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Volume 24 No. 117

Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLBPA officials are trying to "carve time out of the regular-season schedule either this week or next where they could convene a conference call of the 38 players" who make up the MLPBA Exec Board to devise a succession plan for Exec Dir Michael Weiner, who has an inoperable brain tumor, according to Liz Mullen of SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL. The board is "made up of one player rep from each of the 30 clubs as well as eight other reps." MLBPA General Counsel David Prouty said, "We are going to have a conference call amongst the board to discuss the whole thing, and that is all I can really say." Prouty said that a deputy exec dir would "not run the MLBPA unless Weiner were unable to do so." Prouty: “(Michael) is going to keep running it as long as he can. Hopefully that will be for another 10 years." Former MLBPA COO Gene Orza said that "talk that he might return to the MLBPA was false." He said, “This talk about succession at the Players Association would be unseemly even it were informed." Orza: "You do the best you can. You are not going to replace Michael. You will have someone who will succeed him, eventually. But you won’t replace him. You can’t replace him" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/22 issue).

WORKING MAN: Tigers RF Torii Hunter said of Weiner, “I have known him since I have been 21. That man is a true man. He will work until the day he dies. Michael Weiner is not going to back down. He inspires. That’s a man right there." In N.Y., Ken Davidoff wrote Weiner while "dealing with such profound adversity ... has stayed true to himself, displaying the same attributes -- humility, humor and above all decency -- that have won the admiration of foes and friends alike." The players have "loved working with Weiner." They "insisted he be on the field during Monday’s workouts prior to the Home Run Derby" (N.Y. POST, 7/21). In Boston, Nick Cafardo wrote Weiner "remains a passionate spokesman for the players" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/21). In Seattle, Larry Stone wrote, "I knew he had been battling brain cancer, but I still wasn't prepared for what I saw." Weiner's "courage in the face of this ordeal is remarkable." While his body "suffers the ravages of cancer, his mind remains keen" (SEATTLE TIMES, 7/21).

QUIETLY GETTING THE JOB DONE: In L.A., Bill Shaikin wrote Weiner is "not a household name among baseball fans," and for that, fans "can be grateful." On his "watch, there have been no strikes, no lockouts, no obstinate challenges to the reform of baseball's drug policy." MLBPA Player Services Dir Tony Clark said, "He has a combination of compassion, strength, respect and brilliance. Guys like Michael don't come around very often. There is not a day that goes by that I don't find myself trying to determine, 'If I was Michael, what direction would I take?'" Shaikin wrote in a game "played by young men, Weiner is bravely opening a window to mortality" (L.A. TIMES, 7/21).

The NHL on Friday announced its players "will participate in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia," according to Lance Pugmire of the L.A. TIMES. The Olympic men's hockey tournament will "be held Feb. 12-23, the fifth consecutive Games in which NHL players will be participating." The last NHL games before the Olympics "will be held Feb. 8, and league play will resume Feb. 26" (L.A. TIMES, 7/20). In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted to accommodate the 18-day Olympic break, the NHL "will open its schedule a few days earlier, with three games on Oct. 1." The release of the NHL and men’s Olympic schedules "was delayed by at least two days." The NHLPA and the Olympic authorities "had difficulty reaching a final agreement on transportation arrangements for families and associates of players from North America to Russia" (N.Y. TIMES, 7/20). In Pittsburgh, Shelly Anderson noted the Olympic break means the rest of the Penguins' schedule "is jammed, including 16 back-to-back games and 13 instances of three games played in four nights." Penguins C Sidney Crosby said, "You find out that in an Olympic year the schedule is a little more condensed, a little more intense than a typical year" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 7/20).

STICKING POINTS: In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont noted NHL participation "was considered a fait accompli, but commissioner Gary Bettman needed more assurances from the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation on such details as game video being made available for extensive use on" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/21). In DC, Katie Carrera noted while the NHL "receives a publicity boost from the involvement of its players, coaches and officials in the Olympics, there was debate as to whether the league should continue to take part." Concern over "potential injury to players, the drawbacks of halting the NHL season in mid-winter and bargaining of media rights were among the top issues as the league and NHLPA worked out an agreement" with the IOC and IIHF. However, there was "never any doubt that the players wanted to remain involved" (WASHINGTON POST, 7/20).

BIGGER IS BETTER? In Chicago, Chris Kuc noted the agreement between the NHL, NHLPA and IIHF "stipulates seven NHL referees and six NHL linesmen will be integrated into the IIHF on-ice officials’ crews that will work the men’s tournament and the contests will be played on international-sized rinks." During the '10 Vancouver Games, the hockey competition was "played on a smaller, NHL-sized rink at the home of the Canucks" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 7/20).

The NHL's reduction in the salary cap from $70.2M to $64.3M "won by the league via the owners' third lockout served its purpose" during free agency, according to Larry Brooks of the N.Y. POST. Teams "with money didn’t have the space, while the teams with space aren’t the ones who traditionally spend big money." Thus, despite "eye-popping cumulative numbers -- incorrectly interpreted as a sign nothing had changed and the lockout was meaningless -- the market became stagnant very quickly." The NHL "not only is a younger man’s league, it is a league in which teams are loading up with as many younger men’s contracts as possible -- even more so this season with the availability of the Entry Level bonus cushion." It is just past the middle of July and "nearly half the league is squeezed." It is "bargain-hunting time, if teams are hunting at all" (N.Y. POST, 7/21). In Boston, Kevin Paul Dupont wrote the free agency "jamboree always cools down after the first few days, but this year it has been particularly dull after the first flurry of signings beginning July 5." Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said, "Very quiet. And I think that’s to be expected. The cap is coming down this year and a lot of clubs already have their roster in place and payrolls set. I don’t think you’re going to see much more, at least in the short term. Maybe things will pick up late in the summer as camps are about to open" (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/21).

DALY NOT SURPRISED BY SPENDING: SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's Liz Mullen notes NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly indicated that he "was not surprised by the level of spending so far in free agency and did not think a lull of signings last week was unusual." Daly in an e-mail wrote, "Market always slows considerably after the first few days. I haven't noticed any difference with this year's activity." Sportsnet's Brian Lawton, a former NHL agent and GM, said that the market "seemed much the same as it has been for years in the first few days, but the slowdown is different, which he attributes to teams' lack of cap space." Octagon Hockey Dir Allan Walsh said, "We had an initial frenzy of signings on the first day, like we have seen in years past, but the market calmed down much faster than in previous years. Several GMs told me on the second or third day of free agency that they would not be filling out their rosters until August." Mullen notes others said that it was "too early to make any meaningful judgement about the marketplace." NHLPA Exec Dir Donald Fehr said, "You may be able to make some assessment down the road, but not this early" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 7/22 issue).

The NFL's current CBA was signed almost exactly two years ago, and “now that the realities of the CBA have set in,” no matter “how you slice it, the owners obliterated” the NFLPA, according to Ben Volin of the BOSTON GLOBE. The “biggest proof” came last week when the Packers “reported a team-record operating profit” of $54.3M for the 12-month period ending March 31, 2013. If the Packers are “making money hand over fist, so are the 31 other teams.” Volin: “The players? The rookie pool has been slashed, young players are locked into unfavorable contracts, and the money isn’t trickling to the veterans, who are getting priced out of the NFL, even at minimum salaries.” One agent said, “The NFLPA absolutely failed the NFL players. It’s the worst CBA in professional sports history. It’s pushing the veterans out of the game and cuts the rookie pay in half.” Volin noted players have "better post-retirement benefits -- medical care, pensions, transition programs, and more -- under the new CBA." Additionally, the creation of the $620M Legacy Fund for "pre-1993 players helped correct some mistakes of the past" and players "have a better quality of life.” Another agent said when it comes to splitting up the NFL’s $9B in revenue, the NFLPA “got taken to the woodshed.” Volin asked, “How badly did the owners beat down the NFLPA?”  He noted rookies "got a raw deal," veterans are getting "squeezed" and the owners "hold all the cards." The players are “stuck with this deal” through the ‘21 draft. An agent said, “Ninety-eight percent of the players have no understanding how bad this deal is” (BOSTON GLOBE, 7/21).

READY FOR SOME ACTUAL FOOTBALL: NFL training camps begin this week, and in N.Y., Ken Belson wrote the start "cannot come soon enough for the NFL” after an offseason “marked by owners, front-office personnel and players having run-ins with the law.” It has “highlighted … the intense scrutiny that comes with being the nation’s largest and most popular sports league.” The offseason developments also “reflect the unintended consequences of the league’s push to become a 365-day business with events spread throughout the year.” The negative headlines have “had the effect of crowding out notable business announcements” such as the NFL renewal of its deal with Verizon and signing a $400M deal with Microsoft (N.Y. TIMES, 7/21). ESPN's Jemele Hill said, “Image is often about perception and ... for the NFL, even thought the vast majority of players I believe do the right things, all it takes is a few banner cases and all of a sudden the rest of the league is under scrutiny.” Hill said the amount of arrests is “more alarming” for NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because “part of the reason why he instituted a personal code of conduct is to curb some of this, only to find out that since he’s done that arrests have actually risen." Hill: "If you’re him, you’re wondering, ‘What needs to be done?’” The Boston Globe's Bob Ryan said the “only way we’re going to know ultimately” if the NFL has an image problem is if “people stop coming to the games or stop watching and the ratings have a significant drop, neither of which is going to happen." ESPN's Howard Bryant said, “The real problem that the NFL has is the fact that it’s a perfect storm of arrests, concussions and ex-player lawsuits. It’s an umbrella issue for them” (“The Sports Reporters,” ESPN2, 7/21).

The NFL asked a Dallas Federal Court to stay its ruling that ticketholders suing the NFL over the Super Bowl XLV temporary seating fiasco can depose Commissioner Roger Goodell. The league also asked of the court that if it would not immediately stay the ruling, then to expedite a hearing on the matter before the court-ordered Aug. 5 deadline for the deposition. The main argument for the NFL is that the day before the court ordered Goodell be made available for deposition, it denied class action status to the lawsuit. “The Order ... did not consider that the denial of class certification dramatically reduced the amount in controversy in this case,” the league argued in its stay motion. “This is no longer a putative class case seeking to recover millions of dollars on behalf of thousands of claimants; it is an eight person case with relatively small amounts of alleged damages.” Last week after the class certification decision, Michael Avenatti, the lawyer for the ticketholders, wrote in an e-mail to SportsBusiness Journal that the case remained large because there is a second ticketholders lawsuit pending in the Dallas court. Asked if he planned to continue his efforts in light of the court’s class certification decision, he wrote, “Yes, together with the hundreds of others we represent in the other case. We value the two cases at well over $60 million.”

CFL Commissioner Mark Cohon is "ready to focus on putting a franchise in Atlantic Canada," according to Rachel Brady of the GLOBE & MAIL. With the CFL’s "new TV deal signed, its 100th Grey Cup in the books, the new Ottawa franchise set to make its debut in 2014, and a bevy of new stadiums afoot, Cohon is talking to local leaders in places like Moncton and Halifax about a team that could be embraced by all of Atlantic Canada." Halifax Mayor Mike Savage recently "visited Toronto to meet with Cohon about putting a team in Halifax." Cohon on Friday said, "There is a lot of interest and encouragement from our owners and board members saying, ‘Okay Mark, you’ve got Ottawa coming back next year, how else are we going to expand and make this league stronger? Part of the national dream has been a team in the Maritimes, so start cultivating the relationships and working on it.’” Cohon said that he "foresees an Atlantic team with a home stadium in one city, but which holds some games or training camps in other cities." He added that execs of some CFL national corporate sponsors are "interested in being part of the project" (GLOBE & MAIL, 7/20).