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Volume 26 No. 207

Leagues and Governing Bodies

The CWHL consisted of six teams based in three different countries this past season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The CWHL consisted of six teams based in three different countries this past season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The CWHL consisted of six teams based in three different countries this past season
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The NWHL is "exploring the idea of creating two Canadian-based franchises" in light of the CWHL's news that it "would cease operations," according to Hailey Salvian of THE ATHLETIC. A source said that the NWHL will "'absolutely' look at adding one or two Canadian teams for next season, with the top options being Montreal and one of the Greater Toronto Area teams." The CWHL’s Calgary franchise would "not be viable unless a major donor stepped in to help the NWHL with costs." NWHL Commissioner Dani Rylan confirmed the "possibility of expanding the league as soon as this fall." The CWHL had six teams based in three countries this past season. Rylan in a statement said that the NWHL and CWHL "met in January to talk about steps to create one unified league and the two leagues agreed to meet again in April." But CWHL BOD Chair Laurel Walzak and interim Commissioner Jayna Hefford said that the decision to "cease operations was not a coordinated effort with either the NWHL or NHL" (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/31).

OUT OF NOWHERE: Former Gov. General of Canada Adrienne Clarkson said that she is "stepping in to attempt to resurrect" the CWHL. Clarkson, who donated the league’s championship trophy, the Clarkson Cup, said, "I’d like to talk to women to see if we can salvage this." The GLOBE & MAIL's Rachel Brady notes a week after the Calgary Inferno won the Clarkson Cup, the league BOD yesterday said that the CWHL will "cease operations as of May 1 because its business model was 'economically unsustainable.'" The teams were "stunned when they received the news." Hefford and Walzak said that sponsorships were "not generating enough revenue to keep the league going long-term" (GLOBE & MAIL, 4/1). In Calgary, Brandon McNeil writes the news is "especially surprising given that the CWHL had some decent numbers for the season." In fact, 175,000 fans "tuned in to watch this year’s Clarkson Cup." Inferno F Dakota Woodworth: "We had no indication that was ... going to happen. With the year that women’s hockey had and the year our league had makes it feel really crazy that it’s happening now" (CALGARY HERALD, 4/1).

NO OTHER OPTION: Walzak said, "We’ve exhausted our options. We’ve spoken to many different constituents, whether that’s sponsors or advertisers, in terms of driving that revenue. Really it was only up until last week when it became clear that additional funding is not available." In Toronto, Kevin McGran notes the CWHL "underwent a sea change over the last 12 months," as founding Commissioner Brenda Andress was "replaced by Hefford." Former BOD member Graeme Roustan, one of the "biggest donors and backers of the league until a falling out last year, was incensed at the decision to shutter its doors" (TORONTO STAR, 4/1). In N.Y., Seth Berkman notes in June '17, the CWHL announced its "expansion to China with the addition of two teams." The move was "intended to present a wealth of sponsorship and other business opportunities." Three months later, the CWHL began "paying players for the first time." Under a salary cap of $100,000 (all figures C), player stipends "ranged from $2,000 to $10,000." That figure was the same this season, but there were "signs that the growth of the league was not as bountiful as had been expected, including the Chinese clubs’ merging into one franchise" (N.Y. TIMES, 4/1).

TIME TO STEP IN? The AP's John Wawrow noted the CWHL’s demise leaves the NWHL as the "only women’s professional league in North America," and it "re-opens questions as to whether the NHL should step in and create one league with teams on both sides of the border." NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said that the NHL’s position "remains unchanged at this point" (AP, 3/31). ESPN.com's Emily Kaplan cited sources as saying that NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has "gone on the record several times to say that he doesn't want to intervene with either league as long as they both exist in their current states." But with one league folding, the NHL "may now step in and have a meaningful contribution to women's hockey." The NHL contributed financially to both the CWHL and NWHL last season, though a source said the amount paid to each league was "less than six figures" (ESPN.com, 3/31).

New proof of a replica championship belt passed among MLB teams at a year-end arbitration symposium has "emerged as a tangible example of the animosity that could plunge the sport into a bruising labor conflict," according to sources cited by Marc Carig of THE ATHLETIC. For the last several years, The Belt, an "urban legend of sorts," has been "awarded by the league to the team that did most to 'achieve the goals set by the industry.'” Carig: "In other words: The team that did the most to keep salaries down in arbitration." To its creators, it is "nothing more than a morale booster, a nod for a job well done in the unglamorous arena of arbitration." But to others in the industry, it is "emblematic of a climate in which the livelihoods of players can be turned into a parlor game" (THEATHLETIC.com, 3/29). MLBPA Exec Dir Tony Clark responded to The Athletic's story over the weekend, saying, "That clubs make sport of trying to suppress salaries in a process designed to produce fair settlements shows a blatant lack of respect for our Players, the game, and the arbitration process." A total of 32 players have "gone to arbitration over the past two winters, with 18 players winning their cases" (USATODAY.com, 3/29).

PLAYERS PUSH BACK: Astros P and player rep Collin McHugh called the existence of the belt "embarrassing." He said, "If you were looking for a way to antagonize players, this would be a great way to do it." In Houston, Chandler Rome noted the tactic "seems to have further frayed an already contentious labor relationship between players and the league that this winter's free agent stagnation escalated" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 3/31). Pirates P and player rep Jameson Taillon: "I thought it was fake at first. I thought it was an Onion article or something. I didn’t think it was real. ... It just seems tacky to me. It kinda reminds you that we’re just numbers in the system" (PITTSBURGH POST-GAZETTE, 3/31). Cubs P Brandon Kintzler: "We have short careers and try to get as much money as we can." Kintzler said the "us against them" climate is "too bad because (we need to) work with each other" (CHICAGO TRIBUNE, 3/31).

The MLL hopes the folding Charlotte Hounds could return under new ownership after stadium renovations
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The MLL hopes the folding Charlotte Hounds could return under new ownership after stadium renovations
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
The MLL hopes the folding Charlotte Hounds could return under new ownership after stadium renovations
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

MLL will "contract from nine to six teams for its upcoming season," meaning the Charlotte Hounds, Florida Launch and Ohio Machine will not be a part of the '19 campaign when it begins on May 31, according to Terry Lefton in this week's SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL. The three contracted teams are owned by New Balance Chair Jim Davis, the league’s "primary financial backer" since '03. Folding three of Davis’ teams "leaves the league with a one-team-per-owner structure." MLL said that none of the three teams is "permanently shut down." They added that after renovations to Charlotte’s Memorial Stadium, the Hounds "hope to return" in '21 under new ownership. MLL average attendance reached a high of 6,417 in '11 but has "declined each year since, bottoming out at 3,619 last year" (SPORTS BUSINESS JOURNAL, 4/1 issue). In Boston, Marisa Ingemi cites a source as saying that part of the contraction "can be attributed to long-time league sponsor New Balance pulling back before the season." MLL has been undergoing changes "all offseason after several players broke off to form the Premier Lacrosse League, a touring model that brought with it more than 140 of MLL’s best players and got itself a national television deal" (BOSTONHERALD.com, 4/1).

STADIUM STATUS UNCLEAR: In Columbus, Emily Bench notes it is "not clear" what the Machine's folding means for Fortress Obetz, a publicly funded 6,500-seat stadium that opened in '17. The field is "owned by the Village of Obetz." The Crew has used "nearby land in the village for its practice facility for several years, but the team's new owners are planning to move to a new practice facility at Mapfre Stadium" (BIZJOURNALS.com, 4/1).

ON THE FLIP SIDE: MLL announced that it "reacquired all linear, digital and social broadcast media rights." Those rights had been "controlled in large part by LaxSportsNetwork" since '16 (INSIDELACROSSE.com, 4/1).

Goodell last summer conceded to the union that the owners made a mistake in passing the anthem policy
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Goodell last summer conceded to the union that the owners made a mistake in passing the anthem policy
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Goodell last summer conceded to the union that the owners made a mistake in passing the anthem policy
Photo: GETTY IMAGES

The relationship between NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA Exec Dir DeMaurice Smith, is in "as good a place as it's been in a long time, maybe going all the [way] back to the last labor deal being struck" in '11, according to Albert Breer of THE MMQB. The "turning point" for the two came last summer, when Goodell "conceded to the union the mistakes the owners made in pushing the anthem policy" through last May. From that point, the league and union "worked together on a new anthem policy -- ultimately deciding to leave it alone." Breer: "Does that mean there's a great chance of labor peace in 2021? It does not. But with a deal in place that's been pretty good for both sides on the whole, there's at least reason for hope" (SI.com, 4/1).

WINNER OF THE WEEK: In Boston, Ben Volin writes Saints coach Sean Payton was the "big winner" at the league meetings last week after "leading a successful coup" against Competition Committee Chair Rich McKay and other committee members to get the new rule about reviewing pass interference passed. To convince owners to "vote for his proposal, Payton didn't just harp on the missed pass interference call from his own game." He also cited the Week 16 Steelers-Saints game in which a "call benefited the Saints and contributed to their victory." Payton is one of the committee's eight members (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/31).

The NHL’s March Madness-esque Stanley Cup Playoffs bracket challenge will return this year, upping the grand prize to $100,000. The challenge, which is open for early registration and will lock on April 10 ahead of the first playoff games, was created following the NHL’s '14 playoff format change in which it no longer reseeds after each round, akin to the NBA Playoffs or March Madness. There were 1.6 million brackets submitted last year by roughly 1 million fans, up 105% from the previous year. The grand prize last year was a trip to the NHL Awards in Las Vegas. The NHL will build out its "famous hockey fans" component to the bracket as well, which has attracted celebrities like Jon Hamm, Michael J. Fox and Snoop Dogg in recent years. Fans can compete in public or private leagues, submitting their bracket through the challenge’s online portal or via the NHL app. Jägermeister, which was the presenting sponsor of the bracket last year and became an official partner of the league in September, will again hold that designation. 

There is "plenty of reason to suspect that the XFL will not only outlast the AAF, but will sustain itself longer than the first iteration did, which was only one season" in '01, according to Andy Patton of USA TODAY. The XFL has $272M "set aside" by Founder Vince McMahon, which could "allow the league to operate for a handful of seasons -- if they handle it correctly." As of now, all eight XFL teams that will begin play in '20 are "located in the same city as NFL franchises." The NFL having a successful "feeder league will likely require geographic proximity, something that the AAF doesn't have." There is "no guarantee that either league will be sustainable long-term." But should the NFL "begin to adopt a minor league system, the XFL has more advantages" (USATODAY.com, 3/31). NBCSPORTS.com's Peter King writes the "only way a spring football league is going to work is to open its doors for business and keep them open for a minimum of three years." King: "Staying power is the key. Period. To be rumored to be dying in the first month and at the end of the second month ... who would have faith in the league now?" (NBCSPORTS.com, 4/1).

NOT THE RIGHT FIT: THE MMQB's Albert Breer writes the NFLPA and AAF had been in "pretty consistent contact for weeks, and the union was surprised" that AAF Chair Tom Dundon "spoke publicly" about needing help from the NFLPA to survive. Dundon's comments do not "make the NFLPA any more likely to help, when it would take an amendment to the CBA for that to happen." Observers are "speculating that the real reason Dundon bought the league was for the gambling technology that he could take and test" with the Hurricanes (SI.com, 4/1). In Memphis, Geoff Calkins wrote there is "simply no reason for the NFL to share the players it has under contract with a minor league." NFL teams "develop young players in their off-season programs." They "don't want them getting torn up" in different leagues (DAILYMEMPHIAN.com, 3/30).

GOING OUT WITH A BANG: In Memphis, Mark Giannotto wrote if the Orlando Apollos' 34-31 win over the Memphis Express on Saturday is the "end of the latest professional football experiment in Memphis," at least it "ended with theatrics." The game at the Liberty Bowl was a "chaotic experience that felt just as unstable as the entire league's existence." It featured "two negated touchdowns, three negated interceptions" and Apollos coach Steve Spurrier "throwing shade at Tennessee once it was over" (COMMERCIALAPPEAL.com, 3/30). In Illinois, Bill Welt wrote "if you want to watch a trainwreck, I'd highly recommend" the AAF. The game saw Express QB Johnny Manziel on a "folding chair eating nachos utterly as disinterested in the game as everybody else" (LINCOLNCOURIER.com, 3/31).