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Volume 24 No. 156

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The NHLPA Thursday "signed off on a bold realignment plan" which will see the Red Wings, Blue Jackets and Jets switching conferences but will leave an "imbalance in the league, with 16 teams in the Eastern Conference and just 14 in the West," according to Eric Duhatschek of the GLOBE & MAIL. NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr in a statement said that after "discussions with the union’s executive board, it had given its 'consent to realignment,' but with the proviso that it be re-evaluated following the 2014-15 season." The move also requires approval from the NHL BOG, but that is "viewed as a formality and could be accomplished within a week." Duhatschek reports the NHLPA until now had "objected to the NHL’s realignment proposal for two main reasons -- travel issues and the inequities involved in the playoff format." The NHL previously had wanted to wait to "put the new realignment plan in place until after the 2015-16 season." It now will "just be for two years before it is re-evaluated, which gives the league time to ponder expansion options and the future of unsettled franchises," such as the Coyotes (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/8). In N.Y., Jeff Klein notes the "reshuffling was spurred by complaints from Western Conference teams about the heavy travel." The Canucks, Wild and other teams in the West will "have their travel burdens significantly eased by the new setup" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/8). The move of the Red Wings and Blue Jackets to the Eastern Conference is a "selling point to those teams because they had some of the worst travel and road TV times as the lone Eastern Time Zone teams in the Western Conference" (USA TODAY, 3/8).

BENEFICIAL MOVE FOR SEVERAL TEAMS: The Stars will be placed in the Midwest Division, and team President & CEO Jim Lites said the move is "one of the best things that can happen to us." Lites: "From a competition standpoint, from a cost standpoint, from a player health standpoint, but mostly from the standpoint that this is so much better for our fans." In Dallas, Mike Heika notes the Stars joined the Pacific Division in '98, and the team has "had some great rivalries with the Sharks, Ducks and Kings." However, many of those games "ended in exciting overtime or shootout games past midnight for local viewers." Lites: "It just kills the television ratings, but it’s more than that. A lot of our fans missed some of the most important games in our history." Heika notes this format "pretty much assures" that the Stars will play in the Central time zone "for many years going forward." That is something that "can be added to the list of good things that have happened for Stars fans in the last two years" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 3/8). Meanwhile, Blue Jackets President of Hockey Operations John Davidson said of the team's impending move out of the Western Conference, "This just makes common sense." He added, "This is the right thing for our group (of fans) who come to our games, because it’s more of the teams they really want to see." Blue Jackets President Mike Priest: "This is a reward for our fans in many regards. This is a win for our market and our fan base" (COLUMBUS DISPATCH, 3/8).

PICK YOUR BATTLES:'s Pierre LeBrun wrote while there were "still reservations among player membership regarding the unbalanced 16/14 split in conferences, it wasn’t worth the fight it would have become." Had the NHLPA "pushed, the league could have had the matter resolved through a systems arbitrator whose decision would have been binding." However, NHL owners "still haven’t consented to participating in the Sochi Olympics next February," and it was "perhaps not worth poking the bear on realignment if your players desperately want to go to Sochi" (, 3/7).

The NFLPA recently informed NFL players and agents that players’ performance-based pay checks for the ‘13 season will be deferred for two years, NFLPA Assistant Exec Dir for External Affairs George Atallah confirmed. Players will receive the payment in March ‘16 instead of March ‘14. Atallah noted the reason for the deferral was to provide more salary cap room this year. He said, “In the early years of this deal, where revenues were not growing at the rate we expect them to grow when the television money comes in, we engaged in a process to smooth the salary cap.” The NFL salary cap went up $2.4M to $123M for the ’13 season. Atallah said the deferment of the performance pay was a small part of the reason for the increase. The main reason the cap went up is NFL revenues went up, he said. The NFLPA first told agents about the deferral of the ‘13 performance-based pay at the agent meeting during the NFL combine. Some agents privately expressed concern about the payments being deferred. Agents said the deferral potentially could adversely impact some of the lowest-paid players in the league. Atallah said, “Players are going to earn the money. It is just going to be deferred.” Performance based pay designed to reward players who have smaller contracts but participate in a significant number of NFL plays. It is calculated so that players with the smallest compensation get a much higher percentage of the performance-based pay pool. For example, a player like Redskins RB Alfred Morris who was a sixth-round draft pick last year, would receive a very large performance-based paycheck and Broncos QB Peyton Manning would receive a very small check, even though both players started and participated in a significant number of plays in the ‘12 NFL season.

New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver on Wednesday said “at some point there will probably be an approval” for MMA in the state, according to Greg Newman of ESPN N.Y. Silver said that he is “still personally opposed to MMA but sees how the sport could be used to increase the state’s revenue.” State Sen. Joseph Griffo said, "The legalization enjoys widespread, bipartisan support from upstate and downstate members in both houses." He added, "Legalizing MMA in New York will mean jobs and increased revenue” (, 3/7). New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, “I think it’s making progress and it’s something that we’re looking at. It’s a possible source for revenue in New York and we are all about looking for revenue in this state. So if we can bring economic activity in -- shows, etc. -- that's something we're very interested in and we're reviewing the current proposals" (NEWSDAY, 3/8). Meanwhile, UFC Exec VP & Asia Managing Dir Mark Fischer on Friday said that there is “a strong chance” UFC will hold a fight card in the Philippines next year after recent "failed attempts." In Manila, Joey Villar reports top officials at all-sports TV channel Balls “are expected to meet with the Mall of Asia people hoping to hold the planned 2014 UFC event at the MOA Arena.” UFC has “recently been aggressive in experimenting with the Asian market, having held fight cards in Japan twice and Macau, China once.” The company has “plans of staging about seven more cards in the next two years” (, 3/8).

THIS IS IT?’s Gregg Doyel wrote UFC’s partnership with Fox Sports 1 is the MMA promotion’s “best chance, maybe even its last chance, to become the crossover behemoth many of its fans … have wanted to see.” But it is “not going to happen, sad to say.” UFC is “a niche sport, always has been and always will be, and its partnership with Fox Sports 1 won't change that.” Doyel: “No amount of luck will help the UFC get any more popular than it already is, however, because it has very nearly maxed out.” He continued, “What I didn't know in 2009, but what I can see now, is that almost everyone who might be interested in getting on board already was.” UFC in ‘09 “wasn't the next version of the NBA or MLB, a monster sport about to rise toward the top.” Doyel added UFC has "crested” (, 3/7).

Int'l Speedway Corp. rewarded Vice Chair & CEO Lesa France Kennedy for performing "at a high level" in '12 by paying her a total compensation of $1.1M. The pay package, which excludes stock she was awarded last May for her '11 bonus, was a 34% increase from the $819,191 she was paid for '11. She received a base salary of $621,185 and earned 86% of her potential bonus package last year, up from 54% in '11, according to a recent SEC filing. Total revenues for the fiscal year that ended Nov. 30, 2012, decreased by 2.7% to $612.4M. Profits declined by 21% to $54.6M. ISC Chair Jim France earned a total compensation package of $562,448 and President John Saunders received $898,583. At presstime, ISC shares were trading at $31.58, up 0.61% from Thursday's close of $31.39.

CEO Lesa France Kennedy
President John Saunders
CFO Dan Houser
Chair Jim France


The Int'l Tennis Federation on Thursday announced that it would “stiffen the sport’s drug testing this year by adopting the biological passport program, which tracks an athlete’s blood profile over time, and increasing the number of blood tests and out-of-competition tests,” according to Lynn Zinser of the N.Y. TIMES. The move followed increased pressure on the ITF “from some of its players, most notably Roger Federer and Andy Murray, to improve its antidoping program.” The system will “go into effect this year on the men’s and women’s tours.” Tennis has been criticized for “its paucity of blood testing and scarcity of out-of-competition tests.” The World Anti-Doping Agency said that it conducted “only 21 tests outside of tournaments in 2011, out of 2,150 tests over all.” It added that “only 131 of those were blood tests that checked for human growth hormone, the performance-enhancing drug EPO or other blood doping substances.” Although more blood testing “was promised in the announcement, the federation did not say how many tests would be performed under the new program.” ITF President Francesco Ricci Bitti’s announcement came “after a meeting of antidoping officials" from the ITF, the WTA, the ATP and the Grand Slam tournaments (N.Y. TIMES, 3/8). NBC Sports Network’s Michelle Beadle said drug use in tennis “might be worse than we are aware of and we don’t even know” (“The Crossover,” NBCSN, 3/7).

NASCAR driver Denny Hamlin said that he "won't pay the $25,000 fine leveled on him by NASCAR on Thursday after his criticism of the Gen-6 race car" following last Sunday's race in Phoenix. The AP's Greg Beacham noted the fine also left "many of his fellow drivers wondering what they can say about their new cars without incurring NASCAR's wrath." Hamlin reiterated his position later Thursday "in a lengthy Twitter post and said he'll appeal the fine" (AP, 3/7).'s Terry Blount wrote Hamlin's fine was for "daring to see the new car as less than perfect." That is the "message to all the drivers from NASCAR's comment police, and this time, it's a step too far." NASCAR has to be "more thick-skinned than this, but apparently, it isn't" (, 3/7).

BOON FOR THE NHL: Chicago-based WSCR-AM's Brian Hanley said the Blackhawks' point streak is the "best thing that could have happened” for the NHL. Hanley: “Everyone in the hockey world is celebrating the fact that they’re leading the highlight shows, they’re leading ‘SportsCenter.’" Yahoo Sports' Kevin Kaduk said, “You can’t buy that sort of press if you’re the NHL or the Blackhawks. This sport needed this.” The Chicago Sun-Times’ Herb Gould said the fact the streak “is in a market like Chicago and one of the Original Six helps a lot.” Gould: “Chicago is a market that can be celebrated by the NHL” (“Sports Talk Live,” Comcast SportsNet Chicago, 3/7).

: USA TODAY's Robert Klemko reports the NFLPA next month at the NRA HQs in Virginia will "host a seminar for members wishing to understand state gun laws, learn to safely fire handguns or apply for ownership in their states -- all of which goes against the NFL's stance that players ought to avoid firearms." The NFLPA said that it is "not encouraging gun ownership," but that it is "recognizing many players own firearms and some are uneducated on the topic" (USA TODAY, 3/8).

THE NEXT BIG THING? In Phoenix, Dan Bickley notes the WNBA Mercury have the No. 1 pick in the upcoming draft, where they will select Baylor C Brittney Griner, "merely the most dominant player in college basketball regardless of gender." Bickley: "And the Valley yawns." Mercury Owner Robert Sarver said, "The league thinks that this draft class will be a little bit of a game-changer in attracting viewership. And there's going to be a couple things announced in the next couple of weeks that should help us a lot" (ARIZONA REPUBLIC, 3/8).