Friday, June 29, 2007

World Wrestling Entertainment – the Chris Benoit communications breakdown

The fabric of sports entertainment, a multi-billion dollar industry, imploded earlier this week with the terrible news concerning the complete psychotic breakdown of WWE wrestler Chris Benoit suffered over the weekend. By the time Benoit’s killing spree had ended, Benoit had murdered his wife and his son before killing himself. Almost from the time the news broke late Monday afternoon WWE has failed at effectively communicating the tragic news and in getting their message to their fans and to the media.

After Benoit didn’t appear at two WWE events in Texas Saturday and then a pay-per-view on Sunday, the WWE contacted officials in Fayetteville, Georgia after Benoit missed the pay-per-view, this according to the timeline provided by the WWE.

World Wrestling Entertainment today released additional details of what it knows concerning communication with Chris Benoit and authorities before and after the tragic double homicide-suicide involving Benoit, his wife Nancy, and his son, Daniel.

WWE’s timeline of events began on Saturday:

On Saturday, June 23, Chris Benoit was slated to appear at a WWE live event in Beaumont, Texas. That afternoon, Benoit contacted WWE to inform them that his wife and child were ill, and that he would not be able to attend the show.

WWE executives rebooked Benoit’s flight for the following morning, allowing Benoit to miss the Beaumont event and making alternate arrangements for him to attend the pay-per-view event in Houston on Sunday.

WWE employees attempted to confirm with Benoit his travel plans but were unable to contact him.

Early Sunday morning, between 3:51 and 3:58 a.m., Benoit sent five text messages to co-workers:

Text Message 1 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:53am) - Chris Benoit’s cell phone

“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane, Fayetteville Georgia. 30215”

Text Message 2 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:53am) - Chris Benoit’s cell phone

“The dogs are in the enclosed pool area. Garage side door is open”

Text Message 3 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:54am) - Nancy Benoit’s cell phone

“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215”

Text Message 4 to two co-workers (sent 6/24 at 3:55am) - Nancy Benoit’s cell phone

“My physical address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215"

Text Message 5 to one co-worker (sent 6/24 at 3:58am) - Nancy Benoit’s cell phone

“My address is 130 Green Meadow Lane. Fayetteville Georgia. 30215”

Throughout the day on Sunday, WWE made numerous attempts to contact Benoit both at home and at local hospitals in the Atlanta area. As of 11:00 p.m., WWE officials were unable to establish contact with Chris Benoit.

At 12:30 p.m. on Monday, June 25, WWE officials were notified of the text messages sent to the co-workers the previous day. By 12:45 p.m., WWE had contacted Fayetteville County Sheriff’s office requesting they check on the Benoit family.

Fayetteville County Sheriffs office made contact with WWE at approximately 4:00 p.m. advising that they had entered the house of Chris Benoit and found three deceased bodies – an adult male, adult female and a male child. WWE was told that Benoit’s home was now considered a major crime scene.

The decision to cancel the live event scheduled in Corpus Christi that night was made between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m. In keeping with company policy, and with limited knowledge regarding facts of the case, WWE choose to air a memorial dedicated to the career of Chris Benoit. As facts emerged surrounding the case, all tributes to Chris Benoit were removed both on-air and on WWE.com.

WWE was stunned and saddened by the details released today by local authorities and is continuing to monitor the ongoing investigation.

In the first of many curious public relations decisions the WWE has made in the past few days the WWE did offer an expanded more complete timeline, however that has since be removed from all WWE sites.

After being informed by the Fayetteville County Sheriffs “that Benoit’s home was now considered a major crime scene” the WWE immediately cancelled that night’s scheduled event and to quote the WWE, “In keeping with company policy, and with limited knowledge regarding facts of the case, WWE choose to air a memorial dedicated to the career of Chris Benoit” The facts such as they were to the WWE late Monday afternoon, the company had a three-hour live event scheduled on the USA Network a few hours later. The same three-hour program was set to air on Canada’s Score Network on a tape delay basis.

Given the news that unfolded over the next six to seven hours airing a tribute show to a man who had murdered his wife, his son and then killed himself was a mistake and the WWE at least in part recognized that error in judgment by removing anything associated with the tribute. The contractual agreement the Canadian sports network The Score has with the WWE allows The Score to re-air RAW early Tuesday morning and Tuesday afternoon. By midnight Monday with major media (The Atlanta Journal Constitution, the Associated Press to name only two) reporting that the police believed it was a murder/suicide The Score for reasons known only to Score officials repeated the tribute show they had just aired. The repeat aired after the news had broken. Thankfully officials at The Score decided to not air their scheduled Tuesday afternoon airing of Monday’s RAW broadcast. Unfortunately officials at The Score were inundated with e-mails from angry WWE fans who were upset the network didn’t repeat the Benoit Tribute Wednesday afternoon. That broadcast would have followed the press conference aired nationally on cable news networks in both the United States and in Canada where Fayetteville police officials released the horrific news.

The WWE reacted very quickly on their website after the news broke. The WWE’s focus of concern was on “the sensationalistic reporting and speculation being undertaken by some members of the media following the press conference held by the Fayette County Sheriff’s Department and the District Attorney. During the press conference, the investigating authorities made the following points, all of which run contrary to the media speculation that "roid rage" was a factor in the senseless murders and suicide:

The authorities stated that all drugs found in the house were believed to be legal prescriptions.
Steroids were not, and could not, be related to the cause of death (asphyxiation). Authorities had no factual basis to speculate as to Benoit’s state of mind, and rightly did not do so.

Toxicology tests have not even been completed, so there is no current evidence that Benoit even had steroids or any other substance in his body. In that regard, on the last test done on Benoit by WWE's independently administered drug testing program, done on April 10, 2007, Benoit tested negative.

The physical findings announced by authorities indicate deliberation, not rage. The wife's feet and hands were bound and she was asphyxiated, not beaten to death. By the account of the authorities, there were substantial periods of time between the death of the wife and the death of the son, again suggesting deliberate thought, not rage. The presence of a Bible by each is also not an act of rage.

WWE strongly suggests that it is entirely wrong for speculators to suggest that steroids had anything to do with these senseless acts, especially when the authorities plainly stated there is no evidence that Benoit had steroids in his body, pending the toxicological reports, and that they had no evidence at this time as to the motive for these acts.”

It’s how you craft a tale that often impacts how you’ll be remembered. Regardless of whether or not Benoit had recently used performance-enhancement drugs and the impact they have on the human body (that’s not the basis for this Insider Report), to try and steer the media away from suggestions wasn’t “sensationalistic reporting and speculation” but instead “suggested deliberate thought, not rage” suggests whomever manages that company doesn’t fully understand the ticking bomb that exploded in Chris Benoit’s mind late last week.

Thursday morning a distraught looking Vince McMahon appeared on NBC’s Today Show, doing the best he could to stem the growing storm enveloping his billion dollar business.

“This is a horrific tragedy,” he said. “It happened in pro wrestling. There’s a rush to judgment. There’s almost a hysteria around us.”

And at the least, McMahon admitted the obvious Thursday morning on The Today Show:

“Steroids may or may not have had anything to do with this,” McMahon told TODAY co-host Meredith Vieira. “It’s all speculation until the toxicology reports come back.”

McMahon said that Benoit was known to the organization as “a mild-mannered individual,” adding, “there was no way of telling this man was a monster.”

“Everybody in this organization, to my knowledge, is well-adjusted family people,” McMahon said. “They go to work like everybody else. They’re performers. We put smiles on faces. That’s our job description, not to be tainted and smeared by this.”

Those are all fair points but at the same time the engineer of the billion-dollar WWE, the man who leads the company that “puts smiles on faces” has to appreciate any company would be held accountable if they employed someone who McMahon referred to as a “madman” Thursday morning on national TV.

And here’s what went wrong Thursday morning for Mr. McMahon and his billion dollar company. For a business leader at times so consumed by his image and the perception of his business, McMahon looked tired, upset and haggard Thursday. In complete fairness and understanding how else would anyone appear if their in the middle of the greatest siege in their company’s history but the optics of how terrible McMahon looked made an already bad situation that much worse. Non verbal communications is often more important than the words professionals use – and if a picture speaks a thousands words the McMahon look Thursday morning didn’t help the crisis his company is experiencing.

When you’re in the entertainment business and one of your employees does something (and it isn’t directly connected to that business) there is still a price to pay. What happened to Tom Cruise in the aftermath of his series of media explosions surrounding Cruise’s views on Sciencetology? Last August Paramount Studios ended their long association with Cruise and his production partner Paula Wagner. Cruise and Wagner reportedly walked away from their 14-year deal with Paramount that had garnered as much as $10 million per year for salaries, expenses and discretionary spending after Paramount offered the duo less than $2 million a year. And will anyone in the movie industry ever treat Mel Gibson the same way after Gibson’s racist anti-Semitic tirade aired everywhere.

The WWE has maximized the benefits of the communications age, the internet and instant communications – and now they’re about to be pay the price. Of course McMahon and WWE officials didn’t know how deeply dark a person Chris Benoit was, but the fallout is going to cost the WWE millions of dollars and a great deal more in the coming months and years.

Los Angeles based entertainment company’s David Davis believes there could be both potentially short and long term damage to the WWE’s image and brand name.

“When the company learned of Benoit’s death, it made the decision to turn the three-hour live special on Mr. McMahon into a tribute to Chris Benoit, in which the real Vince McMahon appeared at the top of each hour, starting at 6:00 pm Eastern time, to clarify the difference between the fictional death of his character and the real-life death of Benoit and his family. However, by the end of the program last night, the news media was already reporting that police officials’ suspected that Benoit had killed his own family and committed suicide. Effectively, the WWE and the USA Network had just run a three-hour tribute to an apparent murderer.

“I expect that after this, the WWE will have a difficult time going forward in terms of its ability to generate revenue (especially advertising revenue) for at least the short term. The company had already been hurting in its core sports entertainment pay-per-view business due to the fast emergence of Ultimate Fighting Championship.

“Over the past twenty years, the WWE has grown from a private, regional company periodically flirting with insolvency into a $1.15 billion global, public company. Today, on an up day in the stock market, the company has lost approximately $15 million of its market cap as of this writing. However, if these events result in significant advertisers moving away from the brand and consumers moving away from buying pay-per-view programming, it is possible that the WWE could be the latest company to see a substantial effect to its long-term value from real-life events out of its control.”

If professional wrestling ever wondered what it would be like to be talked about in the pages of Forbes Magazine the WWE has to question if they ever again want to be mentioned in the pages of one of America’s leading business publications. In a feature published Wednesday “McMahon Wrestles With Charges Of Bad Taste” the magazine’s Ruthie Ackerman alluded to many of the communications challenges the WWE is facing and will be forced to deal with in the coming days, weeks and months.

What next for the WWE, what should Vince McMahon do in terms of effectively communicating what his companies values are? The rules that exist for every company are different and in particular the WWE plays by a difficult set of rules on the best of days.

Take a gigantic step back. Close the WWE for at least two weeks (if not a month) cancel all events. Give your employees (who the WWE likes to refer to as athletes) time off to spend time with their families, make sure they heal properly.

Reach out to victims of domestic violence – use the power of your business and your brand to help get a message to battered women you have choices. As has been well reported there were serious issues in Benoit’s marriage including reports of a restraining order taken out by the late Nancy Benoit against her husband – make strides to help that community.

When the WWE does return (and there is no indication whatsoever the WWE has given any consideration to taking a break) bring back story lines (always how professional wrestling is sold in a kinder, gentler manner) for at least a few months. Better to focus on the positive than the outlandish stories the WWE has become infamous for.

The WWE wisely decided to remove Chris Benoit from their website (the edited press releases are still on the company’s corporate website). Given the profile the WWE is receiving (and therefore the traffic wwe.com is generating) Candice Michelle, Kelly Kelly and Michelle McCool doing a dog and pony show on the WWE’s website early Thursday evening was inappropriate. The women were wearing bras and panties. Save the T&A for another day and time.

In his interview with the Today Show McMahon referred to his company’s wellness program. The WWE places the contents of its wellness program on its website. The two basic principals of the wellness program: 1) an aggressive substance abuse and drug testing policy; and 2) a cardiovascular testing and monitoring program. The toll of being a professional wrestler can be terrible on someone’s body. And the travel and time commitments make it next to impossible to help raise and take care of a family. The WWE would be well advised to consider adding mental wellbeing to its wellness program. We’ll never know if the demons that drove Chris Benoit to one of the most despicable acts a human being can do could have been prevented if someone had checked his mental wellbeing.

The image of professional wrestling changed forever in a matter of a day or two last week, and none of it for the better. From reports that Benoit’s Wikipedia site was edited to reflect his wife Nancy’s death a full 12 hours before anyone knew what had taken place, to suggestions a clearly deranged Chris Benoit had allegedly used a wrestling choke hold to end his seven-year olds life, the future of professional wrestling is clearly at the edge of a cliff. What happens over the next few months will determine if a billion dollar business is going to survive and what message WWE officials send out will be a key to their viability.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: WWE.com, Forbes.com and MSNBC.com

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Howard Bloom's June 29, 2007 "The Truth: if you can STAND IT!" segment with Assistant SBN Publisher Jason Ilacqua

Howard has the ability to tell "The Truth" like never before, providing listeners with Insider information and up to the minute breaking sports business news.

If you haven't heard it or read about it on SBN, then it hasn't happened yet.

SBN Publisher Howard Bloom talks about 2007 NBA Draft and the marketability of the Portland Trail Blazers first overall pick Greg Oden, Jim Balsillie's deal to purchase the Nashville Predators falling apart, the message sent to the NHL by the people in Hamilton who purchased season tickets, and how the WWE has handled the communications aspect of the Chris Benoit tragedy.

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Thursday, June 28, 2007

Howard Bloom's June 28, 2007 "The Truth: if you can STAND IT!" segment with Assistant SBN Publisher Jason Ilacqua

Howard has the ability to tell "The Truth" like never before, providing listeners with Insider information and up to the minute breaking sports business news.

If you haven't heard it or read about it on SBN, then it hasn't happened yet.

SBN Publisher Howard Bloom talks about the NBA's new TV deal and what it means, Donald Fehr attending the NHLPA meetings, and minor league baseball promotions.

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(left click to listen or right click link above and save to download)

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David Stern works his magic once again – inside the NBA gigantic TV deal

With the final piece of the National Basketball Association season to be put in place tonight with the league’s annual player draft, NBA Commissioner David Stern as he has done since he became NBA commissioner in 1984 delivered a new rights agreements again raising the revenues of the NBA. The key to the agreements which signify a significant increase in revenues for the NBA – Stern selling both ESPN/ABC and Turner on the big picture, where the industry is going and how the NBA and their media partners are going to a part of that move forward.

According to Mediaweek: the NBA has agreed to a new eight-year, $7.4 billion television rights agreement with ESPN/ABC and Turner Broadcasting System, with the amount of television coverage consistent with the current agreement, but giving all the TV rightsholders new, expansive digital rights.

Sources familiar with the negotiations told Mediaweek the NBA will receive a total of $930 million annually, up from the $766 million it currently receives. In the current deal, which expires after the upcoming 2007-08 season, ESPN/ABC pays $400 million annually, while Turner pays $366 million. The new agreement represents an increase of more than 20 percent – dramatic given the state of the television industry.

The $930 million total also includes a fee from NBA TV, the network owned by the league and in which Turner owns a small portion.

Under the terms of the new deal, according to Mediaweek ESPN gains the rights to air NBA content across 17 platforms and also covers all new media platforms that ESPN creates or enters into partnerships with through 2016.

That includes distributing content on ESPN MobileTV, ESPNU, ESPN podcasts, ESPN Radio, ESPN.com, ESPN360, ESPN International, and ESPN Deportes, in addition to ABC, ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic, and the networks’ respective high definition channels.

ESPN will have the rights to stream not only highlights and shoulder NBA programming, but also NBA games on a live, delayed and on-demand basis across all of its platforms. The ESPN agreement falls into line with similar recent sports properties rights agreements ESPN has signed. What has become a hallmark of ESPN content agreements they give ESPN the right to use that content on all of their various media platforms.

Turner/TNT according to Mediaweek gets the rights to deliver NBA content across multiple Turner and Time Warner platforms, including NBA games on a live, delayed and on-demand basis. Turner also gets exclusive broadband and other content, including highlights and studio shows for distribution on its digital platforms.

“We have an extraordinary partnership with both companies. At the end of these deals, we'll have been in business with them for an extraordinarily long period of time. We have very much profited in the growth of our game and the quality of our telecast during this last deal that we're concluding next year, and we expect enormous growth in the future nine years that are now covered by these deals.

“The broadcasting landscape in terms of these will look very much the same with respect to what appears on the networks and our scheduling, and our releases will deal with that. And the contracts that we have entered into provide for an additional robust grant of digital rights to enhance the experience of our fans in ways that ESPN, ABC and TNT have done to some small degree with our properties, but will do to a much greater degree and to which they bring enormous experience based on their expansion and utilization of technology for other properties.

“So we see this as an extraordinary affirmation of the value of our programming, the state of our game, so that the most important experienced and growing and digitally adept media companies in the world have expressed this degree of confidence in our players and in our game.” Stern commented.

And as they made clear – both Turner and ESPN couldn’t be happier they’ve secured long-term agreements with the NBA.

“It's been a priority of our company to extend and expand our partnership with the league and required the dedication and teamwork of a number of my colleagues at Turner who helped make this deal possible. And while I can't thank everyone, I'd like to acknowledge Phil Kent, the chairman and CEO of Turner Broadcasting; Mark Lazarus, the president of Turner Entertainment and Jim McCaffrey, the executive vice president of operations and strategy for all of their support.

“We also look forward to once again collaborating with our ABC, ESPN, our partners to help further promote the NBA.

“This is truly a landmark television interactive and marketing partnership which extends Turner's successful 23-year affiliation with the NBA for next nine years and hopefully the Commissioner and I will both be around to negotiate this next deal.

“From our exclusive Thursday night regular season doubleheader to All-Star Weekend to our postseason coverage, the NBA continues to be one of the foundations for Turner Sports and for TNT. This long-term partnership exemplifies our commitment to the quality of sports programming that matters to our audience, advertisers and cable operators. This partnership goes to the strength of our company as we partner with the NBA to deliver programming and content on a variety of branded platforms. The desire for sports content has not changed over the years but how fans consume it has. Now more than ever, viewers have sports content and information at their fingertips due to the growth of digital platforms, such as wireless and broadband.

“Over the last few years the media landscape has evolved, and the real opportunity for media companies is how to reach and surround consumers across many touch points in every day life. The way sports has changed the television business, all these digital platforms will have significant impact on the sport marketplace and why this agreement will have even greater significance as we move forward.

“Above all, I think this endeavor speaks volumes about what we have accomplished together and about the trust and respect that exist between Turner and the NBA.” Turner President David Levy announced.

“This deal is a major step forward in our burgeoning relationship with the NBA. We've worked together with the NBA and their staff. Really, our interests are aligned if you think about it. We are interested in serving fans; great NBA product globally as is the NBA and our growing international businesses led by Russell Wolff are going to be primary beneficiaries of this deal, as well as this deal embracing our digital future which we'll go into together with the NBA.

“It's really a very extensive package that we have negotiated here. It's really setting a -- it's really a prototype deal for sports media deals going forward, and I'm proud that we were able to achieve that in partnership with the NBA.

“It fuels over 17 ESPN platforms which is detailed in our press release and really understates it because it counts ESPN International as one, and anyone who knows our business know that is our growing business throughout the world is certainly not one entity; 17 is a bit of an understatement.

“I'm of course pleased with the eight-year commitment. We are in this for the long term with the NBA. Sports is cyclical; they go up and down; you get short series; you get long series, this and that. But it's an incredibly consistent property for us, and to make an eight-year commitment between the two of these is significant and speaks to the comfort we both have with each other. It's an extraordinarily strong performer and I know it's going to enhance ABC, ESPN and all of the ESPN International businesses, as well.” ESPN President George Bodenheimer offered.

The NBA’s $930 million annual TV rights agreements (remember that’s national cable and over-the-air rights, teams still own their own local cable and over-the-air TV rights) represents an increase of more than 20 percent annually over the previous agreement. With the media focusing so much attention on the poor ratings the NBA playoffs generated – were the NBA falling ratings stories much to do about nothing?

“I think that there is a new dashboard that is going to be used to examine viewing, and we use it now ourselves with respect to some of the aforementioned rights that I talked about.

“You know, there's currently no place to put the 30 million streams of NBA -- of NBA highlights, and that's just on NBA.com. That doesn't include NBA 360 or ESPN “Overtime or ESPN.com and everything else. Let me say that we are seeing a spreading of our engagement across a broader view.

”That said, we also understand that increasingly it's going to be compared to what when you look at broadcast viewing; even in our historical context, they were a little bit low but they were the second and third most-viewed programs of the week, and actually, for three hours plus. So that's rather extraordinary. And then though we had a Finals sweep, each of those four games was very, very successful up against the competition.
So I think that we and our broadcast partners and our cable partners here think that there is ratings growth still in the NBA while at the same time, there will be robust growth in the digital assets; and that eventually there will be an erosion that in one -- but ultimately if we remain on our toes, an expansion of interest when viewed against all other lines.” Stern said.

“Let me weigh in. The question was specifically about The Finals. In the course of our overall digital, 27 of the 28 Finals' games have won the night for ABC and 22 of 28 games have won the overall night for ABC. So we are quite pleased.
“David is quite right. It has to be put in the context of overall ratings and other programming. We do believe there's upside in the ratings and it's been a tremendous and consistent performer for us.” John Skipper, executive vice president of content said.

“For our purposes, since the last year of our prior contract, our regular season ratings have grown 17 percent in households and playoffs have grown 19 percent over the life of that contract.

“And as David articulated, it's going to be -- this is a long, nine-year deal, and when you start aggregating all of the NBA viewers and the consumer, you're going to see far more people enjoying this sport within the TNT brand not just on a linear channel, but all of the digital aspects. That's how we are looking at this, as the aggregation of the eyeballs, people, viewers and consumers. We do see growth in this property.” Turner Entertainment’s David Levy related.

More importantly when it comes to ratings, what the numbers really mean to the NBA and its media partners, the theme(s) of a new TV landscape was echoed throughout the media conference.

“So non-Nielsen, we have -- I go down to the basement to check our servers. And we get these extraordinary counts that demonstrate that in the month of April, 30 million fans streamed NBA highlights; that on ESPN.com, some additional millions of fans were tuning in; that on Airplay (ph) and Amp in a wireless way, fans are engaged with us. We have fans on video games but actually and growing will be online and not just on cartridge and ultimately on their handheld devices so that -- and I haven't exhausted the list.

“We've gone in sort of a beta test for our own purposes the dashboard we talk about to begin to collect the data about the way fans view us. And in an interesting kind of a way, I think that ESPN with its multiple platforms and TNT with its NASCAR, PGA, PGA of America, CNN Pipeline have more experience than we do in sort of how they harvest those viewers, and that's why working with us, they were so intent on making sure that they could reach all of those viewers and fans across the array of platforms that don't currently get particularly well measured or incorporated.” Stern offered.

“Let me pile on with a couple of statistics. Throughout the playoffs we averaged over a million unique visitors to ESPN.com per day to get NBA playoff content. We had 700,000 wireless visitors a day to get NBA content. We had 32 million video starts of NBA highlights on ESPN.com.” ESPN’s Skipper said.

One interesting question from the assembled media and via teleconference, does David Stern believe the NBA remains the trend setters when it comes to establishing new multi-media rights agreements?

“Actually this deal was crafted as a tripartite vision of Turner, ESPN, and the NBA, which was really dictated by the moving opportunities that were presented to us collectively. In fact, what we have learned more from what our partners have begun to do in the quote digital space, than we could possibly learn by just doing it ourselves; and we in turn add our store of knowledge to what we are doing to their store of knowledge and collectively we came up with this deal. So this is not an NBA vision; this is a TimeWarner, Walt Disney, NBA vision of how future rights deals will be done.

“But I do believe that we could sit down with our partners because all of our rights are housed centrally, and they know what to ask for, and who to ask. And given our relationships, we know when we should say no but when we should say yes and we heard a lot of yeses here.”

One issue both ESPN and Turner made crystal clear – the melding together of digital and broadcast rights was a key to the agreements and one would assume the dramatic increase in fees of more than 20 percent.

“I would, one compliment the league on their flexibility of thinking on this. In our last deal we have launched seven now platforms, and every case the NBA has been willing to work with us to get content on those platforms. What we have acknowledged in this deal is that we will probably launch five or ten new platforms during the course of this deal and we are going to work together on those platforms. That's acknowledged in the deal going forward.” ESPN’s John Skipper said.

“They are much more complex in the sense that there is a lot of things to discuss as far as rights, timing, when to get on, when to get off, VOD, broadband, wireless. The complexity of these deals when it used to be talking about the linear only has expanded the conversations dramatically and obviously kept our lawyers working to the hours that they have to work.

“But I will tell you, again, complimenting David, he realized it's an important part of all new sports rights. So while timing would have been longer and more integrated, it was necessary to get the deals done.” Turner’s Levy offered.

Given that so much focus was put on digital rights, how does Commissioner Stern and the NBA’s media partners see as far as advertising dollars?

“I think that there is a currently monetized way with respect to the cable and over-the-air. There's a little monetized viewing and it's pretty well established from the up-front to the spot, etc.

“But with respect to these new areas, you know, yes there's online video, there's banner advertising, there are pop-ups, there are product integration. We are just beginning this long journey into the monetization into the digital space so that we are -- so that we are not involved other than being supportive and working together, we don't collect the checks that our partners sell, get, with respect to advertising and other engagements, and that's going to be the same way with respect to the digital space as well.

“We just want them to make a lot of money so that these deals become every green.” said Stern.

“I would say that the advertisers are demanding it in the sense that multi-platform marketing campaigns are something that the advertiser is looking for. They want to be attached and involved with our talent from the linear side to the digital side to the wireless side so they can extend their messaging with our brand.

“And so it's all part of the process. Again, I said sort of laughingly, if you will, or jokingly that it's only '07. Think about this and how long this deal is and what happens in '10, '11, '12, '13 of 2000 and think about what this is all going to mean for our advertisers as well as media partner.” Turner’s Levy said.

“David is exactly right. I mentioned before, we had 32 million video starts on ESPN.com. They were sold out relative to advertising and our VPN on video starts, which is quite consistent with broadcast, so this is a growing business for us.” ESPN’s Skipper said.

That said – and this could be a key to the long-term success of the agreement both media partners understand they may not generate revenue from all aspects of the $7.4 billion agreement.

“The short answer is, no, I don't see anything being a loss leader whatsoever. In fact, they are all enhancers to the overall product and the overall brand.

You know, we see this as complimentary. Meaning our linear channel will be better suited if we have digital extensions to match it. We'll also have digital people that do not want to buy the television product that are only looking for the wireless or broadband or VOD extension.

“You know, I keep going back, we are all looking at this as an '07 situation. And as you can see, and David used this before, how Hi-Def is becoming more popular. I believe, VOD and broadband and wireless will continue to grow in penetration, will continue to be an important part of all of our brands, every one of our asset base of programming and of networks.

“And so these will all in its own individual self probably be very profitable.” Turner’s Levy offered.

“I would echo some of the comments made by David Levy. You know, we at ABC have specific experience with this over the last year or so in experimenting with our ABC broadcast product on ABC.com and through iTunes, of course. It absolutely does not cannibalize anything. In fact, it shows we are driving an incremental audience, so there's a benefit all up and down the food chain of finding new ways to distribute quality content like the NBA. So I certainly expect all of this to be complimentary to our core television businesses, not cannibalize it.” ESPN President George Bodenheimer offered.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Mediaweek

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Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Standing up for those who paid too high a price to play on Sunday’s

Tuesday’s Insider Report delved into the sad saga of now former Chicago Bears defensive tackle Terry “Tank” Johnson. Cut by the Bears Monday, Johnson’s deviant off-field behavior directly led to the Bears cutting their second round pick for the 2004 NFL draft. Yesterday the Congressional House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law held hearings on the National Football League’s System for Compensating Retired Players: An Uneven Playing Field? Semantics aside – the suggestion of an uneven playing field being examined by a Congressional Committee isn’t something any sports league wants to deal with.

The NFL generates more than $6 billion annually in revenues. The NFL’s television contracts collectively generate $3.75 billion a year. Current NFL players receive 60 percent of all football related revenues. The average NFL salary in 2006 was $1.4 million. And that average salary has been over the $1 million a year threshold for some time. The average salary of $1,169,470 for the 2001 season reflected a 5% increase over 1999, according to NFL Players Association documents. It bested the previous high of $1,137,800 set in 1998.

Everything changed for NFL players in 1982. The players went on a 57-day strike (no not the strike that inspired the movie “The Replacements”), but a work action that led to a 9 game NFL season. Among the ‘goodies’ the players negotiated with the owners – the right to obtain copies of all individual contracts.

Before NFL players obtained that right it was anyone’s guess what players were being paid. Former Kansas City guard Tom Condon, now a super-agent, told USA Today’s Gordon Forbes in 2001 he remembers learning in a shower conversation that his backup was earning $65,000, or $15,000 more than his own salary. The Chiefs dug down and gave Condon $65,000 plus 2 more years, each with a $10,000 raise.

"I was just happy as hell and said, 'Let's sign,' " Condon said. And when the NFLPA's first salary survey came out in 1982, Condon learned that the Chiefs were an equal opportunity employer. Condon (10th round), right tackle Charlie Getty (second) and left tackle Matt Herkenhoff (fourth), all from an offense-heavy 1974 draft, each earned $130,000 in base salary in 1982. Left guard Brad Budde, their first-round pick in 1980, earned $90,000. Jack Rudnay, a Pro Bowl center, earned $175,000. Shockingly, Bill Kenney, the starting quarterback, also earned $130,000.

Tuesday’s hearings have more to do with the business of football before 1982 than the millions of dollars today’s NFL players earn on the gridiron. The average NFL career isn’t more than four or five years but with some proper financial planning once an NFL career ends players (certainly not everyone) can be financially self sufficient.

One clear message that emerged from Tuesday’s hearings -- the players from the '50s, '60s and '70s laid the groundwork for the popularity of the NFL, a billion-dollar industry, and should be treated better, lawmakers said.

"Perhaps there ought to be a legal solution," said Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah.

Two NFL Hall of Famers have taken strong leadership roles in doing what they believe must be done for the less fortunate long retired men they earned the right to play with on Sunday’s. Former Green Bay Packer great Jerry Kramer and Chicago Bears coach Mike Ditka. Along with Willie Davis, Joe DeLamielleure, Gale Sayers, Harry Carson (all honored as members of the Football Hall of Fame) have formed “Gridiron Greats”.

"We have a group that should be protected, but is not being protected," said Rep. Tom Feeney, R-Fla.

"What is even more troubling is that through projects such as NFL Films, the NFL continues to profit off those very same players who are denied benefits," said Rep. Linda Sanchez, D-Calif.

Clearly as is the case with all professional sports players’ unions/associations – those who are no longer active members of the unions/associations are no longer in a position to bargain pension benefits. In simpler terms – the players of today have to take care of the players of yesterday – and that is a lot easier said than done. But as Ditka and company have made clear as a perfect summer day, its time everyone stood up and is counted upon.

The greatest area of concern is the physical price these men of honor are paying today. And a few notes from Gridiron Greats tells it all -- Many players who helped build the NFL into what it is today ravaged their bodies though years of on-field abuse and are consequently unable to maintain a quality of life and financial security for themselves and their families due to physical limitations. The lack of an adequate pensions or disability support has left many football heroes receiving only $100-$300 in pension money from the NFL.

Case in point: NFL Great and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Herb Adderley receives $126.85 per month in pension. Many applications for disability support are denied and some players are to sick to even apply. As a result, some of the men who have given so much to the game can’t afford to buy medicine or to cover medical expenses for necessary surgeries to remedy football related injuries.

NFL Great and member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Willie Wood has now been placed in assisted living care, but he could not afford the care and has been in dire need of financial aid for some time. Thanks to the kindness of the Ditka Trust, former teammates and others, enough money was raised to provide his necessary care. Some players have even found themselves without a roof over their head. Others live in isolation and loneliness, embarrassed by the condition in which they have found themselves in their golden years.

"Thank God for Congress. Maybe they're going to do something," Hall of Fame guard Hall of Fame guard Joe DeLamielleure said after a House subcommittee heard from four former players as well as representatives from the NFL.

"The system does not work," Ditka said.

"The bottom line is this system is broken," said former Jacksonville Jaguars lineman Brian Demarco, who apologized for "being emotional" as he described being homeless three times in the past four years. He said he has rods and screws in his back and can barely walk.

And the widow of one of the greatest of the greats -- Sandra Unitas, the widow of Baltimore Colts legend John Unitas, appearing at a news conference held earlier in the day before the afternoon hearings (Mrs. Unitas was not on the witness list) held up a hook with a rubberized handle that she said her Hall of Fame husband once used to button his shirts because of an injury dating to a 1968 preseason game. That was a visual opportunity!!

"He was rejected (for disability) like many of you here," Sandra Unitas said. She said Unitas wasn't bitter but "he was hurt and very, very disappointed."

Also addressing the media at the morning presser DeMarco offered a heart wrenching look at his life after he could no longer play on Sundays. An NFL’er for five years, DeMarco is living with titanium rods and screws in his back making his life a living hell.

"The bottom line is the system is broken," DeMarco said during the news conference put on by the Gridiron Greats Assistance Fund. "This is not just affecting the players; this is affecting entire families, and it's just not right."

Garrett Webster, son of former Pittsburgh Steelers center Mike Webster also appearing at the press conference , told The Washington Post he understands that sentiment more than most. In 2002, his father died, as he put it, "cold, alone, on a floor, no wife around him, no family, few friends, addicted to painkillers, curled up in a ball," with only Garrett -- then 18 years old -- there to take care of him.

Like DeMarco, Webster and all the other former players in the room, Brent Boyd had turned to the NFL for assistance. In most of their cases, the players said they were denied.

"It's not just the physical and mental disabilities I had, but the added shame and pain that is added by the way the NFL treats us when we file a disability claim," Boyd said.

And how the Washington Post describes the fate of one former NFL’s borders on shame – shame on anyone who let a former football player’s life fall to where this man’s life fell.

Mike Murphy, who played for the Buffalo Bills, suffers from a degenerative disk in his back and neck. The 13 surgeries performed on him over the years to treat the injuries have taken their toll. He applied for full disability in 1998, and his claim was approved. Having just won custody of his daughter, Murphy bought a house and a truck with the money he received from the disability benefits.

Six years later, Murphy said he got a call telling him his disability payments would be eliminated. The NFL disability benefits program gave him no warning, he said, and as a result he ended up losing the house and the truck. Most of the rest of the disability money had gone into a college fund for his daughter.

Murphy went from a yearly disability income of $110,000 to zero in the span of a brief phone call, he said. He and his daughter stayed at his parents' home to avoid homelessness. Now, all he is left with is a message, one he intends to publicly state until the NFL provides what he and the other players feel is an adequate response.

"I don't want to ask for anything for free, but I got hurt on their watch; I got hurt playing in the NFL," Murphy said. "I just want them to step up to the table and set things right."

The list of witness who addressed the committee Tuesday did include Dennis Curran the NFL’s senior Vice President. Needless to say the NFL ‘suit’ didn’t quite see things as dire as the Gridiron Great make things out to be.

“Our history shows that new benefits have been added and existing benefits have been improved on a routine basis. As examples, in 1982, when I first began attending meetings for the Bert Bell/Pete Rozelle Retirement Plan ("Retirement Plan"), the trust had approximately $88 million in funding – it now totals $1.1 billion.

“The Retirement Plan is the cornerstone of the League's benefit program for players, providing retirement, disability, and death benefits. Since 1993, the Retirement Plan has been supplemented by other plans that provide additional retirement and disability payments. In 1982, players who played before 1959 had no retirement benefits.

“They now receive benefits as participants in the Retirement Plan. In addition, the number of years that a player has to play in order to qualify for a retirement benefit has been reduced from five years to three years. Since 1982, the benefit for a player who became totally and permanently disabled because of a football injury within 15 years after he left football has increased from roughly $9,000 to $110,000 per year. In 2006 alone, the Clubs contributed $126 million to the Retirement Plan. Over the next six years, the Clubs’ obligation will be in excess of $700 million. Last year, the plans distributed more than $55 million in pensions to former players, and approximately $20 million in disability payments.”

Curran led off the session and after a break – Coach Ditka took the stand, the legendary Hall of Fame coach and player made it clear – he wants answers and he wants answers now!
“The following summarizes our concerns with the issue at hand. We believe members of the Subcommittee should examine the following points closely in order to gain a better understanding of this issue and take the appropriate steps to rectify this unacceptable state of affairs.

1. Why and where did this all start and why are we in front of Congress?

2. The numbers of former players in need is documented and identified – there are under 300 – with the collective resources of the parties involved why can’t we solve this problem?

3. There are the resources and numbers – the problem has been identified and the problem can be rectified if the powers that be want to solve it – it can be done.

“Please help us relieve burdensome circumstances.

“In addition, to ensure that former players in need get the support and are provided with the resources they need, the Mike Ditka Hall Of Fame Assistance Trust Fund recommends that the U.S. House of Representatives:

1. Investigate the circumstances of former NFL players with specific focus on why they are experiencing such serious problems being turned down for disability / medical care when they need it.
2. Investigate delayed onset dementia, short term memory loss and the causality, correlation and relationship to repeated prior head injuries like those commonly experienced in football.
3. Investigate why this problem hasn’t been solved in light of the tremendous financial resources of the NFL owners and Player’s Union.
4. Investigate why there is a 12 year statute of limitations on player disability claims.
5. Investigate who made the determination that 12 years should be the limitation on claims for disabilities.
6. Investigate why so many former players are being turned down when they apply for help.

“It all boils down to the difference between what is right and what is wrong. These are our people and we are asking for your support for a group of proud, dignified men who suffer greatly as a result of their injuries, many of which are directly or indirectly related to their careers in professional football.” Coach Ditka testified.

But the bottom line is just that – how much are those in need, those who built the NFL into a business that in the very near future will generate $7 million a year? According to a Baltimore Sun report -- about $13,000 a year in benefits.

"We have the worst pensions in sports with the best league," DeLamielleure said. "And the owners have given more than enough. The two owners I played for, Mr. [Art] Modell and Mr. [Ralph] Wilson are the best people I know. The owners give up 60 percent [of total revenue] and [the union] can't give retired guys more than $13,000?"

Bruce Laird, the president of the Baltimore Colts' alumni chapter of retired players, another critic of Upshaw, told The Baltimore Sun NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent decision to create an alliance of NFL entities was the strongest statement about the retired players' lack of representation.

"My hope has always been to have true democratic representation in the union," Laird said. "But it's obvious to all of us ... that retired players have no place and no representation in the NFLPA.

"Even now, if I knew that Gene Upshaw would represent all players and have democratic elections and we would be part of the union and work with active players, I feel we have no interest in working with a gentleman of Gene Upshaw's morality. He is a nonentity. ... He means nothing to retired players."

DeLamielleure, a father of six, said he thought the threat was at least part intimidation.

"I do believe that Upshaw thought long and hard before he said that," DeLamielleure said. "There's no doubt in my mind. He thought, 'I can intimidate this guy.'

"It's really ugly, what's going on today. I feel bad for Goodell. He walked into a hornet's nest. He's got all these [player] arrests that he's got to get under control, and the guy who leads these men makes a threat like a gangster, like a thug."

There are no easy solutions to what is one of the most important issues the National Football League is going to have to deal with. Putting Gene Upshaw at the center of the firestorm is interesting. A member of the Football Hall of Fame, Upshaw’s NFL football career began when he was the first round (17th overall) pick in the 1967 NFL draft. Upshaw retired after the 1981 season.

If not for the opportunities he’s enjoyed since he retired as the executive director of the NFLPA Gene Upshaw could have been one of the former NFL players in desperate need of assistance. Upshaw lived a life with many of the former NFL’ers reaching out to current NFL players – and those current NFL players look to Gene Upshaw for guidance and advice in dealing with challenges along the lines of what yesterday the Congressional House Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law met about Tuesday. However even with that said – for the sake of the men he played with on Sunday, for the sake of the men who play today, for the sake of everyone who earned the right to play on Sunday’s Gene Upshaw needs to find solutions.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Baltimore Sun and The Washington Post.

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Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Losing the right to play on Sunday’s – adios Terry “Tank” Johnson

From the day boys play their first day of Pop Warner Football, to their days as high school heroes, to the chance few get to shine on Saturday’s being true to their school those who choose to play football dream of playing on Sunday’s. If you are a football player and you’re good enough to play on Sunday’s it means one thing and one thing alone – you’re good enough to play in the National Football League. Monday a member of the Chicago Bears lost the right to play on Sunday’s.

Just days after Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tank Johnson’s latest skirmish with the legal system (Johnson was pulled over and arrested by police in Arizona at 3:30 a.m. Friday) the Bears finally said enough was enough cutting Johnson from their roster Monday, ending a saga which included Johnson being placed under house arrest late in the 2006 NFL regular season. Johnson missed the Bears last regular season home game, played in the teams’ two home playoff games and had to obtain a judges order before he could play in Super Bowl XLI in Miami.

“We are upset and embarrassed by Tank’s actions last week,” said general manager Jerry Angelo. “He compromised the credibility of our organization. We made it clear to him that he had no room for error. Our goal was to help someone through a difficult period in his life, but the effort needs to come from both sides. It didn’t, and we have decided to move on.”

Johnson was released from Cook County Jail May 13 after serving 60 days for a probation violation stemming from a gun charge. On June 4, he was suspended by the NFL without pay for the first eight games of the regular season for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell gave Johnson an opportunity to reduce the suspension to six games in part if the 25-year-old had “no further adverse involvement with law enforcement.”

While in jail, Johnson was visited by several members of the Bears organization including general manager Jerry Angelo, coach Lovie Smith, chairman of the board Michael McCaskey and several teammates.

“A lot of people within our organization gave extra time and energy to support Tank: players, coaches and our front office,” Smith said. “We did our best to establish an environment for him to move forward. Ultimately, Tank needed to live up to his side of the deal.”

Playing in 46 games with 15 starts in three seasons with the Bears, Johnson registered 101 tackles, nine sacks, six tackles for loss, four pass breakups and one forced fumble.

Johnson’s downward spiral began last Dec. 14 when he was charged with six misdemeanor counts of possession of a firearm without a Firearm Owner’s Identification card following a police raid on his Gurnee home.

The following night, Johnson and his friend, William Posey, who had been arrested and charged with felony marijuana possession during the police raid at Johnson’s home, ventured to a Chicago nightclub, where Posey was shot and killed.

Although Johnson wasn’t directly involved in the incident, the poor judgment he displayed by being present at the club during the shooting earned him a one-game suspension from the Bears.

He was on probation at the time after he had pled guilty to a misdemeanor charge that resulted after a nightclub valet alerted police about seeing a gun in his car.

Johnson initially violated his probation in February 2006 when he was arrested outside a Chicago nightclub. But prosecutors later dropped battery and resisting arrest charges.

Because he has accrued only three seasons toward the NFL pension plan, Johnson is subject to waivers, but it is unlikely, given his circumstances, that the former University of Washington star will be claimed by another club. If he is not, Johnson will become a free agent able to sign with any team.

Johnson, 25, had two seasons remaining on his original rookie contract with Chicago, at base salaries of $510,000 for 2007 and $548,750 in 2008. NFL contracts are not guaranteed. Johnson the 47th overall pick in the 2004 NFL draft signed a five-year contract with a $1,725,000 bonus. The bonus had been prorated (against the NFL salary cap) over the five-year term of the contract. The remaining $690,000 (already paid to Johnson will count against the Bears 2007 salary cap total(s).

The Legend of Tank won’t soon be forgotten (nor should it be). In December, Johnson the Bears starting defensive tackle had a bad week even by NFL standards. On Thursday December 14, 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 Saturday morning December 16 Johnson’s bodyguard William Posey was murdered in a Chicago nightclub. Johnson was present at the shooting. Johnson did not play that Sunday’s Bears 34-31 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. With that 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? At least in December how Tank performed on Sunday mattered more to the Bears than Johnson’s behavior Monday’s through Saturday’s.

"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 was 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 stand 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. But when it comes to NFL players “their boys from the hood” matter more than one can imagine

"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. Monday, Terry "Tank" Johnson’s days as a Chicago Bear ended – finally Johnson’s deviant behavior mattered more to the Bears than his performance on Sunday’s.

While the Bears were doing their best to distance themselves from Tank Johnson, the NFL was holding their annual rookie symposium. A key component of the get together the NFL warning those interested in playing on Sunday’s they be best advised to behave themselves Monday through Saturday.

"We're concerned about them as men," Goodell said at the league's rookie symposium in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., shortly before Johnson's release was announced according to various media reports. "How do they become not only great NFL players, but how do they become great men? How do they conduct themselves appropriately for the remainder of their life, not just when they're in the National Football League?"

"I'd be naive to think everyone would be able to understand it," Goodell said. "But I think we're making players more aware of the standards of behavior. We're giving them more tools and resources to make sure they can make those decisions."

All drafted players (rounds one through seven) attend the seminar – they have no choice but to attend. Once the meeting is over, the players have a complete understanding of the NFL’s new zero tolerance off-field behavior policy, along with how to handle finances and relationships and how to prepare for life after football. But as Goodell pointed out, front and center was the example you’re expected to make if you’re lucky enough to play on Sunday’s. And as Goodell pointed out according to an ESPN report it’s the bad apples in the barrel that are getting all of the attention,

"You could see the players were engaged," Goodell said. "They asked very good questions, very responsive questions to things that I said."

"The vast majority of our players do," Goodell said. "There's a select few that don't. And they get a lot of focus ... and have a negative impact on the other players in our league and the NFL in general."

Tank Johnson released a statement Monday evening through his Chicago attorney Lorna Propes:

"I want to thank the Bears organization and fans for their support during a difficult time," he said. "I regret that I have to leave Chicago under these circumstances and wish my friends at the Chicago Bears nothing but the best."

Will Johnson be missed by his teammates – some of them suggested as much late Monday.

"Tank is one of my closest friends here in Chicago. It's really hard to see him go through some of the things that he has. But I think sometimes the Bears were kind of pushed into a corner because we had been able to support him throughout this whole ordeal. I think you have to be accountable for your actions and the Chicago Bears had to do what was needed."

But at the same time Vasher told ESPN he was surprised that Johnson would be involved in another incident.

"I was really convinced that Tank had more than thought about the time he did in prison or just every other compromising situation that he has been in, not to jeopardize that any further," Vasher said. "It's disheartening for something like that to happen."

And the laundry list of Tank’s legal and personal off-field challenges included:

2005
June 11 -- Charged with unlawful possession of a handgun after police find a fully-loaded 9-mm Ruger in his parked car outside a downtown nightclub.

November

Pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor unlawful gun-possession charge in Cook County. Gets 18 months' probation.

2006

February

Charged with battery and resisting arrest after scuffling with a police officer outside a Rush Street nightclub. Charged with violating probation.

March

February charges, including probation violation, dropped when police officer refuses to proceed with case.

December 14 -- Police raided Johnson's Gurnee home, seize six guns, arrest and charge Johnson's friend and bodyguard William B. Posey with possession of marijuana. Johnson, who is at Halas Hall during the raid, turns himself in and is charged with six gun misdemeanors.

December 15 -- Johnson declared inactive for Dec. 17 game. GM Jerry Angelo publicly and privately warns Johnson: "He has had a history of doing things, and that history has to stop."

December 16, 1:30 a.m. -- About 12 hours after the team's warning, Johnson and Posey went to a River North bar. Posey was shot to death.

December 18 -- Bears talked to NFL about discipline options, but cutting the troubled defensive lineman was ruled out.

December 19 -- Bears announced a one-game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team.

2007

February 8 -- Pleaded guilty to violating his probation in a 2005 gun case.

March 15 -- Sentenced to 120 days in jail and fined $2,500 after pleading guilty to violating his probation on a 2005 weapons conviction.

March 16 -- Started sentence at Cook County Jail.

April 30 -- Pleaded guilty in Lake County Court to possession of a firearm without a valid Illinois Firearm Owner's Identification Card, a misdemeanor charge. Sentenced to 45 days in jail with credit for time served in Cook County, meaning no additional jail time.

May 13 -- Released from Cook County Jail after serving 60 days.

June 4 -- NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Johnson for eight games but said it could be reduced to six.

Friday, 3:30 a.m. -- Issued a citation for "being impaired to the slightest degree" by Gilbert, Ariz., police. Was going 40 m.p.h. in a 25-m.p.h. zone; submitted blood to determine blood alcohol content.

What if anything can be learnt from the fate that befell Tank Johnson? Everyone no matter who they are needs to be held accountable for their actions – and there’s a price to be paid for deviant behavior. Clearly the message has been sent – playing on Sunday’s in the National Football League is a privilege and not a given right – let’s hope the 224 young men who assembled in Orlando Monday for the NFL’s rookie symposium heard that message loud and clear.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN, the Chicago Tribune and the Associated Press.

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Howard Bloom's June 26, 2007 "The Truth: if you can STAND IT!" segment with Assistant SBN Publisher Jason Ilacqua

Howard has the ability to tell "The Truth" like never before, providing listeners with Insider information and up to the minute breaking sports business news.

If you haven't heard it or read about it on SBN, then it hasn't happened yet.

SBN Publisher Howard Bloom talks about Tank Johnson, congressional hearing on the issue of retired football players and injuries, the National Hockey League Players Association meetings in Toronto, Major League Baseball inter league play record setting attendance, and the latest overnight weekend sports ratings.


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Monday, June 25, 2007

Selling a sports franchise – a lot like a roller coaster ride

Over the last few years MasterCard has created a serious of ingenious commercials built around the theme “Priceless Moments”. Friday night’s National Hockey League draft offered one such priceless moment in time – but you’ll never see this as part of a MasterCard commercial campaign. NHL draft coverage offered live on Versus, Canada’s TSN and streamed live at the NHL.com opened with TSN’s Bob McKenzie breathlessly reporting Nashville Predators owner Craig Leipold had sent a letter to the NHL informing the NHL the league was no longer to consider Jim Balsillie’s controversial proposed purchase of the Predators.

The MasterCard moment took place about an hour later when Bob McKenzie now literally shaking in his boots attempted to explain that he had quite correctly reported what would have been the biggest news of the NHL draft. McKenzie clearly holding a Blackberry did his best to correct his mistake that Leipold’s proposed sale to Balsillie (Balsillie is the billionaire who created the Blackberry) might indeed not be dead in the water. The irony of McKenzie doing his best to wiggle his way out of a firestorm indirectly aimed at the creator of the Blackberry, while holding a Blackberry was priceless.

Selling a sports franchise, a multi-million dollar business is easier said than done. Nearly a year ago Seattle native Howard Schultz sold the Seattle Sonics to Clay Bennett for $400 million. Bennett an Oklahoma City native continues to insist if he can (he won’t) secure a taxpayer financed arena deal in the Seattle area he’ll keep the Sonics there. Expect the Sonics to be at Oklahoma City’s Ford Center in time for the 2008-09 NBA season. Bennett understands there’s a process he needs to respect, understand and go through – but when that’s completed the NBA will allow Bennett to move his team.

Liberty Media’s multi-million purchase of the Atlanta Braves took more than two years before Major League Baseball finalized the sale. The Braves are staying exactly where they are in Atlanta. That sale which was in the works since early January 2005 was finally completed on May 17, 2007.

If nothing else, when it comes to Jim Balsillie’s interest in purchasing the Nashville Predators; unlike Clay Bennett and Liberty Media, Balsillie has shown little, if any interest in respecting the process associated with buying a sports franchise. Balsillie is continuously putting the cart so far ahead of the horse, as SBN suggested last week, the cart is carooning out of control with the horse left behind in the barn. There may be plenty of blame to access (just ask the Canadian media who they’re blaming) but the fact(s) remain – if Jim Balsillie had paid more attention to the process he wouldn’t be on the outside looking in when it comes to buying the Nashville Predators. Balsillie could still end up buying the Predators and moving the team to Hamilton, but his own actions are making his intent to buy the Predators much more difficult than they had to be.

Nashville Predators Owner Craig Leipold issued the following statement Friday, in response to a TSN report (Balsillie out as prospective owner?):

“We did send the NHL a letter today requesting that it not do any further due diligence on Jim Balsillie’s offer for the Nashville Predators until we reach a binding agreement. If Jim is interested in reaching a binding agreement, we are prepared to move forward.”

If you ask anyone close to Jim Balsillie nothing whatsoever has changed (give this source the prize for having his glass half filled at all times). If you ask the NHL they’re not quite as sure it’s still smooth sailing for Balsillie and company.

"The Predators' lawyers have informed us that they want us to put a hold on the Balsillie application for now," deputy commissioner Bill Daly said Saturday during the NHL entry draft according to a Canadian Press report. "To the extent that there's anything to consider in the future, they want it to be their application, not Balsillie's."

"It stopped. But it doesn't mean it can't recommence," Daly said. "We've had a number of examples in the past where there's been a breakdown and people have come back. So who knows?"

"Mr. Leipold at this point has decided he's not going to pursue the Balsillie application unless or until they have a binding agreement," Daly said in the Canadian Press report.

"Obviously he's going to look at what his other options might be."

The Balsillie story has received little coverage in the States (with the exception of sports business publications) but remains a burning issue in the Frozen North. Given the passion Canadians have for the Frozen Sport, it’s developing into a motherhood issue when it comes to issue of more NHL teams in Canada.

Friday’s letter written by Leipold and sent to the NHL obtained by The National Post (a Canadian national daily) was written by Leipold's Tennessee lawyers to David Zimmerman, an NHL attorney -- the Predators owner wrote: "Given the lack of a definitive agreement between the club and Mr. Balsillie, the club requests that the NHL refrain from taking any further action with respect to the Application To Acquire the Nashville Predators' previously filed by Mr. Balsillie.”

"Further, the club requests that the NHL simply disregard the request for a 'Conditional Consent to the Transfer of Franchise Location,' “the letter added. "As we have discussed, this 'Conditional Consent to the Transfer of Franchise Location' was not contemplated in the Term Sheet and was submitted by Mr. Balsillie without the club's prior review or approval."

Several sources suggested the abrupt halt to Balsillie’s purchase has more to do with the ever increasing legal bills associated with the process than anything else. Given that Jim Balsillie is worth a reported $7 billion it’s interesting if indeed Balsillie looked at the positives and negatives of Friday evening’s announcements and decided it was more prudent to save a few dollars than the negative media associated with the various weekend reports.

On the other hand, it makes just as much sense to consider what really took place at Wednesday’s NHL Board of Governors meetings and the implications that may have had on Leipold’s actions. Sources told SportsBusinessNews NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it clear to the Board of Governors the process associated with buying an NHL team and moving that team was going to be respected (see Clay Bennett’s purchase of the Seattle Sonics). With numerous reports emanating from the center of the known hockey universe (Southern Ontario) that Jim Balsillie intent is to move the Predators and not respect any of the NHL bylaws, its easy to understand why Bettman is warning the NHL Board of Governors of what could take place.

Yes, if Jim Balsillie pays Craig Leipold an inflated $238 million for the Predators the financial valuation of every NHL team will increase dramatically, but at what greater cost. If Jim Balsillie follows through on the rumors that he’ll move the Predators to Hamilton with or without any due process, refuse to pay the Toronto Maple Leafs and Buffalo Sabres any relocation fees and has no interest in respecting the local television rights of the Maple Leafs and the Sabres (talk about a horrific triple play for the NHL to consider) Balsillie’s proposed purchase of the Predators is easier said than done.

If all suggestions Jim Balsillie is prepared to take the NHL and its 29 member franchises to court over the above matters if the NHL forces Balsillie to deal with those issues are true– when NHL owners are being forced to consider both sides of the issue – and that might make more sense for NHL owners to reject Jim Balsillie or face millions of dollars in legal bills that could forever change the fabric of how the NHL conducts their business affairs?

"The NHL is trying to drive a wedge between Leipold and Balsillie," said a source close to the events to The National Post. "[Leipold] is caught between a rock and a hard spot."

Hamilton Councilor Terry Whitehead, chair of the steering committee that worked the lease deal at Copps Coliseum did his best to do what politicians believe they’re magicians -- spin the potential disaster as no big deal – all is well.

"I'm hoping that we continue to be — I don't want to say a thorn in the side of Mr. Bettman — but we continue to be on the radar whether Mr. Bettman likes it or not, and I'm hoping that common sense will prevail in that southwestern Ontario deserves another team."

Given that Jim Balsillie is holding more than $10 million in season ticket and suite deposits for the proposed move of the Predators to Hamilton (everyone’s money is safer than it would be in a bank so there’s no fear there), Whitehead’s greater concern has to be a complete rejection of Jim Balsillie and what effect it would have on the psyche of Hamilton hockey fans and Hamilton taxpayers. Make one point very clear – Southern Ontario hockey fans have stood up and made it very clear they’re prepared to support an NHL franchise.

"I wouldn't read into this that the deal isn't there any more," said Mr. Whitehead, adding that Mr. Leipold will likely have a tough time keeping the Predators in Nashville.

"Here's a guy who lost $70-million in the last number of years. I would ask you the question, who's going to buy a team that's going to lose money year in and year out, without having an option of moving?"

That may be true, but consider the long-term implications if the NHL Board of Governors made it clear to Leipold that the biggest issue they have with his proposed sale of Jim Balsillie isn’t the proposed sale but the potential legal ramifications? Leipold is active in numerous civic and corporate organizations as well as several charities benefiting children. He has been named Nashville Sports Council "Sports Person of the Year," "1999 Father of the Year" by the Nashville Father’s Day Council, and "Nashvillian of the Year" by the Easter Seals, following a highly successful 1998-1999 season for the Predators.

Leipold founded Ameritel Corporation, a telemarketing firm that specialized in business-to-business sales contracts for major companies. He then purchased Rainfair Corporation, a 125-year-old manufacturer of protective clothing and footwear. Craig and his wife Helen (Chairman and Chief Executive officer of Johnson Outdoors, Inc. and Chairman of Johnson Financial Bank Corp.) Does Craig Leipold want the specter of a protracted lawsuit involving a business he currently owns being a very public battle? What damage and harm would that do to Leipold’s reputation? Might that now be factoring into Craig Leipold’s thought process when it comes to pushing Jim Balsillie into a binding agreement that factors in current NHL bylaws?

An interesting note in Sunday’s Tennessean only made the situation regarding the Predators future cloudier. One of the conditions that would allow the owner (Leipold or whoever owns the team) the right to break the teams’ current lease with the City of Nashville (the City of Nashville owns The Summit Center the Predators home) is an average paid attendance of 14,000. The team has to fall below the 14,000 ticket threshold for two consecutive seasons. Once that takes place whoever owns the team has to serve notice he intends to break the teams’ lease by June 20 of the second season. It isn’t necessarily apples and oranges but the Predators have in fact fallen below the 14,000 goal the last two NHL season with the caveat being the two seasons where interrupted by the 2004-05 NHL season that was cancelled.

There are many close to the Predators within the Nashville community who believe only after the Predators fail to hit the 14,000 per game mark for the 2007-08 season could the team move. The Tennessean reported Sunday 67 percent of current Predators season ticket holders have renewed their tickets for the upcoming season (exactly the same pace the team was at last year at this team) and in addition have sold 1,000 new season tickets, an increase of 25 percent over where they where last year at this time (750 new season tickets sold). The Predators, who averaged 13,815 fans in paid attendance last season.

Optics being what they are, the NHL sent more than a subtle message with Leipold’s draft day antics. Jim Balsillie may have been surprised by what went on Friday night, but if Balsillie wasn’t in Columbus’ Blue Cross Arena Friday night, William “Boots’’ Del Biaggio III, the man interested in bringing an NHL team to Kansas City’s Sprint Arena set to open in October without a major tenant was sitting front and center at the NHL draft was very visible for the assembled media and television cameras.

Boots said all the right things when he was approached before news broke that Leipold was again in search of a buyer for his team (“That’s Jim’s deal now,’’ Del Biaggio said. “I’m not going to get involved there. “My interest is in Kansas City right now. It looks as if (expansion) would be the only chance.’’) Based on the events of the past few days that may not be the case much longer and would that change how Boot’s is looking at the opportunity?

The great irony about what Jim Balsillie wants to do is, is he’s right about most of the issues he’s raised. He has the financial wherewithal to own an NHL team. He has a passion for hockey and the NHL. Regardless of what people believe, it is the NHL’s inevitable destiny that there will be one if not two more franchises in the Toronto area. And, Hamilton beyond any reasonable doubt will be the home to an NHL team in the not too distant future. If 30 Jim Balsillie’s owned the 30 current NHL teams the NHL would be a much more stable business.

On the other hand, how Jim Balsillie has gone about this has been wrong from the beginning. He’s acted like an enraged King Kong looking for Fay Wray in a china shop. The examples are numerous but consider this one recent example – why would anyone put tickets on sale for a proposed NHL franchise in Southern Ontario on the same day the NHL is hosting their awards ceremonies in the same geographical area? Balsillie could and should have waited until July 9 (after the NHL awards, after the NHL draft and after the start of the NHL free agent season) before he made his very public move. Making it on the day Gary Bettman and the Lords of the Rink where center-stage in Toronto took away from the NHL awards night served to embarrass the NHL.

Just another mistake made by Jim Balsillie. How could someone who is so right about what he wants to do, be so wrong in the way he’s going about making that happen? The real issue – has Jim Balsillie done too much damage to what is a great idea, or can he take a step back and make it work? If nothing else, Jim Balsillie would be well advised to look at how others having conducted themselves when they have gone through the process of buying a sports franchise.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Globe and Mail, The National Post and The Tennessean

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Friday, June 22, 2007

Tom Hicks – willing to talk about signing Juan Gonzalez but not Alex Rodriguez

On a night when Sammy Sosa hit the 600th home run of his career, in a Texas Rangers uniform against the Chicago Cubs (the only Major League Baseball team Sosa had never hit a home run against), Rangers owner Tom Hicks embarrassed MLB with his innuendos and finger pointing regarding someone no longer playing major league baseball. With Jason Giambi set to meet with Senator Mitchell in regard to Mitchell’s MLB steroid commission (see end of this edition of the Insider Report) – the news MLB commissioner Bud Selig didn’t need to hear -- an owner talking about how he felt about one of his former players’ alleged use of performance-enhancing drugs and how that alleged use impacted that athletes performance (and of course how much that owner believes he overpaid that baseball player).

Speaking with Dallas’ Channel 11 Hicks while admitting he didn’t have any proof Juan Gonzalez had ever used steroids – remains a very bitter man when it comes to how much he paid Juan Gonzalez to play for the Rangers and what Juan “Gone” delivered for the Rangers on the field.

"Juan Gonzalez for $24 million after he came off steroids, probably, we just gave that money away," Hicks said in a Channel 11 interview June 10 and reported in The Dallas Morning News Thursday.

Those comments led to Hicks making the following comments Wednesday night.

"I have no personal knowledge that Juan was a user," Hicks said. "The way his body broke down at a young age and his early retirement makes me suspicious. ... In any event, we paid $24 million for him for very few games."

Ironically, if Hicks is upset about paying Gonzalez $24 million, imagine how the Detroit Tigers might be feeling if Juan “Gone” was still on the Tigers payroll. The Rangers Juan’s first big league home traded Gonzalez at the peak of his baseball career.

González's first full season was 1991. It was his first of many 100-plus RBI seasons, proving himself a capable middle of the line-up run producer. He improved his batting average and home run totals over the next few seasons, leading the league in homers in 1992 (43) and 1993 (46). On August 28, 1993, González had the last 3 homer game in the history of Arlington Stadium.

On the strength of González's steady production at the plate, Texas finished first in the AL West division in 1996, 1998 and 1999. Despite an outstanding playoff output by Gonzalez in 1996, (.438 BA, 5 HR, 9 RBI, .526 OBP, 1.375 SLG% in 4 games) the Rangers were still defeated in the American League Division Series by the New York Yankees, as well as in 1998 and 1999. Between 1996-98, González averaged 45 home runs and 144 RBI in 140 games; the most productive period in his career. He won the American League MVP award in 1996 with a .314 BA, 47 HR and 144 RBI in just 134 games and 1998 with a .318 BA, 45 HR and 157 RBI in 154 games.

Fearing they would be unable to meet González's rising salary demands, Texas elected to trade him in the postseason, eventually settling on a deal with the Detroit Tigers. On November 2, 1999, he was traded with Danny Patterson and Gregg Zaun to Detroit for Frank Catalanotto, Francisco Cordero, Bill Haselman, Gabe Kapler, Justin Thompson and Alan Webb.

The Tigers made González an eight year, $140 million contract offer when they picked up González in the trade with the Rangers. González turned down this offer; a decision he claims not to regret.

The following season was a disaster for González and the Tigers as a team. 2000 was the opening year for Detroit's new ballpark, Comerica Park, and the team's management had counted on strong seasons from the team's new players to draw interest from fans. But, hampered by injuries, and being unable to adjust to Comerica's unfavorable dimensions, González had one of the poorest seasons of his career.

As of the 2007 season, in what would've been the final year of his $140M Detroit Tigers contract. González has earned an estimated $46 million, almost $100M less that what he would have made from the Tigers.

González resurrected his career in 2001 with the Cleveland Indians, where he was asked to fill the void left behind as a result of Manny Ramirez' free agency departure to the Boston Red Sox. González batted .325 with 35 home runs and 140 RBI in 140 games, leading the Indians to the post-season where he hit .348 with 2 HR and 5 RBI in 5 games with a .739 SLG%.

After his comeback season with the Indians, the Rangers signed González to the two year, the $24 million contract Hicks remains upset about. He played in just 70 games and put up meager statistics for a player of his reputation in the 2002 season with the Rangers. In 2003, González got off to a great start but could only stay healthy for half of the season. He finished the season with a .294 BA, 24 HR and 70 RBI in 82 games. After signing with the Royals in 2004, he played in just 33 games. Despite a thorough work-out regimen in an attempt to comeback in the 2005 season, González suffered a major injury to his hamstring and was out for the rest of the season after just one at-bat.

In response to Hicks comments, Alan Nero, the most recent agent to represent González told The Associated Press that he wouldn't respond. ... Then he responded – to the Associated Press

"That kind of rhetoric does not deserve a response, because it's so irresponsible," said Nero, who was not González's representative at the time he signed with the Rangers in 2001.

The Dallas Morning News reported: MLB Commissioner Bud Selig isn't likely to issue any discipline for the comments. Hicks said he told Selig of what he said, and the commissioner had no issues. How great is that? A Major Baseball owner suggests in no uncertain terms he believed a baseball player he had once signed to a multi-million dollar contract had used steroids (even though there is no proof whatsoever). Free speech issues aside, what message with his cavalier attitude is Bud Selig sending out regarding the steroid issue – how objective is Selig. And why not look at Tom Hicks tenure as Rangers owner? Where exactly does Hicks’ responsibility lie as a MLB team owner?

In June 1998, Hicks became the Chairman and Owner of the Texas Rangers Baseball Club of the Major League Baseball’s American League. Hicks purchased the team for $250 million from an investment group that included then-Texas Governor George W. Bush. After the purchase, Hicks changed his large political donations to Bush for the 2000 Presidential election.

Under Hicks’s ownership, the Rangers won the American League West Division Crown in 1998 and 1999, but failed to deliver a World Series. After retirement from Hicks, Muse Tate and Furst, and with the Rangers finished in last place in its division in 2003, Hicks promised to rebuild the team, shipping Alex Rodriguez ($252 million over 10 years) to the New York Yankees.

Hicks signed A-Rod (considered my many the best player in MLB) to a contract that blew the doors and thinking of baseball contracts. When Hicks agreed to the quarter-billion dollar contract, many believed the Atlanta Braves offer (the second biggest offer made to A-Rod’s agent Scott Boras) was for at least $50 million less than Hicks’s offer. At least Selig’s indifference towards Hicks is par for the course. Selig had little to say when Hicks altered baseball’s salary structure in December 2001 when he signed A-Rod.

Five years after Hicks changed baseball’s economic system on his own -- the debate over A-Rod’s contract continued.

"That was the sonic boom of contract escalation," said Atlanta Braves general manager John Schuerholz, whose club was in the bidding for Rodriguez in a USA Today report published last year. "We had all talked about how dramatically and irrationally contracts had been escalating, to an unhealthy degree. We saw, we heard and we gasped."

And as the USA Today report suggested published 15 months ago, Hicks’s “offer A-Rod was never going to refuse” forced everyone associated with MLB on every level into action, individually and as a group, the latter with several measures instituted as part of the 2002 collective bargaining agreement. Those included increased revenue sharing, a payroll tax and the debt-service rule, which limits how much money teams can borrow.

As an example of the drastic change in baseball's economy that followed, Miguel Tejada signed a six-year, $72 million deal — or three and a half times less than Rodriguez — with the Baltimore Orioles in December 2003, more than a year after his MVP season with the Oakland Athletics.

"Whether it's 15 million or five or 10, if you're at the top (of the salary scale), there's always going to be criticism," Rodriguez says. "It's obviously elevated because of the number and the years, but my contract is something I'm very proud of."

A-Rod has nothing whatsoever to be embarrassed about – why would anyone turn down a contract worth a quarter of a billion dollars if someone is foolish enough to make that kind of an offer. Arguably Alex Rodriguez’s 10-year $252 million contract is to date the crowning achievement of agent Scott Boras’ career as an agent. Boras negotiated a contract with Tom Hicks that changed the economics of MLB.

"When we did it, everyone said that contract is exorbitant," Boras says. "I think when everyone looks back on it they say it's very fair, because of the performance."

"When you see a player come on the market who has great defensive discipline and 40-plus home run power and the ability to drive in 120 runs, you're going to see a contract in that range," Boras said in a USA Today report. "Teams have wisely locked up players like (Albert) Pujols, who would have gotten close to A-Rod-type numbers."

The USA Today pointed out the terms of A-Rod's contract, which doubled the largest to that point in American team sports (Kevin Garnett's $126 million deal with the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1997), haven’t come close to being equaled since.

And the domino effect in baseball following Hicks’s decision to offer A-Rod a kings ransom Derek Jeter's 10-year, $189 million pact with the Yankees, signed before the 2001 season, and Manny Ramirez's eight-year, $160 million agreement with the Boston Red Sox, also reached that winter of 2000. That’s not in anyway to suggest Jeter and Manny haven’t excelled for their teams (they have) but if Tom Hicks had offered A-Rod a multi-year contract for $210 million (that would have been the largest contract A-Rod had been offered), the end result wouldn’t have altered the business of baseball.

"The lesson people got out of it is there's only a certain percentage you can allocate to a couple of players," says Milwaukee Brewers GM Doug Melvin, who had the same post with the Rangers at the time of Rodriguez's signing. "You can't have 80% of your payroll going to 20%% of your players."

As talkative as Tom Hicks was in the last few weeks regarding how he felt about spending $24 million on a washed up Juan González two years after he signed A-Rod to the biggest contract in baseball history and being forced to trade A-Rod to the Yankees before the start of the 2004 season, Hicks has had little to say about his decision to sign A-Rod to a contract he ended up believing he couldn’t afford. Hicks’s bitterness towards Juan González and his refusal to talk about the contract many still talk about six seasons after it was signed is a classic example of someone wanting to have his cake – and eat it too.

As for the news Bud Selig wanted to hear regarding baseball players and their alleged use of performance-enhancement drugs – MLB commissioner Bud Selig heard the news he was waiting to hear from Jason Giambi late Thursday afternoon.

“Today, I have agreed to Commissioner Selig's request that I meet with Sen. George Mitchell. In a direct conversation the commissioner impressed upon me the idea that the game of baseball would be best served by such a meeting. I will continue to do what I think is right and be candid about my past history regarding steroids. I have never blamed anyone nor intended to deflect blame for my conduct. I alone am responsible for my actions and I apologize to the commissioner, the owners and the players for any suggestion that they were responsible for my behavior.”

“I've come to this decision for a number of reasons. I did not want to put my family through a lengthy legal challenge in support of my position. In addition, the uncertainty of my playing status could detract from the efforts of our team to win the American League East. My focus at this time needs to be on rehabbing my injury, getting back on the field and contributing to the goals of my team. To be embroiled in a legal battle could undermine all of this and I would never put my family, my teammates or the Yankees in that position.”

“Accordingly, I have agreed to this meeting. As I have always done, I will address my own personal history regarding steroids. I will not discuss in any fashion any other individual. My hope is that this meeting will serve as a positive step, as all parties involved seek the best approach in dealing with the issue of "drugs in sport." That has always been the intent behind all of the comments I have made on the subject and it remains so to this day.”

Once Giambi spoke, Selig offered this which very much leaves open the issue as to whether or not Selig intends to suspend Giambi for something he may or may not have done before the alleged offense occurred before MLB ruled it was illegal.

"Following certain statements reported in USA Today on May 18, I directed Jason Giambi to meet with members of my staff. Mr. Giambi did so and, in the opinion of my representatives, was fully cooperative and candid in explaining his personal involvement with performance-enhancing substances.”

"Two weeks ago I asked Mr. Giambi to submit to an interview with Senator Mitchell and I am pleased that Mr. Giambi has agreed to do so. Mr. Giambi has informed me in a phone conversation that he is willing to discuss with Senator Mitchell his personal involvement with performance-enhancing substances. His willingness to do this is an important step forward in Senator Mitchell's continued efforts to provide me with a comprehensive report.”

"Senator Mitchell has assured me that Mr. Giambi's interview will be scheduled promptly. Once the interview process has concluded, I will take Mr. Giambi's level of cooperation into account in determining appropriate further action. I will have no further comment until this procedure is completed."

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today and Wikipedia

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