MLB Spring Training attendance is down this year, and "several things are to blame, aside from pricey tickets -- early start, cold weather and lineups depleted by injured stars and players dispatched to the World Baseball Classic," according to Ben Walker of the AP. Data from Stats LLC shows that the dip is "nearly 14 percent lower than it was on this date last year." In order to schedule WBC games, Spring Training started about a week earlier this season, "before many fans arrived for vacation and spring break." Phillies manager Charlie Manuel said, "We started about eight or nine days too early. That means a whole lot." The weather "hasn't been ideal, either." Games began on Feb. 22 and "averaged 5,789 fans through March 12." They started on March 2 last year and "averaged 6,703 by that same date" (AP, 2/13). Meanwhile, ESPN.com's Jim Caple wrote Spring Training has become "less about watching baseball and more about splurging on a spring vacation." Box seats behind home plate for tomorrow's Royals-Dodgers game "are as much as $49." Seats behind the dugout and "down the line go for $28 to $43, and the outfield lawn is $16.25." The Angels "charge $34 for their best seats," while the Cubs charge $32 "for premium games." The Giants website listed "lower level box seats for $68.75 for this Sunday's game against the Rockies." Upper level "box seats were $63.75." Bleacher seats "down the outfield lines were $45." Outfield lawn seating "was $25 (and rising to $34 for a game later this spring)." In Florida, the Red Sox "sell home plate dugout boxes for $46" (ESPN.com, 3/13).
EMPTY NEST SYNDROME: Lee County Commission Chair Cecil Pendergrass said that the county will contact the Blue Jays about their "12-month search for a new spring training home with the goal of putting them in vacant City of Palms Park." In Ft. Myers, David Dorsey notes the Blue Jays will "spend the next year looking at contingency plans as their lease in Dunedin expires in 2017." Lee County, which has "assumed control of City of Palms Park from Fort Myers, has been courting new tenants for the 8,000-seat stadium" since agreeing to build the Red Sox' $80M JetBlue Park. The Nationals and Lee County "have been negotiating, but the two sides have not spoken in recent weeks" (Ft. Myers NEWS-PRESS, 3/14).
NBA Commissioner David Stern yesterday said while the NBPA had been dealing with the circumstances around former Exec Dir Billy Hunter in recent weeks, it has not been "as proactive as they could be on a variety of what we used to call 'b-list' issues," according to Henry Abbott of TRUE HOOP. Appearing on SiriusXM’s “Basketball and Beyond with Coach K,” Stern said that involved a "wide variety of things," including player development and "even discussions further with the NCAA about when players should be eligible." Stern: "We’re looking for a partner that can really make life better for our players, would-be players, sort of the social welfare task of a union, together with growing the game so that everyone prospers. And then at some future date we’ll argue about how to split up the sum of all of the growth we’ve worked on together” (ESPN.com, 3/13). YAHOO SPORTS’ Eric Freeman wrote Stern “makes a good observation.” In recent years, the NBPA has been “so disorganized and had to deal with enough internal strife that any discussions with owners have either been ineffective or focused on large-scale topics like revenue sharing.” A strong union will make “discussions over issues like the age limit and drug testing easier, if only because it's easier to hold substantive negotiations with a party that knows what it wants and how to express those desires.” On the other hand, Stern “seems to imply that a stronger union will be more inclined to agree with the league office's definition of how to ‘make life better for our players’” (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 3/13).
Less than six months after its acquisition of the American Le Mans Series, NASCAR’s Grand-Am Road Racing has finalized the name and logo for the combined racing organizations, which will be known as United SportsCar Racing. The organization will use a logo that features a red helmet above an italicized sans-serif font that features the word United in black and SportsCar in red. The top of the helmet is composed of a curling line that represents three-quarters of an oval racetrack and the bottom is three-quarters of a square that represent an angulated street course. The name and logo will be unveiled today at 2:30pm ET at Sebring Int'l Raceway. N.Y.-based SME Branding spent four months working with Grand-Am and ALMS execs on the design, and the name, United SportsCar Racing, was selected from more than a thousand fan recommendations submitted through a “Name the Future” contest. Grand-Am President & CEO Ed Bennett said, “The core of the mark very descriptively says what the product is. We felt sportscar racing was very clear about what we are, and united, it means a few different things. In the early days, people will say we’re uniting two entities.” Bennett later said he hopes that "united" stands for the united manufacturers, drivers, team owners and sponsors who compose the series. As for the logo itself, Grand-Am Marketing Dir David Pettit said the series settled on a helmet because it felt it was “something that was ownable.” He added, “Surprisingly, a helmet hasn’t been used a lot.” ALMS President & CEO Scott Atherton: “Initially when people see this it will surprise them because it’s not like anything else they’ve seen in the (motorsports) industry. The icon logo we created is going to become something you see in the back window of high performance sports cars and people in the know will identify each other and say, ‘Hey, I know what that means.’ I’d like to see this logo in the back of every Porsche, Ferrari, Corvette and Viper I see.”
NEW SANCTIONING BODY: In addition to unveiling the new series name, Grand-Am and ALMS leaders plan to announce that the sanctioning body of the series will be the Int'l Motor Sports Association (IMSA), which sanctions ALMS. They will use a new logo for IMSA that features a straight red arrow framed by a black square that has a white s-shape in its center. IMSA was founded in '69 by the late Bill France Sr. The sanctioning body will oversee United SportsCar Racing and ancillary series such as the Continental Tire Sports Car Challenge, Ferrari Challenge, the IMSA GT3 Cup Challenge, the Cooper Tires Prototype Lites and the Porsche GT3 Cup Challenge Canada. The United SportsCar Racing series will feature five divisions: a prototype class that combines Grand-Am’s Daytona Prototypes with ALMS’ P2 and DeltaWing cars; a prototype challenge that retains ALMS’ current class structure; GT Le Mans (GTLM), which will be ALMS’ GT class; GT Daytona (GTD), a combination of Grand-Am’s GT class and ALMS’ GTC class; and GX, which comes from Grand-Am.
The Qatar Football Association has “denied a report that the Gulf state is planning to launch a summer football league" that will see Europe’s top clubs paid U.S.$261.4M each to compete, according to Paul Kelso of the London TELEGRAPH. Reports yesterday had Qatari football officials in Doha and Paris, home of the Qatar-controlled Ligue 1 club Paris St-Germain, “driving plans for a ‘Dream Football League’ which would play biannual tournaments in the Gulf summer.” Qatar “denied that it, the QFA or any ‘Qatari football entities’ had any involvement" in such a plan. Sources said that they had “heard rumours of a European club football scheme but not to the level of detail” in the report (London TELEGRAPH, 3/14). In London, Oliver Kay, who initially broke the story, reports EPL club Manchester United will "lead the opposition" against the Dream Football League. Contrary to "denials and conspiracy theories," several of the clubs under consideration for the tournament "admitted privately yesterday to having been sounded out be intermediaries working on behalf of such a project." No English club has "indicated any support for the project," with ManU "expressing particularly distaste for any proposal that threatens the existing European club competition structure." Kay writes there is a "fervent desire among clubs" including EPL club Arsenal, ManU and German Bundesliga club Bayern Munich who "hold sway with the European Club Association to fight threats to the existing structure and to the increasingly imaginative schemes being discussed as means of trying to overcome UEFA's new Financial Fair Play regulations" (LONDON TIMES, 3/14).
IS THIS REAL OR IS IT JUST A DREAM? The WALL STREET JOURNAL’s Joshua Robinson writes the London Times claimed its story was true, but a French website said that it had "published the same news a day earlier as a hoax.” The news in the Times article “appeared on the quasi-satirical Cahiers du Football, a soccer site in France, in the form of a fake wire story credited to the nonexistent ‘Agence Transe Presse.’” The online story “included many of the same details as the Times and both outlets used the same DFL logo.” Kay wrote on his Twitter feed Cahiers du Football "was 100% NOT the source of my story." Kay “further disputed Cahiers du Football's claim in a webcast” (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/14). Les Cahiers du Football Editor Jerome Latta said, "It all came out of my imagination. But the fact that it made its way to the mainstream press is quite significant.” However, the Times "stood by its Wednesday story." The Times said that its story had "nothing to do with the website version and was based on research by its own reporter" going back "quite a while." Kay said, "I’ve been amused by the speculation about the source of this story. I can guarantee you 100 percent, 1,000 percent, 175 million percent, that my story had nothing to do with any website, spoof or otherwise. I’ve no idea about their modus operandi. What I know is that my source is very good, the information is very good and that there is more where that story came from" (REUTERS, 3/13).
FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal cited sources as saying MLB has expressed "no interest" to the MLBPA for a proposed two-tiered PED penalty system. Rosenthal noted in the proposed system, "players who intentionally violate the program could receive harsher punishment than players who unintentionally test positive." Sources said that MLB "views different sets of punishments as impractical ... believing it would be difficult to establish which players used intentionally and which did not" (FOXSPORTS.com, 3/13).
CALLING TIMEOUT: ESPNW.com's Mechelle Voepel reported WNBA Storm G Sue Bird "will join" Seattle F Lauren Jackson "on the sidelines for the 2013 WNBA season." The need for a Bird's break is "simply a health-based reality that most longtime WNBA players face at one time or another." It has been "this way since the WNBA began in 1997." The league is more "high-profile, especially for American players, but fall-winter leagues overseas typically pay better." With the "limited window that all pro athletes have to make money, the majority of WNBA players have competed overseas." Voepel: "Maybe one day the WNBA salaries will be large enough that players won't feel the need to do both. But that's not the case yet" (ESPNW.com, 3/12).
SHIFTING INTO GEAR: IndyCar drivers Dario Franchitti and Charlie Kimball appeared on NBC’s “Today” this morning to promote the start of the IndyCar season, which begins March 24 in St. Petersburg. NBC's Matt Lauer asked, “What do you think people don’t understand about your sport?” Franchitti said the “physical aspect of it” and how “difficult” it is to drive the car. Franchitti: "'Are drivers athletes' is a question we get asked all the time.” Lauer asked, “Are you?” Franchitti replied, “Five days a week in the gym, twice a day, I think that answers the question.” Franchitti was asked whether drivers feel the speed at which they are racing. He said, “You only feel the speed when something goes wrong, really" (“Today,” NBC, 3/14).
READY FOR RE-LAUNCH? F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone said that the sport's postponed IPO "could be re-launched later this year." Ecclestone: "Last year I thought that the markets were not ready, but now it is getting more likely that there is an opportunity" (REUTERS, 3/13).