The '13-14 NHL season will begin "without Premiere Games in Europe," according to Larry Brooks of the N.Y. POST. The future of the Premiere Games, which opened five consecutive seasons beginning in '07-08, will "become part of the broader conversation between the league and the union regarding a comprehensive international program." Those discussions would include "reviving the World Cup of Hockey as a midseason tournament to be played every four years between Olympics, thus guaranteeing a defined cycle of international best-on-best competition with which to showcase the sport." The issue at hand is "how to maximize and divide those profits through television and marketing agreements in order to turn the World Cup into a worthy endeavor beyond its aesthetic core value." A World Cup played in North America’s "largest media markets -- with the Finals at the Garden, naturally -- during the two-week down time in the pro sports calendar immediately following the Super Bowl would be a smash hit for the sport and the NHL." With the World Cup and the Premiere Games "on the table, it is also time for the NHL and NHLPA to begin exploration of expansion into Europe or the adoption of a limited interlocking schedule with leagues in Russia, Sweden and the Czech Republic" (N.Y. POST, 4/7).
MEETING OF THE MINDS: The CBC’s Glenn Healy reported the various parties involved in the negotiations to continue sending NHL players to the Olympics are meeting Friday, which is when the subject of insurance costs will be introduced. The CBC's Elliotte Friedman said he spoke to somebody in the insurance industry "and he said that we’ve never seen anything like this, nothing compared to this in hockey before, with the amount of guaranteed contracts” of the players that could play at the '14 Sochi Games. Friedman: “The bill for the entire Canadian team, not to mention the rest of the teams, is going to be enormous, and I think that’s going to be the big question.” Friedman said the players and the league “would like it to be the IOC and IIHF” paying the insurance bill for the players. Healy said it cost $580M in ‘10 “for the players in Canada." Meanwhile, Healy noted the "bigger issue for the (NHLPA) is that you’ve 700 guests of NHL players that have no transportation to the venue," and it is a "35-minute walk” to the arena ("HNIC," CBC, 4/6). YAHOO SPORTS' Nick Cotsonika noted the hang-up for the various parties "goes beyond" the insurance issue. It includes "branding and media rights for the NHL, access to venues for NHL officials and families, and transportation to and from Sochi." NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman "would not provide detail of how much progress has been made so far." He said, "There are lots of issues. This doesn’t get done until all the essential elements get done, and so it doesn’t pay to focus on any one or two issues" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 4/7).
MLB "plans to increase the pool of money that the league lends to its clubs by about half a billion dollars," pushing the total amount to nearly $2B, according to Daniel Kaplan of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. Sources said that the league "expects to complete the financing by the summer." The move "underscores how MLB financially is enjoying a plush period, with a new collective-bargaining agreement and new TV contracts, along with healthy attendance, all of which allows the league to relax somewhat the conservative debt limitations that were imposed in the years" after the '08 financial crisis. The league "notified financial institutions of its intent last month, at a meeting in Arizona" during Spring Training. MLB’s move "follows a similar action by the NFL last year, when that league increased the amount of money teams could borrow" to $200M from $150M (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/8 issue). ESPN’s Howard Bryant said it is “time to end the false narrative that baseball is a dying sport." MLB is a "healthy, thriving national game,” and despite World Series ratings being down, “everything else is up.” Franchise values rose 23% this offseason and nine teams “surpassed 3 million in attendance last year." Bryant: “Everyone is watching on TV and in the stands. But most importantly, MLB doesn’t need to run commercials trying to convince parents that playing baseball won’t leave their kids brain damaged” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN, 4/7).
The golf world "looked like it was about to go through a difficult generational transition" in the wake of Tiger Woods' personal issues and on-course struggles, but the "post-Tiger collapse never happened, thanks to the rise of a flashy new crop of players," according to Matthew Futterman of the WALL STREET JOURNAL. PGA Tour revenues "rose to a record" $1.11B last year, compared with $1.02B in '10, and by "nearly every measure, professional golf became richer, more competitive and more stable." A source said that the Tour's new "nine-year television contract with NBC and CBS," signed in '11 when Woods was "tumbling down the rankings," will pay an average of about $800M annually, a 33% increase over the previous deal. PGA execs in the fall of '10 met with the Tour's ad agency GSD&M to "concoct a way to sell the sport in a post-Tiger world." The resulting "Vs." ad campaign would "highlight younger players" like Rickie Fowler, Bubba Watson and Dustin Johnson "taking on the establishment and trying to break into the sport's elite." As the campaign began, "those players began winning." Golf had "found a new story to tell, and with the economy recovering, sponsors and television partners were ready to listen." PGA Tour Exec VP & Chief Global Communications Officer Ty Votaw said of Woods, "We're happy that he's back and that he's playing well, but we've always felt he spikes off a very strong base." Woods' participation in a final round last year "boosted viewership" by 60%, compared with 118% in '09 (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/6). In Boston, Christopher Gasper wrote, "Golf is more interesting with Woods as a central figure, whether you view him as protagonist or antagonist." Woods will "never reach his pre-scandal peak, but if he wins the Masters, or any major this year, then his long climb back is over" (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/7).
A TRADEMARK UNLIKE ANY OTHER: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's John Paul Newportwrote Augusta National Golf Club is "famous among golf companies for how tightly it controls its trademarks." TaylorMade Exec VP Sean Toulon said, "You certainly can't use the word Augusta or the Masters or pretty much anything you'd like to use. They are very protective of the marks they have and we totally get that and are respectful of that." But Newport wrote that "doesn't prevent TaylorMade from coming out each year with special 'Season Opener' bags for its players to use during the tournament, each done up in the Masters' well-known green, white and yellow color scheme." TaylorMade also makes a "green-accented 'Season Opener' Adidas shoe." Toulon: "We don't sell a lot of them. It's really more a way to connect ourselves to the most important, most authentic week of the year." Newportnoted most of the other "big manufacturers also make special-edition products coordinated with the Masters." Augusta National "holds or has applied for more than 50 trademarks" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 4/6).
A Minnesota District Court judge this morning gave preliminary approval to the $50M settlement of a lawsuit brought more than three years ago by retirees against NFL Films for allegedly using their images without permission. The judge also blasted the original six plaintiffs, including Fred Dryer and Dan Pastorini, calling them “children” for opposing the settlement, announced last month. “It bears repeating: the individuals who originally brought this lawsuit and who now oppose the settlement rode into Court on the banner of saving their downtrodden brethren, those who had played in the NFL yet today were penniless and, often, suffering from injuries or illnesses directly related to their playing days,” wrote Judge Paul Magnuson. “It is the height of disingenuousness for these same Plaintiffs to now complain, like children denied dessert, that the settlement does not benefit enough the individuals who brought the lawsuit.” In the settlement, the NFL would distribute $42M to funds for needy retirees. Another $8M would be for legal fees and to start a licensing agency for retirees. The judge approved the board members for that agency: Jim Brown, Irv Cross, Billy Joe Dupree, Ron Mix, Darrell Thompson, Jack Youngblood and Dave Robinson. The original plaintiffs oppose the settlement because there are no direct payments to players. But Magnuson wrote he doubted those claims would succeed, especially in light of the fact that the statute of limitations only stretched back to '03. “Despite the opposing Plaintiffs’ belief in the merits of their case, a realistic view of this matter reveals serious difficulties,” he wrote. Magnuson set September 19, 2013, at 10:00am CT for the final hearing on the settlement.