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Volume 24 No. 156

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr Sunday was "supposed to deliver ... a response to the league's latest offer," but the union decided it "needed more time before getting back in the room with league officials," according to Bruce Garrioch of the OTTAWA SUN.  The NHLPA informed NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly late in the afternoon that they "weren't ready to return to the table because they're still working on a response." The players held a "series of conference calls and face-to-face meetings Sunday morning," and Fehr was "huddled with his closest advisors working on a counter-proposal that will be tabled Monday." A league exec on Sunday said, "I'm sure you're going to see Fehr try to squeeze the league for more. He still feels he has time to push a few more buttons." A union source said, "We're going to find out how bad the NHL wants a season." Garrioch notes the players were "happy to get an offer Thursday, but they weren't completely pleased it was almost 300 pages, accompanied by a drop-dead date of Jan. 11 to get a deal in place and the season starting on Jan. 19." Sources said that the players "aren't thrilled with what the NHL tabled despite movement in three key areas: Contract term limits; the variance on deals and compliance buyouts the league initially refused to discuss." Garrioch notes there will be "several teams that aren't going to love" Bettman's strategy of a $60M salary cap, which is down from $70.2M this season. There are 12 teams with "more than that already committed to salaries next season" (OTTAWA SUN, 12/31). In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes Sunday's face-to-face session at the NHL office was "the first formal meeting between the sides since negotiations broke off Dec. 13." The weekend talks "did not involve player representatives or owners" (N.Y. TIMES, 12/31). The CP's Chris Johnston noted the league has "shown a willingness to bend on key issues." The NHLPA also came away from "informational sessions Saturday and Sunday," where aspects of the offer "were clarified, feeling like there could be some room for even more movement." Among the "biggest issues for the union is a proposed salary cap" of $60M in '13-14, "which would severely limit the amount of money available for free agents this summer" (CP, 12/30).

PRESSURE IS ON: The GLOBE & MAIL's Ebner & Mirtle cited an owner as saying that the "key element is the addition of an effective deadline" in the latest offer. He said that he "believed about three-quarters of players would vote in favour of playing a season." However, numerous owners are "skeptical" about Fehr and the group "hopes the deadline puts pressure on Fehr." A source said that players "don't feel the league gave up much ground -- but it was enough to get talks restarted" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/29).'s Burnside & Custance debated whether the NHL's new offer is "enough to get the players back on the ice" (, 12/28). In N.Y., Larry Brooks cited sources as saying that Bettman received "pressure in the form of phone calls from big-market owners -- including the Rangers' James Dolan ... to resurrect bargaining" (N.Y. POST, 12/29). The CBC's Tim Wharnsby noted Fehr "kept counseling his players to be patient and wait out" the NHL, believing the offers "will continue to get better." Whether Bettman was "motivated by the players' threat to file a disclaimer of interest by the Jan. 2nd deadline" or because he was "being pressured by the owners to avoid a second cancelled season, he sweetened the NHL's latest offer" (, 12/29). The CBC's Don Cherry on Saturday night tweeted, "Fehr naturally will say this isn't good enough and squeeze for more. But like I said 2 months ago after the association squeezes the last drop it will be settled." He added, "The only dark cloud I see is if the association pushes too hard we could go off a cliff" (, 12/30).

CREDIT WHERE IT IS DUE: In Philadelphia, Sam Carchidi wrote, "Give the NHL credit for stepping forward and trying to get the players back on the ice." It is expected that Fehr will "fight for every nickel before finally getting a deal done around Jan. 11, when there is no more time to negotiate." That would "enable the season to start Jan. 19" (PHILADELPHIA INQUIRER, 12/30). The GLOBE & MAIL's Eric Duhatschek wrote the "most critical decision for Fehr will be to assess whether Bettman's time line is real." If Fehr concludes that the NHL is "creating an artificial deadline here, he may well advise them to wait even longer, and see how far the league will legitimately go to get some sort of schedule played this year" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/30). The N.Y. POST's Brooks wrote it is "time ... for these players to be selfish and put themselves first, ahead of the generation that will follow." This is going to be "a bad deal (again, all within context) for the players, a very bad deal for players whose contracts expire at the end of this season, and a worse deal for the fans in big markets who pay the freight for their small-market cousins, but whose teams will be limited by a tightening cap." It is going to be a deal that "enriches big-market owners exponentially, puts money in the bank accounts of the small-marketers too, but ultimately will fail to solve the league’s problems" (N.Y. POST, 12/30). The NATIONAL POST's Bruce Arthur writes NHL players essentially are "paying to make a slightly better deal, and to perhaps make the league think twice before locking them out the next time the CBA comes around" (NATIONAL POST, 12/31).

ALL ROADS LEAD TO FEHR: In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote a deal "won't be the colossal victory for the owners many had predicted, and that will be because the passive-aggressive approach of ... Fehr prevented a rout." It always will be debatable whether the players "could have got a similar deal months ago and saved a lot of money." Fehr's ability to "wait and then wait some more has taken its toll." If Fehr responds to the owners' latest offer "with a new laundry list of items, as has been his pattern all along, hardliners could end up taking over on the NHL side, perhaps even pushing Bettman out and hurtling towards some kind of NHL nuclear winter." A league source said, "If this or something close to this doesn’t get it done, we’re not playing." But Cox wrote, "At this point, more reasonable types in both camps are likely to prevail" (TORONTO STAR, 12/29).'s Scott Burnside wrote, "We could spend, oh, a month or two talking about the missteps and the wonky strategies employed by the NHL's owners and, to a lesser degree, the players. But what is the point at this late hour?" If there is "a sign that at least the owners understand that the day of reckoning is at hand, it is that they did not immediately characterize this latest offer as some sort of 'final offer' or a hill upon which anyone would be willing to die." Fehr will have to "decide just how far he can push the envelope without leaving everything in tatters, including his own reputation" (, 12/29).

MISSTEPS OF LEADERSHIP: In Edmonton, Peter Adler wrote of the new offer, "Any reason for optimism? Absolutely not." That is because of the "strategy and tactics employed" by Fehr. Adler: "Did he share the gist of the [owners' latest offer] with his membership? Absolutely not." He told his members the union "got a new offer, it's studying it, there might be some information conference calls that might lead to something and, then again, they might not, here are the points we disagree on, stay tuned." But a summary of the league proposal "became public, leaving quite a few players gasping: how come the union chose not to share this information with us?" (, 12/29). In Montreal, Jack Todd wrote this lockout has been "a spectacularly erratic, Alice in Blunderland performance on Bettman’s part." If his "public appearances during this toxic lockout are anything to go by, Bettman is about as sane and grounded as Randy Quaid." While Fehr has "remained cool, calm and collected throughout, Bettman often has been overheated, hysterical and scattered." Todd: "Bettman gambled that Fehr couldn’t keep the players behind him, and he lost. Big-time" (Montreal GAZETTE, 12/30).

GETTING BACK TO BUSINESS?'s Burnside in a separate piece noted the NHL is "starting to show the first, shuddering signs of reanimation." There are "preparatory signs of life." NHL Senior VP/Scheduling & Broadcasting Steve Hatze Petros has been "constantly working on truncated schedules based on the moving target of a potential start date." In addition, NHL Senior VP/Hockey Operations Mike Murphy and staff "have been working with the information technology personnel at the NHL’s 30 rinks during the lockout to upgrade technology infrastructure" (, 12/30). YAHOO SPORTS' Greg Wyshynski noted NHL VP/Arena & Event Operations Dan O'Neill on Friday "sent a memo addressed to all 'Arena Technical Coordinators, Video Goal Judges and Video Goal Technicians.'" O'Neill's e-mail was "the 'first time all year' the officials have received this type of correspondence from the league" (, 12/29). In Pittsburgh, Rob Rossi cited details for plans for a season that would begin "within about three weeks." Team sales staff "could begin selling single-game tickets by Jan. 15," and clubs are "planning for seven days of training camp practices."  There would be "no exhibition games" (PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW, 12/30).

SEASON-TICKET HOLDERS NOT SHYING AWAY: The GLOBE & MAIL's James Mirtle noted there are "more than 100,000 Canadians who hold season tickets for their local NHL team, but fewer than 200 are believed to have cancelled during the lockout so far." Three of the teams contacted last week were "willing to put an exact figure on the number of cancellations they have had over the past 3 1/2 months: The Winnipeg Jets reported no cancellations; the Toronto Maple Leafs indicated they had had just one; and the Montreal Canadiens noted only eight people had given up their tickets." The Canucks said they have “averaged a couple of cancellations per week." The Senators have had "less than 1 per cent of their 11,300 season-ticket base walk away." The Flames and Oilers declined to comment. Canadian season-ticket holders "have been hanging on for two major reasons," number one being that if fans "give up their seats, they know they may never get them back." The Canucks have "nearly 7,000 more seats spoken for on their wait list." For the Canadiens and Jets, whose fans "waited 16 years for the return of their franchise last season, the number is closer to 8,000." The other way Canadian NHL teams have "kept their fans in the fold is by giving them options for what to do with their money during the lockout." In most cities, fans have "been able to either receive refunds as games have been cancelled or collect interest on their cash if they leave it with the team" (GLOBE & MAIL, 12/29).

Cain Velasquez regained the UFC heavyweight title Saturday night by defeating Junior dos Santos in UFC 155, and the company once again has “a marketing delight -- a proud, dedicated champion who appeals to the lifeblood of the fighting audience, the Latino market,” according to Lance Pugmire of the L.A. TIMES. The fight “produced a live gate of $3.286 million, greater than" Brock Lesnar’s farewell loss to Alistair Overeem last year. Overeem is “likely Velasquez’s next opponent and although it would seem unlikely for that large of an event, UFC President Dana White said he is intrigued by the idea of taking Velasquez and rising bantamweight star Erik Perez of Mexico south of the border for a pay-per-view card.” That potential expansion “coincides with the UFC anticipating a steady slate of compelling fight cards” (, 12/30). In Las Vegas, Adam Hill notes the UFC has “long desired an increased television presence in Mexico and has visions of holding a live event in the country as early as this coming year.” Velasquez and Perez “will be vital to that effort.” White on Saturday said, "Obviously it doesn't hurt with the two guys that won tonight and how they looked.” Hill notes White is “shocked the organization isn't already a huge hit in Mexico, but difficulties negotiating television deals in the country have proven to be a roadblock.” White: "When we started this thing, I really thought the three no-brainers (for success) were the United States, the United Kingdom and Mexico. We've been working on Mexico hard for a long time. We're still working hard on it” (LAS VEGAS REVIEW-JOURNAL, 12/31).

EMPIRE STATE OF MIND: USA TODAY’s John Morgan writes while MMA is not yet regulated in the state of New York, that “isn’t stopping UFC officials from targeting Madison Square Garden for a November 2013 fight card to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the promotion.” Athletic commissions in New York, Connecticut and Montana “don’t regulate MMA.” White said that the UFC “had gone so far as to set a tentative date for the event.” But White “declined to offer a reason for his newfound confidence that regulation would come to the Empire State next year.” The New York Senate and Assembly return to session in January (USA TODAY, 12/31).

FIFA President Sepp Blatter "took a sharp jab at Major League Soccer during a television interview this weekend, saying it has yet to catch on as a legitimate professional league in the United States," according to Blatter suggested that the MLS "has failed to generate much interest among mainstream American sports fans." He said, "It is a question of time, I thought -- we had the World Cup in 1994. But it is now 18 years in so it should have been done now. But they are still struggling." Blatter added, "There is no very strong professional league (in the U.S.). They have just the MLS but they have no professional leagues which are recognized by the American society." Blatter previously has "taken pokes at the MLS, among them the beef that it will struggle to prod star players to head to the U.S. unless it matches its season to those in Europe." He has repeatedly called for the league to "adopt an August-May schedule, saying that the current March-October season was the overwhelming reason that the MLS cannot compete with Europe's top leagues" (, 12/30). In N.Y., Andrew Das writes Blatter's comments "will of course come as a surprise to the fans and the cities where MLS is, well, recognized." Or to the clubs "in England and Italy and Germany that have hired players who got their start in MLS." Or to "top players like David Beckham and Thierry Henry who have made very good livings in the league in recent years." There may be a "ring of truth to what Blatter said: MLS is not considered on par with the NFL, the NBA, Major League Baseball and [the NHL] in the American sports landscape." Das: "But is that a fair comparison, given that the other four had a head start of at least a half-century?" (, 12/31).

STAR SEARCH: In L.A., Kevin Baxter noted the MLS Galaxy are "deep in talks with representatives" for EPL club Chelsea MF Frank Lampard. He will be a free agent this summer but yesterday said that he "hasn't discussed a new deal with his English Premier League team for at least two weeks." The "transfer window opens Tuesday." The Galaxy said that privately it believes Lampard "could provide some of the international star power the team lost" when Beckham retired. A Galaxy official said that the team also "remains interested in [Real Madrid MF] Kaka and will revisit that idea again next year" (, 12/30).