Friday, March 30, 2007

On the Eve of the Final Four – NCAA President Myles Brand

Once again the focus of the sports world has their eyes set on the Final Four, the culmination of the college sports year. There may be a BCS Championships and there may be NCAA championship contested in a myriad of other sports but none are as prized as the opportunity to cut down the nets following Monday night’s championship game in the Georgia Dome. Tens of millions will be watching Saturday and Monday night, the hopes and dreams of basketball fans at Florida, Georgetown, Ohio State and UCLA hope to hear the strains of their team earning that One Shinning Moment Monday night. But for NCAA President Myles Brand there is a much bigger game at stake, a game where much more will be decided than which school earns the opportunity to call themselves NCAA Men’s Basketball Champions.

Brand met with the media Thursday afternoon in Atlanta facing a series of questions the media wanted answered. The hopes of Buckeye Nation rest on the broad shoulders of 19-year old Greg Oden. If Oden was born a year earlier he would have never played one college basketball game. Oden, an All-American in what will be his only year of college basketball was the first high school basketball player forced to play at least one year of college basketball under the NBA’s 19-year old minimum age rule that was included as part of the league’s last CBA negotiated between the league and its players association.

Brand made it clear the NCAA had absolutely no input in the NBA’s decision (the rule applies to any basketball player) to force high school’ers to play at least one year of college basketball, but did express some concerns about the impact players like Oden could have on the NCAA and the message it’s trying to disseminate.

“If there are individuals who are just looking at this as one and out, not taking care of business in the second semester, we have to deal with that. There may well be some of those. There's another, I would say, unintended consequence of the rule, which actually has a beneficial effect. We haven't yet fully seen that work out, but I think it's a critical important effect.

“Namely, it sends a very clear message to young men, their families, third parties, that if you do think you can play in the NBA, and far more think they can than actually do, but if you do think you can play in the NBA, you're going to have to go to college for a year. ”That means you better prepare for the admission standards, and you have to be prepared to do the academic work.

“So the message, I hope and I believe, is getting back to many of the high school students. And I hear earlier and earlier in their high school career, that even if they believe, correctly or not, they're going to play in the NBA, they will have to prepare for college.

”Hence, they'll come into college better able to undertake the academic work. As we all know, the vast majority who come into college, even with NBA dreams, and I don't want to disturb their dreams for a moment, the vast majority of them will find they just don't have that very high level of elite athleticism that allows them to do that.

”But now they'll be in college, they're prepared for college, and the likelihood they'll stay on is increased because they've prepared for it, and we hope that will show up in the graduation rates and the education of these young people.

”Leaving aside the few elite individuals who think that they're not going to the NBA one year and having to spend it in college, not necessarily happy about it, and then blowing off the second semester, leaving aside that very small group of people, we're talking about a handful, I expect hundreds, maybe even thousands, over the years to be positively affected by this rule.

”Now, if I had a vote, which I don't, and I told you I didn't in the beginning, I'd like to see it for more than one year, two years, three years. The football rule works well (the NFL’s CBA only allows players to become draft eligible after their junior season). We see a good graduation rate in football. Part of that is due to the fact the young men can't leave for three years. But I don't have a vote.”

The NCAA has often been accused of micro-managing college sports and at time following a set of rules that might seem nonsensical to anyone but the NCAA. One area the NCAA is trying to come to grips with text messaging and recruiting.

“That's an area of great confusion. The fact is, text messaging has been discussed by our membership. They have not resolved it in their own minds about how best to handle it.

“There are some cases in which a great deal takes place, and that is a burden on youngsters, particularly if there's a fee attached to it, it could be a burden on their families as well. We don't quite have it amongst our members what's the right approach on that.

“Moreover, text messaging may be last year. It may be we're moving on to a different means of communication electronically. By the time the NCAA gets clear about text messaging it won't even be used any more.

“One of the issues that we face, and we all face, you in the media and we in the NCAA, is to understand how the new media is evolving and how to create fairness and how to project our rules -- our old rules into that new media that make sense, and that are not overly burdensome and not practically enforceable, on the other hand, it's fair to the student-athletes and doesn't allow for abuses.

“I think we have a very hard job to do that, and we run as fast as we can to catch up” Brand said.

The Final Four returns to Atlanta this weekend for the first time in five years, five years Brand and the NCAA have witnessed the continued and at times unparalleled growth of March Madness.

“I was reflecting upon that myself just the other day. You're right, the event has changed. I was here five years ago. I remember how it was. There were great basketball games, too. But it is more than three basketball games right now. It's turned into a several-day event with its own nature.

“We try and make sure it has a collegiate flavor to it, that it is a family-friendly event, that there are lots of things to do for youngsters as well as families, as well as those who want to hear music. Last couple years we've started to have music. I think in Indianapolis last year we had very large events which we'll also have here as well.

“It is evolving along those lines. I think our fans and our public enjoy it. Our task as that happens is to make sure at the same time that it is a collegiate event, that it keeps that feeling and flavor of college basketball. There are temptations and challenges not to do it that way. But we're working very hard to make sure that we keep the flavor and sense of the games as it grows to be more fan friendly.”

The Final Four is a weekend filled with much more than three basketball games and as many personal appearances as Dick Vitale can squeeze into a weekend. Its concerts, a Fan Fest, a basketball fan’s weekend wonderland. A fair question Brand was asked about; does he and the NCAA believe the ancillary events that are very much a part of the Final Four weekend will trickle down to the earlier round NCAA basketball tournament sites?

“We're not there yet. Maybe eventually we will be there. Right now we're focused on the final weekend, Final Four weekend. That may not happen. Although we're beginning to see some enlargement of other events.

“In Division II, we've brought together a series of championships, five to seven championships now each year, which we call a festival. It does have music. It's mostly for the student-athletes who are there. But I can imagine at one point that will blossom a bit and involve the greater community as well.

“It's possible it will happen. There are no plans for it right now. It's not on the drawing board. At this point we are focused on this final event. The point that it is changing and be more fan friendly, that is our intent, that did not happen by accident.”

Much of the off-court attention throughout the Final Four will focus on the University of Kentucky hiring a new men’s basketball coach. Long considered one of the historically marquee college basketball programs, the talk has Kentucky officials suggesting they’re ready to pay the right coach millions of dollars a year to bring basketball glory back to Lexington, call it Nick Saban money and the obscene contract worth more than $4 million annually Saban signed in January to coach the University of Alabama’s football team.

“Yeah, the basketball coaches have not yet gotten to the Nick Saban level. What's happened is Nick Saban, the market between the NFL and the college coaches has collapsed. The pay rates for the very highest celebrity coaches are similar. We're seeing more and more movement back and forth.

“When we were at a million dollars, which is an enormous salary for a coach compared to what faculty members make, for example, it probably was justifiable because there weren't very many of them. There are a number of people on all major campuses, including the ones in Kentucky, particularly when you look towards the medical school, who have compensation packages of that kind.

“We always have to remember the schools aren't paying all these dollars. In fact, on average the schools only pay 25% of those large compensation packages. The rest are through media contracts and speaking engagements, but the compensation package is clearly very large.

“I thought a million dollars was a lot. But when we moved away from that and moved, in one case a $4 million contract, I think we have to begin to ask some very hard questions. Whether you can justify it or not in terms of rate of return, and I can talk more about that if you like, whether we can justify it or not in terms of rate of return, it raises the question of propriety for colleges and universities.

“I'm not sure you can justify it in terms of rate of return because, first of all, the seats are already sold and filled. There's a limit to how much you can raise prices, whoever the coach is. The media contracts often, mostly the conference and national contracts are not affected, and the local media contracts also don't have a great deal of elasticity.

“Fund-raising would be the only area in which you might say certain coaches could bring in more money. That's controversial because many of these institutions are already working very hard to raise funds.

“Let's say for the sake of argument you can make that up through additional fund-raising. I would believe that that could happen in some cases. Again, I want to say, you know, even if all that's true, I think you have to ask the hard questions. Is this the appropriate thing to do within the context of college sports?” Brand said.

Saban’s contract attracted all the wrong type of attention for the NCAA including raising the specter of the NCAA losing the tax exempt status it enjoys.

“We have not had any follow-up since there was interest by former congressman Thomas in the House Ways and Means. As you know, or I expect you know they sent us a rather long letter, or at least his staff wrote that letter, and we answered in detail. Both the letter and responses are on our website if you would like to look at the details of that.

“We have heard no follow-up on that whatsoever from either the House or the Senate. “The issue seems to have changed when we moved from a republican Congress to a democratic Congress. At this point we have no questions on that regard or any follow-up.

“What the issue was at the time, I believe, and your question I think is correctly directed, namely that it wasn't the NCAA national office, because we're basically a pass-through operation, 96% of all our revenue goes to the campuses, so we're basically a pass-through operation. It is the campuses that were actually under threat for tax structuring issues.

“The two areas, amongst others, that probably would have been looked at, if that discussion had continued, would have been the deduction one could take in terms of boxes and so. Right now you can deduct 80% of the donation. That might come under additional scrutiny. At one point when this first came up many years ago, it was a hundred percent. Congress reduced it to 80%. It's possible that that could come under conversation.

“And the other part was the ability to use tax-free bonds for facilities. That's really more of a state issue in most cases, maybe not all, but most cases, and it would have to be taken up state by state.

“Those were the kinds of tax issues I think were on the table. But with the change in Congress, the change of leadership at the House and Senate, Senate Finance, House Ways and Means, we have not heard any additional comments about this, nor have we been asked about it from the Congress.” Brand related.

One issue Brand made clear regarding money and coaches’ contracts – it isn’t an issue that is going anywhere and at the end of the day Brand admitted he was hopeless to stem the tide of coaches signing multi-million contracts.

“The problem we face of course is the NCAA -- the national office can't do anything about it. The reason we can't do anything about it is we don't make the hires and we certainly don't set the salaries or the budgets of the institutions. Frankly, we should not do so. I don't think the national office, the NCAA, should have control over campus budgets or make the particular hires.

“But I think we can ask some hard questions in the following way. I think we can ask the schools and the conferences to consider this. We can't pass any rules. It's called collusion, anti-trust. You can't limit salaries on a national basis or even a conference basis. But I think we can prompt our members and our conferences to say, At what point do you believe in your context for your institution, for your conference, that this does not make sense? Each school is going to have to figure that out for themselves.

“Now we all recognize there are going to be fan and alumni pressures on the one side. There are going to be faculty and questions of propriety arising as well. So it's a complex issue. But I don't think -- this is my personal view. I don't think schools should be moving in this direction without giving it some deep thought and trying to work through in their own context the pluses, minuses, the balance. What are you saying about your integrity and value?

“I can't draw the conclusions for them. They have to draw them for themselves. Certainly we've reached the point, even as I told you before, the return on investment makes sense, even under those conditions, we're beginning to reach the point in which you still have to ask those questions in your context on your campus before making the decision.

“Ultimately I would suggest to you it's the board, not even the president or the AD, the board has to get involved when we reach that level of compensation.”

Nike, Adidas and Reebok are more than happy to pay coaches millions of dollars for ‘allowing’ their players to wear their products, making it even that much more of a challenge for Brand and the NCAA to try and regulate.

“You cannot. And you should not. Just as we don't regulate the compensation packages, universities don't regulate the compensation packages for faculty members. For example, if you're an academic physician, you're doing many procedures, you'll have a private practice plan which can easily give you a million dollars if you're an ophthalmologist or neurosurgeon or some such, cardiovascular. There's no way, either legally or in fact, a university can regulate that, nor can they regulate the compensation packages for coaches in this way.

“What we require of coaches, which aren't required of faculty members and others in the university, is that disclosure. We believe that transparency, while it's not regulatory, helps I think set the tone. So we do require, and you print, what those compensation packages are. That will continue.

“But the fact of the matter is you don't print or know about, and most of the time university presidents don't even know about, outside earnings from faculty members, law faculty, business faculty, so on. They do have rules about what you can do for outside earning. It's called the one-in-five rule for faculty. You can't devote more than one day a week to outside earnings if you're on full contract.

“They do regulate the time spent, but the amount of money spent, compensation for that outside consultation work, is not regulated, nor should it be in the case of coaches. But we do make that information known, and that transparency is I think what we're talking about.”

Big business yes, great basketball – to sports fans that’s what they’re looking for. But be very sure, hundreds of millions of dollars will be on the line.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

The National Football League – sports socialism at its very best

National Football League owners ended their annual meetings Wednesday evening in Phoenix with the “promise” of big news kept to an acceptable minimum. Why rock the boat, why when a business that sets the industry standard for the sports industry and offers a commitment to excellence any business dreams of achieving is doing as well as the NFL has done for the last 50 years. The NFL remains what it has always been, the goal every sports league dreams of reaching, but for a variety of reasons never will.

Much of the NFL success remains the commitment league owners have towards revenue sharing. The NFL generates more than $6 billion annually in revenues, with $3.75 billion from the league’s network television agreements. Major League Baseball teams share in baseball’s national TV revenues but franchises like the New York Yankees (owners of the YES Network) and the Boston Red Sox (owners of 75 percent of NESN, New England Sports Network) each manage to generate (an estimated total based on various media reports) more than $200 million in local television revenues. Among the reasons the Montreal Expos are now the Washington Nationals; the Expos couldn’t generate any local television rights fees. If the New York Giants or New York Jets had the rights to their football games they’d likely generate hundreds of millions of dollars annually while the Green Bay Packers would be forced to deal with the challenges the Expos faced. The NFL doesn’t share all of their revenues among the league’s 32 member franchises, but they do share more than 83 percent of their revenues, an ungodly total in an era where historically sports franchises and businesses remain focused on their own needs.

Revenue sharing can very much be a double edge sword. Each NFL franchise starts their year knowing full well it’s next to impossible for a team to lose money in a given season. However, as Daniel Rascher, the president of Sports Economics in Berkeley, California told The Economist last year the Cincinnati franchise was the NFL's fifth-most-profitable during the 1990s, despite winning the fewest games during the decade. The team simply skimped on avoidable costs, such as talent scouts, and raked in revenues from the rest of the league.

The only significant revenue NFL franchises don’t have to share with other NFL teams – the revenues generated from suites. With more than half of the current NFL teams playing in stadiums built in the last ten years (18), and new stadiums being built for all but a handful of the remaining teams having stadiums built for them. However, that may yet become an issue for smaller market NFL teams. The New York Giants and New York Jets are scheduled to move into a new state-of-the-art 82,000 seat stadium in time for the 2010 NFL season. The facility will include 150 suites and more than a handful of those suites will come with an annual price tag of $1 million a year. The two teams are looking at charging a one time PSL (personal seat license) fee of $5,000 per seat for at least half of the stadium’s 82,000 seats. The PSLs would generate more than $200 million for each team; money that would help offset the expected each team to carry $715 million in debt each team will carry for 25years.

With the Giants and Jets moving into a stadium with million dollar suites and the Dallas Cowboys likely looking at selling suites in their new stadium for more than $500,000 each, the need to increased revenue sharing among NFL teams is becoming critical. To that end, NFL owners earlier this week voted 30-2 to move forward with a plan that was first tabled at NFL meetings last March when Paul Tagliabue was still the NFL commissioner.

While the fine points of the latest revenue sharing plan will be finalized in the coming days, the plan agreed to Monday calls for the 15 highest-revenue teams to create a pool of $430 million over the next four years to subsidize the 15 lowest-revenue teams.

According to a report in The Dallas Morning News: to receive any of the money, a low-revenue franchise must have actual player costs higher than the league average of 65 percent of player spending.

But there are three qualifiers. First, if a team moves into a new or renovated stadium costing in excess of $150 million, it becomes ineligible for revenue sharing. Second, if ownership of a team changes, it too becomes ineligible. Finally, if a team's gate revenue falls below 90 percent of the league average, it also becomes ineligible.

"I thought it was a good compromise," said Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, one of the high-revenue owners. "It was a trade-off in the negotiations. The most important thing was the dollars. The only thing that really counts is the dollars. We needed to come up with a compromise on the amount of money that changes hands."

The high-revenue teams funded a pool of $100 million in 2006. That pool increases to $110 million in 2007, 2008 and 2009 for the low-revenue teams.

One of the teams that will qualify at least in the short-term will be the Buffalo Bills. The Bills will continue playing in Ralph Wilson Stadium for the foreseeable future and Wilson will own the Bills through at least the four years of the current proposed plan.

A year ago Wilson voted against the decision to extend the current NFL collective bargaining agreement. When Wilson voted against the CBA he came under a great deal of criticism from many circles, many football business pundits suggesting it was time for Wilson to get out of the NFL if he couldn’t accept how the league conducted its business affairs. Wilson’s determination proved to be a driving force behind Monday’s decision.

“Without this agreement, I’m not sure we could survive,” said Wilson, who was one of eight NFL owners on the committee that came up with the revenue-sharing formula in a Buffalo News report. “This is not the total solution. It’s sort of a Band- Aid situation, but it will help the clubs for a few years. It was something the medium- and smallmarket teams needed right now.”

“This is a strong testament to our teams’ willingness to do what is best for the league,” Bills Treasurer Jeffrey C. Littmann told The Buffalo News. “This wasn’t about a win. This was about making our case.”

“I’m certainly sympathetic to Ralph’s situation in Buffalo,” said Denver Broncos owner Patrick D. Bowlen. “From what I saw, he was pretty persuasive in, No. 1, keeping the team in Buffalo, and, No. 2, having some better revenue-sharing arrangements than we do. Ralph’s been around since Day One. So I think what he had to say and his input was very important.”

One point Wilson made clear to The Buffalo News Wednesday, he wasn't looking for anyone to tell him he was right after Monday’s vote.

“I wasn’t looking for vindication,” Wilson said. “I just wanted a deal that was fair.”

Wilson’s biggest concern a year ago remains, guaranteeing the players 60 percent of the revenues the NFL generates.

“I’m not totally satisfied, but I’m happier with this plan,” Wilson said. “It took a lot of work to make this happen.”

Reaction from most NFL owners ranged from support to a sense of resignation that the Lords of the Pigskin did what they had to do for the good for their business.

“We looked over that ledge, and we didn’t like what we saw,” New England Patriots owner Robert K. Kraft said during an interview at the Arizona Biltmore Resort, where the NFL’s annual spring meetings are being held. “Ultimately, our job, our responsibility as owners, is doing what is best for the National Football League. This is not the best plan, but it is a plan that is in the best interests of all our teams.”

“Nobody is happy,” said Robert C. McNair, owner of the Houston Texans. “So, I guess, maybe it’s a good deal that way. The important thing is, the deal got done.”

Art Rooney one of the more respected leaders in sports ownership, like his father Dan Rooney one of the founding fathers of professional football has always been about seeing the big offering his vision on where the NFL is and where it needs to be going.

"There's no question we have a problem in the league that I'm very concerned about on a going-forth basis," Rooney said during the annual NFL spring meetings in a Pittsburgh Post Gazette report. "I think the biggest problem with it really is the attitude of some of the high-revenue teams. I think the only way to say it is that they have a different attitude than some of the big-market people from the old days."

Learning from his father, Rooney reminded those ready to hear his message, in the early 1960s when New York Giants owner Wellington Mara agreed to give up his lucrative local TV contract to share national television rights with his fellow NFL owners equally. It was that revenue sharing that put virtually all of the league's teams on equal footing to compete financially and competitively.

"My fear is that we start to approach things more like some of the other leagues than the way the NFL has approached it," Rooney told The Pittsburgh Post Gazette. "To me, why change the business model that has been pretty successful? But some of these guys have a different approach to it and that worries me."

"Then you have another 10-12 teams -- some of them are doing fine, some are doing big money. That's where the revenue-sharing situation has to kick in to equalize things out."

The two teams that voted against the plan, the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Cincinnati Bengals both made it clear following Monday’s decision why they believe nothing was accomplished with the increased revenue sharing opportunity.

Jaguars Chief Financial Officer Bill Prescott told jaguars.com on Monday afternoon that he was satisfied with the plan’s qualifiers and its subsidies to the Jaguars. Owner Wayne Weaver voted “no” because the plan did not include 2010 and 11.

“If we extend the labor deal, we’re back at the negotiating table. We would’ve preferred that these qualifiers apply to 2010 and ’11,” Prescott said.

Prescott has said that his biggest concern for the Jaguars’ financial future is for when new stadiums come on line in Dallas and New York. That’s expected to occur in 2010 or ’11. Those new stadiums are expected to spike revenue to previously unimagined heights, meaning the salary cap and player costs will also spike.

“We’ll do fine for 2006-09, but when these new stadiums come on line, it’s going to drive (the cap) up,” Prescott said.

The Jaguars won’t be moving into a new stadium anytime soon, if ever. The concerns make perfect sense – the Jets/Giants stadium with suites priced at $1 million annually will have a negative impact on teams like the Jaguars who by the start of the 2010 season will be playing in outdated stadiums.

"It's a stop-gap solution," Bengals owner Mike Brown said after emerging from a meeting according to The Cincinnati Enquirer. "We have deeper problems than qualifiers. We have problems with subsidies in the league."

The Bengals a team playing in a new stadium would not qualify for the additional revenue sharing. However it’s also important to remember the Bengals made a great deal of money during the 1990’s but lost more games than any other NFL franchise. That said Brown is the son of Bengals founder Paul Brown, like Dan Rooney one of the founding fathers of professional football.

At the end of the day there is no easy answer. There are two sides to this coin. The NFL does share more than 83 percent of all of their revenues, but so called ‘new-age’ owners like Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder and Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones believe they should be rewarded for being creative in dreaming up new revenue sources for their teams. Who will win this battle – count on the common sense and belief in sports socialism will continue to be how the NFL conducts its business affairs for many years to come.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Buffalo News, The Pittsburgh Post Gazette and the Cincinnati Enquirer

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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The National Football League – time to send Pacman, Packing

The National Football League concludes three days of meetings in Phoenix today with predictable results – the good ship NFL is steady as ever. When it comes to the National Football League with few exceptions it’s one for all and all for one. The NFL which shares more than 85 percent of all their revenues began their meetings Monday by announcing the Robin Hood Effect will continue. And while the league’s much anticipated player conduct code still requires some fine tuning and won’t be formally announced before next month’s NFL draft, will send a clear message to those whose intent is to damage the reputation of the NFL – it will no longer be tolerated.

"It's a complicated issue and there are no simple answers," Goodell said, adding he planned to meet with coaches and owners to discuss player conduct. "We want to find out what is working well with the clubs and what is not working, get a set of best practices so they can implement them on a local basis."

"We're expecting discipline will be stepped up," he added.

The multi-level plan Goodell intends to put in place will include suspensions for players who run in legal problems (as long as a year) and significant fines for organizations who offer ‘safe harbor’ and employment to NFL players exhibiting deviant behavior that is unacceptable in normal society.

“I don’t like it,” Goodell said at a news conference at the annual N.F.L. meetings. “I think it’s a bad reflection on the N.F.L. It’s not what the N.F.L. represents. I don’t believe it represents our players. It’s a very few number of players. They are tainting the league and tainting the other players. People understand the age group of men we have in our league. I think people understand it, but I probably understand it less than most.”

“To some extent, what we’re looking at is if there are a number of players that have repeat offenses, that will be something that our players and clubs will feel at some point we need to act before the judicial system acts,” Goodell said.

At the center of Roger Goodell’s “perfect storm” of deviant behavior when it comes to NFL players -- Adam "Pacman" Bernard Jones. To Roger Goodell and the National Football League – Pacman behavior off the football field represents a clear and present danger to the future of our football team and to our organization? A simple definition of “deviant behavior” describes exactly what Pacman off field antics are all about – a person would be considered to be acting deviant in society if they are violating what the significant social norm in that particular culture is.

After his junior year at West Virginia, he opted to forego his senior year and declare for the NFL Draft. He was the first defensive player drafted, taken 6th overall by the Tennessee Titans. He then held out in a contract dispute, missing most of training camp.

During his rookie season he had a total of 44 tackles, 10 pass deflections, but no interceptions. He totaled 1,399 return yards and 1 TD.

At the end of his sophomore season in the NFL, Jones totals 62 tackles, 1 forced fumble, 12 deflected passes, 4 interceptions, 130 return yards, 1 interception touchdown, 440 punt return yards and 3 punt return touchdowns. His 12.9 yards per punt return average led the NFL, edging out Chicago's Devin Hester by .1 of a yard. His 26.1 yards per kick return average ranked him 7th in the league. Pacman also caught two passes on offense for 31 yards and rushed twice for 8 yards. His best performance came against the Jacksonville Jaguars in Week 15; Jones had an 83-yard interception returned for a score, a 70-yard kick return, and broke up a touchdown pass to Matt Jones to save the game.

Even with constant off the field incidents, he has emerged as one of the NFL's elite playmakers. He is an explosive kick returner, as well as good cover corner. He, in certain packages, also plays offense.

His success on the field is a striking contrast to what has gone on off the football field, the latest incident taking place last weekend at the NBA All-Star Weekend in Las Vegas. The Tennessean offered this timeline of Jones’ incredible series of run-ins with the legal system:

Strip club incident

Where: Atlanta

When: April 2005

What: Jones' name appeared on the police incident report after a fight broke out in a strip club. The female involved said she had no plans to pursue the case and it was dismissed.

Comments: "Other than being visible at the place, that is the extent of the story," said Michael Huyghue, Jones' agent. "Unfortunately you can never just be in places where anything can happen, and that is a lesson you learn, even if you are completely not involved."

Titans reaction: Team officials said they believed Jones did nothing wrong.

Hotel incident

Where: Nashville

When: June 2005

What: Security officials at Regal Maxwell House Hotel had trouble getting two of Jones' friends to clear their room after checkout time. Police arrived, smelled marijuana and found some on a tabletop. Jones was in the room, but one of his friends took full responsibility for the evidence.

Titans reaction: No comment

Nightclub arrest

Where: Nashville

When: July 2005

What: Jones was arrested on two counts of misdemeanor assault and a felony count of vandalism after a fight at a Nashville nightclub. Charges were dismissed less than a year later.

Titans reaction: "Unfortunately we realize that some young players go through a maturing process to become professionals that includes decision-making, choosing friends, appropriate behavior, etc.," the team said in a statement. "Jones has not finished that maturing process, despite team and league efforts."

Vehicle confiscation

Where: Nashville

When: April 2006

What: Metro Police said a vehicle registered to Jones was involved in a drug trafficking ring. "Pac Man" was embroidered on the leather seats of a 2004 Cadillac XLR which was confiscated from a friend of Jones. Jones later bought the car back at an auction.

Comments: "Clearly there is some connection between Mr. Jones and one of the arrested individuals," Davidson County District Attorney Torry Johnson said. "But I want to emphasize he has not been charged."

Titans reaction: No comment

Shots fired

Where: Nashville

When: April 2006

What: Jones was at the scene where gunshots were fired following an altercation at a Nashville gas station at 1:50 a.m. Police questioned Jones but labeled him only as a witness. The incident occurred just three days after the vehicle confiscation.

Comments: "My name has been falsely dragged into these matters that are completely unrelated to me," Jones said.

Titans reaction: Coach Jeff Fisher met with Jones the next day, but declined to comment.

Nightclub arrest

Where: Murfreesboro

When: August 2006

What: Jones was arrested and charged with public drunkenness and disorderly conduct, both misdemeanors, for an incident at Sweetwater Saloon. With six months of good behavior the charges will be dropped, a judge ruled last month.

Comments: "An innocent bystander," Jones said.

Titans reaction: No comment

Spitting incident

Where: Nashville

When: October 2006

What: Jones was issued a citation for misdemeanor assault after being accused of spitting in the face of a Tennessee State student following a verbal exchange at a downtown nightclub. The charge was dismissed in general sessions court earlier this month.

Comments: "If I'm going to go out, I'm going to have to be at a little private spot,'' Jones said. "Maybe I'll chill out at a jazz bar or something with some older folks."

Titans reaction: No comment

Triple shooting

Where: Las Vegas

When: Monday morning

What: Jones has been questioned by Las Vegas police after he was at the scene of a triple shooting. According to Jones' attorney, the cornerback is not a suspect in the case.

Comments: "(Pacman Jones) told me, 'Man, I am not a suspect and didn't have anything to do with this,' " attorney Worrick Robinson said.

Titans reaction: No comment

Tuesday, what had to be one of the days Pacman would just as soon forget, learnt Roger Goodell wants Pacman at the NFL offices next Tuesday (April 3) and Las Vegas police are recommending prosecutors file a felony charge of coercion and misdemeanor charges of battery and threat against Jones, stemming from a Feb. 19 strip club fight and shooting (the much reported incident that took place in the hours following the NBA All-Star Game that was held in Las Vegas).

While Pacman continues to remain tightlipped about the impending end to his NFL career, Tennessee Titans coach Jeff Fisher issued the following statement Tuesday on behalf of the Titans to the Associated Press: "He's very disappointed with what's happened," Fisher said. "He thinks he let the city, the fans and his teammates and the organization down."

Does anyone really care if Pacman is sorry, and does he deserve another chance at redeeming himself? What happened in Vegas and clearly isn’t about to stay in Vegas was the latest in a series of what is unacceptable behavior in any decent law abiding society from Pacman, his tenth “run-in” with the law.

Pac-Man earned $3.8 million as a member of the Titans in 2005 after being selected with the sixth overall pick by the Titans. According to the NFLPA’s salary database, Jones was paid $842,500 in 2006 and is scheduled to be paid $1.29 million in 2007.

Its important to understand NFL players are paid the bonuses included in their contracts immediately upon signing and are paid whatever additional salaries they or their agents negotiate during the years of the contract. Pac-Man has two more years after the 2007 season remaining in his contract ($1.74 million in 2008 and $2.19 million in 2009). The Titans can cut Jones if they wish (if they cut him before the start of the 2007 they would not be responsible for the remaining three years or the remaining $5.22 million on his contract).

Tuesday The Cincinnati Enquirer reported that Bengals wide receiver Chris Henry is facing 88 days in jail for driving on a suspended license, not wearing a seat belt and not using a turn signal. Henry pleaded guilty Jan. 25 to providing alcohol to minors. He was sentenced to 90 days in jail but he served two days and the rest of the time was probated. However, it was made very clear upon his release that he ran into any legal issues (yes even a traffic ticket) he’d be forced to serve the remaining 88 days of his sentence. Henry was arrested four times between December 2005 and June 2006.

Earlier Tuesday, Bengals coach Marvin Lewis faced a barrage of questions from the media in Phoenix covering the NFL meetings intent not on asking Lewis how he feels about the Bengals chances on the football field in 2007, but how head coach of the NFL team with the single most arrests in 2006 (ten Bengals where arrested during the 2006 NFL season) felt about Roger Goodell’s intention to introduce a player conduct code for the NFL.

"You mean the '06 team?" Lewis said. "It's a perception you don't want to have. It's a reaction to one particular player who had a run of bad acts, selfish acts, and I don't think it's a fair image for the entire thing. But anything that goes wrong, any particular breaking of the law, social law, none of it's good. I think, hopefully, we are all looking at the same thing. I think the only thing that affects this is play time. We have to combine a couple of things (playing time, fines). You have to know coming in that the action is going to be quick and it's going to get you."

Lewis did offer some very insightful comments relating to how the Bengals have handled the players they’ve drafted in recent years, suggesting talent was more important than character to an organization that has defines what losing is both on and off the football field.

“There’s a tendency to buy the bargain and we’re not in a position to do that any more,” Lewis told Bengals.com. “Mike (Brown) has given those guys a second opportunity. His father made a history of that and so that’s what he knows and believes in that guy’s (willingness) to take the initiative to further his career and turn a corner in their life and know it’s a privilege to play in the NFL and they’ll figure it out.”

Lewis knows the Bengals may be taking themselves out of a Dillon or Johnson with what he calls "a new approach,” which appears to be taking character questions off their draft board completely.

“That can be your choice. It’s not a bad choice. There are a lot of good players,” Lewis said of taking a player with baggage. “(But) there are too many other (good) guys. You’re spending too much time trying to change habits instead of coaching the good guys.”

Lewis who clearly has to be upset he’s coaching a group of malcontents understands it’s a double edged sword. With his world seemingly falling apart after the eighth Bengal was arrested during the 2006 NFL season, Lewis made as strong a statement as any NFL official has ever offered about the off-field abnormal behavior he was forced to deal with during the 2006 season.

"It's an embarrassment to our organization, to our city, and to our fans," Bengals coach Mavin Lewis said during a news conference in late November. "These things socially are not right. Hopefully this is a positive so our young people who are fans understand there are certain things in our society that are unacceptable. It doesn't matter what you do for a living or who you are, you've got to follow those rules and laws. I think we should feel good around here that our local law enforcement has taken steps to curtail and get people who drink and drive off the road."

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft took a stand against employing players with criminal records. In the fifth round of the 1996 NFL draft, the Patriots picked Nebraska defensive lineman Christian Peter, who had been arrested eight times (and convicted four times) during college for a variety of offenses, including the assault of a former Miss Nebraska and the rape of another woman. When Peter's past came to light (it was Kraft’s wife who alerted her husband), Kraft cut the player before he was even offered a contract. "We concluded this behavior is incompatible with our organization's standards of acceptable conduct" said Kraft. While he received numerous letters of support from high school and college coaches, he was not praised by the NFL. Peter’s had a seven-year NFL career.

If Robert Kraft’s stand against Peter meant nothing after Peter ‘enjoyed’ the benefits (financial and personal) of being an NFL players, is there any explanation for why NFL owners allow players whose off-field behavior is out of the boundaries of the law?

SportsBusinessNews.com spoke with John F. Murray, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Sport
Performance Psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida. “I think all owners would like to have a totally clean image and completely law abiding players. It only helps their franchise in their own community, helps the image of the NFL which they have an obvious stake in and ultimately helps their team perform better with fewer distractions. The problem is that there is also a great temptation to take a player who might not have the halo over his head if he can bring immediate improvement to the team, and there is competition for these on-field talents. Another problem I believe is that owners could invest more wisely in player evaluations. I have seen some of the evaluations conducted in the NFL, and while they are thorough in many areas, one area that appears to be still lacking is the solid evaluation of mental skills and psychological factors, and this is an area that presents a huge upside in talent evaluation in the future. There are so few legitimate sport psychologists, but they need to be more involved in assessment,” Murray told SBN.

The roots of the aberrant behavior among football players isn’t difficult to understand or how, where and why it begins.

First as Pop Warner stars, than as Kings of their High School football teams, graduating to big men on campus at whichever college they choose to play football at, these young men have lived their lives on a pedestal, with a sense of entitlement that they are better than everyone else, different from everyone else and all to often believe they are above the law. That of course are the wrong lessons to teach young men, but nonetheless that sense of “I’m the best at what I do” remains at the heart of what many believe makes them great football players. It’s a great deal more difficult to become a Warrick Dunn than it is an Adam Pac-Man Jones, and for that society should be ashamed of itself.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Bengals.com and The New York Times.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Fighting in the National Hockey League, it’s good for business

Last week at annual IMG World Congress of Sports held in New York, one of the issues debated was an extensive look at how certain sports are doing currently in the marketplace and how other sports may fair in the future. One so-called major sport was conspicuous by its absence – there was little if any discussion related to the current or future impact the National Hockey League might have on the sports industry. To those who follow sports as a business (with the exception of those based in Canada, where SBN is located) the NHL has become nothing more than a footnote. The last few days serve to further illustrate for every step the NHL takes forward, it ends up taking ten steps backwards. Clearly the National Hockey League remains a train wreck waiting to happen.

It’s always nice to start with the good news and yes there was some good news from the NHL over the past few days. Monday, the league announced special pricing for the NHL’s Center Ice online live streaming of NHL games on the Internet. The NHL took its time before finally launching its live streaming of games on the Internet, moving forward earlier this month. Regardless of how long the NHL took before finally offering their product on the Internet to displaced hockey fans everywhere, the league’s announcement Monday for the remainder of the regular season, plus select games from the Stanley Cup Quarterfinal and Semifinal Rounds (all games subject to local blackout), subscribers in the U.S. and Canada are able to watch up to 40 games per week through Center Ice Online on NHL.com. The one-time fee in the U.S. is now $49 and in Canada it is $43.

Monday, the league also announced a six-year $600 million extension to their over-the-air Canadian television agreement with the Canadian Broadcasting Company.

"Hockey is part of the Canadian fabric and we're proud and pleased to continue what is the longest-standing sports rights partnership in the world; one that dates back to the very beginning of the CBC," said Richard Stursberg, executive vice-president, CBC Television. "This is the beginning of a new and exciting chapter in our partnership. We'll be offering Canadians more hockey, via more platforms, than ever before."

"CBC's Hockey Night in Canada has played an important role in building the passion that Canadians of all ages have for our game," said NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. "The NHL is thrilled to continue our longstanding partnership with this great Canadian institution and build on a tradition that has become a staple for millions of Canadians from the time the first puck is dropped in October through the presentation of the Stanley Cup eight months later."

This is where the good news comes to a complete and stunning stop and the worst possible news, one of the biggest single indecencies in sports broadcasting history likely will continue unabated for the next six to seven years – Don Cherry, the bombastic Hockey Night in Canada personality, a living version of the Simpson’s Crusty the Clown, and his partner Ron MacLean (a great deal like the Simpson’s Sideshow Bob) are set to embarrass and humiliate hockey with their juvenile ‘repertoire’ called Coaches Corner.
Held between the first and second period during Saturday night’s Hockey Night in Canada broadcast, the cartoon characters took a predictable route. This past Saturday, Crusty the Clown and Sideshow Bob reached, for them, a new low in broadcasting history, and that says a great deal about how bad their performance was Saturday night. Click here to watch the video stream evidence of what took place.

As is often the case with Cherry and MacLean, the Laurel and Hardy of sports broadcasting saved their worst for last. As has been well documented in the pages of SportsBusinessNews.com and similar publications both in Canada and in the United States, a debate has raged over the last week relating to whether or not fighting should be permitted in hockey. The catalyst for the debate focused on comments NHL senior vice-president and director of hockey operations Colin Campbell made to the Canadian Press late last week after Todd Fedoruk of the Philadelphia Flyers became the latest player injured in a fight. Fedoruk was knocked out by New York Rangers tough guy Colton Orr and was taken from the ice on a stretcher.

"There are arguments both ways but the bottom line is the question has to be asked," Campbell told the Canadian Press.

"I think it's incumbent on the competition committee and the general managers to ask the question: Where does fighting stand in the game of hockey?" Campbell said.

"I think it's time to ask the question regardless of what's happened this year. Things change. . . . Fighting has been around as long as anything. I think it had a place and a reason for being there and the critics will say the finesse players get run and slashing will go up [without fighting]. I think we have to ask whether there are other aspects that can control that."

"It's one thing to take fighting out but I think you can discuss where it stands in the game," Campbell said. "We've looked at a lot of different aspects in the game. No one thought we'd take out the red line. But anything that causes injuries, we should look at just like we look at touch or no-touch icing every year."

This isn’t the first time, nor will it be the last time fighting and its place in hockey will be debated, but at end of the day if Cherry and MacLean are allowed to offer their arcane views, hockey is really in trouble.

The classic line “I went to a fight and saw a hockey game break out” was an unfair mocking of hockey for many years and has been part of the belief system held by many who don’t understand the game. For two men (Cherry and MacLean) who believe they created hockey or are at least self proclaimed guardians of the game (imagine Pete Rose, Ty Cobb and other so called luminaries protecting baseball) began their full frontal assault on the public decency early in Saturday night’s telecast.

Colin Campbell who had the misfortunate to agree to appear on HNIC’s pregame show was taunted during the 15 minutes of hell MacLean put Campbell through. MacLean refused to let up on his barrage of questions relating to the suggestions Campbell had made earlier in the week about looking at fighting’s place in the NHL. MacLean who’ll never win a Pulitzer or any other award for being a decent journalist didn’t ask Campbell any real questions Saturday night but instead chose to berate Campbell for the comments he made.

But the “piece de resistance” took place towards the end of Cherry’s coaches’ corner tirade Saturday night. In what can only be called what it is, an unacceptable homophobic rebroadcast of something the mind of Archie Bunker, Ralph Kramden or some other individual with similar feelings towards diversity was offered as Cherry’s answer to the debate.

The segment which first aired on April 18, 1991 (its amazing a public broadcaster didn’t realize how stupid it is to have archived what was never amusing and is a sad commentary on diversity in 2007) features Cherry offering a parody of a Southern California resident (circa 1991) complete with a Cherry wearing gaudy clothes, a fedora and an earning in his left ear. Cherry is also wearing “Elton John like sunglasses” and offers his mocking mindless, ridiculous comments in a high-pitched made up voice. There was no excuse to air the idiotic attempt at humor in 1991, but given how far we’ve come as a society it shows a complete lack of maturity on the part of the CBC to offer it a second airing 16 years later. Cherry’s comments not only mock fighting in hockey but takes it to an even lower point when he comments on the bandana then Los Angeles Kings goaltender Kelly Rudy wore at the time.

In 1991 it represented the worst type of journalism; in 2007 preposterous for those responsible for permitting Cherry to air this nonsensical segment. Cherry managed to turn an important debate where he might have had an opinion worth listening to, into a bad hair day for Crusty the Clown.

Over his career on television, Cherry has been described as "racially insensitive and nonsensical" and a "xenophobic clown."

Cherry has a strong dislike of the "European style" of hockey, and has often insulted French Canadian hockey players on his show, blaming them for bringing diving, high-sticking and the introduction of visors into the league, while taking the jobs of "good-old Canadian boys."

On the subject of visors, Cherry is particularly outspoken. In January, 2004, he said on-air: "Most of the guys that wear them are Europeans and French guys." This statement triggered an investigation by the federal Official Languages Commissioner, and protests by French-Canadians. CBC consequently imposed a seven-second delay on Hockey Night in Canada. He was somewhat vindicated when a study was published that showed the majority of visor users in the NHL were indeed French-Canadians and Europeans.

After questionable gestures on the part of Atlanta Thrashers' star winger Ilya Kovalchuk, Cherry fumed: "Someone should have broken it [Kovalchuk's arm], but they didn't."
During the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, working with the CBC moments before the Women’s gold medal game on the last Thursday night of the Games, Cherry weighed in when Russian Olympic officials made noise about withdrawing from the Games because of perceived bias when it came to drug testing. "I've been trying to tell you people for so long about the Russians, what kind of people they are, and you just love them in Canada with your multiculturalism," he suggested. "They're quitters and evidently they take a lot of drugs, too."

In 2003 Cherry made controversial comments on his CBC segment in support of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. On the American radio program The Jim Rome Show the following week, he lashed out at CBC management for being anti-American.

In October, 2004, the CBC program The Greatest Canadian revealed that its 'top ten' viewer-selected great Canadians included Cherry. He joined such greats as John A. Macdonald, Frederick Banting, Terry Fox, Tommy Douglas, and Wayne Gretzky. Cherry himself remarked that he was inclined to vote for Macdonald, who during his lifetime also resided in Kingston. Don Cherry finished seventh in the final tally.

While Don Cherry’s opinions relating to how the NHL conducts its affairs have long become irrelevant, the same can’t be said for NHL commissioner Gary Bettman and his views on the relevance of violence and its place in the NHL.

"My view on fighting hasn't changed," the NHL commissioner offered at the tail end of the Monday’s CBC announcement. "We've never taken active steps or considered eliminating fighting from the game. I've always taken the view that it's a part of the game and it rises and lowers based on what the game dictates."

"The discussion that we've been having is about player safety and injuries," said Bettman. "We've had a number of injuries resulting from fighting recently.

"The question is whether or not that's an aberration or whether or not it's something we need to be concerned about."

Bettman may believe change is inevitable in the evolution of a professional sports league, but taking fighting out of hockey isn’t a direction he sees the NHL heading in.

"I think it's premature for anybody to reach any conclusions," Bettman said. "I think the first (thing) is for us to decide whether or not it's an issue, whether or not there needs to be an adjustment. Because there may not be.

"I think people are running off a little too fast on this topic. I know it's an emotional one for a lot of people and it gets a lot of attention, but to have a discussion about whether or not this is an issue is a long way from saying, `Here are the 10 things we need to do.' "

The NHL remains a gate driven product. A sports league that needs as much revenue as they can possibly generate from ticket sales and the need to have their ticket inventory sold every night. Just compare the NHL’s huge television rights fees agreement announced Monday. When the NHL’s Canadian cable agreement is announced in the coming weeks (five-years $50 million annually), the NHL’s combined annual television revenues will have reached an uninspiring $220 million annually. That’s a total that must be shared by all 30 NHL franchises. That’s just north of $7 million per team each year.

Keeping fighting in hockey, it’s here to stay. There are more right reasons than wrong reasons, but at the end of the day the most important reason – it generates interest, sells tickets and adds to the NHL’s financial well being, and that is the bottom line.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN.com, CBC.ca and The Toronto Star

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Monday, March 26, 2007

The time is now for Roger Goodell to stand up and be counted

As National Football League owners begin a series of important Lord of the Pigskin meetings in Phoenix the most important issue that will be debated among owners will be the implementation of a Code of Conduct for NFL players. Expected to be announced Tuesday, the Code of Conduct will address the deviant behavior a small, but very visible percentage of players that continue to demonstrate away from NFL stadiums. While the problem has always been there for the NFL to deal with, the information age where instant communications reports the transgressions of professional athletes soon after they take place is forcing NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to take charge of what has become an embarrassment to Lords of the Pigskin.

It’s hard to pinpoint if one incident has forced the NFL to deal with the off-field antics of their players, but it’s a pretty safe bet Adam "Pacman" Bernard Jones, Terry "Tank" Johnson and the more than 40 NFL players who were arrested during the 2006 NFL season.

Tuesday’s NFL Code of Conduct announcement is the most anticipated news to emerge from this week’s meetings.

"I think the players were very interested, as was the union, in pursuing a modification to our current policy," said Rich McKay, president/general manager of the Atlanta Falcons and co-chair of the NFL's competition committee in an Arizona Republic report.

"We're all concerned with the things that go on off the field and how the actions of a few may affect the many. . . . What it will be, I really don't know. I'm going to be very interested to hear."

The list of transgressions among NFL players is littered with behavior that would be unacceptable in any workplace. Last week in Las Vegas Joey Porter, the newest member of the Miami Dolphins, punched Bengals offensive tackle Levi Jones after the pair began trash-talking each other at a blackjack table in Las Vegas.

"For everybody's benefit, if we are going to stay America's game, we have to do things right," Steelers owner Dan Rooney told The New York Daily News.

It’s becoming more and more apparent; the good apples have had enough of having to deal with the bad apples in the barrel.

"You would think that 48 out of the 53 guys on the rosters are thugs and menaces to society," Pete Kendall, the Jets player rep, said from the NFLPA meetings last week in Hawaii in a New York Daily News report. "That is definitely not the case. There is certainly an abundance of negative press about our players. But our union is not talking about digging our feet in and being obstinate. There is recognition there is a problem."

"We get paid a lot of money," says Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall, one of the 11 players picked by Vincent to take part in meetings last month with Goodell and league officials on the conduct issue. "To preserve that and to preserve the game for future generations, we have to keep our fan appreciation rate up."

At Super Bowl Goodell was asked if there is anything that the league can do to curtail the off-field incidents that have plagued it this year, especially some teams? And I wonder if the league at any point will hold individual clubs accountable for the misbehavior of some of their players?

“Well, we have to do something about it. I think it's an incredibly important issue. One incident is too many, in my book. I think we need to reevaluate all of our programs. We have a tremendous number of programs that I think have been quite successful to help our players. But I think we've got to do more. We are going to start that process, one, by evaluating our policies; but two, Gene and I are going to put together a group of players we're going to meet with in the next several weeks to give us their perspective on what's really happening and what are the issues, so we can try to learn something first.

“But I think our focus has to be on reevaluating our policies, make sure we educate our players to what's out there. We continually tell our players and our coaches that we are raised to a higher standard in the NFL and we have to exceed that standard. I firmly believe that and I think Gene does, also.

“We have to make sure our players are more accountable, but I think also our clubs have to be more accountable and we will be reevaluating our position to see if there are ways we should make our clubs more accountable in the offseason” Goodell said.

Accountably aside – what about the image of the NFL and the terrible toll being done to the decades the NFL has spent crafting that image. At the end of the day, the damage should be of greatest concern to Goodell and company.

“I see it differently. I don't see it in droves. I think there are very few. But a few is too many in my book. I think when you have the outstanding athletes that we have, and we have two of them here today, that won the Walter Payton Award, Drew Brees and LT (LaDainian Tomlinson). These are two of the finest people I know. Not just football players, but outstanding people.

“We're proud of our players. We recognize that at times some of our players don't do what we would hope they do. When that happens we will be very aggressive in dealing with that and we have stepped up our discipline this year, and I intend to continue to do that.”

Unfortunately in an era of instant media visa-vie the Internet, too much attention is spent on the behavior of Pacman Jones, Tank Johnson and far too many NFL’ers than do the good deeds of men like Drew Brees and LaDainian Tomlinson. Is the media at fault for focusing so much coverage on the off-field behavior of NFL players?

“I don't think the media makes enough of the problems. In a normal job you get fired for severe and embarrassing problems. It should not be any different here. Players need to know the standards long in advance and adhere to them or risk losing what they have worked for all their lives. This helps them too. Too little discipline is rarely the answer,” John F. Murray, Ph.D., Licensed Clinical and Sport Performance Psychologist in Palm Beach, Florida offered SBN.

On December 16, the front page of The Washington Post featured a full length expose on crime and National Football League players. According to the report: at least 35 NFL players have been arrested this year on charges ranging from disorderly conduct to felony burglary. If the league wasn’t concerned about the rampant criminal behavior of their athletes, they certainly made it clear to The Washington Post; NFL officials are not pleased with the actions of some of those getting to play on Sunday’s. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell ‘declined’ an opportunity to address the issues raised by The Washington Post, deferring to his public relations staff.

"Most NFL players are good citizens, and some are outstanding citizens," Greg Aiello, the NFL's vice president of public relations, said via e-mail. "It's a small percentage of the 2,000 players in our league that becomes involved in incidents that do not reflect well on the NFL. We have policies and programs to deal aggressively with those issues, and we will continue to do so. The goal is to eliminate all such negative conduct. That may not be realistic, but that is the goal."

"I do not want the fans to turn us off because of off-field behavior," NFLPA head Gene Upshaw said. "It has happened in other sports, and I would not want that to happen to the NFL."

The biggest problem the National Football League continues to face with NFL players running into problems with the police is with the Cincinnati Bengals. Since the start of the Bengals training camp, no less than eight members of the team (several Bengals were released after their transgressions) were arrested for various alleged infractions.

"It's an embarrassment to our organization, to our city, and to our fans," Bengals coach Mavin Lewis said last week during a news conference. "These things socially are not right. Hopefully this is a positive so our young people who are fans understand there are certain things in our society that are unacceptable. It doesn't matter what you do for a living or who you are, you've got to follow those rules and laws. I think we should feel good around here that our local law enforcement has taken steps to curtail and get people who drink and drive off the road."

"We have development programs and training programs," Houston Texans owner Robert McNair said at an NFL owners' meeting ten days ago in the Dallas area. "But, you see, the thing that's difficult is when a person goes from a position of being broke to being . . . affluent, all of a sudden their life changes. And you don't know how that person is going to change once they go through that process. Some of them handle it very well. Some of them have difficulty with it."

For all the good it has done, according to The Washington Post reported NFL franchises conduct background checks on college players before they consider drafting anyone.

"The players come to us from college sometimes with previous problems or a tendency toward problems," Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson said. "You try to make good decisions on players and their off-the-field habits or problems. All of us, I think, want to try to give anyone a second chance if we feel they're deserving. I think all of us also know that if it is a continuing pattern or whatever, you only get so many chances in the NFL. You've got to move on. If you get to the point where . . . it's a habitual thing or a repetitive thing, then you have to make a decision and say, 'Is this really worth it?' "

The San Diego Chargers another team with strong Super Bowl potential has almost rivaled the Bengals in relationship to members of their team running afoul of the legal system. The Chargers have been involved in everything from an alleged money scheme where the players sent large sums of money to China for steroids, safety Terrence Kiel, arrested by Drug Enforcement Administration agents at the team's practice facility in September on charges of transporting and possessing a controlled substance. And linebacker Steve Foley was shot and wounded by an off-duty police officer in an incident in which Foley was charged with drunken driving.

While Foley is sitting out the season, the Chargers at 11-2 have clinched the AFC’s western division title and likely the road to the Super Bowl in the AFC will go through San Diego. For a franchise trying to create good will to leverage taxpayers to fund the building of a new stadium for the team, the franchises first Super Bowl is what management needs. Just how concerned are Chargers management when it comes to deciding between winning on Sunday and dealing with the off-field antics of their players?

"Absolutely it's a reflection of the players [and a] reflection on the organization," Chargers General Manager A.J. Smith said. "I take it personally. . . . Everybody's talking about what's basically a handful [of players]. But if you've got one or a handful, it's still a problem. It's embarrassing and you've got to deal with it."

Chicago Bears Terry "Tank" Johnson the teams’ starting defensive tackle had a bad week even by NFL standards. Thursday, Johnson was arrested at his Chicago home and charged with misdemeanor weapons charges. It was the third time Johnson had been arrested in the last 18 months.

Hours after his arrest Bears general manager Jerry Angelo reportedly warned Johnson he was down to his final chance with the Bears. Early Friday morning Johnson’s bodyguard William Posey was murdered in a Chicago nightclub. Johnson was present at the shooting. Johnson did not play Sunday in the Bears 34-31 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With the win the Bears moved to 12-2 on the season, and clinched home field advantage through the NFC title game. The road to the Super Bowl goes through Chicago for the NFC spot in Super Bowl XLI.

What next for the Bears and Johnson? Literally hours after being told he was down to his last chance to remain a Chicago Bear would general manager Jerry Angelo follow through on his threat to cut the teams ties with their starting defensive tackle, a key member of the Bears defense? Would the Bears really consider jeopardizing their chances to win a Super Bowl because a player had behaved badly?

"We have talked to Tank," Angelo said Friday according to The Chicago Tribune. "We talk to all of our players … and we spend an inordinate amount of time educating our players on all matters outside of football. It is something we did discuss with Tank."

Angelo acknowledged that "each situation is a little bit different and we look at each situation," but he added, "At some point, a player has to be held accountable for his actions."

Johnson is living a scene from the short-lived ESPN series Playmakers. One episode of Playmakers featured the teams’ star rookie running back involved in a shooting with friends he had well before he was a college or NFL star at a nightclub. The fictional character is asked to decide between telling the truth or standing by his ‘boys from the hood’. The player lies to the police believing the bonds he has with his lifelong friends are more important than telling the truth.

"I would never disassociate myself from a friend, good or bad," Bears cornerback Ricky Manning Jr., told The Chicago Tribune who was involved in an incident last April that resulted in felony assault charges against Manning and some friends he might have thought better of hanging out with.

"I just wouldn't turn my back on a friend regardless. But the difference is, if they are any kind of friend, they know what I can and can't do. I'm not going to go around acting crazy for the most part. But I definitely wouldn't disassociate myself from them."

The NFL once advised Bears wide receiver Curtis Conway according to The Chicago Tribune report to not return to the Los Angeles neighborhood he grew up in, reminding him he didn’t grow up in the best part of town.

"These guys are your friends and you try your best to still be cordial and stay away from what they do, but everybody is looking for something," Conway said. "More than anything, that's the pressure. Because a guy is [saying] like, 'Come on over and watch the game, have a bite to eat.' And you're sitting there knowing he might have something on him, but then that's your boy. You've been in that house a thousand times.

"After [many] years, I've thought of so many excuses they kind of realize where I stand. And then at some point you just have to tell them, 'Man, I can't get caught up in what's going on.' Some of them understand, some of them don't."

The great irony in regard to Playmakers, which remains a defining moment in the evolution of ESPN (both positive and negative), was the decision ESPN made to cancel the series after being pressured by the National Football League.

What exactly should we expect from Goodell and the Lords of the Pigskin Tuesday? Not a great deal, but hopefully a step forward.

"He has many priorities, many top priorities, and that's certainly among them," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in advance of the NFL owners meetings this week in Phoenix. "The policy could be in effect immediately when he decides that he's comfortable with it."

“He's looking to develop an overall comprehensive and more efficient program," Aiello said.

According to a report in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Goodell has the ability to fine or suspend players who are convicted of crimes, including instances where a no-contest plea is made. Once a player is charged with a crime, he is required to undergo a consultation and may be required to take part in further counseling.

By all appearances the NFLPA and the Lords of the Pigskin (NFL owners) seem to understand what needs to be done, but understandably have to work within the legal system. The three strike rule may be how criminals are dealt with in California and other states, but Goodell and the NFLPA will have to work through the current NFL collective bargaining agreement to enact a set of rules whereby Goodell will have the ability to suspend football players directly based on their behavior away from a football field. Tuesday, the NFL will take that important first step forward.
For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Friday, March 09, 2007

MLB and DirecTV get their deal done (finally)


It may have taken a few weeks longer than expected at long last Major League Baseball and DirecTV as expected signed their seven-year (terms to be finalized in the coming weeks) agreement. While the exclusivity of the agreement (what had baseball fans on pins and needles and up in arms in recent weeks) hasn’t been resolved, but clearly at the end of the day MLB’s out of market game package will be available through DirecTV or at MLB.com.

“We are very excited and pleased to announce an extension of our agreement with DIRECTV for the telecasts of all of our out-of-market games for seven years and for coverage of the Baseball Channel beginning with its launch in 2009.

“As I mentioned, there are two basic elements to this agreement. The first is that a subscription product that you're all familiar with for our out-of-market games, DIRECTV is going to provide significant major enhancements to that production and the delivery of those games, including a multi-game channel, including a Strike Zone with features that I'm sure are a work in progress and that Chase will describe, but will provide additional substantial content for all of our fans and the subscribers.

“The second is coverage on a basic tier of the Baseball Channel upon its launch in 2009. We have been talking about this for a number of years and are extraordinarily excited about bringing baseball 24/7 to upwards of 15 million homes, enriching the fans' experience, consistent with our desire to bring baseball content to as many fans as possible,” Major League Baseball Deputy commissioner Bob DuPuy offered at Thursday afternoon’s media announcement.

The good news (if it is in fact good news) InDemand and the Dish Network who both carried Extra Innings last year have an opportunity to negotiate (well there will be little if any actual negotiations) whether they’ll agree to the same terms DirecTV has with MLB for the next seven years.

“The second point that the commissioner alluded to is that there have been some things written about this being an exclusive deal with DIRECTV and that fans might be unable to get the Extra Innings package in some locations because of the non-availability of DIRECTV or for other reasons.

“In response to those concerns of our fans, baseball has negotiated with DIRECTV to offer the package to the incumbents, In Demand and DISH, through the end of this month, till the start of the season on April 1 essentially, at the same rates and carriage requirements. If they sign up at the same rates and carriage requirements, they will get our out-of-market package and they will get the Baseball Channel.” DuPuy added.

Reaction was swift from officials at InDemand, who clearly where not happy with the take it or leave it deal they’re being offered by MLB.

“Major League Baseball has chosen to cut a de facto exclusive deal –- including conditions for carriage that MLB and DirecTV designed to be impossible for cable and DISH to meet -- with one satellite operator, and disenfranchise baseball fans in the 75 million multi-channel households who do not subscribe to DirecTV.

“This decision represents the height of disrespect and disregard for their loyal Baseball fans.

“Thankfully, these fans will continue to have access to hundreds of games per year, including all of their in-market games and many out-of-market games on broadcast and various cable networks.” Robert D. Jacobson, President & CEO, iN DEMAND Networks reacted to Thursday’s announcement.

EchoStar Satellite, which operates DISH Network, did not officially decline the offer according to CNET.com, but didn’t seem very happy one of the requirements that operators have to agree to include is the MLB Channel if they want to offer the package. "Our concern is that an offer for Extra Innings that's tied to the MLB Channel as well will force more sports on people who might not want to pay for it," said Kathie Gonzalez, an EchoStar spokeswoman.

Dish added late Thursday night: "We have been asking Major League Baseball to make the package available a-la-carte so only those who choose to get the games today can continue to do so. We hope they will act in the best interest of consumers and provide that option. DirecTV and MLB, as owners of the package, should not be able to line their pockets at the expense of consumers who don't want and won't watch the content."

DirecTV made it clear, they couldn’t be happier with Thursday’s announcement.

“Sports has been not just a leading force in development of DIRECTV, but in really many ways it's a signature of what DIRECTV has achieved in the marketplace. Clearly you look at what we've done with Extra Innings, Super Fan, Sunday Ticket, Hot Pass, March Madness. We really think we have proven our ability to really invigorate, excite and bring -- continually build upon and deliver exciting features to our customers out there, bringing the best experience in sports to our customers.

“We do look forward to this year, as we really, across the board, continue to build on the Extra Innings package. We'll have more games than we've had in the past in it. We're clearly going to add more features. Many of the features, for those of you who watch the Super Fan package on the NFL, many of the features you see there, interactive features, HD, mosaic channel that shows multiple channels, a Strike Zone channel, really starts to give you a sense -- updated sense of what's going on across the breadth of baseball.

“Fans that would like to have an up-to-date sense of what's going on across the breadth of baseball. We'll obviously continue to develop all of these who really create a great mix, exciting mix, of baseball for our customers.

“We also are really excited about working with baseball to develop the MLB Channel. We think this is really going to be something unique that gives baseball fans and MLB fans a way to really get a unique insight and the excitement of baseball in a way they never have before. That is something we really truly look forward to as we head to 2009 with the launch of that.

“We clearly have to work through March in this agreement, short-term uncertainty, as Bob said. This agreement has a period where it's not clear how these rights end up in terms of exclusive versus non-exclusive rights. We will have to probably create some degree of short-term issues for us as to how we develop the properties around it, but we'll work through that.

“But we were able to reach an agreement, exclusive or non-exclusive, that works for us, and we can go forward and develop this property as something that is a great part of the DIRECTV experience for our customers.” a jubilant Chase Carey, President and CEO of DIRECTV said.

Carey did his best to sidestep a number of issues Thursday, first and foremost relating to the actual talks MLB will in the coming days attempt to initiate with InDemand and the Dish Network.

"We are quite pleased with the commitment DIRECTV has made to MLB and our fans, and in the coming weeks will continue our efforts to secure corresponding commitments from our incumbent distributors," said Tim Brosnan, Executive Vice President/Business, Major League Baseball.

Major League Baseball’s decision has upset baseball fans everywhere. What began in Internet chatrooms filled with baseball fans with too much time on their hands early in the New Year when reports first surfaced in Multichannel News relating to MLB’s imminent move to DirecTV, blossomed two weeks ago when Senator John Kerry, Democrat of Massachusetts (and the Democrat Party’s 2004 Presidential candidate) spoke with The New York Times.

''Here's what bothers me,'' Kerry told The New York Times on February 9. ''You get M.L.B. and DirecTV marshaling their forces to go out and make money while cutting out fans. In my judgment, more fans watching games strengthens baseball.''

He added, ''There's a whole movement toward fans being screwed by consolidation which raises prices and reduces options.''

And if that doesn’t have Bud Selig and company shaking in their boots, Kerry is ready to bring the full weight of his ‘considerable’ political clout to the debate.

''The F.C.C. doesn't have the right to say, 'You can't do this,' but they have levers that affect this business,'' said Kerry, who sits on the Senate Commerce Committee, which oversees communications.

That was then, how did Senator Kerry react to Thursday’s announcement?

"I will review this deal to ensure it benefits consumers. I'm encouraged that Major League Baseball may be willing to provide broader access to their games than what was initially proposed. I will be watching closely to ensure the league works in good faith so that America's pastime is available to all fans. My concern all along has been that fans continue to have the ability to enjoy baseball on television." Kerry offered through his offices Thursday evening.

"Without the benefit of knowing all of the details, it's hard to know if this deal represents a curve ball to consumers or a solid base hit for fans across the country,” said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), chairman of the House Telecommunications and the Internet Subcommittee, in a prepared statement. “I am eager to review the agreement in order to weigh its effect on baseball fans -- particularly displaced citizens of Red Sox Nation -- as well as on competition in the video-programming marketplace.”

The bottom line – last year the MLB Extra Innings package was available to the 75 million homes that had access to either DirecTV, the Dish Network and InDemand. Clearly what took place, DirecTV stood and delivered (offered $100 million a year if the agreement as expected becomes exclusive to DirecTV). All one needs to consider is the following: MLB had an exclusive agreement to air the DirecTV Extra Innings package and then for five years shared that package with DirecTV, the Dish Network and InDemand. It’s easy to appreciate why MLB’s decision to move back to an exclusive DirecTV package. Baseball fans don’t want to be treated like football fans, being forced to purchase a DirecTV system if they still want to enjoy Extra Innings. In Demand reportedly had offered $70 million a year to retain Extra Innings.

What is really interesting, when you take the time to crunch the numbers, MLB fans clearly are making other choices when it comes to viewing out of market games and those options to not include the Extra Innings package.

Kagan Associates estimates that Extra Innings generated 280,000 subscribers across both cable and satellite services in 2005. That pales by comparison to the 600,000 subscribers netted by the National Basketball Association’s “NBA League Pass” package and the nearly 2 million scored by Sunday Ticket during the same time period, according to Kagan.

Further, the package is dwarfed by the 1.3 million subscribers that baseball generated in 2005 for its $79.95 MLB.TV subscription broadband service (the price for the 2005 season), according to New York Magazine. The package includes live games, as well as extensive highlights and classic contests. Sports-programming consultant Lee Berke told Multichannel News in February the emergence of the broadband package could allow MLB to take DirecTV’s exclusive package without alienating cable subscribers.

“[MLB.TV] has become so widely distributed in its own right that it’s become a balancing act — the leagues are looking at various platform and the dollars they get, and trying to figure out whether exclusivity or multiple distributors makes sense,” he said in the Multichannel News report. “My guess is that if DirecTV comes up with enough money, then baseball may say, ‘We’re doing so well with MLB.TV maybe it’s worth it to explore being exclusive with DirecTV.’ ”

“Baseball occupies a somewhat different status with the American public than does any other sport,'” said Neal Pilson, a former president of CBS Sports who runs Pilson Communications in a Bloomberg News report. “The political scene is frankly different for baseball.'”

That isn’t the issue; what’s at the heart of this ‘debate’ the free market system. Capitalism is a pretty simple principal, you make the best deal you can, take a few risks and hope at the end of the day you’ll make a dollar or two.

DirecTV has an exclusive agreement with the National Football League. If InDemand’s President and CEO Robert D. Jacobson is so enraged by MLB’s decision Thursday to move forward with their agreement with DirecTV why hasn’t he expressed the same outrage with the NFL’s DirecTV deal? If anything its DirecTV who should be upset they couldn’t get an exclusive agreement with MLB immediately and they’ll have to wait the remaining 16 business days of the month to move their marketing and sales pitch forward for the 2007 DirecTV Extra Innings package!

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom

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Thursday, March 08, 2007

Leveraging your future (arena/stadium games), playing with a cities affections


In the coming days, as early as today, likely no later than Friday future of the Pittsburgh Penguins is going to play itself out in Pittsburgh. In South Florida, Miami specifically in the coming months, certainly no later than a year from now a similar drama will wrap up involving the Florida Marlins. Similar stadium/arena games are either well underway or on the horizon in New Orleans, San Diego, Seattle and Sacramento. What ownership has clearly missed, the rules of the game have shifted dramatically in the last decade. And why are sports teams owners making the mistakes they are, the years of using other cites as leverage appears to be coming to an end. It’s one thing to suggest you want to move your sports franchise; it’s an entirely different matter when you don’t have a city to move your team too.

After building towards the framework of an agreement to build a new arena for the NHL Pittsburgh Penguins, Penguins owners Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle sent a letter to anyone who was interested (the State of Pennsylvania, the City of Pittsburgh and “others”) saying the Penguins believe they had reached an impasse in their negotiations to replace the 46-year old Melon Arena. Alarm bells went off everywhere, but the Pittsburgh Tribune Review asked their readers if they had had enough of the Penguins and the “games” the Penguins are playing, the demands the team is making. They’ve billed it as “the never-ending story”, when last checked Pittsburgh residents have filled six pages of comments, many suggesting the Penguins should take a hike.

Just where does Mario believe he’s going to be able to take his Penguins and more importantly NHL commissioner Gary Bettman should be very afraid the silence that has been coming from the so-called interested parties who have said they’d be interested in an NHL franchise. Let’s remember this, the Penguins aren’t just any NHL franchise, they’re a team that includes four or five potential franchise players led by Sidney Crosby. You buy the Penguins and you’re bringing an instant Stanley Cup contender to your town. Wednesday Burkle visited Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman. Let’s hope Burkle’s rationale for visiting Sin City had more to do with the show girls (eye candy) Goodman traveled with throughout the recent NBA All-Star Weekend than gauging if they’re any real interest in Las Vegas and a National Hockey League franchise.

The NHL and Las Vegas are a terrible fit. David Stern made it clear the Thomas & Mack Center wasn’t fit for an NBA franchise and would have to be replaced (after NBA betting was removed from the sports books) before an NBA team moved or place an expansion franchise in Sin City. If the Thomas & Mack Center isn’t good enough for the NBA what makes it acceptable to the NHL. The NHL may no longer be considered a Tier I major sports league by many, but the optics of moving an NHL franchise from one bad facility to another bad facility is embarrassing. In fact, by taking the time to visit Las Vegas, Burkle and the Penguins embarrassed themselves and the NHL.

Burkle’s next visit may be to Houston. Les Alexander the owner of the NBA’s Houston Rockets visited NHL commissioner Gary Bettman 21 months ago (May 2005) with the expressed purpose of making clear to the National Hockey League he was very interested in bringing an NHL franchise to America’s fourth biggest market. Alexander told The Houston Chronicle on November 3, 2005 he was ready to move forward with his plans to bring an NHL franchise to Houston’s Toyota Center.

"I am trying to get a team. I am trying," Alexander said. "I went to see the commissioner. I told him about my interest. I can't disclose teams, but I've been talking to people (in the NHL) and to investment bankers.

"I had conversations a month ago with an investment banking firm. I'm looking to buy a team. So people know my interest. You hear from time to time that teams might be for sale, then it changes or something else happens. But my interest is out there."

Alexander is a lot like the balloon you might see flying over the state fair – he’s full of hot air and little else. Since Alexander’s “so-called” visit to see Bettman he hasn’t once discussed any efforts to bring an NHL team to Houston. Houston would be the perfect city for the Penguins to move too, but Alexander’s complete silence relating to his efforts (non efforts are more descriptive) to bring an NHL franchise to Houston should send Burkle a message in no uncertain terms, fine if you want to move your team to Houston but I’m not interested. Lemieux and Burkle are looking to sell the Penguins once they’ve either secured the necessary financing for a new arena or sold the team to new owners in another city.

A report in Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle made it clear not only has Alexander lost whatever interest he once had in an NHL franchise, but reminded the Penguins Alexander is the one who controls the Toyota Center where the new state-of-the-art arena the NBA Houston Rockets call home. It would make no sense whatsoever for the Penguins (or any NHL team) to move to Houston unless Alexander wants to buy the team. He’s the “master of his own domain”, he’s the man in control in Houston and he doesn’t appear interested.

However if you’re playing the “leverage” game that Lemieux and Burkle are, you welcome the kind words Mayor Bill White's chief of staff, Michael Moore and other civic leaders offered Lemieux and Burkle in the pages of Wednesday’s Houston Chronicle.

"We're interested in them if they're interested in taking the next step," Moore said. "We've left it in their court."

Added influential Houston Sports Authority board member Billy Burge: "We'd love to sharpen our pencil and put something together for them if Houston is on their radar screen."

Again they’re shooting blanks – Lemieux and Burkle can talk about Houston, but Houston doesn’t deserve to be taken seriously at this time if ever. If Les Alexander was really interested in bringing an NHL team to Houston, the Penguins represent a once in a lifetime opportunity. Cross him off any list once and forever.

What about Jim Balsillie, the Canadian businessman who signed a letter of agreement to buy the Penguins? Balsillie stepped away from the opportunity on December 15, 2006. Balsillie may still be interested but these days he’s up to his neck in “challenges” with his decision last week to resign as co-CEO of Research In Motion on March 5, 2007. Balsillie is reportedly worth billions; in the near future he’ll be focusing his life on his company (RIM) and ensuring the future of Blackberry, the very popular product RIM produces. Forget about Jim Balsillie and any real chance he’ll buy the Pittsburgh Penguins. Nonetheless Balsillie offers a little more leverage for Lemieux and Burkle, but not a great deal more.

The only real option Lemieux and Burkle has remains William “Boots” Del Biaggio and the Kansas City market.

Del Biaggio made a serious bid to buy the Penguins in 2005. Penguins’ owner Mario Lemieux took the team off the market soon after the franchise drafted Crosby. Del Biaggio, a minority-partner in the San Jose Sharks, has signed an agreement with AEG to own and operate an NHL franchise when one becomes available. AEG have built The Sprint Center, a new arena without a major tenant set to open in time for the start of the 2007-08 season.

The National Hockey League expanded to Kansas City before the start of the 1974-75 season. Two years later the franchise moved to Denver, where the team became the Colorado Rockies. The Rockies moved to New Jersey before the start of the 1982-83 season. The NHL has failed once in Kansas City, where an NBA franchise also failed. With a new arena and Sid the Kid, and if William “Boots” Del Biaggio is ready to write a check for at least $175 million, the Penguins could be on their way to Kansas City.

Before anyone in Kansas City starts to get too excited, the first order of business is for the Penguins to make sure the offer that was made by the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which will manage the new Kansas City, for the $276 million Sprint Center that’s scheduled to open in October still stands. The framework of that agreement suggested the Penguins would play rent-free in the new building and would share in all arena revenues with no up-front costs.

Burkle according to a report in The Pittsburgh Tribune Review Wednesday evening were traveling to Los Angeles to meet with Tim Leiweke the President of the Anschutz Entertainment Group, the owners of the Los Angeles Kings and the management company for Kansas City’s Sprint Center. What’s strange, why hasn’t “Boots” said anything (has he caught the same bug Les Alexander has when it comes to the NHL)? It would be prudent for “Boots” to at least suggest he’s still interested in Penguins. That said, the Sprint Center opens in October and needs a tenant. If the deal Leiweke offered to Lemieux and Burkle on January 4 still stands, well they may have to own the team but at least they’ll have a new building to play in.

In South Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria continues to play his version of build it or I’ll leave. Let’s be very clear about one issue, Major League Baseball does not have a long-term future playing in Dolphins Stadium. MLB should have never expanded to South Florida without a plan in place to build a baseball stadium. If it costs more than $300 million to build an arena, it will costs more than $550 million to build a new baseball stadium in the Miami area.

If Mario’s options where he might be able to move the Penguins to (or offer as leverage) Loria’s options regarding the Marlins are even more limited. In 2006 Loria dispatched Marlins president David Samson (his son-in-law) to San Antonio, Las Vegas, Portland and Charlotte in hopes of finding a city ready to build and then give him the keys to a new $250 million taxpayer built baseball stadium. The only seriously interested city has been Las Vegas and Major League Baseball made it clear several months ago they have no intention of allowing Loria to move the Marlins to Sin City. Loria who wants to keep the team (unlike Lemieux and Burkle who intend to sell the Penguins) has nowhere he can move his team to.

They’re getting close to the short straws in Miami. Several suggested stadiums concepts have come and gone and the latest appears set to die as well. Earlier this week the University of Miami Hurricanes football program suggested they would consider moving their home games from the Orange Bowl to Dolphins Stadium. The ‘Canes are the Orange Bowl’s last major tenant. If the Canes leave the Orange Bowl the City of Miami will have to decide what to do with one of football’s more cherished but aging facilities.

The Orange Bowl in located in Miami’s “Little Havana” will be added to the list of potential Marlins stadium sites in the coming days. The Marlins looked at building a baseball stadium in the area around the Orange Bowl in 2004 and 2005 but gave up those plans when the costs of purchasing the needed land around the Orange Bowl as factored into the cost of building the stadium.

"Let's hope and pray the Hurricanes do move to Dolphin Stadium and put the Marlins at the Orange Bowl," County Commissioner Joe Martinez told The South Florida Sun Sentinel.

The City of Miami has in place a $170 million plan to renovate the Orange Bowl. Thus far the city has raised $84 million, including $50 million from the 2004 sale of the Miami Arena. The projected cost to build the Marlins stadium has been pegged at $490 million. The good news, if the Canes move to Dolphins Stadium the Marlins will have the land they need to build their stadium and potentially a fair percentage of the needed financing in place. The bad news, while $84 million may be a step in the right direction to a sports team owner it’s nothing more than a step forward.

But if you’re looking at whether or not the Penguins and Marlins are going to move, where exactly will they be able to move too? In the last five years, maybe even the last decade the stadium/arena game has changed ‘somewhat’. If a professional sports franchise wanted to build a new arena or stadium before the turn of the century professional sports teams held cities and taxpayers hostage demanding taxpayers build sports facilities or they would move their team to a city that would meet their needs. Walter O’Malley used that logic to move the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles, the infamous Midnight Mayflower move of the Colts from Baltimore to Cleveland, and Art Modell ripping the heart of Cleveland when he moved the original Browns to Baltimore.

Between 1958 and 1997 (the year the Dodgers and Giants left New York for California) 35 sports franchises (Major League Baseball, National Football League, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League) moved at least once. In the last ten years three teams have moved. Sports have grown into a half trillion dollar industry but by all appearances teams are not moving much if at all anymore. And the reason -- the rules of how the stadium/arena game is played have dramatically changed. That’s not to suggest owners aren’t trying to keep the rules in their favor, just that taxpayers have had enough.

The days of holding a city hostage of being able to leverage the ‘reported’ interest of another city wanting to steal a team by offering what a teams current home won’t offer just doesn’t exist anymore. When Mario Lemieux sits down later today to meet with Pittsburgh civic leaders he had better consider what his real options are. Lemieux and Burkle can suggest they’ll ‘aggressively’ pursue their options, but those options are limited at best, and for Jeffrey Loria they don’t exist. It’s fine to play ‘blind man’s bluff; but you had better understand the guys you’re playing the game with know you’re bluffing. And you had better be careful you don’t alienate your most important stakeholders – the ticket buying public, your fans.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Pittsburgh Tribune Review and The Houston Chronicle

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