Thursday, August 31, 2006

College Football – That’s the costly ticket

The college football season begins tonight with 16 games scheduled. ESPN’s ‘family’ of networks will televise the four of their planned 25 weekend games tonight, topped off with Monday night’s game at Miami’s Orange Bowl, an interstate battle with Florida State meeting the University of Miami Hurricanes. School isn’t even in session at many of the institutions for ‘higher learning’ where football will be played this weekend. With the NCAA allowing schools to play an extra game this year, the only surprise is that more schools won’t be playing this weekend. One game will be held Friday, 53 Saturday, three on Sunday with the final game Monday night at the Orange Bowl on ABC.

When all the tickets are counted from this weekend’s rush to the box office, millions of tickets will be sold to the 74 games that will be played. And as any college football fan will tell you, the cost of attending a college football game is anything but cheap these days. More then ever, football has become the key economic driving force that fuels college athletic departments today. Long gone are the days when attending a college football game was affordable.

Ranked number two in ESPN’s pre-season poll Notre Dame travels to Atlanta for their season opener against unranked Georgia Tech. The Georgia Tech athletic department all too aware how valuable a ticket Notre Dame is wherever the Irish play, packaged the Notre Dame game with two other games, in a three game package. Tickets for Saturday night’s nationally televised game where only available if you purchased season tickets for Yellow Jacket football or the three game packages. The game will be played at the Yellow Jackets on campus stadium – 55,000 seat Bobby Dodd Stadium. In the last three seasons of home games, Georgia Tech has sold out a total of five games. As a direct result of Georgia Tech hosting Notre Dame, three games for the current season are already sold out.

It’s not as if Georgia Tech has a big problem selling tickets. The football team sold more then 40,000 full-season tickets this year. The 12,000 three game ticket packages sold out in two and a half hours. The Ramblin’ Wreck are playing seven home games this year. The beauty of three sellouts in advance of the start of the season, it forces anyone interested in attending a football game to buy tickets for one of the four remaining home games.

The secondary ticket market is ablaze for the Saturday night’s game.

"It's ridiculous what Notre Dame does for [ticket demand]," said Sean Pate, director of public relations for StubHub, an eBay-style cyber-superstore for (legally) reselling tickets in an Atlanta Journal Constitution report. "Really, the Notre Dame factor is far and away the heavyweight of college football [ticket sales]. It changes all the dynamics."

“With all due respect to Georgia Tech, when you see them selling that well compared to those glamour games in the early part of the season, obviously Notre Dame is driving that interest," Pate said.

The University of Tennessee Volunteers play their home games in Neyland Stadium. The stadium capacity is 104,079. Saturday night the Volunteers, coming off a 5-6 season, play their first game at home against California.

If you wanted to buy tickets to the Vols home opener Wednesday night, tickets according to the school’s online ticketing service are limited ‘scattered single seats located throughout the stadium’. Tennessee’s SEC games against Florida, Alabama and LSU are all sold out. A losing 2005 season on the field meant nothing to the fortunes off the field. Tennessee raised ticket prices 10 percent and for the first time added a $250 surcharge on any sideline season tickets that where sold.

In many regions home to both an NFL team and a major college football program the college football tickets at more expensive then NFL tickets. It’s also become much costlier to run a big time college football program.

For a season ticket in the premier club seating area at LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans, fans have to pay $4,050 -- a one-time fee of $1,500 on top of the $2,550 price tag for the eight-game package.

Some 160 miles east in Knoxville, the University of Tennessee is now offering high-rolling fans seats in the new East Club, which has 422 outdoor, theater-style seats under a cover. The cost: $4,000 a year for the seats, plus a $25,000 donation payable in equal installments over five years, bringing the total annual price tag to $9,000 for each of the first five years. The section has an adjoining hospitality club room with private restrooms, pre-game and halftime buffets. (Food isn't included in the Titans plan.)

According to a recent Wall Street Journal report, football is costing Ohio State $26 million annually. Ranked number one in many of the pre-season polls, a simple but direct message greets anyone looking for Buckeye single game football tickets for the 2006 season – “We do not anticipate a public ticket sale occurring for the upcoming football season. Thank you.”

The Buckeyes play their home games in Ohio Stadium (nicknamed the horseshoe), with a capacity of 101,568. The Buckeyes play their first game Saturday (needless to say at home) against Northern Illinois. The Buckeyes play six more home games. The school hasn’t played a down of football and has already sold 710,976 tickets for the 2006 season.

Buckeye 2005 season tickets cost $406, an average of $58 per game. Last year for the school’s seven home games the athletic department generated $41,236,608 or $5,890,944 per game. Taking the Wall Street Journal estimate that it costs Ohio State $26 million to run their football program, if the program is generating more then $41 million ticket revenue, the football program at Ohio State not only pays for itself but for many of the other programs Ohio State’s athletic department offers.

Maryland is coming off back-to-back 5-6 seasons. Last Thursday Maryland announced the school had sold the naming rights to their football stadium for $20 million. The naming rights of the field at Byrd Stadium were sold to Chevy Chase Bank for $20 million. The $20 million sponsorship fee is a key in the stadium’s $50.8 million stadium expansion project.

According to a report in The Baltimore Sun, Maryland sold 15,759 season tickets in 2001, when Ralph Friedgen took over the program and led the Terps to the Atlantic Coast Conference championship. Friedgen, who was brought in to resurrect a program that had two winning seasons in 16 years, immediately had three consecutive 10-win seasons, and sales jumped to 31,542 last year. The Terps' made appearances in the Orange Bowl, Peach Bowl and Gator Bowl during Friedgen’s first three seasons as head coach.

The back-to-back losing seasons didn’t stop the Maryland athletic department from an increase in season-ticket prices, and adding two additional home games. The number of tickets sold to date has dropped to 29,455. Maryland will continue to sell season tickets, but associate athletic director Brian Ullmann attributed the decline to fewer family four-pack sales, which increased from $330 to $504.

"It's not a big surprise to us," Ullmann said. "We know those are the most price-conscious customers. We saw a significant amount of those ticket holders not renew their tickets. That accounts for the difference.

"It wasn't in our Terrapin Club or loyal season-ticket base, the people that have been with us for a long time," he said. "Those don't drop off."

Ullmann estimated Maryland football is still "a couple thousand away" from selling out Byrd Stadium on season tickets alone -- a feat the men's basketball program has already accomplished.

"We would love to have that situation in football," Ullmann said. "If we get back to a bowl, it will happen."

Regular-season tickets have jumped from $215 last season (which included the season opener against Navy) to $256 this year. The Terps have seven home games, including Florida State and Miami.

"I think in some ways I'm blessed to be at a place that understands what we're all about," Friedgen said. "They want to see kids graduate. It's not all just about winning."

Consider these tricks of the ticket selling trade football fans are facing at these schools:

Iowa -- tickets have an additional surcharge of $50 to $600 (again that's in addition to the cost of the actual ticket. The average ticket price is $46. The surcharge imposed for the first time is an annual fee for the right to buy season tickets.

LSU -- tickets have an additional surcharge of $100 to $500. The average ticket price is $37. The school is adding a additional 3,200 seats, and students are getting a taste of what it will be like when they graduate and want to attend games -- student ticket prices have increased by 70 percent.

Miami -- tickets have an additional surcharge of $75 to $500. The average ticket price is $36. And if you're looking for tickets for Monday night's game against Florida State, you have to buy tickets for the game the following Saturday (September 9 against Florida A&M)

Michigan -- tickets have an additional surcharge of $100 to $500. The average ticket price is $37. Michigan's athletic department is still dealing with the firestorm created after the announcement the Big House's 107,501 seating capacity would be affected by the addition of 83 luxury suites. The surcharge has raised an additional $10 million in the last two years alone.

Okalahoma State -- tickets have an additional surcharge of $100 to $2,500. The average ticket price is $49. According to a Wall Street Journal report the school borrowed $100 million to renovate their football stadium, and have more then doubled the cost of their box seats and increased their mid-field seats by 60 percent to pay off the loan. OSU has raised prices for season tickets 28% to $295 for six games. For club-level seating, the cost of a season ticket is now $395, up 71% over last year. Season ticket sales have dropped by a reported 10 percent.

Many of the games that will be played over the next five games feature games along the lines of Northern Illinois game Saturday at Ohio State. A glorified scrimmage that will generate nearly $6 million in ticket revenue for Ohio State. Northern Illinois; has NO chance whatsoever to win their game at Ohio State. The game is a classic example of a big payoff for the school (victim) heading on the road to play at a big named football program.

The University of Buffalo Bulls will open their season at home tonight against Temple. More then 20,000 fans are expected at UB Stadium. A report in Wednesday’s Buffalo News reminded readers traditionally the school doesn’t have a problem selling tickets to its home opener; it’s the games that follow. Last season, they drew 17,620 for their loss against Rutgers and only 8,279 showed up for the next home game, a 13-7 loss to Akron. The low point was against Ohio University when only 5,814 attended.

Because the Bulls averaged just 8,914 in attendance, they were put on notice by the NCAA after falling below the minimum required average of 15,000 fans per game. NCAA bylaws state Division I-A schools must average 15,000 fans, in actual or paid attendance, once every two years on a rolling basis. Should UB not average 15,000 this season, it will receive a letter of noncompliance. The notice states the school will have to meet the mark over the next 10 years or be placed on restricted membership, which takes the team out of contention for bowl games.

The Bulls play in the Mid-American Conference. If wining is a key to help sell tickets, three road games on the Bulls schedule are guaranteed loses. The Bulls will be cannon fodder when they visit Auburn on September 23, Boston College on October 28 and Wisconsin on November 18. Buffalo’s athletic department is guaranteed $600,000 for the Auburn and Wisconsin games and likely close to $500,000 for the Boston College game.
''It's all about the money -- any administrator will tell you that,'' Rich Rodriguez, the head coach at West Virginia told The New York Times. Buffalo dropped West Virginia from its schedule, without even a courtesy phone call, to earn an extra $300,000 to play at Wisconsin. Mr. Rodriguez added: ''It's not for the excitement of college football. Let's not kid ourselves.''

The New York Times report mentioned a few additional perks above and beyond the guaranteed win bigger schools enjoy when they’re hosting powerless opponents. Buffalo will take the money and run, and not care about the traditional home and home series.

''I don't think it's realistic to say we're going to play Nebraska, Florida State and U.S.C. every year,'' said John Chadima, Wisconsin's associate athletic director. ''Everyone is trying to search for a team like Buffalo to come in and play them. Both sides realize there is a good guarantee involved with that.''

Former Nebraska star Turner Gill was part of three national championships as a coach at the University of Nebraska and a Heisman Trophy finalist as a player, is Buffalo’s rookie head coach. Talk about having to stand and deliver.

The college football few can recall a bygone era, a time when the focus of campus life during the fall was the football team. Students lived for those games. Alumni went back to their Alma Mater for homecoming weekend, a chance to relive their past. Tickets – forget about Alumni weekend, they come with a surcharge. Students, get ready to experience the reality being dealt to LSU students, a 70 percent increase in the price of your student ticket. Are you ready for some college football – let the games begin and let the dollars start rolling in.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The Wall Street Journal, The Baltimore Sun, The Buffalo News and the New York Times

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Just how far has Major League Baseball come (in dealing with racial equality?)

Branch Ricky believed in a greater purpose for professional sports and Major League Baseball when he integrated MLB. Ricky, then the general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson to a contract in 1946. Robinson played for the Montreal Royals, the Dodgers Triple-A affiliate that year, before beginning a Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers the following year. Arguably the most influential athlete of the 20th century was Robinson. There may have been athletes who may have excelled on their respective playing fields more then Robinson, but without Jackie Robinson there may have never been a Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, or a Jim Brown.

It makes it that much more disconcerting to read reports emerging from Chicago concerning Chicago Cubs manager Dusty Baker and the hate-filled, racially laced letters the longtime Cubs manager has received.

USA Today’s Bob Nightengale spoke with Baker last week while in Chicago preparing a feature on Baker and the Cubs. Baker read Nightengale a letter he had recently received, a letter filled with racial epithets.

"It's not easy, I ain't lying," says Baker, in the final season of a four-year contract, "but come on, dude, I'm not going to let them beat me up.

"I was already strong and tough when I got here. Now, I'm stronger and tougher. They aren't going to run me out of town."

Baker’s problems have come since the Cubs came ever so close to winning the National League pennant in 2003. The Cubs where within five outs of winning the National League pennant before Steve Bartman made the biggest catch in Florida Marlins history, and challenging for their first World Series since 1908. Cubs’ fans who have affectionately called their team “lovable losers” have been unhappy since.

"The bar got raised, but that's not a bad thing," Cubs general manager Jim Hendry says. "If we had won (the World Series) in 2003, it probably would have changed our lives forever. These last two seasons would have been easier to endure."

There is no excuse for anyone having to endure the pain of having to deal with hate mail (that’s what racially insensitive mail is). As Nightengale made clear in his USA Today report, Baker may have read him one letter, but Baker and other minority MLB players and managers have experienced similar treatment.

Former Cubs center fielder Corey Patterson and former reliever LaTroy Hawkins told Nightengale last year they received similar abuse to what Baker is getting. Cubs’ right fielder Jacque Jones, who had a baseball thrown at him during a game, recently got a threatening early-morning phone call.

"I thought that stuff was over 30 years ago," says Hawkins, who grew up in nearby Gary, Ind. "I had never been exposed to it. ... I couldn't believe people were dropping the 'n-word' on me. People calling your mother a raccoon or you a porch monkey. You can only take so much abuse until you fight back.

"The same thing happening to me is happening to Jacque. To have people threatening to harm us over baseball games just doesn't make sense."

Rondell White who played for the Cubs during parts of the 2000 and 2001 seasons, told The St. Paul Pioneer Press’ Gordon Wittenmyer, he choose not to read any of his fan mail while playing for the Cubs. White punctuated his remarks by referring to Cubs fans (or at least the ones who have taunted and singled out African-American players) as “Some idiot fans”.

It might be easy to suggest the problem is limited to Cubs fans. That is not the case. Twins center fielder Torii Hunter, told the St. Paul Pioneer Press he has experienced racial taunts from fans in Kansas City, Boston and Oakland.

"Boston is worse than most places," said Hunter, whose list of teams in the no-trade clause of his contract includes the Red Sox and the Cubs. Boston was the last Major League Baseball franchise to integrate. The Red Sox signed their first Black baseball player in 1958; 11 years after Robinson played his first MLB game.

"In Minnesota, it's totally different," he said. "I've been there 10 years or so, and I haven't had one problem there."

"I think people have to start growing up about that stuff," White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told Wittenmyer, who said he has received hateful e-mails with ethnic slurs. "It's a shame we're in 2006, and people still talk about that.

"When I get e-mails like that, I just laugh because it doesn't get in my heart. But it's hard to believe in 2006 people still are writing about that."

Guillen, one of two Hispanic managers in MLB (the other is San Francisco Giants manager Felipe Alou) was ordered to attend sensitivity sessions earlier this season after hurling abuse at Chicago Sun Times Jay Mariotti.

As difficult as it may be to rationalize why anyone would still feel the need to attack the dignity of others based on their race, Dr. Harry Edwards an associate professor of sociology at the University of California who also serves as a consultant to the National Football League's San Francisco 49ers, the National Basketball Association's Golden State Warriors and to major league baseball, enlightened The Chicago Tribune’s David Haugh on the treatment leading African American Athletes occasionally have to deal with.

"Whether you were in Philadelphia and got 10 letters or Chicago and got five letters and 12 e-mails, who cares?" he said. "The reality is you have to deal with that, and the organization needs to know. Whoever the manager is, there's always going to be an element that goes beyond the boundaries of race, religion or ethnicity regardless of their coaching style. When things go badly, many people in that element will go to that feature and really rub it in."

He is the author of such books as The Revolt of the Black Athlete; Black Students; The Sociology of Sports; The Struggle That Must Be; and Playing to Win: A Short Guide to Sensible Sports Participation.

"You don't get used to it just because you've been around awhile, and you never get used to someone, anyone, saying, `N__, why don't you get another job?''' said Edwards, an African-American and a longtime consultant with the San Francisco 49ers.”I'm not for absorbing anything quietly."

Edwards, never afraid to tell anyone what he thinks, was critical of Baker three years ago when the Cubs' manager commented about the weather's effect on blacks and Latinos, understands all managers and players receive harsh mail but stressed, "There's a distinction made when there is a racial dimension to it."

There have been those who wish Baker would have never raised the issue of racism still rearing its ugly head in Major League Baseball, be very sure Edwards shouldn’t be included in that group.

"I think (Baker) has not just a right but a responsibility to talk about the letters and say it's not all peaches and cream, and it's something another manager would not have to deal with," Edwards said. "No one is served by acting like this never happened."

The Chicago Tribune’s Haugh spoke with two of the greatest Cubs ever, Mr. Cub Ernie Banks and Billy Williams. Both Banks and Williams are members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. Both men who played for the Cubs in the 1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s learned all too well how some Cubs fans felt about two African American men being key members of the North Side gang.

"Everyone was looking at how we'd respond," Banks said. "People were very nice (but) kind of standoffish at first. That's why I started talking to people at the ballpark. I was new, and a lot of the fans were skeptical. They'd look and look and look. You felt you were always being watched. It was different."

Banks along with Gene Baker in 1953 became the Cubs' first black players, six years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color barrier.

"Any letters I got like that, I tore them up once I started to read them and put them in the trash can," Williams said. "It did happen, sure. We're talking about the 1960s. But then and now, I wouldn't characterize it as a problem for all Cubs fans. It's a few people ruining (the perception) for everybody."

Are those who use a man’s race as the focus of how they choose to ridicule that person sports fans – of course not. Edwards had a few parting words well worth sharing in the conversation he had with the Chicago Tribune.

"I'd suggest something in writing saying that when things go bad, you can expect a certain element of the team's audience - I won't dignify them by calling them fans - will turn on you and you will have to manage that," Edwards said. "It's simply part of the business, and it's naive to believe that factor has been eliminated because of the `progress' in civil rights. We are in such a period of incivility right now."

The educational system has adopted a zero tolerance policy when it comes to racially insensitive remarks being used in the school system. Needless to say if the cowards who send hate mail to professional athletes had any courage and signed their names to the letters they send, sports franchises would ban those people for life, as would any sports team. Ignorance never will be an excuse for anyone to behave terribly.

As it’s been well documented European Football (soccer) has had to deal with athletes and fans making very pubic displays of racism. There had been some concerns before the recently completed World Cup racism. For what it’s worth, the World Cup was a magnificent event free of racism.

There is no place anywhere in a society where people have any sense of decency for racism to exist. At the same time it remains vital that the issues Dusty Baker brought up are reported. In discussing the issue of racism and realizing it has no place in sports – the industry is one step closer to ending those dark days.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The Chicago Tribune, USA Today and The St. Paul Pioneer Press

Monday, August 28, 2006

Montreal Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby

In a true case of art imitating life, NASCAR will make its Canadian debut next summer, in Montreal, North America’s most European city. Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby stars Will Ferrell, as NASCAR driver Ricky Bobby. Central to the movie’s plot flamboyant French Formula One driver Jean Girard challenges Ricky Bobby for the supremacy of NASCAR; Ricky Bobby must face his own demons and fight Girard for the right to be known as racing's top driver. Ricky Bobby won’t be in Montreal for next summer’s Busch Cup event, however for NASCAR it’s another step forward in the inevitable North American growth for NASCAR and the eventual globalization of NASCAR.

As NASCAR did when major league stock car racing debuted in Mexico City last summer, Montreal is expected to host a Busch Cup weekend, July 21-22, 2007. Again as was the case with Mexico City’s Busch event, many of the stars of the Nextel Cup are expected in Montreal with the Montreal dates being a weekend where there is no Nextel event scheduled. Canada’s first NASCAR event will be held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. A road course racing site, the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve is on the site when Montreal hosted Expo ’67 the most successful world’s fair to ever be organized by any city or country.

City of Montreal by-laws dictate the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve can only host two events each year. Montreal promoter Normand Legault has the exclusive right to organize the two events. Currently Legault has the exclusive rights to Canada’s lone F1 event, the Canadian Grand Prix. Grand Prix weekend (usually held in June). Montreal’s Grand Prix weekend fills every hotel room, easily sells in excess of 175,000 tickets every year and has a significant annual economic impact for Quebec businesses. The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve can accommodate up to 125,000 spectators on race day.

The Circuit Gilles Villeneuve has hosted a Champ Car Series event for the last five summers, as its second racing weekend. Five years ago Montréalers treated open-wheel racing by buying more then 175,000 tickets, reaching the lofty heights Montreal’s F1 event has enjoyed for many years. Last summer’s Champ Car event barely topped 40,000 in ticket sales. This summer’s event was rained out Sunday afternoon, after the drivers had completed six of the 72 laps of the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve. By the time Champ Car officials postponed the remaining 66 laps until today (Monday morning) at 10:00 AM, NBC and the Canadian rights holder (Global) had left the broadcast. Unfortunately, the Champ Car series is dying an embarrassing death in Montreal.

There are those who believe the cancellation of Montreal’s Champ Car Series event is directly related to the serious issues that exist within open-wheel racing. Open-wheel racing remains a house divided with Tony George Indy Racing League and the Champ Car Series competing against each other, unable to unify despite media reports that suggest the two groups may merge. That said, NASCAR has watched and taken advantage of open-wheel’s racing inability to understand as a house divided both groups are suffering. By the time the two sides work out their differences, NASCAR will have left open-wheel racing in its dust, in La Belle Province.

Legault who has no connection whatsoever with the ill-fated Champ Car event (Legault wasn’t in Montreal this weekend with the Champ Car Series event in town) wanted to bring ‘racing with hoods’ to Montreal for decades. Noise and pollution concerns are why the City of Montreal limits the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve to two events each year. With the rights to promote Canada’s only F1 event, Legault knew he had the leverage to gain the rights to the other event at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.

Legault kept his interest in bringing NASCAR to Montreal as quiet as he could; until the news broke last summer that NASCAR was interested in bringing an event to either Montreal or Toronto. Toronto is home to the Molson Grand Prix one of the biggest Champ Car events annually. As attractive as Toronto maybe to NASCAR, the Champ Car event is held on actual city streets. The only Canadian city with a race course capable of hosting an event with a capacity in excess of 100,000 is the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. NASCAR may one day be in Toronto, but not until there is a facility capable of properly hosting the event.

Molson the lead sponsor for Toronto’s Champ Car Series event ended their sponsorship of Montreal Champ Car Series event a few years ago. While Molson hasn’t indicated if they’re interested in supporting a Canadian NASCAR event, that likely is how Molson currently chooses to spin their interest from a public relations perspective. Molson’s headquarters remain in Montreal and based on their history of sports sponsorship the brewery will be a major sponsor for next summer’s Busch Cup event.

Robbie Weiss, as the head of NASCAR's foreign affairs department, made it clear to The Winston Salem Journal’s Mike Mulhern 11 months ago, NASCAR was indeed focusing on creating a strong presence in Canada.

"I get Canadian TV at home and the newspapers, and people know, whether it's Formula One or Champ Car or whatever, Canadian races are some of the best promoted, best attended, most enjoyable races," Weiss said. "Canadians have a passion for racing."

"We remain committed to the Canadian market and believe that long-term there may be opportunities. But we have nothing at the moment about a specific (NASCAR) series or market that we are in detailed discussions on."

NASCAR’s Canadian partner is TSN, Canada’s leading sports cable network. TSN is based in Toronto. The French arm of TSN, RDS is based in Montreal. 32 percent of TSN is owned by ESPN. Disney announced a few weeks ago ABC Sports would assume ESPN’s branding and look. Both TSN and RDS adopted the ESPN ‘look’ several years ago. TSN and RDS would be very interested in seeing Canada host NASCAR events.

Mulhern spoke with Weiss last summer when NASCAR held their inaugural Mexico City event. Weiss noted at the time, how important reaching the Hispanic market was to the overall growth of NASCAR.

"There is a lot of work to be done, and no one can claim victory, by any means," Weiss says of NASCAR's Hispanic program, which is so far focused on the Busch series. "But in a very short period of time you have seen that we launched the NASCAR-Mexico marketing initiative last August and had the Busch race this March.

"The developments that have been made in reaching out to connect with the U.S. Hispanic market have been quite significant in just 12 months. At Fontana we had Adrian (Fernandez), Michel Jordain and Carlos Contreros, and hopefully that translates into a larger audience, more people in the stands, and greater awareness and interest among fans and sponsors."

Former Champ Car champ Canadian Paul Tracy agreed to compete in five Busch series events this summer. Its likely Tracy will be a key component to next summer’s Montreal Busch event.

It isn’t a matter of if, but when Mexico City and then Montreal graduate from hosting a Busch series event to being home to a Nextel Cup race. Indeed the globalization of NASCAR is at the forefront of Weiss’s vision for NASCAR.

"The property continues to develop very well outside the U.S.," Weiss said. "We just launched with Fox that all-truck, Busch and Cup events will be broadcasted live on Fox affiliates throughout Latin America, South America and Central America. That wasn't the case last year, and that wouldn't be the case without the event in Mexico City, without Adrian Fernandez, without the Mexican stock-car series.

"There is a lot of momentum here.

"And we have had some very interesting new deals this year in markets like India and places throughout the world where you wouldn't traditionally think we would have any marketability for our product.

"I look at this and say it proves we have a tremendous product. The level of competition, the quality of the broadcasts, it is a first-class sports entertainment property. When people touch it for the first time ..."

Richard Buck, NASCAR's touring series director, visited the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve last summer when he was NASCAR’s director of racing development for Canada. Burk, who from 1985-94, was crew chief for five of owner Roger Penske's Indy 500 victories, won by Danny Sullivan, Al Unser Sr., Rick Mears, Emerson Fittipaldi and Al Unser Jr., was back in Montreal over the weekend, and while Buck didn’t come out and confirm NASCAR was heading to Montreal, he appears to be very excited about helping bring world-class stock car racing to Montreal.

Montreal’s Champ Car weekend included a CASCAR Super Series support event; stock car’s racing Canadian minor league circuit.

"This weekend has shown that the stock-car model can race here very closely," Buck told The Montreal Gazette’s Dave Stubbs. "They touch and bump, and it generally doesn't take a car out of the race. It makes for good racing, not in a single line, with a lot of opportunity to pass. And that's what makes it entertaining.

"These robust cars are more forgiving than open wheels. You'll see drivers outbraking and outbraving each other, especially in the hairpin and the first corner. They have starters - if a guy spins and kills (the engine), he'll start it up and drive off."

"The Nextel Cup guys will love it," Buck said of Montreal. "And this will be the one circuit where Juan Pablo might have an advantage.

"This weekend has been a good preview."

NASCAR continues to move forward with their plans to build a speedway in the New York City area. Montreal and Mexico City can expect to host Nextel Cup events within five years. The Pacific Northwest is looking at building a speedway in the Seattle area. There are a finite number of events NASCAR can hold in any given year. There any many who believe the evolution of NASCAR away from the sports southern roots is the last news they want to hear.

If NASCAR is going to add Nextel Cup events in New York, Montreal, Mexico City and Seattle, where would those four events come from? NASCAR would be pushing the envelop if organizers attempted to hold more Nextel Cup events. Its more likely smaller markets that currently hold two Nextel Cup events will be forced to host only one event.

Among the facilities hosting two Nextel Cup events in 2007 include: the Pocono Raceway, the New Hampshire International Speedway, the Bristol Motor Speedway, the Dover International Speedway, the Martinsville Speedway. Daytona Beach, Talladega Superspeedway, the Texas Motor Speedway (Dallas), the California Speedway (Southern California) and Phoenix International Raceway also host two race weekends.

In order to move forward organizations often are forced to make difficult decisions. Taking events away from traditional markets from non-traditional markets could hurt NASCAR’s image among the millions of NASCAR supporters who played the key role in putting NASCAR in the position where it can look at global growth. It may indeed be bitter irony for NASCAR devotees to accept, but NASCAR holding two annual events in small southern markets, in New Hampshire and in Pennsylvania’s Pocono Mountains is bad business when you have the opportunity to host events in major North American cities.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The Winston Salem Journal and The Montreal Gazette

Sunday, August 27, 2006

The Price He’s about to pay

This week was likely seven days Justin Gatlin would just as soon forget. Tuesday, the United States Anti-Doping Association announced Gatlin would be banned for eight years. Friday, Nike his biggest sponsor suspended their contract with Gatlin. The other domino to fall last week in the convoluted world of international track – Gatlin’s coach Trevor Graham. Graham’s reign of terror that has brought the foundation of track to its knees, hopefully will never have to deal with the cancer again.

Saturday, July 29 Graham, once regarded as the World’s Fastest Man joined Sports Hall of Shame, admitting he had tested positive for a performance-enhancing drug. Gatlin, who won the gold medal at the 2004 Athens Games in the 100 meters, tested positive for “testosterone or its precursors.”

“I cannot account for these results, because I have never knowingly used any banned substance or authorized anyone else to administer such a substance to me,” Gatlin said in the statement released through his publicist when he acknowledged the positive test.

Graham remains under investigation by the same people who conducted the BALCO investigation. Victor Conte, the person behind the BALCO scandal spent four months in jail. Conte was linked to the alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs by Barry Bonds, Marion Jones and Tim Montgomery among a long list of athletes caught in the alleged BALCO web. Graham was the individual who sent the United States Olympic Committee a syringe that contained the illegal substances (steroid THG in June 2003) BALCO athletes had allegedly used. Trevor Graham was a ‘snitch’.

Sprint Capitol USA (SCUSA) was formed in 1993, incorporated in 1999, by Graham, based in Raleigh, North Carolina. As Graham will proudly tell anyone -- athletes including Antonio Pettigrew (Olympic Gold Medalist), Kenny Brokenburr (Pan American Gold Medalist), Marion Jones (Olympic Gold Medalist) , Duane Ross (World Championship Medalist), and Tim Montgomery (100m World Record Holder) have all trained under coach Graham excelling in their events in the sport of Track and Field claiming national and international championship titles.

Coach Trevor Graham (this taken directly from Sprint Capital USA’s website) ran in the 1988 Olympic Games. During his professional track and field career he realized there lacked solely professional training environments for graduating collegiate track and field student athletes. His dream soon became to provide an environment that catered to the professional track and field athlete. Several years later, Sprint Capitol USA started to develop and now continues to create World Class track and field athletes, dominating in the sprints at the professional level.

What Graham’s website doesn’t tell you is how closely Graham is linked to the alleged illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs. Graham, who has trained or previously trained at least 10 athletes who've been implicated in doping violations. On Thursday, the Chicago Tribune, citing sources, said another of Graham's current athletes, sprinter LaTasha Jenkins, and tested positive in July for the anabolic steroid nandrolone bringing the number to 11.

In Athens, Sprint Capitol earned two gold medals, two silvers and a bronze. Nevertheless by the end of the Athens Games, at least five of Graham's athletes have tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. Four others he has coached face USADA doping violation charges.

Last year at the World Track and Field Championships in Helsinki, Team Sprint Capitol was once again front and center – winning medals, but at the same time having to deal with the specter that their athletes were using performance-enhancing drugs. In a December 2004 ESPN The Magazine story, Conte wrote, "I've given packages of performance-enhancing drugs directly to Trevor."

Graham could have easily been labeled the ‘ring master’ in the BALCO scandal. The San Francisco Chronicle reported C.J. Hunter a former shot-putter banned from competing after four positive tests for steroids (and Jones’ ex-husband) told the USOC it was Graham who provided performance-enhancing drugs to Marion Jones and transported drugs for her to the 2000 Sydney Olympics, where Jones won five medals.

The Washington Post reported last week Jones had tested positive for banned substances during June's United States Track and Field Championships. Jones like Gatlin has always denied ever using performance-enhancing drugs.

The long list of athletes directed associated with Graham who have been (or are facing lifetime suspensions) banned for the illegal use of performance-enhancing drugs, includes: Gatlin, Jones , Tim Montgomery, Michelle Collins, Jerome Young, twins Alvin and Calvin Harrison, and Dennis Mitchell. A total of 11 athletes directly associated with Graham have or had tested positive for the use of performance-enhancing drugs.

It makes it that much more remarkable that Trevor Graham, the American track and field coach associated with the most athletes to have ever tested for the use of performance-enhancing drugs would have been the one who offered the USOC the proof they needed to bring down Victor Conte. His own arrogance sending ‘the clear’ to the United States Olympic Committee clearly shows his true character, one that may indeed lack a soul.

Veteran coach Pat Connolly, who took sprinters Evelyn Ashford and Allyson Felix to Olympic medals made it clear to the USA Today last year how she felt about Graham.

"Any coach who has had athletes banned needs to be banned, too," she told the USA Today last summer. "Coaches need to take responsibility. They'll say they can't know if their athlete is using drugs. I don't care how dumb they want to play. They know."

Gatlin’s confession that he had tested in April (Gatlin was informed of the positive test on July 12 and announced the results on July 29), hit the front page of sports sections world-wide just days after the announcement of Tour de France winner’s Floyd Landis positive test. The last month has represented dark times for the United States Olympic Committee who must be wondering what they have to do to stem the tide of American athletes using illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

“We have reached a tipping point in the fight against doping in sport,” U.S.O.C. Chairman Peter Ueberroth said in a statement following Gatlin’s admission. “Since the advent of U.S.A.D.A. six years ago, good progress has been made, but a great deal more must be done. The cold reality is this: We are not yet winning the battle, and if we are ultimately to succeed, we must become smarter, more efficient and more effective in our efforts. The status quo will not work.”

“This is difficult for any athlete, but Justin has been very outspoken against performance-enhancing drugs in sport,” Gatlin’s lawyer, Cameron Myler (a former Olympian) told The New York Times. “That, and he has been through this before. He’s very aware of the consequences of this positive test.”

Tuesday evening The New York Times’ Lynn Zinser reported Gatlin had accepted the laboratory results for a positive test for testosterone. The United States Anti-Doping Agency announced Gatlin would be suspended for eight years, virtually a life-time ban.

“It’s a refreshing approach for an athlete to acknowledge the science and the solid work of Don Catlin and the laboratory in Los Angeles,” said Travis Tygart, the general counsel for the antidoping agency according to a New York Times report. “It saves us the time and money of arguing the validity of the test, which is money that should be used to help clean athletes.”

Late Tuesday evening Graham released the following statement through his lawyer Joseph Zeszotarski, that he “completely supports Justin Gatlin and Justin’s cooperation with USADA and efforts to get reinstated.”

In the statement, Zeszotarski added that “Trevor knows that he has done nothing wrong in his relationship with Justin or any of his athletes, and only wants the truth to come out.”

"Since becoming an elite-level athlete, Justin has talked about the importance of eradicating doping in sport," USOC chairman Peter Ueberroth added Tuesday evening when the United States Anti-Doping Agency announced Gatlin’s decision. “By acknowledging his doping positive and agreeing to work with USADA, Justin now has an opportunity to put those words into action. He can play a meaningful role in solving a problem that is reaching a crisis level in American sport."

Friday, Nike ended its relationship with Graham and suspended its contract with Gatlin. According to The Chicago Tribune’s Olympic reporter Philip Hersh, Nike’s endorsement agreement with Gatlin paid the sprinter between $500,000 to $750,000 annually.

Gatlin, who had agreed to accept the laboratory results for a positive test for testosterone Tuesday and the accompanying eight-year ban, sang a very different tune Friday after Nike’s announcement.

"I have not agreed to any penalties whatsoever, and I intend to file for arbitration shortly," Gatlin said in a statement Friday. "I expect when that process is concluded that this entire matter will be resolved favorably."

Nike took it one step further with Graham. Following an August 2 decision by the United States Olympic Committee to permanently ban Graham from any USOC training facility, Nike told Graham not only was he fired but he was also barred from any Nike training facility as are his athletes.

"We don't disclose the details of our contract or the termination of our contracts," said Nike spokesman Derek Kent. Mr. Kent declined to say why Mr. Graham's contract was terminated or why Mr. Gatlin's deal was suspended.

"He (Gatlin) will not receive payment while the contract is suspended, and there is no specific date or speculation as to when we would re-up that," Nike spokesperson Dean Stoyer added, who would not disclose details of the contracts.

The ramifications for Graham’s Sprint Capitol USA (SCUSA) could cripple the Raleigh based organizations future. Financially Nike is believed to be the biggest financial backer of the organization. Without Nike’s financial support, Graham will likely close the doors to his renegade track club in the near future.

“There is absolutely no basis for Nike to terminate Trevor’s contract,” Graham’s lawyer, Joseph Zeszotarski, said. “The contract cannot legally be terminated based upon innuendo and suspicion. We have contacted Nike regarding the matter and are awaiting their response. We hope to avoid having to take legal action but will do so if necessary.”

Nike hasn’t said very much about why they ended their association with Graham and suspended their relationship with Gatlin. It’s likely they invoked the standard morality clause included in every athlete endorsement contract. The morals clause has become an essential component of endorsement contracts in professional sports. It is a form of termination clause, whereby it enumerates a variety of specific reasons for termination to protect the endorser's interest in its image or the image of its products that are affiliated with the athlete.
Following on the heels of Landis’ positive test, it didn’t surprise sports industry insiders that Nike wanted to distance the company from athletes who had tested positive for the use of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

“Brands do not want to be associated with controversy,” said Jeff Chown, president of Davie-Brown Talent, which signs celebrity spokesmen for corporations in a New York Times report. “Steroids are top-of-mind in the sports industry right now. Nobody wants to be associated with it right now. I think a company like Nike is trying to build good will with the public by saying, ‘We’re against this.’ ”

“There’s too much risk in signing an athlete who might end up in the middle of a steroids scandal,” he said. “The risk is not worth the reward.”

Nike’s decision to end their associations with Graham and Gatlin isn’t how Nike usually operates when they’re dealing with problem athletes. When Nike’s contract with Marion Jones ended last year, the company quietly choose to not renew their agreement. They honored the length of the agreement they had with Jones, despite her terrible performance at the 2004 Athens Games and the allegations directed at Jones throughout the BALCO investigation. Its likely Nike could have ended their association with Jones before their contract ended citing the morals clause.

Jones was paid a total of about $6 million by the shoe company under a sponsorship agreement that began around the time of her first 100-meter world championship in 1997, the Chicago Tribune has reported.

"They have the reputation for sticking with their athletes," Jim Andrews, senior vice president of Chicago based sponsorship-measurement-services firm IEG Inc., told The Wall Street Journal.

"They don't fully say they're standing behind them, but they don't drop them either."

Nike’s decision should not have come as a revelation to anyone who has followed the saga of Justin Gatlin, Trevor Graham and Sprint Capitol USA. The only real surprise is that Nike financed Graham and any of his athletes as long as they have.

Graham has produced his share of world-class track athletes but at a terrible price to everyone tainted by his ‘legacy’. Eleven athletes directly associated with Trevor Graham have tested positive for the use of illegal performance-enhancement drugs. If indeed the allegations being leveled against Graham are true, Graham has done irreparable harm to the image of the sport of track and field, the United States Track and Field Association, Nike and many more groups.

The mistake Nike made was in giving Trevor Graham as much rope as they did before he finally hung himself.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: The New York Times, ESPN, The Chicago Tribune

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Gene Upshaw – He's Stood and Delivered!!

The week that was for the National Football League was marked by Bryant Gumbel’s distasteful remarks concerning the relationship NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue and NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw shared throughout Tagliabue’s tenure as commissioner. Tagliabue replaced legendary NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle in 1989. Upshaw has led the NFLPA since 1983.

Bryant’s infamous editorial offered on HBO’s Real Sports on August 15, suggested Gumbel believed Upshaw had served at the pleasure of Tagliabue for the 17 years the two men have worked together.

"Before he cleans out his office, have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw's leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch."

As offensive as Gumbel’s remarks are, it’s well worth considering what Gene Upshaw has accomplished as head of the NFLPA. Has Gene Upshaw stood and delivered for the membership he’s represented?

Former Minnesota Vikings running back and longtime player rep Robert Smith spoke with SI.com earlier this week offering the insight he has on working directly with Upshaw as a longstanding member of the NFLPA. As the Vikings players’ representative Smith was well aware Upshaw was up to the task of being in charge of the NFLPA.

"When you look at the issues and the recent round of CBA negotiations and what actually happened, ask the owners if they have Gene on a leash or if they control Gene. Ask them if they're happy with the CBA agreement and Gene's subservience.

"How many owners have come out and said they got the worse end of the deal? When you know the truth about something and you hear the opposite enough times, it really grates on you. That's where I'm at.''

Smith who retired in 2001 has remained an active member of the NFLPA severing voluntarily on the NFLPA's card committee, which regulates and disciplines agents.

"The consensus is that Gene had his finest hour in the last CBA negotiations,'' Robert Smith said, "But when you have loudmouths like Stephen A. Smith and Gumbel going off like they have -- and Smith has said, 'Gene Upshaw should be fired, and he's a crook' -- that perception stays out there and starts to leak into players' minds. And it can be damaging. I know, because I was a player once and I was against Gene and felt like he wasn't doing the job. But I was converted. Those are your most powerful allies, the ones who used to be against you and have been brought around to see a different viewpoint.''

While Smith clearly is in Gene Upshaw’s corner today, that wasn’t the case when he began taking an active role in the NFLPA as Smith told SI.com’s Don Banks.

"I became the Vikings player rep in part to get rid of Gene,'' Smith said.”Jack Del Rio got involved with the union for the same reason. But once I was informed, I came to realize the job he was doing for the entire union.

"Everybody wants to focus on the NFL not having guaranteed contracts. But the truth is, if contracts were guaranteed, owners would make them a lot shorter and the dollars would go down. People mistakenly think the structure of current deals would carry over to those deals, but there's no way they would.''

Smith doesn’t have any issue with Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw having the ability to work together.

"It bothers me that that perception is still out there, even if it's a small number of people,'' Smith said.”Even when [Vikings center] Matt Birk comes out and says what he said [criticizing Upshaw before a CBA deal was struck in March], those are dangerous voices because they're recognized as being intelligent voices. But they're still uninformed regarding the issues.

"And a Bryant Gumbel, when he puts himself out there like that, to admit you're wrong, it's the worst of all fates for people like that. They're not going to do it, because they need to feel power, and to feel like they're still heard. I really wonder how much of this is a racial thing, and about somebody losing some power.''

As a football player, Upshaw has earned the ultimate honor, enshrinement into the Football Hall of Fame. Upshaw was also selected as a member of the NFL’s 75th Anniversary team and a member of the 1970’s all-decade team. He was a man among men on the football field.

Upshaw was in charge of the NFLPA in 1987, when the union went on strike early in the regular season. The owners’ reaction – the replacements. The strike was a disaster for the NFLPA. The networks televised the games, treating the games as they did before the as if these hastily assembled teams were the same quality as the veterans who were out on strike. Faced with cracks in its members' support and the willingness of the networks to broadcast the games, the union voted to go back to work on October 15, 1987. It filed a new antitrust suit that same day.

The Court of Appeals ultimately rejected that suit on the ground that the labor exemption from antitrust liability protected the employers, even though the union was no longer party to a collective bargaining agreement that would have permitted the practices that the union was challenging. In response, the union formally disclaimed any interest in representing NFL players in collective bargaining and reformed itself as a professional organization in 1989. Having done that, the following year union members, led by Freeman McNeil of the New York Jets, brought a new antitrust action against the NFL challenging its free agency rules as an unlawful restraint of trade.

The players ultimately prevailed, after a jury trial on their claims, in that action. That verdict, the pendency of other antitrust cases and the threat of a class action filed by Reggie White, then with the Philadelphia Eagles, on behalf of all NFL players brought the parties back to the negotiating table. They finally agreed on a formula that permitted free agency in return for salary caps tied to a formula based on players' share of total league revenues.

Since 1987 the National Football League and its players have enjoyed immense growth on every level. As a business the NFL has become an economic engine. All one has to consider is when the rights fees the NFL earns from his broadcast partners are added up ($3.7 billion annually); the total exceeds that of all the other sports combined.

The NFLPA was near bankruptcy when Upshaw took control 23 years ago. The NFLPA now has $163 million in the bank. NFL players are now guaranteed 59.5 percent of league revenues, the highest of any of the four major North American sports leagues. More importantly the recently negotiated collective bargaining agreement dramatically improved the pension benefits not only current NFL players will enjoy but their long retired brothers in arms.

Upshaw hasn’t (nor should he) dignify Gumbel’s remarks. However, last month in an interview with The Philadelphia Daily News’ Paul Domowitch, Upshaw discussed his relationship with Paul Tagliabue.

"Paul and I have had discussions about how people perceive us," Upshaw says. "We have a relationship where we can just sit down and talk without even talking about business. We can talk about the history (of the game). About what he's been through, what I've been through. All of those things are why we've had success . . .

"Probably the most important thing Paul has done is kept us out of the courtroom. He knew and I knew that if we stayed out of the courtroom and used the assets, which is the players, we could grow the game in a way that is unbelievable. And that's what's happened."

Hall of Fame Oakland Raiders coach John Madden, a tremendous judge of character began and ended with Upshaw on the Raiders roster, knew Upshaw was destined for greatness.

"You just knew Gene Upshaw was eventually going to go on to something great," Madden told ESPN recently from his Bay Area office. "We'd take trips to our capital at Sacramento and I'd watch him moving among those politicians and just marvel. Sometimes, sort of half-kidding, half-serious, I used to call him 'Governor,' because that's what I always guessed he'd be."

Consider how Upshaw’s contemporaries have done while they’ve been entrusted sports other major sports leagues. Billy Hunter and the National Basketball Association Players Association where forced to accept maximum salaries from the NBA in January 1999. Under Bob Goodenow’s ‘leadership’ the National Hockey League lost an entire season. By the time the National Hockey League Players Association came back to the NHL hat in hand in July 2005, management won every issue they wanted save for a few.

The Major League Baseball Players Association with all due respect remains a Tour de Force. The MLBPA has never lost any CBA negotiation with MLB owners. The difference between the successes the MLBPA have enjoyed has everything to do with the lack of resolve baseball owners have, then the effectiveness first Marvin Miller and then Donald Fehr and the MLBPA. NHL owners proved if the resolve of ownership is strong enough, owners ultimately will force the players to accept a salary cap and similar conditions that exist in the other major sports. In simplistic terms, MLB owners don’t have the intestinal fortitude to go toe-to-toe with the MLBPA. Until the owners become united as one, the MLBPA will always be able to control the owners.

Upshaw experienced first hand in 1987 how single minded NFL owners could be. Gene Upshaw learnt a hard lesson; he realized he could better serve his membership by working inside the system, with the NFL as partners, as opposed to the adversarial relationship that was standard operating procedures in the other sports.

"When Paul took over, one of the first things he did was call me and said, `Let's get together for dinner.' We met at a little (Washington D.C.) restaurant up on Columbia Road. From that point on, that's been the difference.

"We have agreed on a lot of things and we have disagreed on a lot of things. But it's nobody else's business. It doesn't advance his cause or my cause to have the Washington Post or the New York Times or the Philadelphia Daily News making a headline out of it, when the real issue is how do we solve the problem, rather than become the problem.

"It's never been about either one of us trying to one-up the other. It's always been what we can do to make our product better and to grow it. If people don't understand that it’s their problem, not ours."

Upshaw made it clear to The New York Times Damon Hack several years ago he believes he and Tagliabue serve as ‘guardians of the game’.

"The beauty of the relationship is that we have a common interest in getting it out of the game, whether it's Balco, steroids, whatever," Upshaw said of his work with Tagliabue.

"We understand how delicate it is for our product to be in a situation where the fans don't show up because they have no confidence in the game. When you look at the drug policy, our players don't want it in the game. When the baseball players don't want it in the game, it will get out. That's what happened with us. This is the only area in which the football players basically gave the owners the right for random testing because they wanted it out of the game."

Harold Henderson (an African-American), chairman of the NFL Management Council, and the league's executive vice president of labor relations since 1991, believes Upshaw stood and delivered in the latest round of negotiations with the league.

"He knows how to set his sights on his goal and pursue it -- relentlessly," Henderson said earlier this month. "He wanted a bigger piece of the pie for the players. Some of us took the position that revenue sharing might be good for league but it's none of your business. You know, 'You just go ahead and make a labor deal.'

"I think some people thought he was arguing but not really committed to the principle. Suddenly, it started to dawn on people that the guy really means it. Over time, he spoke with more and more owners.

"In the end, they were believers."

Consider this when you’re trying to evaluate what Gene Upshaw has accomplished. In 1994 the first year the NFL instituted a salary cap; teams had a spending limit of $34.6 million. A dozen years later, the NFL salary cap for the 2006 season stands at $102 million and teams have a salary floor (minimum team payroll) of $75 million. In 1994 the average NFL salary was $627,000. Ten years later the average NFL salary doubled to $1.26 million in 2004. Is there a union leader anywhere who can claim under his watch the average salary has increased by 100 percent in ten years?

Historically since Marvin Miller left the Steelworkers of America to become the first full time executive director for the MLBPA the relationship between owners and players in the sports industry has been regressive, not progressive.

How far as the NFLPA advanced as a union, in establishing a working partnership with management? Consider these comments Upshaw shared with ESPN days after the NFLPA and the NFL agreed on labor peace at least through the 2011 NFL season.

"We have another 10 stadiums we still need to build," says Upshaw, whose union is the only one in professional sports that has invested money in the construction of new venues. "Until we can get that done, those teams aren't going to grow. Minnesota, Oakland, San Francisco, San Diego . . . that group at the bottom (of the revenue scale) are all in old stadiums. I've been around long enough to remember when they opened all those stadiums, and we thought they were great. Now, they're a piece of crap and need to be replaced.' "

What made Bryant Gumbel’s remarks so offensive wasn’t only how terribly racially insensitive his comments where, but simplistically Gumbel’s comments had no basis in fact. If two people (in this case Paul Tagliabue and Gene Upshaw) share the same vision for the business they’re involved with (in this case the National Football League) should they not be applauded for having the vision and understanding of the greater good. Thanks in large part to Gene Upshaw the NFLPA stands as a model to the business community as a union that is working.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: Wikipedia, The Philadelphia Daily News, ESPN.com and The New York Times

Friday, August 25, 2006

Buyer Beware – Terrell Owens

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones likely believes he’s the smartest owner in the National Football League. Jones has made his share of good decisions during the years he’s owned the Cowboys. By the time the Cowboys complete the 2006 NFL season it’s a safe bet he’ll regret the day he signed Terrell Owens. As talented a football player Terrell Owens believes he is, he has been nothing but trouble. Owens remains today, what he’s always been; a cancer for whatever team decides T.O. has too much talent.

Tossed off the Philadelphia Eagles for a multitude of sins (boorish behavior would be an apt description), Jones signed Owens to a three-year $25 million contract. The contract includes a $5 million signing bonus and an additional $5 million base salary for 2006. He has a pair of $3 million roster bonuses due over the next two years, and is scheduled to receive a $5 million base salary in 2007 and a $4 million in base in 2008. For an athlete who consistently has put himself ahead of his teammates, the Cowboys decision to sign Owens makes no sense.

Consider the Terrell Owens timeline of misdeeds, as offered by About.com’s James Alder:

2000 - During an October contest in Dallas, Owens celebrated scoring a touchdown by running to midfield of Texas Stadium and posing on the star logo of the Cowboys. When he repeated his actions after a TD later in the game, he was blindsided by the Cowboys' George Teague, which resulted in a skirmish between the teams.

2001 - After blowing a 19-point lead in Chicago and losing in overtime after Owens mishandled a pass that Bears free safety Mike Brown intercepted and returned for the game-winning score, the disgruntled receiver accused head coach Steve Mariucci of protecting good friend Dick Jauron, head coach of the Bears

2002 - In an October contest on Monday Night Football in Seattle, Owens pulled a 'Sharpie' marker out of his sock after catching a TD pass.

He then proceeded to autograph the ball and hand it to his financial adviser sitting in an end zone luxury suite rented by Shawn Springs, the cornerback he had just beaten on the scoring play.

2002 - After scoring a touchdown in a December contest with the Green Bay Packers, Owens celebrated with a pair of Pom-Poms borrowed from a 49ers cheerleader.

2003 - Following a bumpy season that included several sideline tirades by Owens, he and the team decided to part ways.

2004 - Owens’ agent failed to meet a free agency deadline in March, making him ineligible to become a free agent. Because they retained his rights, the 49ers then traded him to the Baltimore Ravens, but Owens refused to report to his new team. He expressed his desire to play in Philadelphia, and filed a grievance, claiming he should be granted free agency. After a series of negotiations, a deal was worked out between the three teams which sent Owens to Philadelphia where he signed a seven-year, $49 million deal against the advice of the players’ union.

2004 - In an interview with Playboy magazine, Owens hinted that ex-teammate Jeff Garcia was gay, a claim he later recanted.

2004 - In a November contest with the Baltimore Ravens, after scoring a touchdown, Owens openly mocked Ray Lewis by performing the middle linebacker’s trademark celebration dance.

2004 - In a Monday Night contest later that month, Owens appeared in a controversial skit to kick off the network’s presentation of the game which resulted in an FCC investigation.

2005 - Owens hires agent Drew Rosenhaus in April and announces he is not happy with his contract and wants to renegotiate with the Eagles. He also tells CNBC that, despite making $7.5 million in 2004, he needs a new contract to “feed his family.”

2005 - After hinting that he might hold out of training camp, Owens shows up with a bad attitude, refusing to acknowledge the media or speak to his teammates. After a confrontation with head coach Andy Reid, he was suspended for one week.

2005 - During an interview with ESPN's Graham Bensinger on November 3, Owens took shots at the Eagles franchise for not publicly recognizing his 100th touchdown catch. During the interview he stated the Eagles showed a "lack of class". He also suggested the Eagles would be better off with Packers QB Brett Favre instead of Donovan McNabb.

2005 - On November 4, Owens issued a half-hearted apology through the media, but failed to deliver comments regarding Donovan McNabb, which head coach Andy Reid insisted he include.

2005 - Owens was suspended November 5 by the Eagles for the club's contest against the Washington Redskins on November 6.

2005 - On November 7, Owens' suspension was stretched to four games, and head coach Andy Reid added that Owens would not play for the remainder of the season.

History didn’t teach Jerry Jones anything – as far as Jones is concerned, Terrell Owens makes the Cowboys a better football team.

"I really know we're better as a team than we were a few months ago," said Jones, who admitted the Cowboys made quite a few background checks on Owens before finalizing the deal. "We've done our homework in a lot of ways. We appreciate the good things that we've heard from people that have worked closely with Terrell and what he is as a person. Those things are going to make us all be at the level that this transaction should certainly be.

"But I know right now, that he makes a better team. I have no doubt about that."

Earlier this month speaking to the media at the beginning of the Philadelphia Eagles training camp, owner Jeffrey Lurie made it clear, he has buyer’s regret after the Eagles where forced to deal with Owens erratic behavior last year.

"Looking back on it, you could say there was one year that was great and the second year was a disaster," said Lurie during a nearly 30-minute news conference. "Nobody should be able to be as disruptive and really cut the energy of a team down like what happened this past year. So I think we all learned from that."

Lurie didn’t say very much as Owens tore apart the Eagles who won the NFC a year earlier, appearing in the 2004 Super Bowl.

"It was very hard to stay quiet," he said. "You want to try to exhibit as much professionalism as you can and not lower yourself to other standards, but I am, and I think you all know, extremely proud of the people we have with our team, the players, coaching staff, every member of our organization from the top down."

It remains to be seen if Jerry Jones is going to experience the lesson in ownership Lurie experienced after signing Owens to a contract.

"You definitely learn from the last experience," he said. "And again, you don't want to cancel yourself from being a risk-taker, but you've got to really clearly evaluate the complete personality of those you're thinking of acquiring."

Lurie signed Owens to a seven-year contract worth an estimated $46 million contract before the start of the 2004 season.

The Eagles paid Owens $9 million in 2004. Owens delivered on the field, with 14 touchdown catches, 1200 yards on 77 catches in 14 games (that’s why he was paid $9 million).

Soon after the 2004 season ended, Owens fired his longtime agent David Joseph and hired Miami based NFL agent Drew Rosenhaus. At that point, everything fell apart almost overnight between Owens and the Eagles. Rosenhaus insisted Owens contract be renegotiated. The Eagles and many NFL executives were very upset with both Rosenhaus and Owens tactics.

"If Drew Rosenhaus says that it is acceptable that a player go back to a team when he feels that the player has outperformed his contract," an unnamed NFL executive told Fox Sports Brian Baldinger, "then why isn't he approaching them to give money back on Jerome McDougle? If he's underperformed, he is not a starter, if he doesn't live up to the contract, why doesn't he give money back? The Eagles have the highest paid defensive end in the league in Kearse, is he going to give money back from Kearse if he doesn't make the Pro Bowl again next year? Didn't they pay him to do that?

"Why should a team have to cut a player?" he continued. "Why should that be the only remedy? You can't have it both ways. If you open the door, open it both ways. Why doesn't he take some of Kearse's money and give it to Owens? He represents them both!"

The unnamed NFL executive said what most people where thinking when it came to Rosenhaus attempts to hold the Eagles hostage.

"The Eagles structured the deal in such a way that instead of giving him a large signing bonus, they gave Owens a very large roster bonus which can not be spread out over the length of the contract or the five-year limit now in effect in the NFL," the official said. "The Eagles considered it a market-value roster bonus for a Pro Bowl receiver combined with a signing bonus made it a really generous, nice signing bonus that makes them pay (big) in the third year. It is structured in a way that they have to pay him a lot. They have him for two then they have to pay him again in the third year. He doesn’t like that now."

"I don’t think there is anything in that deal that takes advantage of the player in anyway," the official said. "When you analyze deals you look at the guaranteed money which is the signing bonus, roster bonus…you look at the first three years and then you might look at the overall average of the deal. But it’s the first three years which is the key point. There is only one deal which is better than the Terrell Owens deal in the first three years and that’s Marvin Harrison. And it was done after (Owens’ deal) was done. So what does he want?"

The first few weeks of T.O. and the Cowboys have gone according to script. If anyone believed Owens was going to change how he behaved they’ve made a mistake. Owens hasn’t played in either of the Cowboys pre-season games, claming he’s injured. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells made it clear earlier this month, he isn’t interested in the circus atmosphere that exists when T.O. comes to town, trying his best not to become involved in the T.O. debate.

"As I told you the other day, I'm trying to integrate this player into the system," Parcells said. "Right now, he can't really proceed exactly the way he'd like to proceed. But when (he) can, I will try to do it.

"In the meantime, I'm getting the sense that most of the media is just waiting for something to be controversial in that regard. And I'm here to tell you, it's not going to happen from me. So you need to get that in your head. OK? So don't use those words that have ambiguous meaning like 'clouded,' and expect me to respond to it, because I won't. OK?"

You know there are issues with Owens when someone that has much media savvy as Bill Parcells won’t mention Owens by name when he’s talking about Terrell Owens. After missing two weeks of the Cowboys camp and 12 consecutive practices, Parcells made it clear to Owens he wasn’t a happy coach last week.

"I don't know the player very well," Parcells said. "I just have to give him the benefit of the doubt right now. I can just look over at Terry Glenn, and I can tell what he is feeling like. I haven't been around this player. I don't want to jeopardize him for the season. But, at some time, he is going to have to practice and play like everybody else."
"We need to get (Owens) into the offense," Parcells said. "We've missed a lot of work. I certainly don't want to jeopardize him for the season, so I guess I'm erring on the side of caution. But at some point, he's going to have to practice and play like everybody else."

Owens finally returned to Cowboys camp Monday. Media reports surfaced over the weekend suggesting that Owens had missed last weekend’s practices after learning he wouldn’t dress for the Cowboys pre-season game on ESPN’s Monday Night Football. Jerry Jones stepped into the ongoing Cowboys T.O. saga doing his best to set the record straight.

"There is no substance to that. That's not the deal," Jones said at halftime of Monday night's game. "Bill [and] Terrell are on the same page regarding his playing time. They are exactly aligned. They both want him to be out there. They want him to be out there without risk of further injuring his hamstring.

"It's not an issue. It's just not."

By the time the 2006 National Football League season ends the 49’ers, Eagles and Cowboys will collectively have paid Terrell Owens $37.399 million for six seasons of football. In his six years of wrecking havoc on his teammates, ruining one organization (the Eagles) Terrell Owens average salary stands at $6.23 million.

It made no sense for the Cowboys to sign Terrell Owens. He remains a plague on every team he’s played for. Jerry Jones the Cowboys owner and general manager should serve as the poster boy for refusing to look before you leap. Jones decision to sign Owens might easily destroy any chance the Cowboys had of contending in 2006. Bill Parcells likely will retire once and for all by the end of the 2006 season after he experiences the “joy” Terrell Owens brings to whatever team he victimizes. Enough is enough already – its time to show T.O. the door.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: San Antonio Express News, About.com, Fort Worth Star Telegram, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Fox Sports

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Glory Days – the Yankees Are Losing Bucks

Wonders never cease – according to a Bloomberg News report, the New York Yankees expect to lose money this year. The Yankees with a payroll in excess of $200 million will draw more then 4 million fans for the second straight season. Fear not supporters of the Evil Empire, Boss Steinbrenner will keep on spending the big bucks in hopes of delivering the Evil Empire another trip to the Promised Land.

Yankees general manager Brian Cashman told Bloomberg Radio he didn’t know how much money the Yankees were going to lose this year, but did give this gem -- ``We're making a lot, but we're spending more than we're making,’’ Cashman told Bloomberg Radio.

The news that the Yankees are losing money was a surprise to many. The most recent financial valuation offered by Forbes Magazine (a subjective list) listed the Yankees worth for 2006 at $1,026 billion dollars, the first Major League Baseball franchise to top more then a billion in value.

The New York Daily News reported the Yankees lost between$50 and $85 million during the 2005 base all season. In 2005 the Yankees paid $223 million to players and $111 million to Major League Baseball in the form of revenue sharing and luxury tax payments. It’s easy to understand why the Yankees lost as much money they did when you realize two expense totals reached $334 million.

What’s critical in understanding the Yankees losing tens of millions of dollars are the significant dollars the Yankees generate for their 38 percent stake in the YES Network, which are not included in the financial picture Cashman offered Bloomberg.

YES generates more then $200 million a year and is worth more then the Yankees. While it indeed may be true the Yankees ‘baseball operations’ are losing tens of millions of dollars annually, Steinbrenner isn’t heading to the poorhouse anytime soon. YES (again 38 percent is owned by the Yankees), pays the team for its television rights. It’s a classic example of taking the money out of one pocket only to put in the other pocket.

The Yankees broke ground last week on their new Yankee Stadium. Scheduled to open in time for the 2009 season, the stadium will be a money making machine for the business of the Yankees. Even while it’s being built, the stadium will better serve the Yankees bottom line.

The current MLB collective bargaining agreement allows teams to deduct stadium operations expenses including construction costs from the revenues eligible to be shared with low revenue teams. In simpler terms, the Yankees will be able to take the tens of millions of dollars they where giving to other MLB franchises through revenue sharing and use that money to help offset the estimated $1 billion it will cost to build the new Yankee Stadium.

Since the 2000 season, the last time the Yankees won the World Series, the team has doubled its payroll. Consider that in addition to a 2004 payroll of $187.9 million, Steinbrenner, the Yankees' principal owner, was saddled that year with two other large expenses: $63 million to be paid into Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing fund and $25 million in luxury-tax payments, a penalty that only the Yankees will have paid in each of the past four years. That meant for the 2004 baseball season $276 million went to players and less-wealthy teams, from total revenue estimated at $315 million to $350 million, before Manager Joe Torre, the coaches, the front office, the minor league system and the rent were paid.

In 2003, the payroll was a little smaller at $170 million, the revenue-sharing payment was the same $63 million and the luxury-tax payment was a lot less, at $11.2 million. And the Yankees, according to Michael Ozanian, a senior editor of Forbes magazine, posted an operating loss of $23 million that year, on revenue that Forbes estimated at $238 million, including $119 million in income from ticket sales, luxury suites and club seats.

Steinbrenner’s focus isn’t on winning the World Series, it’s the bigger picture and in this case building the Yankees brand. Steinbrenner knows if the YES network increases in value he’ll make more money. And if the Yankees win the 2006 World Series it will improve the YES Network’s ratings numbers – a key to increasing the value of the regional sports cable network.

Steinbrenner’s business acumen allowed him to approve the deadline trade with the Phillies for Bobby Abreu and Cory Lidle. Financially the Yankees did more then add 7.1 million to their 2006 team payroll. Because the Yankees surpassed the MLB team salary payroll threshold of $136.7 million, and because the Yankees surpassed the team payroll threshold level for the fourth consecutive season, Abreu and Lidle cost the Yankees an additional 40 percent ($2.82 million), above and beyond their salaries.

The Yankees opening day payroll was projected at $198,662,180. While the bill has yet to be sent by Major League Baseball to Steinbrenner and the Yankees, the Yankees can expect a luxury tax bill for the 2006 season in excess of $28 million.

Say whatever you want, but the Yankees went to Boston over the weekend, and blew the Red Sox into the Charles River, sinking any hope the Red Sox had of ending the Yankees eight consecutive American League East Division titles. Abreu and former Red Sox, Johnny Damon now a member of the Yankees keyed the Boston Massacre.

As the owner of a Major League Baseball franchise, George Steinbrenner appreciates that you have to spend money (in his case hundreds of millions of dollars) to make money (again hundreds of millions of dollars).

Recently The New York Daily News reported Goldman Sachs & Co. and Providence Equity Partners who own 40 percent of the YES Network are interested in selling their stakes in YES. The YES Network is four and a half years old, born on March 22, 2002. The value of the highest rated regional sports network has been estimated at between $1.3 and $3 billion. Goldman Sachs & Co. and Providence Equity Partners invested an estimated $340 million in initial start-up costs for the YES Network. According to a report in Multichannel News, dividends paid to Goldman and Providence has retuned more then 100 percent of their original investment. Multichannel News estimated Goldman and Providence could sell their 40 percent of YES for between $480 million and $1.2 billion – which would represent an amazing return on their investment given that they’re already been paid back the money they put in YES to get the network going four years ago.

And why this matters to Steinbrenner, he owns 38 percent. His stake in the network could be worth a more then a billion dollars, in addition to his 100 percent ownership of the Yankees he has, again worth more then $1 billion.

The new Yankee Stadium will be a monster money making machine, especially when you take the time to compare it to the Yankees current stadium. The key differences between the current and the new ballparks – 60 luxury suites. The current Yankee Stadium has 17 suites. Those 43 additional suites will represent millions of additional dollars in revenue for the Yankees each year. Then factoring in a majority of the new ballparks seats being located in the lower deck, the Yankees who have already surpassed 4 million tickets sold for the 2006 season (marking the second consecutive season the Yankees have achieved that attendance figure) the slight drop in capacity from 54,000 to 51,800 will drive Yankee season ticket sales and again result in millions of dollars in additional revenues with an increase in premium seating. Two thirds of the seating in the new Yankee Stadium will be lower deck what will be priced as premium seating.

Since 1999 as Cashman reminded Bloomberg Radio, the Yankees have had the highest annual payroll in baseball.

``You can try to build a perfect business plan, but again you're going to have to deviate from it,'' Cashman said. ``That's why some of the decisions that we've made and started to make going forward are to help transition us to help get the payroll back in line.''

According to the Bloomberg News, the Yankees issued about $967 million of municipal bonds through the New York City Industrial Development Agency to raise the working capital needed for their new stadium. The bonds are to be repaid with money from ticket and luxury box sales at the new stadium.

``The team needs to be a viable enterprise,'' said Moody's analyst Thomas Paolicelli. ``There's only so much time where they can run a deficit before it would start impacting their obligations.''

The Yankees have no plans to sell the naming rights for the new Yankee Stadium. Give Steinbrenner credit, it’s another example of how he does business and realizes what the Yankees brand name is worth. The Yankees may have been able to sell the naming rights to their new stadium for close to $10 million a year. That would sully the Yankees brand name, taking away from the big picture philosophy Steinbrenner has always had during his stewardship as Yankees owner.

The new Yankee Stadium has been designed to generate tens of millions of dollars annually in corporate sponsorship naming rights fees. Each gate at the new Yankee Stadium will have its own lead (title) sponsor. The Yankee brand will drive decision makers to buy parts of the stadium for millions of dollars. Assuming the Yankees can meet their goals of what amounts to a series of ‘mini-naming rights deals’, and there is no reason to believe they won’t, the Yankees will easily surpass $10 million in annual corporate naming rights.

When the Yankees broke ground on their new stadium last week, Steinbrenner and Yankee president made it clear – the new stadium would be all about showing everyone how much money the Yankees are about to start making.

Steinbrenner offered, "We developed the new stadium with the needs of the Yankees and the fans in mind. This new 'Home of Champions' will preserve the architectural integrity of the original Yankee Stadium, while incorporating modern amenities."

Yankees President Randy Levine said, "The design of the new stadium allowed us to incorporate restaurants, a special events hall, first-class concourses, and an increased number of luxury suites - while still managing to keep ticket prices affordable."

Levine’s comments say what needed to be said – the Yankees are building a world-class stadium will all of the revenue generating amenities the Yankees need to make more money. Bottom line the Yankees have been losing more then $50 million annually for the last three baseball seasons. Believe whatever you like but if you understand what a true genius George Steinbrenner is, is his stake in the Yankees and in the YES Network are each worth more then $1 billion. For every dollar George Steinbrenner spends on bringing the Yankees to another World Series, its two or three dollars more in the companies he owns that are directly related to the Yankees.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: Bloomberg News, The New York Daily News and Mutlichannel News and The New York Times

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Is Bryant Gumbel a Racist?

It’s a lengthy list – sports personalities, some journalists, some league executives who after making remarks that where deemed racially insensitive, lost their jobs and watched their careers end. Some of these people where once considered pillars in the sports world, examples of the good in sports. For these people, one misstep cost them their careers. In the last six months Bryant Gumbel has not once, but twice made would could be considered racially insensitive comments. One directed at Caucasian’s (commonly referred to as White Americans, as defined by the American government and Census Bureau), the other at the leading African-American leader associated with the National Football League.

Comments Gumbel made last week at the very least were bothersome, and in reality could be considered radically insensitive comments directed at leaders in football’s African-American community. Outgoing National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue lashed out at the comments Gumbel directed at NFLPA executive director Gene Upshaw. Both Gumbel and Upshaw are African Americans.

Having crossed over that mythical line in the sand not once but twice, it is time someone (in this case the National Football League) ended their association with Bryant Gumbel. The National Football League hired the talented broadcaster as the play-by-play voice for the eight late season games the NFL Network will broadcast. Bryant Gumbel is the last person the NFL wants their product associated with. His archaic comments on Gene Upshaw reach back to a long gone era in the sports world – when racism was a terrible guiding force, the plague of the sports world for too long.

Last Tuesday (August 15. 2006) as Gumbel does at end of each episode of HBO’s Real Sports (Gumbel hosts the award winning program), ended the show with an editorial comment.

"Before he cleans out his office," Gumbel said. "Have Paul Tagliabue show you where he keeps Gene Upshaw's leash. By making the docile head of the players union his personal pet, your predecessor has kept the peace without giving players the kind of guarantees other pros take for granted. Try to make sure no one competent ever replaces Upshaw on your watch."

On every possible level Bryant Gumbel’s remarks border on racism. For anyone, let alone for an African American to suggest another African American was being led around on a dog leash is hurtful and disrespectful. One of the terrible lasting images during a terrible period in American history is of white people leading around their black slaves using the leash Gumbel refers to.

Monday, in one of his last media gatherings before he passes the NFL to Roger Goodell in a few weeks, current NFL commissioner directed some very pointed comments at Gumbel.

Realizing how concerned Tagliabue was with Gumel’s comments, Tagliabue was asked if Gumbel should remain as part of the NFL Network’s broadcast team.

"Having looked at how other people have had buyer's remorse when they took positions, I guess they suggest to me that maybe he's having buyer's remorse and they call into question his desire to do the job and to do it in a way that we in the NFL would expect it to be done," the commissioner said.

Troy Vincent, the NFLPA president and Buffalo Bills safety, called Gumbel's comments "inappropriate" and "detrimental."
"He's entitled to speak his mind ... and he felt that was his forum to do so," Vincent told The Associated Press Tuesday after a Bills training camp practice in suburban Rochester. "But I just thought the timing of things, there's too many good things going on — we just announced a new commissioner — in our sport to have these kind of blemishes."

The NFL Networks interest in hiring Gumbel was in part based on his longtime association as the host of NBC’s NFL coverage in the 1980’s.

Gumbel’s contract with the NFL Network allows him complete freedom to say whatever he wants to say during a game broadcast. Let’s be clear, this isn’t a suggestion a sports broadcaster should be censored for what they say. However there is a line in the sand, when making a statement is simply wrong.

Shortly before the 2006 Turin Games, Gumbel offered an interested opinion on why he didn’t particularly like the Winter Olympics. Once again Gumbel choose HBO’s Real Sports as his pulpit.

"Finally, tonight, the Winter Games. Count me among those who don’t like them and won’t watch them ... Because they’re so trying, maybe over the next three weeks we should all try too. Like, try not to be incredulous when someone attempts to link these games to those of the ancient Greeks who never heard of skating or skiing. So try not to laugh when someone says these are the world’s greatest athletes, despite a paucity of blacks that makes the Winter Games look like a GOP convention. Try not to point out that something’s not really a sport if a pseudo-athlete waits in what’s called a kiss-and-cry area, while some panel of subjective judges decides who won ... So if only to hasten the arrival of the day they’re done, when we can move on to March Madness — for God’s sake, let the games begin."

Al Campanis, a teammate of Jackie Robinson when Jackie broke baseball’s color line in 1946 with the Montreal Royals, then the Brooklyn Dodgers Triple-A affiliate, 41 years later speaking on ABC’s newsmagazine program Nightline, on a show (April 15, 1987) dedicated to celebrating Robinson joining the Brooklyn Dodgers, watched his life fall apart after making what were called racially insensitive remarks.

Campanis, who had played alongside Robinson and was known for being close to him, was being interviewed about the subject, and Nightline anchorman Ted Koppel had just asked him why, at the time, there had been few black managers and no black general managers in Major League Baseball.

Campanis' reply was that blacks "may not have some of the necessities to be, let's say, a field manager, or, perhaps, a general manager" for these positions; elsewhere in the interview, he said that blacks are often poor swimmers "because they don't have the buoyancy." He resigned as Dodgers general manager two days later. A lifelong commitment to baseball ended overnight. The general manager of the franchise that broke baseball’s color line experienced a terrible life altering experience.

In an interview the next year, Campanis attempted to clarify that he was referring to the lack of African-Americans with experience in these areas, rather than their innate abilities; he also said that he was "wiped out" when the interview took place, and therefore not entirely himself. Many other figures in baseball, such as fellow Dodgers manager Tom Lasorda and former Dodgers player Don Newcombe, spoke out in Campanis' defense.

Less then a year later on Jan. 15, 1988, Jimmy “The Greek” Snyder had his own career ending experience. Dan Rather then the host of “CBS Evening News” aired a tape of comments Snyder had made earlier that day at Duke Zeibert's restaurant in Washington, D.C. Ironically the film was shot by WRC-TV, the Washington affiliate of network rival NBC, and WRC reporter Ed Hotaling acknowledged that The Greek had said he was speaking off the record during the interview, Rather decided Snyder's remarks deserved national coverage.
Nevertheless, Rather decided the comments deserved national attention, in Dan Rather’s world this was an important news story.

"The black is the better athlete," The Greek said. "And he practices to be the better athlete, and he's bred to be the better athlete because this goes way back to the slave period. The slave owner would breed this big black with this big black woman so he could have a big black kid. That's where it all started."

After the segment ran, Rather did allow Snyder to apologize for his terribly insensitive comments.

"I'm truly sorry for my remarks earlier today and I offer a full, heartfelt apology to all I may have offended," Rather quoted Snyder as saying.

That didn’t matter to CBS. They fired the longtime member of CBS’ NFL pre game show the next day. Snyder’s segment at the end of each Sunday’s pre game show offered The Greek’s (Snyder was Jewish) handicapping and highlighting several games each week. It was the most popular segment on each week’s show; making CBS pre game show the highest rated NFL pre game show. The Greek wasn’t just good for business, he was the business.

Gumbel for his part made it clear to New York Newsday; he isn’t apologizing for anything he said.

"I've never exactly been a shrinking violet when it comes to criticism," said Gumbel, who from his first meeting with NFL Network chief Steve Bornstein said he wasn't interested in the job if it was going to compromise his role as "Real Sports" host.

"One of my first questions when we had lunch was, 'What does the commissioner think about this?' Because when [Bornstein] asked me I kind of thought, 'Does he watch the program? Does Paul know about this? Are you going to go behind his back?' He said, 'No, Paul signed off on this, thought it was a great idea.' I said, 'OK.'

"I'm not going to look for opportunities to take shots at the NFL," Gumbel said. "I will be honest where criticism is warranted."

If you’re expecting the NFL Network to do anything about the comments Gumbel made about the imminent departure of Paul Taglabue, just read the comments NFL Network spokesperson Seth Palansky told The New York Times Richard Sandomir.

“We still expect him to call our games,” Palansky said. “There’s no issue there. We want to let the commissioner’s words speak for themselves.”

Then came the true bottom line: marketing the NFL Network as the home of eight Thursday and Saturday games. “This is why people should call their cable operator to demand the NFL Network,” Palansky said.

The good news the NFL Network is owned by the National Football League. Palansky’s focus is on growing the NFL Network as a brand. At the end of the day, the league itself will decide if they want to be associated with Bryant Gumbel.

The National Football League was very upset with ESPN after the network produced the series “Playmakers” Based on a fictional NFL team, the show portrayed NFL players as womanizers, drug users and for the most part men without any shred of common public decency. The series debuted on August 26, 2003. ESPN and ABC (both with Disney as their respective parent companies) had two eight-year contracts worth nearly $9.5 billion with the NFL to show games on ABC and the sports network.

The NFL was very unhappy with the series. Gatorade a key NFL sponsor and a company who bought into ESPN’s concept for Playmakers, ended their association with the show before the first and only season ended.

"We grew increasingly uncomfortable with the [Playmakers] content," says Gatorade spokesman Andy Horrow, who confirmed the decision. "We felt that the show was in conflict with what we stand for as a brand." Unlike the broadcast networks, which provide the advertisers with previews of TV shows that might be controversial, ESPN refused to release Playmakers early, Horrow said. An ESPN spokesman declined to comment.

Once the 11-week series ended, Tagliabue stepped into the debate, contacting then Disney president suggesting in no uncertain terms the NFL was very upset about the show’s content. ESPN’s first decision was to stop running “Playmakers” promotional spots during ESPN’s broadcasts of Sunday night NFL games. In early February ESPN made the only decision they could relating to the future of Playmakers – canceling the show after one season.

''We proved that we could succeed in doing a dramatic series,'' Mark Shapiro, then the executive vice president of ESPN, said. ''Mission accomplished. It played to men and brought in women. We showed we don't have to be as reliant on games as we have in the past.''

But, Shapiro added: ''It's our opinion that we're not in the business of antagonizing our partner, even though we've done it, and continued to carry it over the NFL's objections. To bring it back would be rubbing it in our partner's face.''

The program was a ratings success for ESPN, averaging a 1.9 Nielsen rating, or 1.62 million households. For ESPN and was the network's highest-rated program except for its Sunday night NFL and Saturday prime-time college football games. Even more important it represented groundbreaking programming for ESPN’s entertainment division, an important step in the evolution of ESPN as a business.

John Eisendrath, the creator and executive producer of the series, made it clear to the New York Times when ESPN pulled the plug on the show he believed that the cancellation had everything to do with the NFL’s views on how the league was portrayed in the series.

''The NFL is entitled to its opinion,'' Eisendrath said, ''but I think they're wrong, and I think they're bullies. They're a monopoly. I think it fell to ESPN to have the strength to stand up to the NFL's opinion. It's offensive to me that they would bully ESPN that way, so I'm most offended by the NFL's attitude, which is blatantly hypocritical considering some of the things that go on in the league, which far exceed anything I wrote about.''

If history teaches us anything, it’s not a matter of if, but when the National Football League distances itself from Bryant Gumbel. Gumbel is free to have whatever opinions he wants, but as others have learnt there’s a price to pay when the opinions you have deal with race and can be considered insensitive.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Source cited in this Insider Report: New York Newsday and The New York Times