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Volume 24 No. 216

Leagues and Governing Bodies

NASCAR Chair & CEO Brian France yesterday during his annual state-of-the-sport press conference acknowledged the impact of the departure of Dale Earnhardt Jr. and other drivers, but said that the sport is "'in good shape' with the arrival of a group of young, talented drivers," according to Mike Hembree of USA TODAY. France said that NASCAR is "reacting to changes in how fans 'consume' the sport and the realities of a sponsorship landscape that continues to be difficult." France said, "They (younger drivers) are here, and they’ve got to develop their performance, but they’re doing well. ... We’re in a transition, too, but that happens from time to time -- not usually in the concentrated manner that we have now, but it happens." NASCAR President Brent Dewar "echoed France’s remarks." Dewar said, "We feel pretty bullish about the future of the sport for the talent they have." France also said that race attendance is "up at 'many, many events'" and that TV ratings "don’t reveal how fans watch the sport on other devices" (USA TODAY, 11/20). France said he is "optimistic" right now about NASCAR's finances. He said, "We've gotten the council meetings going. We've gotten charters in position so we can get our interests aligned more closely with drivers, OEMs and the charters and the team owners." France said of the sport's future, "We've got some diversity with Bubba Wallace going in the 43 car. We like that. We'd love to see more of that. And we like all the changes that we've made in the last four or five years, including stage racing." France also said NASCAR has been "really pleased with how Monster has come in and engaged with our fans." France: "In all markets, it's been fantastic. They're young, edgy demo, they're motorsports-centric and they always have been in their culture. We're really pleased" (RACER.com, 11/19). Racing reporter Jeff Gluck on Twitter noted Dewar "says it frustrates him when people talk about business/non-racing issues during the season, when he'd rather they focus on the racing. 'I'll die trying to fix that,' he says." ESPN's Bob Pockrass replied, "There’s an obvious reason. ... Business of NASCAR impacts results b/c money/sponsorship buys speed (and drivers)" (TWITTER.com, 11/19).

CHANGING LANDSCAPE
: France said that there have been "'challenges for everybody' as the sport’s business model has been tested by companies unwilling to invest as much money in single marketing platforms such as race team sponsorships as well as the loss in recent seasons of several of NASCAR’s biggest names" (MOTORSPORT.com, 11/19). In N.Y., Jerry Garrett notes the "math has changed considerably" for NASCAR’s competitors as the sport "grapples with declining television ratings and attendance." Earnhardt said that sponsors are "paying far less to advertise on cars during races, and such sponsorships are increasingly difficult to get." Top drivers, who "might have commanded annual salaries" of $10M as recently as two years ago, are "faced with new realities." Earnhardt said, "There are kids coming up, teenagers, who are willing to race for a tenth of that -- or less" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/20).

FALLING STARS:  In Miami, Greg Cote writes NASCAR’s starpower is "dimming as the sport enters a transition." Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick, Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. -- the four with a mathematical chance to win yesterday's championship -- all "are stars, but not superstars, not transcendent stars." The sport "might never have another driver as popular as Junior" (MIAMI HERALD, 11/20). In Charlotte, Brendan Marks writes the "legions of fans who showed up each and every weekend just for Earnhardt will have to find a new driver to support -- or else the sport is going to suffer some." It "doesn’t help" that Matt Kenseth and Danica Patrick are "also done." That is a "lot of star power and talent scurrying out of the sport at once." If younger drivers "don’t step up and stake their claims for those fans, those fans might leave the sport, and that’s the last thing NASCAR needs right now" (CHARLOTTE OBSERVER, 11/20).

Cowboys Owner Jerry Jones last night emphasized that he is "more excited than ever" about the owners that make up the NFL compensation committee, but added that changes "need to be made," according to Brandon George of the DALLAS MORNING NEWS. Jones was removed as an ombudsman on the committee by Falcons Owner Arthur Blank -- who serves as committee Chair -- a few weeks ago after he "hired a high-powered lawyer and threatened to sue the league" over Commissioner Roger Goodell's contract extension. Asked if he feels Goodell should continue as commissioner, Jones said, "I've never addressed that in a negative way. To sum it all up, what I want of all is I want accountability, more accountability. I want unprecedented accountability to the ownership. That simple." He added, "Our commissioner is probably the most powerful, relative to his constituency, he's the most powerful person in America. He's been given that kind of power, so what you want to do if you want to make some positive changes is you want that power to be accountable, in my case, to the owners." Jones said that Goodell has "increased the transparency of the league since he's been commissioner ... but the league can do better" (DALLAS MORNING NEWS, 11/20). In Ft. Worth, Clarence Hill Jr. reports Jones has "no problem" with the process of extending Goodell "not being smooth or pretty on the outside." But he said that he is "doing what’s in the best interest of the Cowboys and the NFL." Jones: "Every entity that there has ever been has a time to evaluate, re-access, freshen up and do it better. I’ve never been with one that didn’t" (FT. WORTH STAR-TELEGRAM, 11/20).

EXTENSION STILL LIKELY: ESPN.com's Adam Schefter cited sources as saying that Goodell's proposed extension "still is on track to get done despite the recent battle surrounding the negotiations, and many expect it to be completed at or before the owners' Dec. 13 meetings in Dallas." A source said that if all the bonus criteria are "achieved in the proposed new deal, Goodell's total potential compensation could average" about $40M for each year from '19-23, making it a "five-year extension worth up to" about $200M. A source said that the base salary is "in the single-digit millions." Roughly 85% of the total potential compensation package is "comprised of bonuses, which would be subject to ownership approval and validation" (ESPN.com, 11/19). ESPN's Chris Mortensen said the pending extension has been "hardly the rubber stamp contract that some in the league expected to be in place by the start of the season" ("Sunday NFL Countdown," ESPN, 11/19). THE MMQB's Peter King writes not to "expect much action" on Goodell's extension this week, "in part because" of the Thanksgiving holiday. There are regularly scheduled NFL committee meetings in N.Y. on Nov. 28-29, at which "approximately 20 owners/top club officials will gather, with others available via conference call." King: "You can bet there will be some Goodell discussion there. If Jones has a cadre of owners to challenge the Goodell contract, it would be wise for him to have them state their objections at this meeting" (SI.com, 11/20).

BY THE BOOK: In N.Y., Ken Belson reported Jones on Friday "thanked the committee for agreeing to his demand that all owners review the extension" of Goodell’s contract. In a letter to the compensation committee, Jones said that he had been "worried Goodell and the committee were trying to skirt the league’s constitution by not seeking a full vote on the new contract." In a letter back to Jones sent on Saturday, the compensation committee said that it was "not violating the league’s constitution." The committee "repeated that all 32 owners voted in May to extend Goodell’s contract and empowered the committee to work out the details." The committee said that it would "continue to speak to all owners about the progress of the negotiations." Both letters were "copied to all 32 team owners." The committee said Jones' statements were “disappointing and undermine the spirit of partnership that has served our sport so well for so many decades” (N.Y. TIMES, 11/19). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton noted Jones in his letter "alleged the other owners and Goodell are 'trying to subvert' the league’s constitution" (WSJ.com, 11/18).

STRIKING BACK: In DC, Mark Maske cited sources as saying that there is "strong and increasing sentiment among NFL owners that league leaders should take disciplinary action" against Jones, although that would "not include attempting to strip Jones of his franchise." Sources added that it is "not clear how many owners favor taking action against Jones, but the group that supports such a move is said to include some of the league’s most influential owners" (WASHINGTON POST, 11/19). But Jones on Friday said, "It would be madness to think that everything I'm doing isn't in the best short and long-term interest of the NFL. I love this league and I love this game. And the men that are involved, the committee, the owners, they are really good men" (DALLASNEWS.com, 11/18).

Jones openly criticized Kraft's (l) handling of a recent dispute with Goodell (r)
OUT IN THE OPEN: ESPN's Schefter said, "There are plenty of fights that go on within the NFL between powerful people. It's just that most of them, almost all of them, occur behind closed doors. This one is right out in front, in public for everyone to see and judge. To me, this is an issue where this is an accumulation of everything that has happened within the last three, four, five years." He said the "whole thing is jarring" to Steelers President Art Rooney II and Giants President & CEO John Mara. Schefter: "They're not used to battle and confrontations. They're not used to commissioners and owners butting heads" (DALLASNEWS.com, 11/17). ESPN's Tony Kornheiser said, "What we have now, it's like two warships, they're out at sea, and they're firing their cannons as loudly as and as destructively as possible, and they're aimed at the other guy very specifically" ("PTI," ESPN, 11/17). CBSSN's La Canfora: "This war is raging, but it's one-sided. Jerry Jones is the one really propagating this and continuing this fight" ("That Other Pregame Show," CBSSN, 11/19). NBC's Cris Collinsworth: "That is one major heavyweight fight right there" ("Eagles-Cowboys," NBC, 11/19). In Boston, Karen Guregian wrote Jones "loves to shoot from the hip," but he "doesn’t seem to care if the NFL crumbles around him in the process." As long as he "finds his brand of justice, everything else be damned." Jones was quoted in an ESPN piece last week as saying Patriots Owner Robert Kraft "is a (expletive) compared to what I’m going to do” to Goodell. Guregian: "Make fun of Kraft. But he had the last laugh. In the end, when this NFL civil war between Jones and Goodell ultimately settles down, it’s a smart bet that owners are going to be looking for stability" (BOSTON HERALD, 11/18).

LET'S TALK BUSINESS
: In N.Y., Gary Myers wrote, "Even as unwatchable as the NFL product has been this season, how is it that a $14 billion enterprise is so dysfunctional that its two most powerful people are going for each other’s throats?" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/19). CBS Sports Network's Amy Trask in a special to the HOUSTON CHRONICLE wrote the "bombastic threats" between Jones and the compensation committee "make for sensational headlines and sound bites." Trask: "But I am not at all heated up about the matters that are swirling in the public court. These are routine business matters that are far less explosive than many believe them to be." Trask, the former Raiders Chief Exec, believes that "ultimately consensus" on Goodell's extension "will be reached" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/18).

ISOLATION PLAY: CBSSPORTS.com's La Canfora cited sources as saying that Jones' "ongoing attacks on Goodell and his threat to sue other owners have continued to isolate him." A source said that Jones retaining a lawyer and his ongoing antics have "pushed some owners who previously were in favor of waiting to finalize and announce a new deal with the commissioner" to "bring the matter before a full vote of ownership are now firmly supporting completing the process ASAP" (CBSSPORTS.com, 11/19). In Toronto, Bruce Arthur wrote Jones's "open rebellion ... is new." He "might not win this round, but it sure feels" like Goodell, "isn’t inevitable anymore." Arthur: "If there’s a better salesman in the NFL than Jones, he hasn’t been discovered yet" (TORONTO STAR, 11/18). ESPN's Jim Trotter said Jones "likes a fight," and he has "never backed down" from one ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 11/20). In Dallas, Kevin Sherrington wrote if the NFL "couldn't excommunicate" late Raiders Owner Al Davis, the "Lucifer of their little club, they won't get rid of Jerry Jones so easily, either." Meanwhile, Jones "shouldn't count on carte blanche of owners." The league has "seen 20 new ones since he made his old peers richer with mid-'90s TV deals." The "new breed" of owners, including Blank, "may not feel they owe him" (DALLASNEWS.com, 11/18). ESPN's Pablo Torre said the fight from Jones "seems deeply personal ... and it's less about principle." Torre: "I get his personal vendetta, but let's be clear, it is personal and rooted in [Cowboys RB] Ezekiel Elliott" ("PTI," ESPN, 11/17). ESPN's Mina Kimes said Goodell has been "trying to rehabilitate his image as the commissioner for years, but all he had to do this whole time was antagonize Jerry Jones" ("Around The Horn," ESPN, 11/17).

CHOKE THE MEDICINE DOWN: ESPN.com's Mike Reiss notes Patriots President Jonathan Kraft addressed Jones' recent comments prior to the team's game against the Raiders, and while he "wouldn't comment specifically on Jones' threats regarding Goodell's possible extension because of the possibility of litigation, Kraft spoke from a big-picture perspective." Kraft, talking on WBZ-FM, said, "Back when our fan base and ourselves were going through the air-pressure thing -- and Jerry had gone through the salary-cap stuff -- he said you all should take your medicine and just focus on winning football games. When you’re upset and angry, that’s not what you want to hear because I don’t think Tom (Brady) was treated fairly, I don’t think our fans thought Tom was treated fairly. But we ended up taking his advice and winning the Super Bowl. I think it was good advice" (ESPN.com, 11/19).

The NFL ahead of yesterday's Patriots-Raiders game in Mexico City announced that three more regular-season games "will be played" in the country from '19-21, according to Randal Archibold of the N.Y. TIMES. The NFL is "striving to expand its presence internationally; it has played regular-season games in London" since '07, with "four games there this year." Yesterday's announced crowd of 77,000 "treated this event like a Super Bowl nearly the entire time." Just about "everything on the field drew an emotional, throaty response." Even as the Patriots were "running away with the game, the crowd stuck with it, doing the wave so vigorously the stadium shook." Patriots QB Tom Brady's performance "surely would please" the NFL execs who "brought one of their biggest stars here as the league ramps up its international presence" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/20). In S.F., Emily Green notes there "wasn't an empty seat to be found in the stadium, fans yelled out ear-popping cheers throughout the game ... and people were thrilled that the NFL had returned to Mexico." The NFL's "flirtation with the country is turning into a long-term relationship" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 11/20). Patriots S Devin McCourty said, "This atmosphere was awesome. To be out here in pregame ... the crowd was crazy. We knew when it came game time they’d be into it." The BOSTON HERALD notes this was the "first time the Patriots played a regular season game in Mexico City, and against a Raiders team that had also hosted a game there last year." But many of the fans "were Patriots rooters in Estadio Azteca" (BOSTON HERALD, 11/20).

ALL ABOUT LOGISTICS: In Boston, Ben Volin noted Mexico is a "devoted market for the NFL, and the league believes the fans there deserve to host a real regular-season game." NFL Exec VP/Int'l Mark Waller said, "There's a secondary goal, which is building more of the connectivity between our Mexican fans and the US/Hispanic fan base." The logistics "aren't a challenge" for NFL events in Mexico because Mexico City is in the Central time zone and close to the U.S. Next on the list appears to be a "return to Canada, where the NFL has hosted six regular-season games, and a game in Germany." Volin wrote to "expect the Chargers to host next year's Mexico game, especially since only 27,000 fans will miss out on a home game" in L.A. Mexico City "could be the new leverage city." Waller: "In my mind, if you were to project that 20 years from now -- I'm just making up a number -- I would like to think that people would sit and go, 'Wow, we could have a team in Mexico City. The fan base is big enough, the stadium is good enough, the infrastructure is good enough, the logistics of it could work well enough, that if our ownership decided that that was something that they wanted to do, we could deliver'" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/19). THE MMQB's Peter King writes the league is "likely to play a minimum of five of its 256 regular-season games" outside the U.S. through '20. That is a "lot of home games for teams to be giving up," and there is "going to be an internal battle across the league in the next couple of years" (SI.com, 11/20).

CLOSE TO HOME: The BOSTON GLOBE's Volin noted Mexico has been "watching the NFL" since the '70s, and today fans "devour the product." The league "estimates that it has about 22 million fans in Mexico, compared with 13 million in Canada, 13 million in the UK, and 10 million-12 million in Germany." Football has "become Mexico’s No. 2 sport behind soccer." The NFL "now has 25 sponsors in Mexico, compared with six" in '08. The Patriots are also "becoming big business in Mexico" (BOSTON GLOBE, 11/19). In L.A., Kate Linthicum wrote while soccer is "still the king" in Mexico, American football is "proliferating, with more and more teams at the high school and college levels and NFL jerseys an increasingly visible fashion statement" (L.A. TIMES, 11/18).

STILL PLAYING CATCH UP: In S.F., Bruce Jenkins wrote under the header, "NBA's Globalization Puts Shame To The NFL Brand." Assuming "respectable behavior, every U.S. trip to China ... is a worthwhile endeavor with long-range benefits." The "contrast to the NFL could not be more glaring." Jenkins: "A dying sport cannot be 'grown.'" Football’s demise is "likely many decades from reality, but it’s not gaining popularity and will never expand worldwide" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 11/19).

NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith said that he would "give the union an A" on what it has done to "change exposure to head injuries," according to a Q&A with Domonique Foxworth of THE UNDEFEATED. Foxworth is a former NFLPA President. Excerpts are below, some of which have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Q: How do you think the union and the league together have advanced player safety?
Smith: The league has done a good job, not a great job, when it comes to research. And that’s the only reason I think that they have done a good job and not a great job, because they seem to be beleaguered every now and then with questions about the autonomy of their research. ... We are all better off if the league is transparent with their research initiatives.

Q: In light of the recent developments in the Ezekiel Elliott case, how do you feel about the union’s progress with regard to player discipline?
Smith: The two owners who vigorously opposed neutral arbitration were [Cowboys Owner] Jerry Jones and [Patriots Owner] Robert Kraft.

Q: With star players from both teams serving suspensions in the last couple of seasons, have they changed their positions now?
Smith: I felt that we had a deal with respect to appointing a neutral arbitrator who had some football experience. That deal got taken off the table. So we are left with the system that the league imposes. And what we’ve seen from everything from bounty (scandal) to Elliott is they can’t fairly operate their unfair system in a consistent way.

Q: You mentioned [NFL Exec VP/Football Operations] Troy Vincent -- does his union background allow you to have a better relationship with him than others in the league office?
Smith: I have a relationship with [NFL Commissioner] Roger Goodell. I don’t think it’s important for me to have a good relationship with anybody other than Roger and the owners.

Q: What is your personal perspective on the anthem demonstrations? And what has been the union’s role with regard to anthem demonstrations?
Smith: With respect to the protest, I think Roger has done a very good job of being responsive to the voices of the players that have met with him and owners. I think he’s done a good job of facilitating those discussions. ... He has done a good job being responsive to those players who are looking for the systemic involvement of the league and the teams in working with players to address social issues and injustice issues in their community (THEUNDEFEATED.com, 11/17).

The LPGA CME Group Tour Championship will "stay in Naples" through '23, while the $1M Race to the CME Globe "also will remain for that length," according to Greg Hardwig of the NAPLES DAILY NEWS. LPGA Commissioner Mike Whan ahead of this weekend's tourney "did not mention an extension with Tiburón Golf Club at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort." The current agreement with the facility is through '19 and an extension is "being negotiated, but has not been finalized." Whan said, "If this is where CME wants to be, then this is where we'll be as well." Hardwig noted CME Group has a "decade-long history of partnering with the LPGA." The season-ending Tour Championship was "first sponsored" by CME Group in '11 (NAPLES DAILY NEWS, 11/18).

SCHEDULE'S SHAPING UP: Whan said that the '18 LPGA schedule will "consist of 34 events." ESPNW's Bill Fields noted three events on the '17 schedule -- the Citibanamex Lorena Ochoa Match Play, the Manulife LPGA Classic and the Mckayson New Zealand Women's Open -- "won't be played, but three new events to be announced will take their place." Whan added that two "will be held" in the western U.S. and the other "outside the U.S." Whan said total purses will be "roughly" $69M, a $4M increase over '17. Three other new events are on the "drawing board" for '19, when the New Zealand stop is also "expected to return to the schedule in the spring." Whan: "Revenues of the LPGA in the last five or six years are up almost 90 percent. We have added 20 title sponsors and over 20 official marketing partners in the last five or six years. Don't know too many sports that could claim that" (ESPN.com, 11/18). GOLFWEEK's Beth Ann Nichols noted Whan in '19 "expects two more domestic events will be added along with one international venue (reportedly in Vietnam)." A source said that Orlando is "in the discussion." Whan also "plans to move the Evian Championship away from its September date" as early as '19 (GOLFWEEK.com, 11/19).

The Magic will "not hold their annual summer league in Orlando next year and will participate instead in the NBA Summer League in Las Vegas," according to Josh Robbins of the ORLANDO SENTINEL. The decision is a "radical departure for the Magic, who ran and managed their own summer league" since '02. Magic President of Basketball Operations Jeff Weltman said, "The pendulum is swinging toward teams playing in Las Vegas. It's a level of competition and a level of exposure when more or less every team in the league is there and you’re playing in front of 20,000 people as opposed to playing in a gym with a few hundred people. So it better prepares you for what NBA life is really about with the crowds, the pressure, the travel -- a lot of what you're going to have to confront. Obviously, it's not a true test of an NBA season, but it's a little taste" (ORLANDO SENTINEL, 11/19). SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL's John Lombardo notes eight teams "played in the weeklong Orlando summer league this past July at Amway Center." Teams were "notified earlier this month" that the Magic were closing the league. Magic CEO Alex Martins said, "The Las Vegas event has become a big event in the summer months and the NBA world is centered on it. We thought it was in our best interests to move there." Lombardo notes the closure of the Orlando Pro Summer League "likely means that the Las Vegas summer league next year for the first time will have all 30 NBA teams participating" (SPORTSBUSINESS JOURNAL, 11/20 issue).

DOUBLE DIPPING: In Ft. Lauderdale, Ira Winderman notes the Heat were "one of few teams to devote nearly a month" to participating in summer leagues in both Orlando and Las Vegas. Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said that he does "not foresee the Heat starting their own summer league, an event the team ran early in its 30-year history." The Heat often "would put their focus on the Orlando league, then stagger player appearances in the Las Vegas event, which is run in a tournament format." The Heat also have "used the event for coaching development" (South Florida SUN-SENTINEL, 11/20).