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Volume 6 No. 213

Leagues and Governing Bodies

There "have been whispers" in recent years in F1 that "all was not well financially with some of the teams," according to Andrew Benson of the BBC. One of the most senior figures in the sport has finally "put a public voice to them." McLaren Team Principal Martin Whitmarsh said "of the 11 teams, seven of them are in survival strategy." Whitmarsh "is not just shooting from the hip." As F1 Teams' Association chairman, he "is well-placed to know what he is talking about." The evidence is out there, despite F1 CEO Bernie Ecclestone's claim last week that teams "all have more money than God." There "does not appear to be an immediate danger, but signs of trouble are plain to see." Marussia and Caterham, the two teams at the back now that HRT has gone, "have chosen to replace experienced drivers who command a salary with novice 'pay-drivers' who bring much-needed sponsorship income with them." It should also "have escaped no-one's attention that the airline business of part-owner Vijay Mallya is in serious trouble," although Mallya has long insisted that the Force India F1 team "is a separate business and therefore unaffected." Last year, "there were even problems at Lotus," which finished fourth in the constructors' championship. The fundamental causes of the problem "are both simple and complex." Firstly, the world "is still battling with the economic problems caused by the banking crisis" of '08. F1 "is not immune." That is "the simple part." Now "for the complicated bit." For many years now, the teams "have been battling to get a bigger share of F1's income," which in '11 was about £963M. Until recently, the teams "collectively received 47% of the total revenues, on a sliding scale from Ferrari down to the least successful team." But still there "is resentment at how much money F1's commercial rights holder, the venture capital group CVC, is taking out of the sport." Whitmarsh said: "Bernie has done a fantastic job for the owners. We can criticise him, but he's doing a better job than we are. He's keeping the money on behalf of his employers" (BBC, 2/15).

NO BELLS, NO WHISTLES: The LONDON TIMES' Kevin Eason writes that F1 was once "the sport that measured success by the size of the yachts and wingspan of the private aircraft,'' but now the circuit "is facing the end of the era of financial excess and looking forward to a more frugal future."  F1 has spent 30 years "on a global smash-and-grab raid, pulling in billions of pounds to fuel gas-guzzling cars and turning drivers and team owners into multimillionaires." That could all be a "thing of the past" after McLaren, one of the biggest and most successful teams of the modern era, disclosed that they were thinking of “downsizing” from their three-story mobile headquarters. Gone, too, are the glitzy launches. Red Bull was the only team to open up the champagne to kick off to the season, "a stark contrast to the days when the Spice Girls were hired to provide the entertainment. Whitmarsh: "There are some reality checks going around. We used to hire Alexandra Palace and launches were a competition. People don’t want to see £1 million extravaganzas anymore. Times have changed. We peaked"  (LONDON TIMES, 2/18).

SOLID FOUNDATION: AUTO WEEK's Christian Sylt reported Ecclestone said that "none of F1's 11 teams is at risk of collapsing despite the weak economic climate." Last week, it came to light that Ecclestone "had arranged a meeting" on Feb. 7 with F1's smaller teams -- and this "fuelled speculation that they face a funding crisis." However, Ecclestone said that the outlook "is not as bleak as predicted and, in fact, the point of the meeting was to go over the details of the Concorde Agreement, the contract which governs F1." Ecclestone said, "On Thursday I was bringing the teams up to speed with the new Concorde Agreement. They are all safe. We have got a deal with them all, including Marussia. We are continuing with Marussia. I thought they were going to go but they are not" (AUTO WEEK, 2/11).

Premiership Rugby "has raised the issue of creating a new competition with southern hemisphere Super Rugby clubs as an alternative to Heineken Cup," according to Gavin Mairs of the London TELEGRAPH. With the Heineken Cup agreement "due to expire at the end of next season, it is understood English clubs are set to discuss whether they want to persist with attempts to restructure the European tournament or try to establish a new international tournament at a key owners’ meeting in May." Other proposals "include an Anglo-French competition, and there is thought to be interest from Argentina in establishing professional clubs based in Spain." The move "is designed to bring to an end the deadlock between the English and French clubs and their European Rugby Cup partners over the structure of the Heineken Cup." After four ERC stakeholder meetings, there "has been no sign of a compromise and the Premiership clubs want it resolved before the start of next season" (TELEGRAPH, 2/16). In Sydney, Georgina Robinson reported Australian Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver said that Australia "remains open to a cross-hemisphere competition between Super Rugby teams and English Premiership sides despite the plan's many challenges." The biggest hurdle for the cross-hemisphere plan "is timing." The southern season, from the Super Rugby preseason to the Wallabies' traditional end-of-year tour, "leaves little space on the calendar for a tournament that will likely involve travel, while the northern teams would face a similar dilemma." SANZAR CEO Greg Peters said that discussions "were ongoing between the bodies but had not reached a formal stage." Peters said, "It would be attractive to north and south from both a commercial and fans' perspective" (SYDNEY MORNING HERALD, 2/17).

Australia Rugby Union CEO Bill Pulver will "put forward a proposal to contract Australia's top players centrally" at his first board meeting Monday, according to Bret Harris of THE AUSTRALIAN. The recently installed CEO "will also raise a plan" to rest Wallabies players from Super Rugby matches in the lead-up to the British and Irish Lions series. The player-contracting system is "one of the key issues" Pulver has been reviewing since taking over two weeks ago. Under the current system, players have two employers, the ARU and their Super Rugby franchises, "which can create country versus club issues, particularly in relation to workload and the management of injuries." There is an argument that Australia "should centrally contract players" as they do in New Zealand, which ensures the All Blacks jersey "always comes first." Pulver said, "As a starting point, the ARU would want to contract a group of elite players. It's not a centralised agenda. It's a system that works for everyone. We want a system that satisfies the requirements of the ARU, the Super Rugby franchises and the players" (THE AUSTRALIAN, 2/18).

A pay dispute involving the Indian Premier League is "threatening to disrupt one of English cricket's biggest years, with two Ashes series and a Champions Trophy on home soil," according to Stephen Brenkley of the NEW ZEALAND HERALD. The issue was placed at the "top of the agenda once more" by Professional Cricketers' Association CEO Angus Porter. The organization deals with the England and Wales Cricket Board on the central contracts. Anticipating a commotion, Porter suggested they were "substantially underpaid because of their inability to take part in the IPL and other T20 competitions." The IPL is still the most lucrative of the T20 tournaments. Australia all-rounder Glenn Maxwell has landed a $1M contract for six weeks' work with Mumbai Indians. His compatriot Kane Richardson is being paid $700,000 by Pune Warrriors. Centrally contracted England players, "of whom there are nine in all," can expect around $460,000 a year (NZH, 2/18).

A decision on whether NHL players will "head to the 2014 Sochi Olympics isn't likely this week, but a first day of discussions" between the league, NHLPA, IIHF and IOC on Thursday "went well," according to Ira Podell of the AP. There are "obstacles in the process, but the sides will get back together on Friday to talk." While a "final decision isn't required this week, one will have to be reached in the near future." It is "believed hockey federations will need to know by May what players will be available for their teams." After "enduring a long lockout that produced a shortened regular season this year, the NHL is weighing whether it is worth shutting down the game for more than two weeks next season to allow its players to go to Russia" (AP, 2/14). REUTERS' Steve Keating wrote it is believed that NHL execs "wants to be treated more like a rights holder or an Olympic top sponsor such as McDonald’s, able to trade on the Olympic brand to help sell and promote their product the same way the fast food chain uses its sponsorship to sell hamburgers." Meanwhile, the IOC is "approaching the talks with considerable caution, keenly aware that giving into any NHL demands would leave them on a slippery slope" with the NBA and other sports "looking on with interest." During the '12 London Games, track and field athletes "created a stir with their demands for a slice of the IOC revenue pie and the ability to make money from their Olympic participation." Coming out of a "four month lockout that alienated fans and reduced the NHL season to 48 games, the league is under pressure to repair its damaged image." The IOC is "sure to have an ally in NBC, which paid billions for the U.S. broadcast rights to the Sochi Games and could exert pressure on the NHL to get players to Russia after inking" a 10-year $2B TV deal with the league in '11 (REUTERS, 2/14).

GETTING SUPPORT: Tampa Bay Lightning VP & GM Steve Yzerman said, "It's the biggest stage in the world to market our players. The Olympics is one time the world is watching, and I believe we want our players there because they are the best in the world" (TAMPA BAY TIMES, 2/15). Philadelphia Flyers RW Jakub Voracek said, "I don't know why it's even a discussion why we shouldn't go to the Olympics. I could see if it was every year, but it's only every four years. I don't know why they couldn't work out the schedule right now. For most of us players, it's a dream come true to be an Olympian for your home country. I would be pretty sad if we couldn't." Flyers D Kimmo Timonen added, "Not just thinking about myself, it's good for hockey. Hockeywise, it's great, full rinks and people love hockey. As a player, if we can go there, I'm happy to do it." Flyers RW Claude Giroux said, "Obviously, it would be hard on your body, but you don't think twice about it" (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/15). Vancouver Canucks G Corey Schneider said, "I think the fans want to see that. I think the players realistically would want to go do that. It's a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I think we'd all be in favor of it." However, the AP's Dan Gelston wrote NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman has "plenty of reasons to keep the NHL home next winter" (AP, 2/13).

ON THE FLIP SIDE...: Capitals coach Adam Oates wondered, "How do you feel if one of your players goes over and gets hurt?" In Washington, DC, Stephen Whyno notes while Oates "understands the value of Olympic participation to the promotion of hockey, he doesn’t believe NHL players belong there." Oates: "Is it good for hockey that they do it? Great. But I grew up trying to play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, not Team Canada. Didn’t even know it existed" (WASHINGTON TIMES, 2/15).

ON HOLD: In N.Y., Jeff Klein noted planning for the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team is "on hold until the NHL decides whether to send its players to the Sochi Games." USA Hockey Assistant Exec Dir of Hockey Operations Jim Johannson said that a GM and coach for the men's Olympic team "would be named after the Stanley Cup playoffs conclude at the end of June." But, he added that USA Hockey would "wait until the NHL made a decision 'before we make any moves along that line'" (N.Y. TIMES , 2/14).