The NFL yesterday “upheld the season-long suspension” of Saints coach Sean Payton, as well as “the shorter suspensions” received by GM Mickey Loomis and assistant coach Joe Vitt as a result of the team's bounty scandal, according to Judy Battista of the N.Y. TIMES. Payton’s suspension without pay, “originally scheduled to begin April 1, will now start April 16, meaning the appeal gave him two extra weeks to prepare the Saints for the draft and beyond.” He will “not be allowed football-related contact with players or team officials during his suspension." The eight-game suspension of Loomis and the six-game suspension of Vitt “will begin at the end of the preseason.” The NFL in a statement said that “if everyone cooperated going forward,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell “would consider reducing the financial penalties on Payton, Loomis and Vitt and altering the forfeiture of the Saints’ second-round draft choice in 2013 to a pick in a lower round.” And if the team “has a bad season in 2012 and the 2013 draft pick is high in the second round, the league would consider changing the punishment to several lower-round picks instead.” Battista notes Goodell “will consider reinstating Payton after the Super Bowl next February,” and Loomis and Vitt “will serve their suspensions and then be considered for reinstatement." The NFL investigation found that “22 to 27 players were involved, but the league is expected to discipline only a few of the defensive leaders.” Battista notes the NFLPA “has hired outside counsel, Richard Smith of Fulbright & Jaworski, to advise it on the bounty case and to provide representation if criminal charges are brought.” Reps of the union and the league also “met last week to review the NFL’s investigation.” The union “did not believe it was shown proof” that LB Jonathan Vilma “offered his own money or that the league had firmly established that Saints players went into games intending to injure their opponents.” NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir of External Affairs George Atallah said, “We did meet with the league, and the information provided to us has not matched up with the leaks and the evidence in the public domain” (N.Y. TIMES, 4/10).
THE SOFTER SIDE: Goodell said he would "consider mitigating the financial penalties" on the various individuals involved "if they embrace the opportunity" to assist in programs teaching players and coaches principles of player safety, fair play and sportsmanship. But CBSSPORTS.com’s Will Brinson wrote the fact that the Saints lost their appeal “isn’t particularly surprising” (CBSSPORTS.com, 4/9). The AP’s Brett Martel wrote Goodell “showed leniency” in his statement yesterday (AP, 4/9). In New Orleans, Jeff Duncan wrote Goodell “dangled a couple of carrots” at the Saints as post-suspension rewards. If the team can “keep their noses clean and work with the league on some of their player-safey programs they could get their second-round pick back next season.” Duncan: “That’s big.” The league also said that it “will consider reducing the financial penalties on some individuals” (NOLA.com, 4/9).
WHO'S IN CHARGE? A league official said Payton is “not allowed to engage in any coaching activities.” The official said Goodell is “not naïve enough to think there won’t be some contact but (Payton’s) not allowed to coach from home. … If a player has a baby, can he call to congratulate him? I don’t think we’re going to worry about that, or have a wiretap on his phone” (ESPN.com, 4/9).
The NFL and Ticketmaster on Friday formally announced a five-year extension of their secondary ticketing business. The deal was previously reported in SportsBusiness Journal. Ticketmaster CEO Nathan Hubbard said, "Together with the NFL, we've built a tremendous asset in the NFL TicketExchange as the safe, secure and convenient destination for NFL fans to buy resale tickets. We collaboratively worked together to enhance the terms of the extension resulting in improvements for fans, the league, the teams and Ticketmaster." The renewal, which picks up in the '13 season, includes all 32 teams. The deal will pay the NFL and its teams about $200M over the five years, though some of that money is forwarded from the existing deal, a source said. The press release announcing the deal said the NFL TicketExchange business had quadrupled in size since launching with the league in '08.
IMG has agreed to buy the ATP and WTA tour events in Memphis and "move them to Rio de Janeiro to be part of its Brazil venture, IMX," according to sources cited by Daniel Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The ATP "must still sign off on the move of its event," while the WTA has "granted its approval conditioned on the events remaining combined as one tournament." The tournament would "become the second acquisition for IMX, a 50-50 venture between IMG and Brazilian mining and energy conglomerate EBX." The moves "serve to underscore the continuing decline of professional tennis in the United States, particularly outside the major events." USTA Dir of Corporate Communications Chris Widmaier said, "We are committed to keeping professional tennis thriving in the U.S., but we recognize the final decision of the tournaments rests with the owners, along with the ATP and WTA tours." The Memphis stops are currently owned by Sharks Sports & Entertainment, which also owns the Sharks and the ATP World Tour SAP Open in San Jose. If the Memphis ATP event was to move, "it would become the highest-level tennis tournament ever played in South America." There are currently 12 ATP events and 10 WTA stops in the U.S., but "those totals include four combined events, including Memphis" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/9 issue). In Memphis, Kyle Veazey notes the "eventual result may have little impact on the sport's future in town." Sources said that there is the "potential that local event organizers will replace the ATP Tour 500-level event Memphis is reported to be losing with a 250-level event." Though that is a one-level drop in "terms of prestige and the points the men's tour awards to players who compete, it may not wildly affect the field the tournament can attract, depending on its position on the calendar." Veazey notes Morgan Keegan has "sponsored the men's event in recent years, but its future as a sponsor had been cloudy" with Raymond James' purchase of the firm in January. The women's tour has "only been coming to Memphis" since '02. It did "not have a sponsor last year" (Memphis COMMERCIAL APPEAL, 4/10).
UFL founder and Las Vegas Locomotives Owner Bill Hambrecht said Friday that "the UFL will return in 2012," despite the resignation of Commissioner Michael Huyghue and "losses of more than $120 million in its first three years," according to Steve Carp of the LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL. Hambrecht, who also owns the Las Vegas Locomotives, said, "We're moving forward. We fully expect to play." An official announcement “is expected around May 1,” and the league “will conduct a meeting April 16 in Las Vegas to finalize plans for the season.” Hambrecht said that the league “will play primarily on weekday nights beginning in mid-September and is expected to have a national television contract.” The five-team league will consist of Las Vegas, Virginia, Omaha, Sacramento and "an expansion team, most likely in San Antonio, though Southern California and Portland, Ore., have been discussed.” Carp noted the UFL “reportedly has cut a deal for games to be aired on the CBS Sports Network.” Each team “also is trying to sign a regional TV deal with a cable operator in its area.” Hambrecht said that the UFL “will not have a commissioner or a league office.” Hambrecht and Virginia Destroyers Owner Bill Mayer “will oversee the business end, and Locos president and coach Jim Fassel will be responsible for the football side” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 4/7).