Group Created with Sketch.
Volume 24 No. 117

Leagues and Governing Bodies

A new $20M lawsuit filed against the NFL and the Patriots on behalf of the family of the late Aaron Hernandez claims he had a "'severe' degenerative brain disease that caused him to hang himself in his jail cell," according to Bob McGovern of the BOSTON HERALD. Shortly after his April 19 suicide, the Hernandez family attorney, Jose Baez, had the former NFLer's brain sent to Boston Univ. for "testing." BU CTE Center Dir Dr. Ann McKee concluded that the 27-year-old Hernandez, who "played just three years in the NFL, had stage 3 of the disease -- stage 4 is the worst -- according to the findings, which were returned Aug. 17." The new lawsuit is separate from a $1B settlement in which the NFL has "agreed to pay families of players who suffered brain injuries while playing in the league" (BOSTON HERALD, 9/22). NBC's Mike Florio said of the new lawsuit, "Unless he (Hernandez) opted out and I'd be shocked if he did, he's got nothing to stand on here. He's got nowhere to go and I'd like to think his lawyer is smart enough to realize that so it would be interesting to see how this one plays out" ("PFT," NBCSN, 9/22). In Boston, McDonald, Freyer & Hohler in a front-page piece report BU confirmed that Hernandez' brain was the "most severe case of CTE they had ever seen in a person of his age" (BOSTON GLOBE, 9/22). NFL VP/Communications Brian McCarthy said that the league had "not yet seen the lawsuit and could not comment." A Patriots spokesperson "did not immediately respond" (AP, 9/21).

STORY CONTINUES: In N.Y., Ken Belson in a front-page piece reports the results of the study of Hernandez' brain are "adding another dimension to his meteoric rise and fall that could raise questions about the root of his erratic, violent behavior and lead to a potentially tangled legal fight with the NFL." The fact that Hernandez also "led a troubled life off the field will complicate the NFL’s efforts to calm jitters about the sport because it will probably make some people wonder whether football had a role in his violence away from the game" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/22). In DC, Maese & Payne note the lawsuit does "not link Hernandez’s crimes with the disease, which is associated with aggressiveness, erratic behavior, depression, suicidal thoughts and other cognitive issues, but does state he 'succumbed to the symptoms of CTE and committed suicide'" (WASHINGTON POST, 9/22). ESPN The Magazine's Kevin Van Valkenburg wrote on Twitter, "What if both of these things are true: -- football damaged Aaron Hernandez's brain -- Hernandez was still a sociopath and that isn't on football" (TWITTER.com, 9/21).

NOT A GOOD LOOK FOR NFL: USA TODAY's Nancy Armour writes under the header, "Aaron Hernandez Had CTE And That's A Huge Problem For NFL." It was "easy to absolve football when it is players in their 60s and 70s whose memories and personalities had disappeared" Armour: "But a 27 year old? The NFL is going to own that whether it wants to or not" (USA TODAY, 9/22). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote under the header, "That Aaron Hernandez Had CTE Is Devastating News For The NFL." Based on his age, a CTE diagnosis this significant "comes as not just a surprise, but a chilling moment for a sport that is trying everything to both make the game safer and convince young athletes, and their parents, that it is worth playing" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/21). SI.com's Michael Rosenberg writes it "would be simple and easy to blame football for what happened" to Hernandez. Maybe "all the dots really do connect in this case." Maybe "just some of them do." But the "truth is that we don’t know, and we may never know." Rosenberg: "There is so much -- so much -- we still don’t know about concussions." The CTE "problem in football is real, and it is enormous." But it has also "led to facts-based hysteria." Pinning his suicide on the NFL" makes for a good headline" and may be a "winning legal strategy." But it is a "hard theory" to "buy in this case" (SI.com, 9/22).

TWITTER REAX: Bleacher Report's Mike Freeman wrote on Twitter, "This is some of worst news ever for NFL." The N.Y. Daily News' Shaun King: "Some headlines incorrectly say 'Lawyers for Aaron Hernandez say he had CTE.' The best researchers in the world found he had advanced CTE." The MMQB's Peter King: "News gets worse for football." Former NFLer Donte Stallworth: "Some of the world's leading experts made the diagnoses." The Toronto Star's Bruce Arthur: "Football is fun again, except for the Aaron Hernandez stuff."

London might not be getting an NFL team in the near future, but league Exec VP/Int'l Mark Waller believes the city is "ready for one," according to Albert Breer of SI.com. Waller said, "We’ve proven clearly that the level of support is here from a fan perspective, a stadium and stadium ownership perspective and from a city and government perspective. We’ll get a lot of support if and when we need it." Ravens-Jaguars on Sunday marks the NFL's "second decade" of the Int'l Series, and league in '17 will "play four games in London this year for the first time." Waller: "Our job is to make sure, for London, that if and when an owner feels it’s the right move to make, we’re ready for it. ... The one thing we can’t show yet: can a team be competitive week in and week out? That’s why I’d like to do back-to-back weeks with the same team (next year), to get real sense of how that works." Waller believes having a team in London by '22 is "doable." Waller: "That aligns well from a CBA and union standpoint. ... And from a media/broadcast standpoint, we’d need to think it through." Waller said that the hope is to "give a London team two facilities -- one in the UK and another somewhere in the U.S. southeast." Waller: "If the team had a second base on the East Coast, and when they came over to the States they were going back to a familiar place, there’s a general feel (among teams) that it would solve a vast number of the operational issues" (SI.com, 9/21). NFL U.K. Managing Dir Alistair Kirkwood also talked in-depth with SBD GLOBAL about the London series.

WEEK ONE TEA TIME
: Ravens Senior VP/Public & Community Relations Kevin Byrne said that the team for this weekend's game "sold 4,000 tickets through the team’s ticket offices, and local travel groups bought more directly from the NFL on the first day of the public sale." Byrne: "An NFL executive told me that they have had more demand for tickets from the Baltimore area than any other visiting team in the London series" (Baltimore SUN, 9/22). YAHOO SPORTS' Dan Wetzel wrote the Jags have "never had one of their players connect with the English the way a pseudo 'home team' star could." Jags RB Leonard Fournette has the "potential to not just transform the franchise but also give the Jaguars the kind of easy-to-root-for-star in their home away from home." Fournette said, "If I give them a show, I think they are going to want my jersey. I might be the biggest player there." Fournette wants to "embrace London, this year and every year." Fournette: "I can connect with the fans. Just give me a chance to interact with the people in London and for me to get to know their culture. I think it’s going to be a fun opportunity to get to know how they are" (SPORTS.YAHOO.com, 9/20).

GOING EAST?
Waller said that the league’s focus in China is now in "trying to get people playing, since -- given the time difference, and that NFL games are played in the middle of the night there -- it’ll be hard to simply build viewership." He added that they "don’t want to go there and play a one-off game with no long-term plan." SI.com's Breer noted Waller "isn’t optimistic China will host a game next season." Waller: "I don’t think it’ll be ’18. I don’t think we’re ready" (SI.com, 9/21).

Seahawks DE Michael Bennett said that there has been "no specific reaction" yet from the NFL in regard to the 10-page memo he and other players sent to Commissioner Roger Goodell seeking support for their activism efforts, according to Bob Condotta of the SEATTLE TIMES. Bennett added that he has "not met with Goodell," though others involved have. Bennett: "Hopefully we’ll have another meeting in the near future and something comes out of it. But it was just a thought of a lot of players coming together and having some ideas on how they can move forward and be able to impact communities around the United States and the cities that NFL teams are in" (SEATTLE TIMES, 9/22). Bennett: "The NBA has done a great job of being able to continuously make money and play a great sport, but still be socially aware. We have to be able to find that same balance" (Tacoma NEWS TRIBUNE, 9/22). Eagles S Malcolm Jenkins, who was one of the players who involved with the memo, said, "We're still working on next steps. But obviously, there's at least interest to listen and see what players are doing and what's going on in those communities around the NFL." Jenkins "did not answer questions about the idea of dedicating a month to activism." Jenkins: "The memo was sent in confidentiality and was supposed to be private, so we want to kind of respect that" (PENNLIVE.com, 9/21).

WEIGHING IN: ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said of NFLers sending a social activism memo to the league, “This is about nuance and this is about negotiation. If you were to go to the NFL and you were to say, ‘We want to have a unity month, and we want to make sure that police and the people they are sworn to protect have a better, more open relationship,’ then I think everybody signs on. If you tell the NFL that you want the NFL to fund a group of people that are overtly antagonistic to the police under the banner of social activism, the owners will go, 'Whoa.'" ESPN's Michael Wilbon said, "The NFL is going to get pushed into this whether it wants to or not" (“PTI,” ESPN, 9/21). FS1’s Jason Whitlock said, "You can't go to another group of people and say, ‘We have a problem and we want you to bear all as relates to fixing the problem.’ That's not the way you convince a group of billionaires to support your cause. ... They're well intentioned, but this is misguided" (“Speak for Yourself,” FS1, 9/21). ESPN’s Sarah Spain: “Would a month of actually addressing serious injustices in our country ... be good? Yes, absolutely" (“Highly Questionable,” ESPN, 9/21). The Colorado Springs Gazette’s Woody Paige said the NFL will not “do anything” with player activism because it is “too touchy a subject for them when they’re dealing with sponsors." ESPN’s Pablo Torre said these issues are “radioactive” (“Around The Horn,” ESPN, 9/21).

THOUGHTS ON LEADERSHIP: In Pittsburgh, Paul Zeise writes Goodell has been "disaster for the public relations and feelings of goodwill about the league." He is "almost universally hated by fans, the players view him as an evil dictator and at least one prominent owner thinks he makes way too much money." Zeise: "That’s why it is astounding that Goodell is about to receive a five-year extension" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 9/22). SI.com's Robert Klemko wrote under the header, "Lousy Football? Blame Newly Re-Elected DeMaurice Smith And The NFLPA." Klemko: "What has Smith ... delivered since his election in 2009? I think you’re watching it." In an effort to "curb exorbitant rookie salaries that owners and players alike agreed were getting out of hand, the NFLPA overcorrected, enacting a rookie wage scale that incentivized NFL teams to stockpile young talent and save surplus cash for a handful of second contracts." The union also "agreed to shortened practice time in the offseason, a measure that had the full backing of players but should have been more carefully scrutinized." The consequences are "clear" (SI.com, 9/21).

IS SAFER BETTER FOR THE PRODUCT? ESPN’s Steve Young said of the lack of offense in the NFL, “We're headed for a ‘safer’ NFL, less time with players and coaches together, limiting it in the spring, and limiting it in the summer." Young added, “It will get better as the season goes on when we get out of the preseason in September as I call it and it’ll get better, but the idea that it's going to get better offensively into the future when we're tending toward the ‘safer’ NFL with less time, it’s not going to get better” (“PTI,” ESPN, 9/21). FS1’s Colin Cowherd said of who is to blame for the lack of scoring in the NFL, “It's the owners. They have always controlled this league and are the only billionaires involved. Don't blame DeMaurice Smith.” Cowherd: “You're asking players in a sport with film study and choreography, ‘Hey, go to London.’ That's one less day but it makes them money. ‘Go play on Thursday,’ but they can't practice. It makes them more money. This is on the owners. This is Starbucks, they’ve saturated the product.” However, Whitlock added, "The owners aren't the only ones greedy here" ("Speak for Yourself," FS1, 9/21).

Patriots President Jonathan Kraft said while fan engagement is always a worry, the business of the NFL is "quite strong" and game telecasts are "still far and away the No.1 rated product on television." Kraft, appearing Thursday on the "Bloomberg Business of Sports" podcast, added, "We’re lucky we’re in a position of strength like that. At the same time, we’re not naïve to the fact that the way our audience wants to consume our product and interact with our product is definitely changing, and changing at a pace that’s faster than it’s been in the past, and it’s incumbent on us to make sure we’re meeting their needs.” Kraft said the league’s digital deals could mean "nine-figures of revenue." Kraft: “The most important thing going forward in the future is to really refine each of these platforms as a distribution model for what they’re best at.” He said the “real future for us is we can start to develop an understanding of each fan” of the NFL “on an individual basis and then how we can monetize their consumption of content in a way that’s much more personal to them.”

KEEPING UP WITH TECH: Kraft said of technology changing entertainment products, "Everything in that space presents huge opportunity for us." Kraft: "The engagement is there. We continue to do things like on Thursday night with Amazon Prime and continue to change our social media rules so that clubs can package their non-live game content and really try to develop a complete understanding how people, given the technological choices they have, interact with us.” Kraft said the league is going to have to “become more varied and more dynamic over the long run in terms of how we let our fans access us.”

PLACE YOUR BETS: Kraft said of being an investor in DraftKings and its failed merger with FanDuel, “We invested a long time ago and fortunately, we’re happy with our investment. Putting (DraftKings and FanDuel) together would have been the right thing for the market. The government has spoken and in their wisdom determined that they shouldn’t be together, but the product of daily fantasy is absolutely going to exist. The two of them coming together rather than spending money beating each other up -- you would have seen more and more invested in that innovation.”

ROGER THAT: Kraft said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has a “very difficult job.” While it was "pretty clear we disagree vehemently about how the air pressure situation was handled," there is a “lot more that goes into being” commissioner. Kraft added, “Roger is the commissioner of the league and on a number of fronts, he’s really helping the league advance our business and making sure that we’re at the forefront of sports and entertainment." Kraft: “He’s moving the league forward very effectively” (“Bloomberg Business of Sports,” BLOOMBERG.com, 9/21).

The Kings and Canucks played the first of two NHL exhibitions in China on Thursday, and while the "full impact" of the games "won’t be known for another five years, it still felt like the start of something," according to Ed Willes of the Vancouver PROVINCE. A "sparse but enthusiastic crowd of 10,088" came to Mercedes-Benz Arena in Shanghai for the Kings' 5-2 win, which the NHL, NHLPA and both teams deemed a "qualified success" for the league's first foray into China. The teams were "engaging a crowd which didn’t seem terribly educated on the game’s finer points but did seem willing to learn." There were a combined 17 power plays in the game, and Canucks C Henrik Sedin said that the "large, Olympic-sized sheet of ice" contributed to the "disjointed play," along with the league's new crackdown on stick infractions. But the event "was about something much bigger than the size of the rink and power plays, something which has the power to change the game and the business of the game dramatically and permanently." The teams will play again Saturday in Beijing (THEPROVINCE.com, 9/21). The AP's Justin Bergman noted even if hockey is "relatively unknown in China and the rules remain somewhat of a mystery, the crowd appreciated the speed and collisions of the sport." Every shot on goal was "met with a loud cheer and each hard check against the walls was met with a collective 'Oooh' or 'Aaah.'" But despite the positive reaction, it is "just the first step in a long process." Canucks coach Travis Green: "It's great for China itself to see the NHL live and in-person, see the speed of the game, how good the players are. But whenever you're bringing hockey to a new country, it's going to take time. I think it's great the NHL is committed to doing that" (AP, 9/21). 

JUST GETTING STARTED: NBCSN's Brendan Burke said the contests in China are the "start of a long-term business plan to grow the game." The NHL "said they're going to be back," so this is "not a one-off." The NHL will be "back in China at least six times over the next eight years." NBCSN's Pierre McGuire noted the '22 Games are in Beijing, and "you have to think the NHL, with all this currency that they're spending over there, would love to have NHL players" competing in the Games ("Canucks-Kings," NBCSN, 9/21).

U.S. Soccer "declined to comment publicly" on complaints from USWNT members that they will close their '17 schedule with "four of their final nine matches on artificial turf," according to Caitlin Murray of the N.Y. TIMES. Five months after the two sides "completed often contentious negotiations" on a new CBA, the players' unhappiness has "resuscitated long-simmering complaints about fairness, respect and equal treatment" with the USMNT. The men have played only "one home match on artificial turf" since the start of '14. USWNT MF Megan Rapinoe said, "We feel that it’s not their top priority to put us on grass, so they don’t." Murray notes the "lack of a specific ban on turf" in the CBA was "by design; it would have tied U.S. Soccer’s hands in venue selection." Arrangements for "several of the games on turf fields," including Tuesday’s victory over New Zealand at Nippert Stadium and next month's match against Korea in New Orleans' Mercedes-Benz Superdome, were "finalized after the completion" of the CBA. While the players were "made aware of the reasoning behind each venue choice months ago -- a transparency written into the new labor agreement -- they contend that continuing to play on turf violates the spirit, if not the letter, of their new deal, which includes language assuring that natural grass would be the 'preferred' surface for matches." The team had "repeatedly pressed to avoid the turf in New Orleans, in particular, going so far as to propose several alternative sites with grass fields." The union said that the federation "rejected them without seriously exploring alternatives" (N.Y. TIMES, 9/22).

PUTTING IT TO BED: In S.F., Ann Killon reports U.S. Soccer "reached a settlement" with former USWNT G Hope Solo last month, "avoiding arbitration." The USWNT players’ association "filed a grievance on behalf of Solo, after she was suspended from the team more than a year ago and her contract was terminated" following allegations of domestic violence (S.F. CHRONICLE, 9/22).

A significant gender wage gap "exists in professional basketball -- and it is growing," but the story "begins with the WNBA's revenue picture," according to David Berri of FORBES. NBA teams "generated" $5.9B in revenue in '15-16. Similar analysis "doesn't seem to exist for the WNBA," but it is known its revenue is "far lower." WNBA players are "not being treated the same as their counterparts in the NBA." The NBA "pays its players about 50% of league revenue." But WNBA players are "receiving less than 25% of the revenue." The WNBA "earned at least" $51.5M in '17 from the gate and its ESPN TV deal. Which means in '17, the WNBA "paid no more than 22.8% of its revenue to its players." Two years ago, WNBA players were "receiving only 33% of league revenue." Berri: "So it appears the gender wage gap in professional basketball is worsening." The WNBA "appears to be doing much to grow, increasing its attendance and earning more money from television broadcasts and other sources." But it "doesn't appear there is any mechanism to ensure that player salaries are linked to this revenue growth." So without a renegotiation of the CBA, across the next four years, the gender wage gap will "likely get larger and larger." And more WNBA players will "see paychecks that are more than a million dollars below what they would receive if their league paid more like the NBA" (FORBES.com, 9/20).