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Volume 24 No. 116

Leagues and Governing Bodies

With IndyCar coming off "one of its most competitive seasons in memory that ended with the first American champion in six years, its on-track product is viewed as excellent," but "conventional wisdom says everything else is a mess," according to Nate Ryan of USA TODAY. Whether it was the "protracted and bungled ouster of embattled CEO Randy Bernard ... (the latest in a series of embarrassing office politics debacles and airing of dirty laundry), a lack of cohesive and widespread marketing strategy for its stars and a TV deal that has hamstrung the sport with low visibility, ... IndyCar isn't in much better shape now than five years ago -- when Champ Car and the Indy Racing League merged into a single entity." Hulman & Co. CEO Mark Miles has "spent the past three months meeting with the drivers, car owners and key sponsors." Though Miles has "limited racing experience," he has "boundless business savvy, having spearheaded Indianapolis' successful 2012 Super Bowl bid." He also seems "more measured than Bernard." Miles wants to "eliminate potential overlapping of staffing in the front office of IndyCar and Indianapolis Motor Speedway." He also would "like to have a new CEO by spring." But the "trickiest hurdle might be IndyCar's TV deal, which runs through 2018" (USA TODAY, 3/20).

THE CHAMP IS HERE: In Indianapolis, Curt Cavin writes driver Ryan Hunter-Reay has "everything the IndyCar Series wants in a reigning series champion except notoriety." Hunter-Reay remains "uncelebrated nationally, and former IndyCar champions say it's an injustice that needs to be rectified." Dario Franchitti said, "All I've heard the last two or three years is that IndyCar needs an American champion again. Then it became anybody but the (Ganassi) guys or the Penske guys, or anybody but Dario. Well, Ryan went out and did it, and he did it on the last lap of the season. What more do people want?" IMS President & CEO and interim IndyCar CEO Jeff Belskus said, "He didn't get as much attention as I'd like for a variety of factors" (INDIANAPOLIS STAR, 3/22). The AP's Jenna Fryer noted IndyCar drivers and their "on-track product have been largely overshadowed by the off-track issues that typically plague open-wheel racing, and there's been no bigger casualty than Hunter-Reay." Bernard's "eventual firing and the unrest it created among fans overshadowed everything, including any potential marketing opportunities the series could have had with Hunter-Reay." IndyCar is "playing catch-up now, with Hunter-Reay's face adorning banners and ads for both the series and Sunday's race through the streets of St. Pete" (AP, 3/20).

FRESH FACES: In New York, Ron Levanduski noted the return of former Champ Car World Series driver A.J. Allmendinger "will not be a big enough boost to the series," as he is currently "only signed to run two events for Penske Racing." What the series "could use is another female star like Danica Patrick." IndyCar "may get that" in Simona de Silvestro, who "joined her first competitive team in KV Racing" (Elmira STAR-GAZETTE, 3/20).

TAKE TO THE BIG SCREEN: Miles said "planning is getting very specific about leveraging" Dreamworks' animated film "Turbo," which is "testing really well." Miles noted he is traveling to L.A. "to meet with the Dreamworks people to talk about big ideas to make the most of that" and this "unique opportunity is a big deal" (, 3/19).

LIKE FATHER, LIKE SON: Driver Graham Rahal said of previously driving for teams other than the one his father, Bobby Rahal, owns, "I used to go to countless sponsor meetings. I would walk in with whoever it may have been, and the very first question would be, 'Why don't you drive for your dad?' I'm not going to say this is totally sponsor-driven, because dad and I wanted that as well." In Tampa, Jim Tomlin noted this year "everything has lined up and the son is driving for the father." Graham signed a "three-year contract in the offseason with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 3/20).

SIGN ME UP: Mutual of Omaha has become an associate sponsor of Andretti Autosport and driver Marco Andretti. The company will be highlighted on the side and rear wings of Andretti's No. 25 Car (Mutual of Omaha)....Driver Tony Kanaan signed a "nine-race sponsorship deal with Hydroxycut just in time for the IndyCar season opener." The deal between KV Racing Technology and the weight-loss supplement company "helps the team replace longtime sponsor Geico, which gave the organization little notice it was pulling out of IndyCar." The deal still leaves Kanaan's No. 11 car "with five unsponsored races, Detroit, Texas, Iowa, Pocono and Mid-Ohio." But KV "likes its chances of finding a partner because all but the Mid-Ohio event are ABC telecasts" (AP, 3/21).

The Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series head to Auto Club Speedway in Southern California this weekend and the region is “crucial to NASCAR's present and future,” because even though Fontana might not be L.A., “it's as close as NASCAR gets,” according to according to Jeff Gluck of USA TODAY. The venue was “punished” for low attendance at many of its races when NASCAR moved one of its race dates Kansas Speedway in 2010, and now Southern California's remaining date “deserves to be embraced." NASCAR “knows this, certainly -- it has an office in Los Angeles where efforts are made daily to connect with the entertainment industry -- but the drivers and fans need to be fully on board, too.” The remaining date “cannot be allowed to fail; it's simply too important.” And Hollywood “holds the key to NASCAR's push to promote the star power of its drivers.” Southern California is the “largest population center to host” a Sprint Cup  race and it is a “heavily Hispanic market.” It is “conceivable much of NASCAR's future fan base could come from California.” But Fontana remains the “butt of many jokes, particularly when it comes to attendance.” The problem is the track “has long symbolized the time when NASCAR's bubble burst -- and it has left a bad taste in the mouths of many in the industry that lingers to this day.” NASCAR might be “better-served to race on the Long Beach Grand Prix course or even at the Irwindale short track (provided the capacity was greatly increased), because those would provide better entertainment value.” But that kind of “hand-wringing misses the point: Fontana needs to succeed in spite of the racing quality and attendance, not because of it” (USA TODAY, 3/22).

The AFL kicks off its ‘13 season on Saturday with the first of CBS Sports Network’s 19 regular-season broadcasts as part of a two-year deal. The net begins its schedule with Arizona Rattlers-Philadelphia Soul at 8:00pm ET. The league's ArenaBowl championship game will air on CBS on Aug. 17. NFL Network had AFL rights since ‘10 with a series of one-year deals. AFL Commissioner Jerry Kurz said the new TV deal is a key to raising the profile of the indoor league. The AFL also opens this season with a new five-year CBA and a league title sponsorship with Net10 Wireless. Kurz said, “We’ve had our speed-bumps, but this is a growing year. The opportunity to be on CBS Sports Network on Saturdays with a large window from 6:00-10:00pm allows us to have every team on a national broadcast at least once this year.” The AFL will field 14 teams for the ‘13 season, compared with 17 teams last year. The league contracted the Georgia Force and K.C. Command, and shut down the Milwaukee Mustangs for a return next season. The AFL also renewed its league deals with Russell Athletic, Spalding and Riddell. Kurz: “We are pleased that there is some momentum and it is now up to us to put more butts in the seats and more eyeballs on the screen.” New to the AFL is Chicago Rush Owner David Staral Jr., a locally-based entrepreneur and private-equity firm manager. Staral bought the team in the AFL’s largest market just six weeks ago and is expected to add a minority partner from within the NFL by the team’s opening game on Saturday. He refused to disclose any new partners. Staral: “My goal coming in was getting the Rush back to the forefront of the AFL by next season. The biggest challenge is trying to accomplish six months of work in six weeks.”

The U.S. men's national soccer team is in the midst of its qualifying campaign for the '14 World Cup in Brazil, and "much is at stake" for U.S. Soccer Federation President Sunil Gulati, according to Steven Goff of the WASHINGTON POST. That is in part because U.S. coach Jürgen Klinsmann's base salary is $2.5M -- "about four times more" than the salary for his predecessor, Bob Bradley. The investment in Klinsmann "runs deep." Aside from the "millions it would collect by qualifying for the World Cup, the USSF would retain bargaining power in negotiations" with Nike and Soccer United Marketing, which owns national team marketing rights. Those deals are "worth a combined" $21M annually and expire in December '14. If things "turn sour, the USSF might have to consider replacing Klinsmann in order to salvage the World Cup effort, and as an extension, its financial agreements" (WASHINGTON POST, 3/22).

GIVE ME A BREAK:'s Steve Davis wrote it is "just not right" that MLS will continue to play over the weekend, despite many top players being away at FIFA World Cup qualifiers and friendlies. It is wrong for MLS to "position itself on one hand as a wanna-be top league around the world -- but on the other hand plow stubbornly through competitive matches as clubs do without their valuable difference makers, the men away on international duty." Besides not "being fair to ticket buyers and being a drag on quality (which ultimately affects everything), it just doesn’t feel right." The problem is that "going dark on more weekends means adding more of pesky mid-week matches." Or "expanding the playing window further still." But starting in March and ending in December "looks like plenty to most of us." Dynamo President Chris Canetti said that the nine-month window is "stretched too far already." Too many MLS markets "still have trouble selling mid-week matches," but that is "changing." As more high-quality talent "migrates into MLS, more players will come up missing on these FIFA dates." So  we are "not just talking about a few American stars" (, 3/19).

Former MLBer and Montreal Baseball Project Founder & President Warren Cromartie, whose group aims to “bring the major leagues back to the city,” said that he will “know soon whether fans and the business community really want it,” according to Bill Beacon of the CP. The group and the Montreal Board of Trade Wednesday “launched a feasibility study” to see “if conditions are right and the interest is there.” An accounting team from Ernst & Young will “analyze the financial factors and stadium options and law firm BCF LLP will look at the legal and financing structures of the project.” Polling firm Léger Marketing will “take the pulse of the business community and the public to see if there are enough people ready to buy tickets and corporate boxes to make the team work.” The C$400,000 study, with costs “split evenly between the Board of Trade and some private business people, is to be completed by the end of the year” (CP, 3/20). The GLOBE & MAIL’s Sean Gordon wrote the project is a “massive, ambitious undertaking.” Ernst & Young Eastern Canada Managing Partner Sylvain Vincent said that it is “in the range of a billion dollars -- including the cost of a new, purpose-built downtown ballpark.” Cromartie has “enlisted the help” of “some of the same consultants who built the business case for a new publicly funded NHL-ready arena in Quebec City.” Leblanc said that it is “an open question whether the endeavour can go ahead in the absence of public money.” But he added, “Our preference at this point is that it be a private project.” The Montreal Baseball Project has “already consulted with architects to scout out possible locations for the downtown stadium the Expos never had -- the Griffintown area, just southwest of the city centre.” However, there is also the “conspicuous absence of a deep-pocketed owner-in-waiting.” Finally, there is the “small matter” of convincing MLB Commissioner Bud Selig to “return to a city the league couldn’t bail out of quickly enough” (GLOBE & MAIL, 3/20).