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Volume 24 No. 157

Leagues and Governing Bodies

While the dispute between the NFL and the NFL Referees Association continues, nine of the "most respected" former NFL officials who later became officiating trainers "have been instructed by the league to turn in their computers and no longer have access to the NFL's computer system," according to Sam Farmer of the L.A. TIMES. The officials' transgression "was refusing to train" replacement officials, "who Friday were in Dallas for their first clinic." Official-turned-trainer Jerry Markbreit said, "We feel that we're fired. They haven't formally notified us, but it sure feels like we're fired." The other eight former officials "asked to return their computers were Red Cashion, Ron Botchan, Bill Schmitz, Ben Montgomery, Jim Quirk, Sid Semon, Tom Fincken and Dean Look." Those men, "who are not currently members of the union, have 265 years of combined service with the league and have worked 22 Super Bowls." Markbreit said, "They wanted us to train the replacements which we would absolutely not do. We were all officials for 20-plus years. ... How could we face our people? There wasn't a question about us doing this. We knew this was coming. It's very discouraging for (the league) to have put us in this kind of situation." The NFL in response said that the trainers "were not fired but are seasonal employees." The NFL said the trainers "have decided not to work at this time." The NFL: "We asked for their NFL-issued laptops back so that those who are working right now can use them." The league "did not give an explanation for why the trainers could no longer access the computer system" (L.A. TIMES, 7/21).

ISSUES ABOUND: In Jacksonville, Vito Stellino wrote under the header, "Despite TV Success, NFL Facing Issues." Teams are "having problems attracting fans to their stadiums." There is the "increasing number of concussion lawsuits." Two more issues are the "labor dispute with officials, and the players' collusion lawsuit contending the owners illegally conspired during the uncapped year in 2010 to keep spending down" (FLORIDA TIMES-UNION, 7/22). The AP's Barry Wilner wrote the NFL "made headlines without even trying during an off-season when there was almost never a day off -- certainly not for the league's lawyers." It has been "nonstop drama off the field" (AP, 7/21).

The NFL Coaches Association is directly suing NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir Clark Gaines, NFLPA Dir of Finance Charles Ross, and former NFLPA general counsel Richard Berthelsen as part of the ongoing legal dispute between the two parties. The NFLCA last week also sued Amalgamated Bank alleging that, at the NFLPA's request, the bank has declined to release the coaches’ association’s funds. The NFLCA is seeking damages of $958,834.57 in addition to attorneys’ fees and litigation expenses. The NFLCA also is requesting a separate trial to determine Amalgamated’s liability. The NFLPA sued the NFLCA in April to prevent the group from tapping its bank account, claiming a debt of $650,324.88. The NFLPA also questioned the validity of the NFLCA's decision to hire David Cornwell, a union critic, in February as the new Exec Dir. The NFLCA countersued and, late last week, filed the latest rounds of lawsuits, claiming the debt was incurred without the authorization of the NFLCA, and was used to further union needs. The NFLPA essentially ran the coaches' group from ‘05 until Cornwell’s election, though the lawsuit filed last week said Berthelsen on April 9 “claimed that DeMaurice Smith, who is the current Executive Director of the Players Association, was the rightful Executive Director of the Coaches Association and that Mr. Smith had been Executive Director of the Coaches Association since Mr. Upshaw passed away (in 2008).” Berthelsen recently resigned from the NFLPA after a lengthy career. The lawsuit maintains Berthelsen, Gaines and Ross had a conflict of interest by acting as officers of both the NFLPA and NFLCA. The complaint alleges Gaines directed the coaches group’s affairs from ‘05 through early ‘12. The complaint alleges Ross directed the financial affairs of the NFLCA from ‘05 through early this year. The NFLPA and Berthelsen could not immediately be reached for comment. The NFLCA says in the lawsuit it cannot function properly because of the inability to tap its funds, which total $308,509.69. The coaches are represented by Cornwell's new law firm, Gordon & Rees.

Many European soccer clubs, in “an effort to extend their fan bases in the emerging soccer market of the United States, are doing so with summer tours of the country," with exhibitions such as Wednesday's Liverpool-AS Roma game at Fenway Park, according to Amalie Benjamin of the BOSTON GLOBE. Int'l soccer is “promoted and encouraged” by MLS, which in recent years has “made strides … but still lags far behind international soccer in terms of passion, talent, and financial resources.” MLS Commissioner Don Garber said, “There’s certainly enormous overlap today between the international soccer market and the MLS soccer market. Our goal is to continue to convert those people who begin their soccer fan experience through a connection to an international, whether that be through the EA (video) game or watching the Premier League on television. Then we work hard to convert those fans into being a passionate supporter of a local team.” From July 18 to Aug. 15, 35 games are scheduled in the U.S. and Canada involving international teams, the "most in recent history.” That includes the MLS All-Star game, in which "the best of the U.S. league will take on EPL club Chelsea.” Garber said, “People are curious to see how we do fare against a world-class competitor.” He admitted that even the “best of MLS is not close to on par with the best of Europe.” Still, MLS “believes it’s a win-win, that by bringing European teams into the fold, that the soccer audience increases, helping international clubs looking to expand market share and domestic clubs looking to increase interest in soccer.” MLS average attendance “has grown from 14,862 in 2001 to 18,626 in 2012” (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/23).

TRYING TO CRACK CHINA: In London, Mark Ogden writes the biggest names in the EPL “have been trying to ‘crack’ China for years, with [Manchester] United, in particular, working overtime to position themselves as the number one club in a nation of over one billion people.” ManU has played in Beijing, Guangzhou and Hangzhou, plus the Chinese territories of Hong Kong and Macau in recent years, but “there is a sense within the club that they are still attempting to scratch the surface in China.” Manchester City had “attempted to persuade United to agree to a derby clash in Beijing, rather than the eventual date against Arsenal, but the idea was knocked back by United, who believe their brand in China is strong enough to prosper on its own, without the help of a box office meeting with their neighbours.” While ManU officials “claim to have millions of supporters in China, tapping into their popularity there has not proven to be as straightforward and financially-rewarding as in the likes of Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.” ManU, Man City and Arsenal are “all in China this week to chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, despite the difficulties in locating it” (, 7/23).