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Volume 24 No. 155

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR driver Danica Patrick becoming the first female to win the Daytona 500 pole has caused “a significant spike in interest in the sport,” and NASCAR is “capitalizing on all the attention,” according to David Newton of Patrick's accomplishment “was everywhere” yesterday, including ABC's "GMA," "CBS This Morning" and CNN, and she is “scheduled for another round of national shows" today. NASCAR Senior VP & CMO Steve Phelps said, "Just the sheer volume of media requests we've received … it's staggering to see the breadth of requests, from sports, non-sports, national media, smaller media. It's pervasive and that obviously bodes well for pre-promotion of our racing.” The sport is “reaching people it typically doesn't,” and that is “significant to NASCAR's effort to grow its fan base and reach a younger demographic, the 18- to 34-year-old age group that has declined in recent years.” Phelps: "One of the key things is to grow new segments. You want to be diverse and get younger. She helps in both places." He added, "We've had some great stories, we've had some incredible interest, but this is something I would say is unique and special as she continues to break ground in NASCAR." Patrick already was “scheduled to be a large part of NASCAR's advertising plan for 2013.” Of the five new commercial spots for the Daytona 500, she is “in most of them.” Newton wrote Patrick has been “so big” in Daytona that driver Dale Earnhardt Jr., the sport's “most popular driver for 10 consecutive years, has seemed like an afterthought.” But NASCAR “needs to be careful not to overexpose Patrick.” She became the “face of the IndyCar Series, which didn't always sit well with the drivers who won races and championships” (, 2/18). ESPN's Mike Massaro said the week leading up to the Daytona 500 “will probably be pretty hectic” for Patrick, “doing a lot of media” (“SportsCenter,” ESPN, 2/18).

THUMBS UP: In N.Y., Viv Bernstein writes the attention on Patrick is “all good for NASCAR.” She made the rounds of “many of the major television talk shows Monday morning, giving the sport some much needed publicity.” NASCAR has had “a drop in attendance and television ratings in recent years.” The marketing game plan is “to focus on drivers, and nobody does a better job of self-marketing than the 30-year-old Patrick.” Phelps said, “Driver star power is something we’re going to bang on from a marketing perspective in ’13 and in ’14, ’15, ’16. It will all be about the drivers” (N.Y. TIMES, 2/19). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said Patrick sitting on the pole position ensures NASCAR "will get even better ratings” for the Daytona 500. But the accomplishment “doesn’t mean anything if you don’t back it up." Kornheiser: "You have to win the race” (“PTI,” ESPN, 2/18). NBC Sports Network's Michelle Beadle said, “I need her to win. ... I don’t want another Anna Kournikova situation." But NBC Sports Network's Dave Briggs asked, "Don’t you think this is different from the standpoint of she moves the sport forward even if she doesn’t win? She might have women going into racing which no one else in the sport could accomplish. Even without a win I think she’s done a lot for the sport” (“The Crossover,” NBC Sports Network, 2/18).

MERCHANDISE IN DEMAND: In Daytona Beach, Skyler Swisher notes fans are “snatching up Patrick-related merchandise, and national media outlets are devoting significant time to Patrick and the big race.” All of that is “good news” for Daytona Int'l Speedway President Joie Chitwood. Chitwood said, “I will never turn down anything that garners headlines for Daytona International Speedway.” NASCAR VP/Licensing & Consumer Products Blake Davidson said that Patrick “ranks among the top 10 in merchandise sales on NASCAR's online store.” The Marketing Arm VP/Motorsports Marketing Mike Mooney said that Patrick's “star power will only increase from the coverage generated from her winning the pole” (Daytona Beach NEWS-JOURNAL, 2/19).

HOLD THE PHONE: In Orlando, Shannon Owens writes, “I'm glad to see Patrick earn some deserved recognition for her talent and would love to see her win the marquee event in her sport. And should she achieve that marvelous feat, I'd proudly salute her.” Owens continues, “But I will not encourage or endorse any viewpoint that suggests for anyone to elevate Patrick's single event win as the greatest accomplishment by a woman in a sport simply because she's racing cars against men. That's an insulting and unfair view to athletes like Serena Williams” (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 2/19). Meanwhile, columnist Kevin Blackistone said he still thinks of Patrick "as a novelty." Blackistone: "It’s hard for me still to this date to look at Danica Patrick and not think of how she goes about presenting herself in the Go Daddy commercials, kind of objectifying herself and her gender. I wish she should get away from that” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 2/18).

The “last thing” USFL President & CEO Jaime Cuadra and his league partners “want to do is compete with Roger Goodell and that giant space currently driven and dominated” by the NFL, according to Kevin Paul Dupont of the BOSTON GLOBE. Cuadra said, “We realize who we are, and we realize who they are, and hopefully we’ll have a cooperative relationship with them as opposed to an antagonistic relationship.’’ Dupont wrote with a plan to “start play in spring 2014 with eight teams -- ideally one in Hartford as the New England entry -- the new USFL aspires to be the league that keeps players engaged in the game with the hope that they one day graduate to the NFL.” The USFL will pay players “all about the same, upward of $2,500 per game, or some $30,000-$35,000 per year, over a 14-game schedule.” The league will “write all the contracts, cut all the paychecks.” Cuadra said, “We’re looking at kids who may have been drafted in the seventh or sixth round and may have fallen off. ... Part of our tag line is, ‘Keeping the Dream Alive.'" He added, “We want (the NFL) to see us pretty much like they used to use NFL Europe -- a place where they could look for players who needed a year or two more experience on the field.’’

FOUNDING FIVE: Cuadra's company, EndZone Sports Management, acquired the USFL name “some 18 months ago,” and now, with a "large real estate developer aboard, the league is about to finalize paperwork with its first five franchises, some to be based in new stadia the league will build at a cost as high” as $500M each. Each stadium will have a seating capacity of “about 25,000, and in most cases will be part of a larger real estate plan that includes commercial space.” Cuadra was “reluctant to name charter cities." But he said, "There are markets right now in ... Southern California, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama ... and we are very, very far along with a team in Ohio.” He also said that a team in Hartford “could play at Rentschler Field.” Cuadra said that the league’s “master plan calls for all teams to be sold to individual investors.” The “price of ownership” is $1M per team. On top of seed money, USFL owners "must prove" they have another $6.5M "in ready cash to run the team each year.” Cuadra said that ideally the USFL will “evolve in three or four years to a 16-team league, playing almost exclusively in cities” without NFL or MLB clubs (BOSTON GLOBE, 2/17).

In Seattle, Jerry Brewer writes, “This is a good time to embrace the NBA again.” Seattle fans "get to have the world’s greatest basketball league back, and it comes during a time when the league is actually living up [to] that title.” The NBA is “considerably better than the league that abandoned us five years ago.” In terms of “quality of play and its entertainment value, the NBA is enjoying its best run in nearly 20 years.” The current “crop of stars is far more likable and trustworthy” (SEATTLE TIMES, 2/19).

PENALTY BOX: In Toronto, Damien Cox wrote Hurricanes RW Kevin Westgarth, one of the “most prominent” NHLPA members during the NHL lockout, has “heard the speculation surrounding another outspoken player, Chris Campoli, and his inability to find NHL work.” Campoli is “unemployed” and some are “suspicious that NHL owners are spitefully making sure he stays that way for choosing to lead the union fight.” Westgarth said, “I’m not sure. I hope that different things you do for PA and your colleagues don’t end up working against you” (TORONTO STAR, 2/16).

MEETS GIRL: In Newark, Dave D’Alessandro writes WNBA Liberty GM & coach Bill Laimbeer “might be the most influential coach and GM in the history of this 16-year-old women’s league.” His “first lap around the WNBA was in Detroit,” and now he’s back in the league with N.Y. D’Alessandro: “If you follow the league at all, you know it needs him badly.” This market “needs a big personality to stimulate interest in a league whose attendance has cratered.” Laimbeer once “seemed like the guy who might insert his foot in his mouth and keep chewing until he got to mid-femur.” But he is “very shrewd, and he’s a terrific advocate for the league” (Newark STAR-LEDGER, 2/19).