’s Russ Thaler: “That's right. If you don't pay now you might not have the money to spend” ("NBC Sports Talk," NBC Sports Network, 3/15).

Magic C Dwight Howard, after “months of agonizing over his future, and with the NBA trade deadline just hours away,” decided to commit to the team “for at least one more season,” according to Josh Robbins of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. Howard “waived his contract's early termination option and ensured he will remain with the franchise for the 2012-13 season.” His decision “ended a high-stakes game of chicken against the Magic.” Team officials had determined they would “not allow Howard to become a free agent this summer.” Robbins writes Magic officials “pulled at him,” and Magic CEO Alex Martins “communicated with Howard almost every day.” Howard will earn $19.5M with the Magic next season. Martins said that the team “will try to sign Howard for the long-term” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/16). In Orlando, Mike Bianchi writes Howard’s decision was “such a powerful and wonderful thing.” Bianchi: “It wasn't business. It was personal.” Howard on Thursday said, "In my heart, I just felt like loyalty is better than anything. … I have to do what's going to make me happy. I've got everything I want right here in Orlando." Howard did something professional athletes “rarely do these days: He did what was best for the Magic and not for himself” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/16). An ORLANDO SENTINEL editorial states, “Good for Magic fans. Now they must hope the team does enough to convince him to stay for good” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/16).

DÉJÀ VU? ESPN THE MAGAZINE’S Chris Broussard wrote the move “ends what can only be characterized as a tense saga for the Magic.” By signing a waiver that keeps Howard with the team through next season, he “passes up the opportunity to sign a long-term contract this offseason.” He is “eligible to sign a two-year or three-year extension with the Magic, or he can collect his $19 million next season and then become a free agent, but Howard runs the risk of incurring an injury before signing another long-term deal” (, 3/15). In Orlando, George Diaz writes the waiver “essentially gives the Magic another year to put enough pieces in place to keep him around forever and ever.” Diaz: “March Sadness has been averted. But the Dwight Drama has not. This just means we get to double-down on all craziness for another year” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/16). The AP’s Kyle Hightower noted unless team Martins and GM Otis Smith can “add pieces around Howard between now and the summer of 2013, this entire ordeal is set to play out one more time.” Martins said that “part of the process was building a new relationship with Howard that he didn't have before.” Martins said that his “focus will be on making Orlando what Howard needs it to be in hopes of getting the center to sign a long-term deal” (AP, 3/15).

WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN: In N.Y., Stefan Bondy notes the Nets and Magic “had the framework of a deal complete Wednesday night” for a Howard trade. It was the move Howard and his agent, Dan Fegan, had “pushed for since preseason, a way to earn more endorsement dollars in a bigger market.” Nets GM Billy King “constructed his roster and cap situation accordingly.” But Howard “waffled for a final time that night on the team plane, where he decided to go against the advice of Fegan and exercise his one-year option to play another season in Orlando -- thus forgoing free agency until 2013 and killing King’s plan to open the Barclays Center” with Howard and Nets G Deron Williams. Bondy: “Until further notice, these are still the Nets, Brooklyn or not, Mikhail Prokhorov or not” (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/16). In Toronto, Frank Zicarelli writes the “biggest losers in the Howard melodrama would be the New Jersey Nets, a team that can’t buy a break, even with a deep-pocketed owner” (TORONTO SUN, 3/16).

MARTINS IS THE MAN: The ORLANDO SENTINEL’s Diaz writes Martins was “the perfect guy to re-recruit Dwight,” and he was the one who “got it done.” Martins convinced Howard to "roll the dice" with the Magic. Howard is “staying (at least for another year) because he is loyal to the Magic, but most importantly he is loyal to Martins.” Martins used “his personality -- very businesslike, but approachable and cordial -- to convince Howard to break free from the pack of NBA egomaniacs and their superstar cliques.” Martins said, "I don't think it's fair for me not to say that a lot of people were involved in this process. [Team Owners] the DeVos family were incredibly involved with conference calls, sometimes with as many as 20 members of the family” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 3/16).

Trail Blazers President Larry Miller said Owner Paul Allen is “still absolutely committed to this team,” and Thursday’s slew of roster moves -- including trading C Marcus Camby and F Gerald Wallace, releasing C Greg Oden and firing coach Nate McMillan -- “have had nothing to do with positioning the team for sale.” Miller said Allen is as “involved as he’s ever been in this team.” Miller: “I talk to him and email with him on a regular basis. He’s very, very involved with this team.” He added of the possibility Allen was looking to sell, “I would hope that I would know. … If that was the case, I would be aware of that and be involved in it and I can tell you right now, I have no knowledge” (, 3/15).

Quebecor Inc.’s plan to "revitalize its media division has little to do with newspapers and television stations and everything to do" with bringing an NHL team back to Quebec City, according to Steve Ladurantaye of the GLOBE & MAIL. While the Montreal-based media, cable and telecommunication company’s plan is "hardly a secret, the extent of its ambitions were laid bare Thursday as the company released earnings that blew past analysts’ expectations." Although the day’s focus was on the numbers, CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau "couldn’t help slipping in a mention of the company’s NHL ambitions in the press release." And while the past year may have been "difficult -- the company cut 400 jobs in its Sun Media division -- much of the restructuring has been done to prepare the media division for an NHL bid." Péladeau said, "Quebecor Media now has all the tools it needs to pursue its goals, which are to manage a world-class multipurpose centre and to bring a National Hockey League team to Quebec City." Ladurantaye notes the company has "reached a deal for the naming rights" of a yet-to-be-built C$400M arena in the city. Terms of the deal "vary depending on the eventual tenant, but Quebecor could pay" as much as C$65M for the rights. It would like to see a setup "similar to that enjoyed by Rogers Communications, which owns both the Toronto Blue Jays and the rights to broadcast the team’s games on its specialty sports channels" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/16).

RELOCATION DESTINATION? In Toronto, Morgan Campbell notes Quebecor's revenues from Q4 '11 were C$1.15B, a C$59M "increase over the same period in 2010 and an indication Quebecor can bankroll a major sports team." Conference Board of Canada Senior VP & Chief Economist Glen Hodgson said, "If you’re an organization with $4 billion in cash flow, buying an NHL franchise for $200 million is not that big a thing to imagine." Campbell notes if the NHL decides that a "struggling franchise" like the Coyotes should be "sold and moved, Quebec City would likely have to compete with Seattle, which hopes to lure the NBA back to town with a new arena." Both Hodgson and Univ. of Ottawa sports business professor Norman O'Reilly indicated that the "strong Canadian dollar gives Quebec City an advantage its owners didn’t enjoy" in previous years (TORONTO STAR, 3/16). The GLOBE & MAIL's Sean Gordon notes the talk in hockey circles is the NHL would "prefer to move the Coyotes to Seattle or perhaps Kansas City, but neither of those cities presents the same short-term appeal as Quebec City" (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/16).

MLS Timbers Owner Merritt Paulson said he does not “know of a sports property in the world that has the growth potential that MLS has,” and the league has “reached a tipping point in the United States and it’s really exciting to be part of it,” according to Jack Bell of the N.Y. TIMES. Paulson said there is “a bit of a move now and focus toward the product on the field,” and Portland is a “sophisticated soccer audience.” Paulson said the “real priority is to get the level of play up, and make this the best league in the Western Hemisphere and one of the best leagues in the world.” The following are excerpts from Paulson's Q&A with Bell.

Q: Last year, you had about 2,000 seats that were covered with a tarp, with obstructed views I believe. You opened them up for this season increasing potential attendance to about 20,000. What went into those decisions?
Paulson: We opened all the seats in North End, and have very few that are tarped. We have 7,000 people on our waiting list for season tickets. If we had 25,000 seats we would be sold out every game. We’re costing ourselves money with seats covered with tarps. ... At halftime it is a bit tight on the concourses, but it’s manageable now. Last year we were at roughly 18,000 a game, this year it’s 20,300. Another 1,500-2,000 seats are still covered. We’ll see how it goes.”

Q: Do you ever second-guess yourself about renovating an older stadium in the downtown area as opposed to trying to build something new, perhaps outside the city?
Paulson: To be in [the] heart of the city on the west side, with light rail everywhere, that’s something I wouldn’t trade for all the tea in China. If you build me a Livestrong Sporting Park in Hillsboro, about 20 minutes outside Portland, I wouldn’t take the trade.

Q: There has been so much talk about a second team in the New York area. ... Where do you come down on the matter?
Paulson: I think I’d share the commissioner’s view that New York makes sense on a lot of levels, but we’ve got to get it right. That means getting the facility right. ... A second team in New York in the right stadium makes all the sense in the world.

Q: Did you make money last year? And if not, will you this year?
Paulson: We are cash-flow positive, and in this world it is a terrific thing. We put a lot of money into it, not just the team, renovating the stadium. It might be a long time to say we made a profit. If you look at the money between the cost of team, the extra millions put into the stadium and practice facility -- on an operating level we were profitable. (, 3/14).

WEIGHING IN: MLS Commissioner Don Garber and NBC Sports Networks President of Programming Jon Miller attended the Union-Timbers game Monday, and Garber said Paulson and his staff “have done a truly remarkable job.” Garber: “It’s only going to get bigger and better.” Miller said of the atmosphere at Jeld-Wen Field being apparent on TV, “It’s important, and it’s incumbent on our producers. ... It’s up to us to make sure we capture that and transfer it to television.” When asked what teams and their supporters’ clubs can do to replicate the atmosphere in Portland, Garber said, “I’ve been following some social media today, and people have been talking about how special tonight is. It is very, very special. But it’s also amazing in Seattle and it was fantastic in Toronto, where the Champions League game had 47,000 people.” He added, “There’s great passion in a lot of our markets, and it continues to grow. It’s a little bigger and better than it was last year, so who knows how it will be a couple years from now. Hopefully in markets it will continue to create a very positive dynamic of fan passion -- controlled fan passion.” Garber said Union CEO & Operating Partner Nick Sakiewicz told him “one of the things he has admired the most is that Merritt has listened to the fans and given them a voice, but done it in a way that’s responsible and respectable.” Garber: “I applaud the Timbers Army for working closely with the league. We’re trying to replicate that dynamic around the league” (, 3/13).

In St. Louis, Jeremy Rutherford reported the cost of Blues tickets "will be on the rise" for the '12-13 season. The team will introduce a 9.8% “blended” increase in '12-13, "meaning some sections will increase more, some less, and the price in three sections will remain flat." The highest increase "will be in the Mezzanine End level, which will climb 18.8 percent ($19 from $16 per game)." No ticket prices "will decrease in cost, but a total of 2,850 seats will remain the same" next season (, 3/15).

DEREK & THE DOMINOS: In L.A., Bill Plaschke writes the Lakers "traded their soul" when they sent G Derek Fisher to the Rockets Thursday. He was unofficially traded because the Lakers "no longer wanted to worry about his future salary -- $3.4 million guaranteed next season -- or his future attitude." The "money dump is obvious," as it is the "same thing" Exec VP/Player Personnel Jim Buss did earlier this season in dealing F Lamar Odom to the Mavericks. For the "first time ever, the Lakers are clearly being guided by economics, one of the greatest franchises in sports suddenly reduced to tripping over relative pennies." But it is the "attitude dump that is strange." The team Thursday acquired G Ramon Sessions, and some people felt that Fisher "could make things uncomfortable for everyone, particularly Coach Mike Brown, by using the same sort of political savvy that helped him serve as the union boss during the recent lockout" (L.A. TIMES, 3/16).

LONE RANGER: In DC, Mark Maske cited a source as saying that the Cowboys are "unlikely to challenge the NFL’s decision to cut the team’s salary cap space by $10 million over the next two seasons." That would leave the Redskins, who lost $36M in cap space in the same decision, "to act alone if they choose to challenge the NFL’s ruling." It remained unclear Thursday "whether the Redskins would contest the league’s decision, either via an appeal to the NFL or a legal challenge." The source said that the Cowboys "probably would do nothing but that the Redskins 'might be considering some legal options'" (, 3/15).