MLB has approved an amendment to the CBA that "finally loosens restrictions on the design and colors of players' footwear in games," according to Bob Nightengale of USA TODAY. Players were "furious last season that they were being warned and fined" by MLB if their footwear "did not adhere to league-mandated rules." They now will be "permitted to wear footwear of their choice as long as it adheres" to the new specifications. Shoe designs "will have to be pre-approved by teams." When Cubs 2B Ben Zobrist "complained to MLB this season about the footwear restrictions, he explained his black cleats were a tribute to players he idolized" while also tying the issue to growing "young fans' interest in the game." Zobrist wrote, "Maybe there is some kid out there that will be inspired to look more into the history of the game by the 'flexibility' that I prefer in the color of my shoes" (USA TODAY, 11/16). In N.Y., James Wagner notes players beginning in '17 were "given a taste of more freedom" to express themselves on the field during Players Weekend, when they could wear "whatever cleats they designed." One reason players, not to mention shoe companies, "embraced Players Weekend is that MLB has fallen behind in player promotion and self-expression, compared to other professional leagues, particularly the NBA" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/16).
ISSUES AT HAND: In N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, who received a five-year extension through '24 on Thursday, knows the sport "must become more appealing" to young fans. The proposed pitch clock "remains on the table" for '19, although Manfred "strongly hinted he would give up on that ... if the players gave in on other pace-of-play issues." Meanwhile, attendance this past season dropped by more than 3 million fans from '17, and Manfred "conceded that the topic came up in Thursday morning's general session, as did the topic of how to better monetize the new gambling landscape." If Manfred "isn't saying the sky is falling, he at least acknowledges that it isn't a perfectly sunny day in baseball's world" (N.Y. POST, 11/16). Manfred said he is "not sure that concern is really the word that I would use to characterize the conversation" regarding the attendance drop. Manfred: "The owners as a group are realistic about how the business performed. The focus of the conversation, however, was trying to make sure that we do everything to get as many fans in the ballpark in 2019 as we possibly can, and we believe we have some good ideas that we'll be rolling out in the next few months" (NEWSDAY, 11/16).
GOOD TO HAVE ON HAND: MLB Network’s Matt Vasgersian said Manfred's extension is “good news for any fan” of MLB. The game has "enjoyed unrivaled labor prosperity" and a new "media profile in terms of the international and digital market." Vasgersian: "Rob Manfred one of those most responsible for that growth” (“High Heat,” MLB Network, 11/15). ESPN’s Tony Kornheiser said the extension is a “real endorsement for a guy who wants to change the game” (“PTI,” ESPN, 11/15). MLB Network’s Brian Kenny noted “business is booming” for MLB, though he acknowledged there are “grand strategy issues that Rob Manfred discussed on a regular basis” ("MLB Now," MLB Network,11/15).
Red Sox RF Mookie Betts won his first AL MVP on Thursday, and he may be able to "pull off the impossible: make an indelible mark on the Boston Red Sox franchise, the last team in Major League Baseball to integrate, and help grow the game for kids of color and, more largely, the country overall," according to Clinton Yates of THE UNDEFEATED. Betts next year could make the "jump from baseball star to so-called sports hero." There is a "complex matrix of things that would have to happen for that to go down, but it’s not impossible." ESPN MLB analyst Chris Singleton said in order for Betts to "really get that kind of love and exposure, he’d have to open himself to do more things beyond just baseball." Yates wrote fans "all know ... that baseball could use" that kind of jolt. Betts"could market anything from sports cars to pancake mix." He has been with Jordan Brand since '15, one of "only about a dozen or so" baseball players under the imprint, and he "swings an AXE bat." Yates: "Lord knows baseball could use a little bit more of that personality we saw from him in spring training in its national profile. ... No one wants to press it, but everyone wants it to happen" (THEUNDEFEATED.com, 11/15).
A STAR IS BORN? Brewers LF Christian Yelich was named NL MVP on Thursday, and ESPN.com's Bradford Doolittle wrote the "guy from the sun-splashed regions of America could not have been more enthusiastically embraced by the fans in Milwaukee and the general region of Brewers-loving fans." The Brewers, playing in MLB's "smallest television market, averaged more than 35,000 fans per game at Miller Park" en route to the NLCS. Given Yelich's "ridiculously team-friendly contract, it is highly likely that he'll be calling Milwaukee home for at least the next four years." Doolittle: "Christian, you've become a star." He is also now the "face" of the franchise. In Milwaukee this week, there is a "special bus line running to commemorate" Yelich's MVP award. Now, the No. 22 bus is "officially known as the Yelich line" (ESPN.com, 11/15).
The NLL has canceled the first two weeks of the ’18-19 season due to a lockout. The NLL has been negotiating with the Professional Lacrosse Players Association to try to agree on a new CBA, but the sides have been far apart, leading to the NLL's move. The league on Thursday issued a statement that read, "After a thorough review of the PLPA’s counterproposal, it is clear we cannot accept the terms the PLPA has put forward, and therefore, have made a decision to reject it. We believe those terms would have both short and long term negative consequences on our member clubs and the League which we are not willing to accept. Therefore, there is not yet an agreement on a new collective bargaining agreement.” The season was set to start Dec. 1 and continue Dec. 8, but games on those days have been canceled (Adam Stern, THE DAILY). In San Diego, Jeff Sanders notes the PLPA "worked to add sponsorship, concessions, parking and merchandise sales to players' pay." The NLL had offered a 25% "increase in salary and benefits for players in a stop-gap proposal." According to a league statement, the proposal also included "a fair calculation of bonuses to be paid to the players based on attendance growth plus a percentage increase each year to account for growth in all those attendance-related revenue streams." The deadline to "accept that deal and still start the season on time was Wednesday." The NLL had "never previously canceled games due to a labor dispute" (SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE, 11/16).
STALLING MOMENTUM: In Buffalo, Erica Brecher noted Bandits fans "worry a potential lockout could hurt lacrosse's momentum." The Bandits are "unique with a larger following than other NLL teams," but the labor dispute "could hurt other teams more." It is "unclear what happens for season ticket holders" in the wake of the work stoppage. The Bandits said that they are "communicating with fans but nothing has been decided yet" (WIVB.com, 11/15). US LACROSSE MAGAZINE's Matt DaSilva noted the labor impasse "has stalled momentum" for the league, which is "set to unveil new franchises in San Diego and Philadelphia this year." Additionally, the Knighthawks are "relocating to Halifax next year and two new expansion teams" are expected in Rochester and Long Island (USLAXMAGAZINE.com, 11/15).
BANNER DISAPPOINTMENT: In Saskatoon, Deibert & Mitchell report the lockout will force the Saskatchewan Rush to wait "for at least an extra four weeks" before raising its '18 championship banner. Rush Dir of Business Development & Media Relations Brandon Urban said, "In terms of the cancellation of our Dec. 8 banner-raising home opener ... it's crappy." He added, "That pretty much sums it up, to be honest with you. It’s very unfortunate, and not an ideal situation for us. We’ve been marketing and promoting and pushing our pre-season game and home opener for the last few months now, and it certainly hasn’t unfolded the way we were hoping and the way we anticipated.” The team's home opener now is tentatively set for Jan. 5 (Saskatoon STARPHOENIX, 11/16).
NFLPA President Eric Winston is helping the union "gear up for a gathering holy war with ownership" regarding a new CBA when the current deal expires in '21, according to Devin Gordon of the N.Y. TIMES. Winston represents the "largest union of its kind," and he is "pitted against dozens of the richest, most secretive, best-organized people in American business." Players have "made significant headway" on the issue of guaranteed contracts over the course of the current CBA, as 386 players "now have their contracts fully guaranteed and 300 more have nearly full guarantees." While it is "nowhere close" to the NBA having 100% of contracts guaranteed, it is a "marked improvement over 2011, when only top-tier quarterbacks could pull off such a demand." For Winston, one of the "keys to setting up a win in 2021 is making the case in public today that most NFL players are getting a raw deal." He knows "what most fans think: that pro athletes get to play a game for a living, and how dare they whine about that?" He knows he "needs to persuade fans to see pro athletes the way he does: as employees who go to work every day just like the rest of us, with crummy bosses and substandard workplaces and a power imbalance between labor and management." What frustrates Winston is that, "to fans, NFL labor disputes are seen as a greedy fight between two comparably rich sides over who gets more of the pie -- and that historically, the league has swayed most fans to side with owners in the name of team spirit" (N.Y. TIMES, 11/16).
CARRYING THE TORCH: The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Andrew Beaton wrote if Colin Kaepernick has "been the face" of the players’ demonstrations during the national anthem, Panthers S Eric Reid has "lingered as the enduring voice of the movement -- even as the fervor surrounding the topic has subsided after two tumultuous seasons." This season, the players’ demonstrations "have become more muted" as only a "handful of players across the league have continued to either take a knee or raise a fist during the national anthem to call attention to issues such as police brutality." Reid has "stood out as the steadfast and outspoken critic." He has "launched barbs not just at owners, but also players he disagrees with." Reid said that the Panthers "haven’t asked him to tone down his commentary -- and that if they did, he wouldn’t" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 11/14).
MLS Commissioner Don Garber and Mexican Football Federation (FMF) President Yon de Luisa during the SoccerEx convention on Thursday "spoke about their accomplishments and goals for the future of soccer in both countries," including the "budding partnership" between MLS and Liga MX, according to Alicia DelGallo of PRO SOCCER USA. De Luisa said that the future of the leagues' partnership includes having a "very good annual tournament" -- the new Campeones Cup -- as well as "working together to share sponsorships and partners across borders." He added that in the future, the way Mexico, the U.S. and Canada "share information will change drastically." He said that will "include hosting youth tournaments that not only benefit the players but also allow technical staffs from each country to stay with, study and learn from each other." DelGallo noted that "focus on furthering partnerships across borders is essential leading up" to the '26 World Cup, which the three countries will jointly host. Both Garber and de Luisa believe that the eight-year timeline between now and then "presents obvious shared growth, marketing and promotional opportunities to raise the profile and quality of the sport in the region." Garber said the opportunity should also provide "generational value" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 11/15).
COMPETITIONS ABOUND: Garber said that he "has enough work to do evolving the league's schedule without including the Copa Libertadores," South America's prestigious club competition. DelGallo in a separate piece noted teams from Liga MX have been "invited to participate in the tournament," and there have been reports in the last few years that MLS teams "could join the competition in the near future." However, Garber said that he does not "see it happening." He said, "We have been really focused on trying to think of ways in which we could have some sort of meaningful competition with Liga MX, and we've got a long way to go to figure out how that schedule will work." Garber: "In time we'll be able to have an opportunity to play in different competitions than just our league competition and our federation's competition and our confederation's competition, but thinking about that being outside of our confederation, I don't see that happening any time soon" (PROSOCCERUSA.com, 11/15).
The NWSL has "formally recognized the NWSL Players Association as the exclusive bargaining representative for the league's players." The NWSLPA "represents current and future players who have signed standard player agreements" with the league. USWNT players who are allocated throughout the league are "represented by the U.S. Women's National Team Players Association" (AP, 11/15).
RESEARCH FUNDING: The NFL has awarded more than $35M in grants to "fund medical research into brain health and injuries." The NFL added that the grants were "made to research projects evaluated and chosen" by an independent scientific advisory board of doctors. The board was "chaired by Peter Chiarelli, a retired U.S. Army general who is the former CEO of One Mind, a nonprofit organization focused on the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress." Chiarelli said that the NFL "accepted all five recommendations" given by the board and added that the research done "will have applications beyond football" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 11/15).
TURNING OF THE TIDE: In Boston, Frank Dell'Apa wrote MLS is "becoming a league that features foreign stars and relegates U.S. players to supporting roles with commensurate inferior salaries, judging by selections for the MLS Best XI team." There are "seven foreign and four U.S. players on the Best XI -- but no U.S. attacking players have been named to the team" since then-Red Bulls MF Sacha Kljestan in '16 (BOSTONGLOBE.com, 11/14).