Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A plan for Michael Vick to restore his image and reach for the top

As suggested in Tuesday’s Insider Report it isn’t a matter of if, but when Michael Vick will return to the National Football League. Vick has committed heinous, unspeakable crimes against defenseless animals and this wasn’t over a short period of time, but as Vick elocuted to in court Monday he committed his crimes over a six year period. This wasn’t a ‘mistake’ made by a once admired member of society, but a criminal conspiracy that occurred over a six year period. Nonetheless a cornerstone of our judicial system allows everyone an opportunity to rehabilitate themselves and get a second chance. The indignation towards the crimes Michael Vick has committed is so far reaching society seemingly wants to ignore the foundation of our judicial system and force the NFL to ban Michael Vick for life. Shame on anyone ignorant to believe Michael Vick (or anyone) who admits they have made a mistake, pays their debt to society and makes further amends doesn’t deserve that second chance.

Monday Michael Vick took those first steps forward in the helping those so incensed by his actions (present company included) the second chance Michael Vick deserves. Michael Vick has never been comfortable speaking publicly. Peyton Manning earned in excess of $11 million last year in endorsements largely due not only to his abilities on the football field but how well he communicates in front of a camera. Manning is a great public speaker, Vick isn’t comfortable. That’s not to excuse what or how he said what he said Monday but verbal presentation skills have never been one of his strengths. Tuesday many members of the national media ripped Michael Vick apart for what he said at his Monday press conference.

Shame on any media member who belittled Michael Vick for how he said what he said Monday. Decency has never been a strong characteristic of the media and one of the worst examples occurred Monday night on Larry King Live. King devoted the first half hour of his nationally televised program on CNN to the Vick story. Several times King showed clips of Vick speaking at his press conference earlier in the day. In a classic example of journalism that more resembles ambulance chasing than it does respectable reporting, the segments that featured Vick speaking also included sounds of dogs barking in the background. When did Larry King (in this case more likely his producers) reach the bottom of the barrel in treating people as badly as Michael Vick was treated Monday night? Is it fair for a nationally televised news program to use sound affects to embarrass someone? Michael Vick has done enough to damage his reputation – he didn’t need any more help from the Larry King show. Those responsible for what took place on the Larry King show Monday night are no better than the gutter producers involved with tabloid shows like The Jerry Springer and Maury Povitch shows. Congrats Larry King – you’ve reached a new low.

Those comments aside Michael Vick has no choice but to continue to speak out and bear the consequences of his actions. He’s the one who committed the crime and now he’s the one who has to deal with the aftermath. Tuesday, Vick according to a report in The Atlanta Journal Constitution cancelled a much-anticipated radio interview with Tom Joyner announced on his Atlanta based nationally syndicated program.

"He really wants to do it, but all of his advisers are advising him not to, because everyone is taking what he says out of context," Joyner told listeners Tuesday.

According to Joyner, Vick had agreed to take calls from listeners and "explain his actions." Joyner said Tuesday the Falcons quarterback, who on Monday pleaded guilty to federal dogfighting charges, called the radio host personally to cancel the interview.

"Mike was very apologetic," Joyner said on his radio show.

Sorry Mike – next time you agree to ‘talk to the people’ you had better follow that up. That said, the media has made it pretty clear they’re going to demand answers to difficult questions from Vick, but that doesn’t excuse the tonality of where the media wants to take this story. Tuesday afternoon on his nationally syndicated radio show Jim Rome had ESPN legal expert Roger Cossack on as a guest. Rome more often than not is one of the better sports radio hosts in the industry hammered home the maximum number of years Michael Vick could be sentenced to. Yes Michael Vick could be sentenced to as many as five years but that isn’t going to take place. Would Rome not have better served his audience if he offered a realistic legal perspective of how much time Vick could serve in prison?

The media has almost been universal in suggesting unless “Michael Vick sings like a canary” (credit CNN’s Nancy Grace for that inane analogy) he could be spending many more years in jail if he doesn’t cooperate with judicial officials. The media should report the story but has to be responsible for what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. Now separate reporting facts, from offering an opinion. Everyone is entitled to their opinions (the more than 500 e-mail’s SBN received Tuesday regarding Tuesday’s Insider that Michael Vick must be allowed to again play in the National Football League can attest to that) but when reporters try to twist or fabricate the truth they are crossing over a line.

“I believe in second chances. I have done so many stupid things in my life that I also believe in third, fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth chances.

“But I don't know if I believe in Michael Vick. I watched his performance on ESPN late Monday morning and again online, read and re-read the post-plea statement he offered the media.

“He called dogfighting "terrible."

“He blamed nobody but himself.

“He made a mistake when he said he "found Jesus."

“Maybe Vick has. But a man who wants to get out of jail or stay out of jail always says he has found Jesus. Find me a man who stands before a judge who has not found Jesus.” were all included in a column written by Tom Sorensen appearing in Tuesday’s Charlotte Observer. Fine Mr. Sorensen if you don’t believe in Michael Vick, but do you really have a right, does anyone have the basic right to suggest someone is being hypocritical if they have found God in their hour of need? Sorensen attempted to make his case that he didn’t believe Michael Vick was sincere by adding this quote from a Charlotte based lawyer.

"I told a judge once that my client had found Jesus," says George Laughrun, a Charlotte criminal defense attorney for 26 years and the rare attorney people like. "The judge said, `I didn't know he was lost.' "

“I asked Laughrun, whose customers have included former Panthers Rae Carruth (briefly) and Jason Peter, if he writes statements for clients, who then turn his words into theirs.

“Laughrun said he might suggest issues they should address. But a client comes across as more sincere when the message is his own.

“Law is public relations, and going to court is like going on a job interview or a first date. We don't have to be at our best. We have to be better than we are.”

What background in theology does Tom Sorensen have to question’s one’s belief system?

Ironically animal rights groups have seized the opportunity to not denounce Vick for his deviant behavior but to use the pulpit Vick’s actions have afforded them to highlight the bigger picture – the mistreatment of animals as opposed to the terrible actions of one professional football player.

Michael Vick appeared Monday at a federal court in Richmond, Va., to file his plea agreement in the federal case pending since July.

The U. S. Attorney’s office revealed the assistance provided by the ASPCA® (The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals®) in its investigation: ASPCA Forensic Veterinarian, Dr. Melinda Merck, participated in the excavation of the graves and examination of the remains. Further details cannot be provided at this time.

Said ASPCA President & CEO Ed Sayres, “While the details of what the deceased dogs went through are absolutely heartbreaking, we can take some comfort in the fact that our work has helped to renew the spotlight on animal cruelty in this country—and heightened the critical need to attack it at all levels of society. I am extremely proud of Dr. Merck’s and the ASPCA’s stellar contributions to this case.”

As announced last week, the ASPCA will continue to assist in this case by leading a team of animal behavior experts in evaluating the dogs seized from Vick’s property earlier this year. Based on these evaluations, recommendations will be made to the USDA and the U. S. Attorney’s office regarding the disposition of the dogs. Due to the sensitive nature of the evaluations, further details are not possible at this time.

The Humane Society continues to offer a link on their home page to Vick’s Monday press conference, along with a stunning statement from Wayne Pacelle the Humane Society’s President and CEO, a man who represents an organization with more than 10 million members according to its website.

“Michael Vick just made a live, direct statement to the public regarding his circumstance. What he said today was spot on.

“I felt real sympathy for Vick in watching him speak. I saw a man whose life has been turned upside down. No one can feel good about seeing someone take this kind of fall. It's tragic.

“I deplore what he did. Many animals experienced immense and sustained suffering at the hands of men who used their power in the wrong way. There's no defense for it, and Vick offered no excuse for it today. I am heartened that Michael Vick spoke about his mistakes and took responsibility for his actions, calling dogfighting "terrible" and indicating "I reject it."

“I also was very pleased that Michael Vick noted how he failed America's young people. He apologized to them. Michael Vick now can tell a powerful, personal story and show young people that you must take responsibility for your actions and that dogfighting is not a benign hobby, but a sickening, barbaric and criminal action. The practice has been surging in urban centers around the nation, so that message is timely and relevant.”

So lets be clear the Tom Sorensen’s of the world, the producers of the Larry King Show and Nancy Grace are ready to embarrass and do whatever they can to denounce Michael Vick for what he has admitted and is prepared to take responsibility for, but one of the leading animal rights activists is trying to understand what Michael Vick is going through and is actually affording Vick some empathy? Pacelle has every right to never forgive Michael Vick for what he has done, but is it possible Pacelle sees hope in Michael Vick’s message? My God – how utterly ironic those most hurt by Michael Vick’s actions seemingly might one day forgive Michael Vick.

And here is a suggestion Michael Vick can take to the bank. Here’s a plan whereby Michael Vick and Wayne Pacelle can create a lasting legacy to help society understand how terrible we can treat defenseless animals. Michael Vick can step up and announce he is prepared to commit $5 million of his personal fortune to an endowment fund to help educate the public to the cruelty to animals and how we must end the terrible treatment some animals’ experience. And be very clear the cruelty to animals extends far beyond dogfighting, that is but the tip of iceberg. Imagine what $5 million would do to help the public understand they next time they took their kids to a circus how the animals are treated or how barbaric bullfighting is. Just imagine if something good could come out of the terrible and unspeakable crimes Michael Vick has committed – and yes once that is done Michael Vick is given the second chance we all deserve when we make terrible decisions.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Charlotte Observer

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Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Howard Bloom's August 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 Michael Vick and his guilty plea, his statement made, the Atlanta Falcons wanting Vick to return $22 million to the $44.5 million he was paid, reaction from Falcons owner Arthur Blank, the media's reaction and influence, and Michael Vick's future with the Naitonal Football League.

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Michael Vick must be allowed to play in the National Football League again

It might be two years, an outside chance it could be as long as three, but somewhere in the future Michael Vick will be afforded the opportunity to once again play in the National Football League. If NFL commissioner Roger Goodell attempts to permanently ban Vick from playing in the NFL Goodell’s recently implemented NFL Players Conduct Code will represent a complete misrepresentation of justice. Vick has earned a lengthy suspension from Goodell but if Goodell is considering banning Vick from the NFL for life it would represent a perversion of what Goodell and the NFL instituted on April 10, 2007.

Monday Michael Vick took the first of many steps on his long road back, after admitting in a Richmond, Virginia courtroom he had committed illegal acts. And let’s clear up what Michael Vick has done – there is no excuse whatsoever for the deviant behavior Michael Vick has been convicted of, the actions are reprehensible, but we also live in a society where forgiveness should be a right afforded to everyone and when they’ve paid their ‘debt to society’ everyone deserves a second chance – and yes even Michael Vick deserves a second chance at his chosen profession.

"For most of my life, I've been a football player, not a public speaker, so, you know, I really don't know, you know, how to say what I really want to say.

"You know, I understand it's -- it's important or not important, you know, as far as what you say but how you say things. So, you know, I take this opportunity just to speak from the heart.

"First, I want to apologize, you know, for all the things that -- that I've done and that I have allowed to happen. I want to personally apologize to commissioner Goodell, Arthur Blank, coach Bobby Petrino, my Atlanta Falcons teammates, you know, for our -- for our previous discussions that we had. And I was not honest and forthright in our discussions, and, you know, I was ashamed and totally disappointed in myself to say the least.

"I want to apologize to all the young kids out there for my immature acts and, you know, what I did was, what I did was very immature so that means I need to grow up.

"I totally ask for forgiveness and understanding as I move forward to bettering Michael Vick the person, not the football player.

"I take full responsibility for my actions. For one second will I sit right here -- not for one second will I sit right here and point the finger and try to blame anybody else for my actions or what I've done.

"I'm totally responsible, and those things just didn't have to happen. I feel like we all make mistakes. It's just I made a mistake in using bad judgment and making bad decisions. And you know, those things, you know, just can't happen.

"Dog fighting is a terrible thing, and I did reject it.

"I'm upset with myself, and, you know, through this situation I found Jesus and asked him for forgiveness and turned my life over to God. And I think that's the right thing to do as of right now.

"Like I said, for this -- for this entire situation I never pointed the finger at anybody else, I accepted responsibility for my actions of what I did and now I have to pay the consequences for it. But in a sense, I think it will help, you know, me as a person. I got a lot to think about in the next year or so.

"I offer my deepest apologies to everybody out in there in the world who was affected by this whole situation. And if I'm more disappointed with myself than anything it's because of all the young people, young kids that I've let down, who look at Michael Vick as a role model. And to have to go through this and put myself in this situation, you know, I hope that every young kid out there in the world watching this interview right now who's been following the case will use me as an example to using better judgment and making better decisions.

"Once again, I offer my deepest apologies to everyone. And I will redeem myself. I have to.

"So I got a lot of down time, a lot of time to think about my actions and what I've done and how to make Michael Vick a better person.

"Thank you.''

In the coming days you’ll be afforded the opportunity to hear and read plenty of reaction to what Michael Vick admitted to in court Monday, many of those comments will be from ill-informed media types who have their own agenda relating to Michael Vick – made even more ironic since many of those same so called ‘journalists’ played their part in creating the heroic persona built around Michael Vick.

One of more intriguing questions asked repeatedly in recent weeks concerning Michael Vick – how and why could someone with contracts worth in excess of a hundred million dollars risk everything by participating in a dogfighting business. That is an easy question to answer. Society places athletes on a pedestal, or at least the elite athlete someone who was as good as Michael Vick was from his days a Pop Warner footballer, through high school, his days at Virginia Tech and finally his five years as a member of the Atlanta Falcons those around Michael Vick created a world where Michael Vick believed he was above others – almost superhuman.

"The expectations that we put on celebrities and sports icons are phony, unfair and hypocritical....We put these people on an inflated pedestal and when they tumble the wrath of the society comes down on them," Earl Ofari Hutchinson, author of books on race and politics told Reuters.

"I don't think he should be over-penalized because of who he is," said civil rights leader Al Sharpton on his radio phone-in show in a view echoed by many callers.

"He should be treated as any first offender. You can't treat someone different because they are a celebrity."

The crimes Michael Vick has admitted too are heinous and distributing. That said, the outrage concerning what Michael Vick has done stands in a remarkable contrast when compared to a ‘sample’ of alleged criminal activity and crimes other athletes have committed. Why has society been so quick to forgive and embrace others for their mistakes while wanting to see Michael Vick banned from ever playing in the NFL again?

O.J. Simpson, one of the best running backs in NFL history, was acquitted of the 1994 murders of ex-wife Nicole Brown and her friend Ronald Goldman. In 1997, however, a civil jury found Simpson liable for the wrongful death of Goldman and battery against Brown. Simpson, the 1968 Heisman Trophy winner and six-times Pro Bowler, was ordered to pay $33,500,000 in damages.

Pete Rose, Major League Baseball's all-time hits leader, was sent to federal prison in 1990 for tax evasion. In 1989, Rose was barred from the game for life because of gambling, and in 1991 was banned from Hall of Fame consideration by a vote of the hall's board of directors. If Rose had apologized soon after he was banned from baseball it’s likely he’d be in the Baseball Hall of Fame today.

Former world heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson was convicted in 1992 for the rape of a beauty pageant queen in an Indianapolis hotel room. He was sentenced to six years in prison and released in 1995 after serving three years. Tyson earned hundreds of millions of dollars after he served his prison sentence – paid his debt to society.

U.S. Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding pleaded guilty to charges stemming from a Jan. 6, 1994, knee-battering assault in Detroit on her arch-rival, Nancy Kerrigan. Harding pleaded guilty to hindering the prosecution - admitting she knew who was responsible but failed to tell authorities - and was sentenced to three years probation. Harding never served a day in jail after having direct knowledge her former husband tried to cripple her biggest rival.

Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens avoided murder charges and possible jail time by pleading guilty to misdemeanor obstruction of justice in exchange for testifying against two co-defendants. The NFL fined Lewis $250,000 for conduct detrimental to the league. The co-defendants of the five-times Pro Bowl linebacker were ultimately acquitted of the slayings of two men following a Super Bowl party on Jan. 31, 2000. A year later, a year later Ray Lewis led the Baltimore Ravens to their first ever Super Bowl title and was selected as the MVP at Super Bowl XXXV.

A federal judge in Atlanta sentenced National Football League player Jamal Lewis in 2005 to four months in prison and one year of probation for using a cell telephone to try to set up a cocaine deal. Lewis signed a free agent contact with the Cleveland Browns during the off-season and is scheduled to make $3.5 million with a performance bonus of $1.5 million more.

Leonard Little currently plays for the St. Louis Rams of the NFL. He attended the University of Tennessee. After a drunken birthday in 1998, NFL star Little crashed into and killed another motorist, Susan Gutweiler. When tested, his blood alcohol level measured 0.19 percent. Little received 90 days in jail, four years probation and 1000 hours of community service. Six years later, Little was again arrested for drunk driving and speeding. Little was acquitted of driving while intoxicated, but was convicted of the misdemeanor speeding charge. On Week 11 of the 2006 NFL season, Little signed a 3-year extension with the Rams.

"He absolutely must account for what he has done," Dennis Courtland Hayes, interim president and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, said in an interview with The Associated Press last week. He had earlier given similar comments to NBC's "Today" show.

But Hayes cautioned against condemning the Atlanta star too quickly.

"It's real clear that Mr. Vick himself would acknowledge that he has made a mistake," Hayes said. "I think there is reason to believe in his redemption."

Hayes' comments came a day after the head of the NAACP's Atlanta chapter said Vick should be allowed to return to football after the case is resolved.

"As a society, we should aid in his rehabilitation and welcome a new Michael Vick back into the community without a permanent loss of his career in football," Atlanta NAACP President R.L. White said.

"People need to understand the backdrop as some in the African-American community make their expressions of support," Hayes said. "That backdrop includes anger and distrust with the criminal justice system that disproportionately pays attention to African-Americans and Hispanics.

"While no dog deserves to be mistreated, the backdrop includes the perception among some African-Americans that the criminal justice system treats them like animals and that nobody seems willing to do anything about the disparity."

"He may in fact be being treated better than some African-Americans and Hispanics who don't have the resources and financial means that he has," Hayes said. "On the other hand, there might be some of a different race or different ethnicity who might be treated a bit differently."
Soon after Vick’s press conference Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank offered these telling comments.

“We cannot tell you today that Michael is cut from the team,” Blank said. “Cutting him may feel better today emotionally for us and many of our fans but it is not in the best long-term interest of our franchise.”

Blank said Vick called him to apologize last Monday when news first broke of the quarterback’s plea agreement. He said Vick’s comments today, which included an apology to Head Coach Bobby Petrino, Blank, his teammates and children who follow his career, is the first move in his personal recovery process.

“It was a brief conversation, but I think it was a very sincere conversation,” Blank said.

“When you see Michael go into that courthouse, that’s a little different now,” added McKay. “I can say, personally, that was tough to see… I thought he did an outstanding job of taking the first step in what’s going to be a lot of steps.”

Blank made it clear the team will respond by moving on with the football season. It will do so in front of sellout crowds at the Georgia Dome, as the owner also announced Monday that the team’s season ticket sales this season were at the highest level in franchise history.

Blank’s sentiments aside, according to a report last week in The Atlanta Journal Constitution since Vick was first indicted and suspended by the NFL the secondary ticket marketplace eBay, Craigslist and StubHub have been flooded with Falcons fans trying to sell tickets they purchased for the 2007 season. Falcons fans may have voted with their hearts in their sense of betrayal and outrage towards Michel Vick but when it comes to their minds they’re no longer interested in seeing Falcons games because Michael Vick is no longer a part of the teams’ 2007 plans.

He said team partners have also been understanding and that the Vick situation will “not compromise what (the Falcons) stand for.”

“I could not be more proud of our head coach today than I’ve ever been in the past,” Blank said when asked about the Falcons’ next steps. “He’s done an unbelievable job focusing himself, his staff and the players on the responsibility of football… My view is they have moved past this. It doesn’t mean they’re going through some personal emotions and mourning -- we all are -- but they’ve moved past this and focused on their job.”

As for Blank and NFL commissioner Goodell their sense of betrayal in dealing with Vick justifiably goes well beyond how Vick has embarrassed the Falcons and the National Football League. Soon after Goodell suspended Adam Pacman Jones for the entire 2007 NFL season and Chris Henry for the first eight games of the 2007 season Goodell and Blank met with Vick to discuss the allegations a property Vick had owned had been the center of a dogfighting business. Vick denied that he had any direct knowledge of the alleged activities.

“I know you're out here to talk about the ongoing investigation back in Virginia, but as of right now my situation is still under investigation and my attorney's advised me not to talk about this situation right now. That's the best thing. I know you guys have a job to do and ... if you'd respect what I have to say about just not saying anything right now until the investigation is over. With that said, if there are any football questions I'd be more than glad to have them.” Vicks offered in refusing to deal with the issue everyone wanted to question him about at the Falcons mini-camp in early May.

A clearly upset Falcons owner Arthur Blank made it clear at the same time he’s was waiting to hear from Goodell as to what the league intends to do about Vick’s off-field antics.

"What [Goodell] will do about it, I'm not sure, but he's not going to take it lightly," Blank said. "He's got Michael on his radar and I think he made that clear to Michael as well."

For what it’s worth four months later Blank told The Atlanta Journal Constitution in early May he did not know if Vick has any involvement but, "from the facts we have so far, it's not a pretty picture. It's clearly an issue and we'll wait and see what revolves around it. I'm not a prosecutor or an attorney so I'm not going to sit in judgment of Michael."

Should Michael Vick have come clean with Roger Goodell and Arthur Blank when he met with them in early May? It’s so easy to say four months later Michael Vick should have told the truth – that’s a great deal easier said than done. Did Michael Vick make a mistake – an unbelievably stupid mistake! How could anyone risk more than a $100 million in earnings for a dogfighting business? Its almost beyond belief, its nonsensical but it did take place and once Michael Vick has paid his debt to society he should be allowed to resume his NFL career – he had better be allowed to once again enjoy the opportunity to play on Sunday.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Reuters, Wikipedia and ESPN.com

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Wednesday, August 22, 2007

The NFL Network – baby steps forward

The Wall Street Journal featured a front page report on the NFL Network earlier this week. The latest edition of Multichannel News featured a report about the growth of the NFL Network. Suggestions of growth in subscriber numbers aside, the challenges the NFL Network faced when it televised its first live NFL game on November 23, 2006 Thanksgiving Day haven’t changed. And without significant strides forward the NFL Network will never reach its true potential as a broadcast entity.

Multichannel News reported that with the NFL’s pre-season schedule underway, and with the start of the NFL season less than three weeks away NFL Network subscriber numbers have hit 44 million, an increase of 10 percent over the estimated 40 million subscribers the network had at Super Bowl XLI.

“There have been continued rollouts with affiliates,” said NFL Network communications director Seth Palansky. “We added 500,000 alone with Verizon [FiOS TV], [EchoStar Communications Corp.s Dish [Network] and DirecTV in the second quarter alone.”

Those comments aside the overwhelming issues the NFL Network has faced for the last year remain firmly in place. Time Warner Cable Inc, Charter Communications Inc. and Cablevision Systems Corp. remain steadfast in the resolve to not carry the NFL Network on their basic Tier. Their rationale remains what it has been for the last year – the three major cable carriers believe there isn’t enough value in the subscriber fees the NFL Network continues to demand.

A look at the evolution of the NFL Network and the investment NFL owners have made in the NFL Network begins to offer an understanding of why the NFL and some of the Nation’s biggest cable carriers remain at loggerheads. And comments made by key NFL owners over the last four years suggest the NFL isn’t about to budge in their demands.

The NFL Network was launched November 4, 2003, only eight months after all of the league's 32 team owners voted unanimously to approve its formation. The league invested $100 million to fund the network's operations.

NFL Films, which produces commercials, television programs, feature films, and documentaries on the NFL is a key supplier of the NFL Network's programming, with more than 4,000 hours of footage archived in their library. Thus, much of the network's highlights and recaps feature NFL Films' trademark style of slow motion game action, and sounds of the game and the talk on the sidelines.

Last fall after the NFL secured network television revenues collectively that are greater then the sum total NASCAR, NBA. MLB, NHL, the NCAA and the last two Olympic Games combined, the NFL understanding that they were dealing from a position of strength looked at a number of different options for the eight late season games the league hadn’t sold the rights for.

The league's decision to build the NFL Network with regular season games came nine months after it completed deals with NBC Universal Sports on a six-year, $3.6 billion deal to carry Sunday Night games and with ESPN on an eight-year, $8.8 billion contract to show ''Monday Night Football.'' In November 2004, CBS and Fox extended their Sunday deals for six years, with CBS paying $622 million annually and Fox paying $712 million. DirecTV extended its contract for $3.5 billion over five years.

''I never thought eight games would be so valuable,'' Jones, the owner of the Dallas Cowboys, said before his team defeated the Eagles, 21-20, in Philadelphia on Monday night last November.

''I get up in the middle of the night to watch international news, and then I turn to the NFL Network,'' Robert K. Kraft, the owner of the New England Patriots told The New York Times. ''I watch it all the time, and many real fans do the same.''

In November there was a great deal of speculation the NFL would either use the eight games as leverage to create a national cable sports network or sell the games to Comcast who would in turn put the games on OLN. OLN, which reaches 65 million homes, secured national cable rights for the National Hockey League.

''We hope our potential programming partner can help us get more exposure, even without putting games on the NFL Network,'' Jones said.

Kraft added, ''If we can have the new multisport platform, and the NFL Network continues to grow, that would be the ideal solution.''

Ten weeks later, on January 27, 2006 the NFL realized they weren’t going to receive what they believed was fair market value for the eight games and announced the NFL Network would host the games. At least for the short-term (six years) Comcast and Turner weren’t interested in investing hundreds of millions of dollars in helping the NFL move the league’s in-house network forward.

The NFL Network was a ‘fledging’ operation at Super Bowl XL, reaching 33 million homes. For a league that over the last two weeks established record ratings for the first two weeks of Monday Night Football on ESPN (in excess of nine million viewers each week), ESPN’s 95 million homes offer the NFL the cable partner it needs to deliver ratings that can justify billions of dollars. The NFL Network didn’t have the reach or the awareness to deliver significant ratings to the NFL when the league decided to make what at best was an ‘interesting’ decision.

“They'll be able to build the NFL Network into something far more significant,” said Marc Ganis, a sports industry consultant in a New York Times report last January. “On the 357 days when games are not being carried, N.F.L. programming will be going into people's homes.”

NFL owners for there part, were pleased a broadcast venture they had invested $100 million in start-up funds three years earlier was ready to make a dramatic step forward.

Dan Snyder, the Redskins' owner, who is on the league's broadcast committee, said by telephone, ''The games are ultimately so powerful that we could propel this into a major network.''

Robert K. Kraft, the owner of the Patriots and a third member of the committee, said by telephone, ''In some ways, I had hoped that we would be able to do a deal with Comcast.'' But, he added, ''we're into the development of our sport, and our network is 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.''

A year ago NFL officials declared their goal when the NFL Network offered its first live NFL telecast – 65 million homes. Last summer the NFL Network was in 40 million homes, the same total they found themselves in November and at the end of season when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell offered this tepid response regarding the NFL Network subscriber base during his Super Bowl XLI State of the NFL press conference.

“First off we're very proud of the NFL Network. It has been extremely high quality programming. We think it's been terrific in giving fans another perspective of football that they wouldn't ordinarily see, because it's 365 days, 24 hours a day. That's what we're trying to build is giving fans an opportunity to experience football in ways that they haven't been able to do in the past. We think it's going to be extremely successful.

“I think I'd point out for the fans that it's part of our building process, but we show every one of our football games on live, free television. And that's important. And we will continue to make sure that that's an emphasis going forward.” Goodell commented.

Shortly after the Super Bowl Goodell downsized the short and mid-term goals for the NFL Network suggesting being in 50 million homes was a much more realistic goal. What the NFL doesn’t seem to appreciate (better than to suggest the NFL doesn’t understand) the basic math cable careers have done. All one needs to do is compare the value (and fees) associated with what ESPN offers cable careers to what the NFL Network continues to demand.

The NFL Network continues to demand around 70 cents per month from cable companies for each home that carries the NFL Network, while ESPN charges cable carriers around $3 per month.

ESPN offers Monday Night Football, thousands of Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association, and NCAA football and basketball games – all for $3 per month. The NFL Network can say whatever they’d like (and yours truly happily purchases the NFL Network as part of Rogers (Canada) Cable’s digital sports package) but at the end of the day beyond the eight games the NFL Network is no more than niche programming. At 70 cents a month, compared to the value ESPN offers sports fans the difference is astounding.
NFL executive vice president and general counsel Jeffrey Pash told the Wall Street Journal in November he believed the NFL should be given a pass because the league is the only sports league to make most of their teams games (except for the eight games on the NFL Network and the ESPN Monday Night Football package) available to over-the-air carriers. That indeed may be true, but the $3.75 billion dollars the NFL generates annually from their broadcast agreements exceeds the collective agreements MLB, the NBA, NASCAR, the NCAA, the last two Olympics and the NHL produce.

"There's been a mass migration away from broadcast television with one exception -- the NFL -- and we still have every game on broadcast television," Pash said. The agreements the NFL has with both ESPN and the NFL Network dictate both the packages are made available on over-the-air carriers in the home markets of the competing teams.

"For the next six years we've got contracts with the broadcast networks," Pash said at Senate hearings held eight months ago. "We've got a contract with ESPN that goes out eight, so it's not like we're going to do this, this week, and next week we're going to do three times as much. This is where we are for the foreseeable future. We'll see if it works or not. We'll see if there's consumer acceptance. We'll see if there's consumer response. If these games don't get wide distribution, if they don't get good ratings, ratings commensurate with what our other games get, if they don't get strong advertiser support, we'll have to look at an alternative."

Pash’s comments aside – there is nothing to remotely suggest the cable industry is buying what the NFL is selling.

"While there's a tremendous passion for NFL programming, most of that's being satisfied," says Marc Ganis, a sports consultant in a Wall Street Journal report. "The cable companies have found this weakness and are using it to push back against the NFL."

The issues the NFL is having with selling the NFL Network is going to force the NFL to expand by at least two teams in the next six years. The NFL who rarely fail at anything have to be ‘concerned’ about the distribution issues the four year old cable network is facing. The NFL Network was in 41 million homes when the NFL training camps a year ago – a year later an increase of less than 10 percent isn’t much of a success story for the National Football League. Time Warner, Charter Communications and Cablevision need more incentives before they’re going to consider adding the NFL Network.

In four years (this year is the second of the NFL six year agreements cable and over-the-air television agreements) if the NFL really intends on making the NFL Network work, the NFL will be forced to add season long Thursday and Saturday night games. There will be a number of issues with weekly Thursday and Saturday nights games, one of which will be preserving the integrity of as many Sunday NFL games as possible. The NFL owns Sunday’s, but having a weekly money making taste of Thursday and Saturday night games is just what the NFL Network needs. However to make that work, the NFL needs more teams to be able to schedule more games, thus the need to expand by at least two franchises before the next TV contract is negotiated.

The NFL’s current television agreements generate $3.75 billion dollars annually; each team is guaranteed $106 million annually from the most expensive sports rights fees agreements. It’s a given NFL owners will want at least that much (if not much more) from their television partners. It’s also a given NFL owners will want to see the NFL Network begin to reach its potential. There is only one solution for the NFL to consider – by adding two teams the league will be in a position to create a full Thursday/Saturday night schedule for the NFL Network, while keeping the number of games the NFL offers to their current television partners where it currently is. If the NFL where to consider taking games away from the current allotment they’re offering their network partners its all but certain the networks wouldn’t be prepared to offer the billions of dollars they currently are. Count on it, the NFL will expand by two teams in the next four years.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Wall Street Journal and Multichannel News

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Tuesday, August 21, 2007

The complete and utter fall of Michael Dwayne Vick

How could it have ever happened to the athlete a few years ago deemed to be the face of the National Football League? Why would someone who had come from the “Badlands” of Richmond, Virginia throw away his life? What could have led a man who had nothing, and then was given everything to throw away his life? Some of these issues can only be answered by Michael Vick, but today with Vick having agreed to a guilty plea in the charges that he had been an active participant in a dogfighting and gambling related business is days from the end of his National Football League career, Vick’s downfall is almost complete. And Michael Vick has reached his “end of days” as a member of the Atlanta Falcons.

Monday’s announcement that Vick will plead guilty on August 27 places Atlanta Falcons owner Arthur Blank one step closer to ending the single greatest nightmare of his life. The fall of Michael Vick represents one of the final nails in Michael Vick’s coffin relationship with Blank, a billionaire who made Vick a multi-millionaire just three and a half years ago.

“We are certainly troubled with the news today concerning Michael Vick’s guilty plea to federal charges. It is our understanding that the terms of Michael's plea will not be available until next Monday, August 27. Additionally, Commissioner Goodell has asked us not to take any action until he has completed his own review of Michael's situation. Accordingly, we will have no further comment until that time.”

The NFL released the following statement concerning Vick’s decision to plead guilty Monday afternoon: “We are aware of Michael Vick’s decision to enter a guilty plea to the federal charges against him and accept responsibility for his conduct. We totally condemn the conduct outlined in the charges, which is inconsistent with what Michael Vick previously told both our office and the Falcons. We will conclude our own review under the league’s personal conduct policy as soon as possible. In the meantime, we have asked the Falcons to continue to refrain from taking action pending a decision by the commissioner.”

On December 23, 2004, Arthur Blank made Michael Vick a multimillionaire and at the same time Arthur Blank made the strategic decision to make Michael Vick the face of his NFL franchise.

Vick signed a 10-year contract with the Atlanta Falcons worth $130 million with a $37 million signing bonus, making him the highest paid player in NFL history and one of largest contracts ever in sports when the deal was signed.

Vick's deal surpassed the $98 million contract the Indianapolis Colts' Peyton Manning signed in March, 2005. Manning, who signed for seven years, is guaranteed $34.5m in bonuses. Vick's $130 million potential value topped Philadelphia’s Donovan McNabb's 12-year, $115m deal that ran through the year 2013. While NFL contracts are not guaranteed, in signing Vick to what was a record contract for an NFL player three and a half years ago. Vick was scheduled to be paid $6 million this year.

In the five full seasons Michael Vick has been an NFL player he as earned $34.4 million in bonuses from the Falcons and $11.2 million in salary, a staggering $45.6 million. It remains to be seen if the Falcons will be responsible for paying Vick any outstanding bonuses money owed on his remaining contract. There is also a very real possibility the Falcons will sue Vick for parts of the bonus money they have already paid Vick for services the Falcons believe haven’t been rendered.

Vick’s lead defense attorney Billy Martin said Vick reached an agreement with federal prosecutors after consulting with his family during the weekend.

"Mr. Vick has agreed to enter a plea of guilty to those charges and to accept full responsibility for his actions and the mistakes he has made," Martin said in a statement. "Michael wishes to apologize again to everyone who has been hurt by this matter."

Far too little, far too late for Michael Vick. Vick met with Blank and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell in late April and assured both men he had no involvement and had no direct knowledge of the rumored allegations that dogfighting had taken place on one of his properties. When Vick met with Goodell and Blank he was given the chance to come clean with both men – who both trusted Michael Vick was telling them the truth.

Arthur Blank stood by Michael Vick at the time, despite media reports that suggested Michael Vick was knee deep in the heinous crime of dogfighting charges that included the torture and mutilation of dogs.

"Blank is in complete denial, in part because he spent $130 million on the guy,'' one source said in the Sports Illustrated report. “Vick is his investment. When Vick does something wrong, he has Blank to run to. Blank and his wife, Stephanie, really coddle the guy. They baby him. I think they've enabled the situation to the highest degree. They've not held Vick accountable for his actions.'”

That’s said all you have to do is read between the lines of what Blank told SI’s Don Banks and you begin to understand the depth of Blank’s ‘understanding of what Michael Vick means to his football team.

"There's no coddling going on here,'' Blank said. "Whatever is 180 degrees from that, that's the reality. The [financial] investment we've made in him has nothing to do with the way we treat him. When Michael has done something wrong that has been documented, we've had very direct conversations with him. We don't have all the facts of the [dog fighting] investigation, but obviously the story's not developing well. Which is one of the reasons why I asked the commissioner to speak to Michael about the situation and to be as stern as he felt he needed to be.''

Blank said he personally told Vick in recent days that his behavior must change, and not just his words -- or else.

"I would say Michael understands, and I told him he is in essence on a short leash,'' Blank said.”His behavior cannot go on this way. His actions need to be different; his decisions need to be different. He can't just talk about changing things; he has to change his life. He says he understands, and I'm hoping he's being truthful with us and wants to deal with it. I hope he has the personal strength. I think it's very appropriate to say he's at a crossroads.''

Is Vick ready to make amends for his troubling actions off the field? After meeting with Goodell and Blank, here’s what Vick had to say about his meeting with the commissioner and the owner of his team (his boss) according to The Atlanta Journal Constitution.

"They both challenged me to be more accountable in all areas of my life. I know I need to make some changes around me to make sure that the people in my life have my best interest at heart. My goal is to not let my fans, my teammates, or my coaches down.

"Mr. Blank was very direct with me. He and I both understand and agree that the responsibility to not show up in the paper, on TV, or on the internet in a negative light is mine."

Blank appears to be waiting for the other shoe to drop in terms of what the Falcons are expecting from Goodell and the NFL.

"I am concerned about [a possible suspension]," Blank said. "I don't think we're at that point, but you're concerned about that. If he's found to be guilty or charged with dog fighting — obviously, I have no idea or indication of what that will be — that's serious stuff."

It remains to be seen how the legal system chooses to deal with Michael Vick but the fact that Michael Vick lied to Roger Goodell and Arthur Blank in late April represents the ultimate act of betrayal to the NFL and the NFL franchise that put so much faith in Michael Vick both on and off the football field. Forget about the court of public opinion that long ago convicted Michael Vick for what he has done, forget about the legal system – in the simplest of terms any trust and faith the National Football League had in Michael Vick is gone forever.

A great deal of discussion that took place at the NFL draft in late April focused on how far Notre Dame quarterback Brady Quinn had fallen in the draft. The Miami Dolphins needing a franchise quarterback passed on Quinn with the 9th overall pick.

Many believed Quinn’s freefall before he was selected with the 22nd overall pick was due in part to teams not needing a quarterback. The Dolphins didn’t believe in Quinn but what about the Atlanta Falcons who had the 8th overall pick and selected Jamaal Anderson. If the Falcons knew then what they know now about Michael Vick, would they have selected Quinn. Joey Harrington proved in both Detroit and Miami he wasn’t an NFL starting quarterback – he just doesn’t have what it takes to lead an NFL team. And now the Falcons are left without Vick, passed on Quinn and are hoping Harrington a “B” NFL quarterback is leading their team. Yet another devastating example of what Michael Vick’s actions has done to the future (both short and long-term) to the future of the Atlanta Falcons.

"I, like all people who know and care about Michael Vick, was very disappointed and saddened by the news," Frank Beamer, who coached Vick at Virginia Tech, said in a statement. "Although all the details are not known at this time, I am greatly concerned that Michael has put himself in this position."

"There were some judgment issues in terms of people he was associating with," Martin said. "He realized this is very serious, and he decided to plead so he can begin the healing process."

Public animal advocacy groups were quick to react Monday suggesting in no uncertain terms it’s time everyone understood how serious the crimes Michael Vick will admit to next Monday are very serious.

PETA called—no, bellowed—for strong action on behalf of dogs, and we scored!

NFL quarterback Michael Vick has accepted a deal to plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges involving illegal dogfighting. This is the latest in a long line of animal abuse cases involving NFL players. While the speed and efficiency with which prosecutors handled this case is a victory for animals and a sign that the crime of dogfighting is being treated with the gravity that it deserves, the NFL needs to follow suit.

PETA is again calling on the NFL to add cruelty to animals—in all its forms—to its personal conduct policy. This case has clearly shown that NFL fans are just as outraged by cruelty to animals as they are by any of the other antisocial behaviors outlined in the policy.

As these recent examples show, the high incidence of animal abuse cases in the NFL indicates a disturbing trend that needs to be addressed immediately:

Earlier this year, Vick's teammate Jonathan Babineaux was accused of inflicting blunt force trauma on his girlfriend's dog, Kilo, following an argument. Kilo died after reaching the emergency vet clinic.

In 2004, NFL running back LeShon Johnson was found guilty for his involvement in a massive dogfighting ring.

In 2001, former Eagles running back Thomas Hamner was twice convicted of beating his dog and has been convicted of animal cruelty.

Furthermore, an informant from inside the dogfighting world who spoke on ESPN's Outside the Lines told reporters about "a whole roster of names of professional athletes that we know are involved in dogfighting... I bet not even 10 percent have come to light." Given these disturbing allegations and the numerous recent cases of animal abuse involving NFL players, the NFL needs to act vigorously and with authority to stamp this out immediately.

And from the SPCA similar sentiments, “SPCA International is happy that swift action was taken in response to Michael Vick's dog fighting ring and we fully expect prosecutors to arrive at a punishment that fits the crime.

“The practice of dog fighting is not sport, ever - it's cruel barbarism and must be stopped.

“We are hopeful that some good can come out of this horrific crime as public awareness of dog fighting increases and more of these operations around the world are shut down.

“Stories of dog electrocutions, hanging, drowning, blunt force trauma and malnutrition abound in the eighteen page indictment filed in the District Court of for the Eastern District of Virginia. Vick and his co-defendants allegedly ran the operation since 2001.

"While most Americans may find these details hard to comprehend, the sad truth is that they are all common occurrences in the world of dog fighting," said Stephanie Scroggs, SPCA International director of communications. "Any dog trapped in that world is living a nightmare on a daily basis."

“The SPCA hopes that the publicity afforded to Vick's guilty plea will raise awareness of - and spur additional action against - the horrific practice of dog fighting.”

Vick’s legal team doing their best to spin Vick’s plea agreement seem to throwing Michael Vick’s future on the mercy of the court.

“Watching Michael Vick go through this, even for a lawyer with my experience on these types of cases, is very painful,” Billy Martin, one of his defense lawyers, said in a telephone interview with the New York Times. “We find a young man in a predicament that should never have happened.

“Michael is in the process of trying to heal himself and his family. We understand Judge Hudson has the matter in his hands, and we are hopeful that he will allow him to continue to do the only profession he knows and give him a second chance to come back into the N.F.L.”

Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who has been reporting on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry for 18 years offered his expert opinion on several key legal issues concerning what’s next for Michael Vick legally. There’s certain to be a great deal of media coverage next Monday when Vick enters his guilty plea next Monday, but what exactly will take place? Munson offered this on that issue to ESPN.com.

“Vick and the government prosecutors will file papers that give the details of Vick's admissions. The factual details in those papers will be critical. Will Vick admit that in March 2003, he helped Quanis Phillips, one of his co-defendants, hose down a losing dog and then electrocute it? Will he admit that he helped execute eight more dogs in 2004 and 2005, some by hanging, some by drowning and one by slamming it on the ground until it was dead? Will he admit that it was his money that was used in the purses and the side bets in the dogfights described by his cohorts? If he admits a personal role in the execution of dogs and a lead role in the gambling enterprise, he might never return to the NFL. Goodell and NFL officials will scrutinize these papers as they decide what should be done with Vick.

“In addition to the details disclosed in the paperwork, watch next Monday for Judge Henry Hudson to set a date for Vick's sentencing. In most federal courthouses, the sentencing comes at least several months after the guilty plea; but in the "rocket docket" procedures that prevail in Richmond, the sentencing will probably come more quickly, perhaps as early as October. Judge Hudson must also determine whether to sentence Vick's co-defendants before he sentences Vick. Tony Taylor, the first of Vick's cohorts to plead guilty and agree to testify against Vick, was to be sentenced on Dec. 14, after he testified at Vick's trial (which had been set for late November). That scheduling was an obvious incentive for Taylor to testify effectively against Vick. But now, with Vick's admission of guilt and the trial off the docket, Judge Hudson may move the date of Taylor's sentencing up, and sentence all three of Vick's co-defendants, including Quanis Phillips and Purnell Peace, before he sentences Vick. All three will be entitled to consideration for leniency because they admitted their guilt and promised to help the federal prosecutors in their case against Vick.”

As for the National Football League it’s certain Roger Goodell will suspend Vick indefinitely in the coming days; however that will represent a band-aid solution, not the long-term discipline Goodell may have in mind for Vick.

Will his prison time (expected to be at least a year) be tied to how long he’s suspended by the NFL or will Goodell attempt to ban Michael Vick from ever playing in the NFL again? However reprehensible Michael Vick’s crimes are whatever decision Goodell makes will have to factor in how Goodell believes Vick’s actions compares to the actions of other NFL players. Roger Goodell is about to complete his first year as NFL commissioner, a remarkable year for a strong decisive leader – this promises to be one of his greatest challenges to date.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN.com, USA Today and The Atlanta Journal Constitution

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Monday, August 20, 2007

When worlds collide – David Stern, Tim Donaghy and Viva Las Vegas

Tuesday, July 24 represented a defining moment for National Basketball Association commissioner David Stern. Days after the New York Post broke the news that NBA official Tim Donaghy was directly tied to betting on NBA games and providing information to people interested in betting on NBA games. When Stern met with the media on July 24 he painstakingly clear, Donaghy was “a rogue criminal who acted alone” and the NBA had an no nonsense policy when it came to officials and gambling – betting of any kind to be exact. Monday a USA Today report suggested more NBA officials may have broken NBA rules and regulations regarding officials gambling and where NBA officials aren’t supposed to be.

David Stern spelled out in no uncertain terms, betting isn’t tolerated by the NBA, the NBA had plenty of safeguards in place and any gambling or betting are fireable offences by the NBA.

“We do subject our referees to extensive security checks, to the limit provided by the law. That is to say, with their authorization each year for the past two years, we have conducted personal background checks that cover credit, bank account, litigation, civil and criminal, assets including real property, debt, you name it; if it's legal to have it, we do it. The agency that we use for that is the Arkin Group, and under the guidance of the former head of worldwide operations for the CIA.

Taken directly from the transcript the NBA provided the media on July these are a series of questions and answers David Stern was asked relating to the NBA’s rules and regulations regarding gambling and NBA officials.

Q: Two quick things. One, is it illegal to bet on it's not illegal for your employees, they are not allowed to bet on NBA games or they are not allowed to gamble the slot machines, cards, betting on NFL games?

Stern: The prohibition is on all forms of gambling.

Q: Slot machines included?
Stern: Slot machines included. If you want to go to the racetrack in the summertime, you get a pass, that's it.

Q: You mentioned that referees are allowed to bet at the racetrack in the off season. Isn't that the same kind of place where you can get into the same kind of gambling problem or debt as other forms? Why is that an exception?
Stern: Because it was bargained for by the union against a since we had the most far reaching prohibition, I think of any sport, which prohibited them being in casinos, that we said, okay, if you're a summer day at the racetrack is okay, out of season.

A report Friday on 1050 ESPN Radio in New York said Donaghy will give prosecutors as many as 20 names of other NBA officials and will detail their involvement in some form of gambling activity. The specifics of the gambling allegations are reportedly believed to include betting in casinos.

"As far as we know, the misconduct was isolated to one individual, and we'll stand by that until proven otherwise," National Basketball Referees Association director Lamell McMorris told ESPN.com's Chris Sheridan. "We'll review whatever information Tim Donaghy alleges, but as far as we're concerned, the only person whose conduct has been proven wrong is Tim Donaghy. We're dealing with truth, not hearsay, and the truth is that the only person who has pleaded guilty to any kind of wrongdoing is Tim Donaghy."
Stern’s comments aside, according to a USA Today report: none of the activities of the other referees appeared to be criminal.

But their activities may be in violation of NBA regulations, which severely restrict wagering by referees and other personnel. None of the activities by the other referees involved wagering on basketball, the official said.

Former referee Mike Mathis says it wouldn't surprise him if referees were involved in football pools and the like.

However, Mathis told the USA Today he doesn't believe other referees bet on games as Donaghy did. Mathis, an NBA official for 26 years and a member of the National Basketball Referees Association executive board, retired five years ago.

"Like anybody else, refs play in fantasy football pools and things like that," Mathis said. "I'd be surprised if others are involved in what (Donaghy) did."

"I'd hate to be one of (those) guys," Mathis told the USA Today. "The league would say these guys did X, Y, Z. … Right away, the public is going to say, 'Ah ha, that's what Tim did.' It gives credence to all those who think games were fixed and conspiracy theorists."

If that were to be proven true according to the policies and procedures David Stern outlined to a national audience on July 24 the NBA would be in a position to fire the 20 officials.

Coming close to the start of NBA training camps (two months from now) Stern and the NBA are faced with a classic Catch 22 situation – how can they not fire the 20 officials, how can they start an NBA season in a few months with the loss of so many NBA officials. And those questions only deal with the direct impact of the officials if indeed Donaghy’s reported allegations are proven to be true. If the allegations are correct what does it say about the ship David Stern is captain of? What does it say about the NBA’s monitoring polices? What does it say about the people the NBA hired and put in place to ensure what is being alleged never took place?

“Somebody suggested that he (Donaghy) had gambled at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, at either the gaming tables or card games, I can't remember which one. There's no sports betting in Atlantic City.

“He had denied that he did that. We checked not only the Borgata, but every casino in Atlantic City and in Las Vegas to determine whether he had any presence in any of those places, and all of our investigation came up negative.”

And how has the NBA reacted to the ESPN New York radio report?

“We haven't received any additional information and have no comment," NBA spokesman Tim Frank said Saturday.

In Las Vegas getting ready for the start of basketball’s Tournament of the America’s Wednesday, several members of Team USA talked about gambling (in Las Vegas) and being a professional basketball player in a Los Angeles Times report.

"A little blackjack, that's about it," Chauncey Billups said.

"We know our limits. We know right from wrong, what we can do and we can't do," Carmelo Anthony said after a scrimmage in a sweaty high school gym a few miles from the Strip.

While Las Vegas (and all) casinos are out of bounds for NBA officials the same rules aren’t in place for the players. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement permits players to gamble in casino’s but NBA players are not allowed near Las Vegas legal sports books and are not allowed to bet on sports events.

"They know and they don't come in here," said John Avello, who heads the sports book operation at the Wynn hotel-casino, where many members of the USA Basketball team are staying. "For the most part they know that to be in a sports book, to even think about wagering on a game, is off limits."

And Kobe Bryant made it clear to the Los Angeles Times – Tim Donaghy is not at the forefront of the “Dream Team’s” preparation for the Tournament of the America’s.

"Honestly, I don't think anybody's thinking about it," Bryant said. "Us players, we haven't discussed it. It's not something that's on the radar for us. We know that the commissioner and the league and whoever else is handling the situation, they're going to take care of it, so we don't have much to worry about."

The location of the Tournament of the America’s is going to be problematic for the NBA. Kobe Bryant’s comments aside, the Tim Donaghy story was going to be front and center wherever the ten day event was being held. The event being contested in the known center of the gambling universe promises to create a media circus over the next two weeks. David Stern can try and spin this story however he wants, but at the end of the day he’ll be forced to deal with the nagging Donaghy related issues everyday.

And what of Stern? If the ESPN New York story is true, how could so many NBA officials have violated the NBA’s referees policy and have risked their careers for an opportunity to visit a casino? As tough as it would be for the NBA to fire nearly half their officiating staff, if the allegations ESPN New York are suggesting are true, David Stern has no choice but to rebuild the NBA’s officiating staff from the ground up.

“Anything that can legally be done has been done,” the NBA commissioner said on Dan Patrick’s ESPN radio show last week.

“The best-case scenario is that this is a wake-up call to us, in that you can’t get complacent about your process,” said Stern. “We’re going to do this ongoing review, and many pro sports leagues are saying that this is a wake-up call for them, too.”

There have been suggestions Donaghy began betting on NBA games as far back as 2003. Stern made it clear at the July 24 press conference the NBA had investigated Donaghy has far back as 2005.

“With respect to Mr. Donaghy, in 19 in January of 2005, it came to the NBA's attention that he was involved in disputes with his neighbor which resulted in the filing of litigation in or about West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he resided.

“We hired an investigator to look into that through our security office, and looked at the allegations in the complaint. It had to do strictly with a dispute, and we had occasion to call Mr. Donaghy in where he informed us in January of 2005 that we he informed us that the allegations against him were untrue, and that he was the person that was being harassed by his neighbor, not as alleged by the neighbor, that he was harassing the neighbor.

“At that time, and as part of that investigation, there was an allegation made by two of our investigators on the ground, which by that time we had retained the Arkin Group to continue the investigation. Somebody suggested that he had gambled at the Borgata Hotel in Atlantic City, at either the gaming tables or card games, I can't remember which one. There's no sports betting in Atlantic City.

“We had denied that he did that. We checked not only the Borgata, but every casino in Atlantic City and in Las Vegas to determine whether he had any presence in any of those places, and all of our investigation came up negative.”

If the NBA provides David Stern and the NBA with definitive proof Donaghy had bet in any casino (forget about the Armageddon suggestion it may extend to 20 other officials) David Stern has to fire his entire security staff and investigation unit. If the charges are proven to be true the complete incompetence of the people and companies Stern had entrusted with the responsibility of preventing the kind of disaster from taking place have to be held accountable.

As for the NBA and the long-ranging impact on the sport – consider this? Five and a half years ago on the eve of the 2002 Salt Lake Olympic Games if anyone had suggested the World Figure Skating Championships wouldn’t have an over-the-air or cable television partner would be called a fool. Five and a half years later you might find figure skating events somewhere on the Internet, but you’re not going to find figure skating, let alone the world’s premier skating event on American or Canadian television. And that is a direct result of the fallout from the Jamie Sale and David Pelletier 2002 Olympic judging scandal.

What happened to figure skating and why the sport is living in the delete bin of the sports industry is simple. Following the Sale/Pelletier scandal figure skating’s leaders acted indecisively. The sports leaders tried to ban French judge Marie-Reine Le Gougne and French Skating Federation president Didier Gailhaguet. They were both initially banned from the sport but today are back in the good graces of the World Skating Federation and figure skating is at the edge the abyss. Everyone associated with Figure Skating seemingly believed the Jamie Sale and David Pelletier 2002 Olympic judging scandal would pass. In the coming days, weeks and months David Stern had better pay attention to the mistakes made by others faced with the same challenges and learn from their mistakes.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Los Angeles Times, USA Today and ESPN.com

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Tuesday, August 14, 2007

We've gone fishing for a week

SportsBusinessNews.com's award winning blog returns next week. Fear not -- we'll be back to tease, taunt and bother the sports industry soon enough

Friday, August 10, 2007

Day four – Barry Bonds the new home run king and the media

The San Francisco Giants completed their four game series against the Washington Nationals Thursday afternoon at San Francisco’s AT&T Park. As expected Barry Bonds who made the series one of the most memorable in Major League Baseball history took the day off. Bonds is expected back in the lineup tonight when the Giants open a three game series at AT&T Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Monday the Giants and Pirates will play a doubleheader at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park to make-up the two games the two teams where scheduled to play earlier this season in Pittsburgh but were cancelled (along with many more games in April). Barry’s 23-year MLB career has been with the Pirates (the organization that drafted Barry) and the Giants. Barry signed with the Giants as a free agent before the 1994 season, it will be interesting to see how Pirates fans react to baseball’s new home run king Monday, the first road game(s) Barry will play since he hit number 756 Tuesday night.

The media continued their unabated bashing of Barry Bonds. With the exception of very few journalists, the full frontal assault on Barry continued everywhere. From questioning why Hank Aaron offered Barry his best Tuesday night in a taped segment that was shown on AT&T’s giant scoreboard, to suggestions comments made by two members of the Baseball Hall of Fame represented the collective thoughts of the 280 members of the HOF towards Barry, to columnists insulting the San Francisco Giants fans. Barry’s 756th home run and the media’s subsequent reaction have become one of the more intriguing stories (extending well beyond the sports industry) in 2007.

In one of the distasteful columns written to date concerning Barry Bonds, USA Today’s Christine Brennan laid out not only Barry Bonds (fair game there) but suggested in a column Thursday there was something wrong with San Francisco Giants fans (objectionable comments on Ms. Brennan’s part).

The first two sentences of her not very well balanced column Thursday – clearly any objectivity Ms. Brennan was prepared to offer didn’t include sparing those who for whatever reason supported Barry Bonds.

“Our long national nightmare is over. Barry Bonds, the San Francisco Giants and their sycophantic fans can now stop demanding our attention like restless children and slink back to the oblivion of last place.”

Ms. Brennan is entitled to her views but to suggest those who believe in Barry Bonds and appreciated his efforts as being “sycophantic” is as wrong as wrong can possibly be. Ms. Brennan doesn’t have to support Barry Bonds, doesn’t have to like Barry Bonds but to mock those who did embrace the moment is insulating.

One of those who enjoyed sharing in the moment with Barry Bonds – President Bush (no word from Ms. Brennan if she believes the President of the United States is one of the ‘sycophantic fans’ she refers to). Wednesday, the President took time to offer Barry his personal congratulations, something that caught Bonds by surprise.

"That was pretty neat," Bonds, looking a tad dazed and tired, told reporters while lounging in front of his locker before Wednesday night's game against the Nationals according to MLB.com’s Barry M. Bloom. "How many times do you get to talk to the president? Maybe if you win a World Series or something. But as an individual? That's what I'm talking about."

Bush, the former president of the Texas Rangers in what must seem like another lifetime, congratulated Bonds for his achievement.

"You've always been a great hitter and you broke a great record," Bush told Bonds on the phone, according to White House spokesman Tony Fratto.

Bonds said he told the president, who has been under fire because of the five-year-old war in Iraq, that he has many friends who are soldiers and is strongly behind the troops.

"[The president] said, 'Congratulations,'" Bonds said. "It was great having my kids there, my family there. He understood the importance of being a father and that [the home run] was an outstanding achievement."

Bonds MLB.com reported that he had received 80 messages since breaking the record Tuesday night, including one from Yankees third baseman and 500-homer hitter Alex Rodriguez, returning about 20 of them. Bonds also spoke at length Wednesday to Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager who was Bonds' skipper in Pittsburgh for the first seven years of his career.

"I don't even want to look at it," Bonds said about the phone. "It's been ringing off the hook."

It is somewhat ironic that President Bush the baseball fan took time to contact Barry Bonds the baseball player. Meanwhile as MLB.com alluded to: U.S. Justice Department headed by Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez is still pursuing a case against Bonds for perjury during a federal grand jury investigation into the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative for drug laundering and the sale of illicit performance-enhancing drugs without prescriptions nearly four years ago.

Another grand jury sitting in San Francisco and hearing testimony regarding the Bonds perjury case has been extended to its full 18-month term and is currently adjourned.

During an interview Wednesday afternoon on Fox News Net, President Bush was asked about the Justice Department investigation into Bonds, the media’s treatment of the new home run king and Bonds’ baseball legacy.

"There is a lot of speculation about Barry Bonds, and my only advice for people is to just let history be the judge," Bush said during the interview. "Let's find out the facts, and then everybody's opinion -- one way or the other -- will be verified or not verified."

Though Bonds has often said he didn't use steroids, Bush added that any new revelations could disappoint a lot of people. And ultimately the onus for how Bonds will be honored would be placed on the shoulders of members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, who annually elect former players into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Baseball and the baseball writers will have to make the determination as to whether or not he would receive the highest accolade of all, which would be to be admitted into the Baseball Hall of Fame," Bush said.

"It really depends on what the facts are, and it's going to be up to [baseball] to make the determination as to an asterisk [on the record], but more importantly, it will be the Hall of Fame. That'll be the ultimate decision point for the baseball writers. In the meantime, anybody who knows the game will tell you Barry Bonds is a great hitter."

Meanwhile while many media members continue to suggest Henry Aaron not being at AT&T Park was a further slight against Barry Bonds, Atlanta Journal Constitution columnist Terence Moore spoke with Aaron in hopes of offering those interested a better understanding as to why Aaron offered a video tribute to Bonds that was played at AT&T Park on the teams’ scoreboard moments after Barry hit number 756.

According to Moore Aaron agreed to tape the segment after speaking with MLB commissioner Bud Selig. Rather than become a part of the story, Selig (and Bud deserves to be applauded for his leadership in protecting Aaron and baseball) believed Aaron had to offer something that would allow Aaron to step away from the Bonds story while showing Aaron remains what he has always represented – one of the greatest players and ambassadors in baseball history.

"It is a great accomplishment which required skill, longevity and determination," Aaron said in his message. "Throughout the past century, the home run has held a special place in baseball and I have been privileged to hold this record for 33 of those years. I move over now and offer my best wishes to Barry and his family on this historic achievement.

"My hope today, as it was on that April evening in 1974, is that the achievement of this record will inspire others to chase their own dreams," he said.

"He [Selig] figured that this would be the best way to handle it, and I agreed," Aaron recently told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Just make one statement [on Bonds breaking the record], and then be done with it." And even better on Moore who knew what was planned well before it took place to respect Aaron to have not ‘broken’ the story. That is what great journalism should be all about. Getting the story, respecting the confidentiality that had to be kept. Clearly the industry needs more men like Terence Moore.

One of the more interesting columns concerning Barry Bonds eclipsing Hank Aaron came from Thursday’s edition of The Baltimore Examiner. In a story that appeared Thursday, but from interviews that were conducted on July 27 in Cooperstown at the start of the Baseball Hall of Fame weekend, Examiner reporter Sean Welsh spoke with Brooks Robinson and George Brett about how they felt about Barry Bonds (who had yet to surpass Hank Aaron).

“I didn’t celebrate that much when Hank [Aaron] broke [Babe Ruth’s] record, and I won’t celebrate that much when Bonds breaks Hank’s record,” Robinson told the paper.

“I’m OK with anything that happens in the game,” Robinson said. “If you don’t like it, you don’t celebrate it. If you like it, you celebrate a little. I’m riding a fine line right now to see how this whole thing plays out.”

“I didn’t celebrate when Hank Aaron broke [the home-run record] and I won’t celebrate it when Barry breaks it,” Brett said. “And I won’t celebrate it when [Alex Rodriguez] breaks Barry’s.”

Well if you read what the two Hall of Famers said – they’re not going to celebrate whenever and whoever breaks the record. Neither man was being critical of Barry Bonds. So how could those two quotes create this story lead from Welsh? “If the words of two respected Hall of Famers speak for the entire group, Cooperstown could care less about Barry Bonds setting the all-time home-run record.” Firstly Mr. Welsh the words of two men do not sum up the thoughts of the 280 members of the Baseball Hall of Fame. And secondly if you can understand your own quotes neither Hall of Famer showed any disrespect towards Barry Bonds and his accomplishments.

While Brett’s and Robinson’s comments clearly in no way are meant to insult Barry Bonds, a long list of baseball luminaries joined Henry Aaron in offering their personal congratulations to Barry Bonds.

"I'm tickled to death for him," said Detroit manager Jim Leyland, who steered Bonds' Major League entry with the mid-'80s Pirates. "Other people might look differently at him, but when you have a personal relationship with him ... it's different for me. I couldn't be happier.

"I raised him as a young player, and I think he raised me as a young manager. I don't say I like everything he does, but we've got a tremendous understanding and mutual respect. ... He played every day for me and he busted his tail. What else can you ask for?"

"I think it's phenomenal," said Baltimore second baseman Brian Roberts. "I'm trying to get 750 hits. It's crazy, and the numbers are just insane when you think about what he's done. Ninety-nine-point-nine [percent] of us can't put into perspective or fathom it."

The Rev. Jesse Jackson, who had caught up in person with Bonds last month in Chicago during the Giants' series against the Cubs in Wrigley Field, issued a statement: "He remains the most feared batter with the most home runs and the most walks. I know his father rejoices tonight."

San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, ready to proclaim the day-after Barry Bonds Day in his city, said, "We are honored to have witnessed his incredible accomplishment here at home in San Francisco."

Sadaharu Oh, whose 868 Japan League home runs endure as a global pro record, said, "[Bonds'] next milestone will be 800. I wish him all the best in reaching that next goal and will be following his pursuit ... with high expectations.

"Hitting home runs requires tenacity and passion for baseball while overcoming hardship," Oh added in his comments to The Associated Press, "and I want to congratulate him from the bottom of my heart."

White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski, who spent the 2004 season in San Francisco, called Bonds "the best teammate I ever saw when he stepped in the batter's box.

"Good for him," Pierzynski said. "I'm happy for him that he broke the record. Congratulations to Barry."

Reactions to Bonds' 756th homer were immediate, as peers across the country paid homage to his deed and gave thanks for being able to share his time, and kept streaming in all Wednesday.

"I got chill bumps," said the Braves' Chipper Jones. "It was one of those times in your life you're going to tell your kids and your grandbabies what you were doing the moment that he broke the record."

Indians rookie Ryan Garko doubtless spoke for his generation when he said of the moment, "That was sick." In neo-speak, that means "fantastic," the way "bad" means "best."

"It's such a big deal for all guys in my generation, who grew up seeing him play," Garko added. "It's just an amazing accomplishment. And that's a tough park to hit 'em in, too. He could have 100 more homers if he didn't play in San Francisco."

"I never got a chance to see Babe Ruth or Mickey Mantle play," said the Orioles' Kevin Millar, "but we're getting a chance to see this in our generation. When we're grandfathers, we can explain it to our grandchildren, and that's what it's all about."

As games ended and ballpark lights dimmed late Tuesday night, Bonds' accomplishment fueled chatter in clubhouses.

Not everyone had waited for their games to end before offering comment.

As video of Bonds' shot played on Chase Field's scoreboard in Phoenix, Diamondbacks second baseman Orlando Hudson openly applauded at his position.

"That's great. That's unbelievable," Hudson said following the end of Arizona's game against Pittsburgh. "I can't wait to see him and give him a big old hug. He deserves it.

"He's the greatest player to walk between the lines. That's Barry Bonds. I'm going to tell my kids I played during the time of Barry Bonds. That's a great man."

Hudson has warm memories of being an All-Star teammate of Bonds and seeing his loving attention toward his toddler son.

Angels’ center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. can do better. He once was the little kid being tended to by Barry, when their fathers -- Bobby Bonds and Gary Matthews Sr. -- were Giants teammates from 1972 through 1974.

As he watched video of the seminal home run from center field in Angel Stadium, Matthews drifted 33 years back and 450 miles north.

"I've known Barry since I was a baby," said Matthews, 11 years younger. "I kept wondering what Barry was thinking. I thought about Barry, and his dad not being there, and how lucky I am to have my dad here.

"And I thought about Hank Aaron, everything he went through as a pioneer for future African-American ballplayers. This was quite a night."

So much of the Barry Bonds story has been told by journalists who for all the wrong reasons continue to have a hate/hate relationship with Barry Bonds. Barry Bonds has and will continue until Bonds retires and his Hall of Fame election takes place five years later.

Atlanta Braves outfielder Chipper Jones one of baseball’s good guys. If Barry Bonds is at one end of the spectrum when it comes to baseball players and the media Chipper Jones is at the other. Jones announced Wednesday he would no longer speak to the New York media after New York reporters twisted quotes Jones shared with the Associated Press regarding Alex Rodriguez into a series of embarrassing headlines in the New York Post and New York Daily News (both tabloids).

In the New York Post, the headline said "A 'Roid Shocker" with the subhead "Chipper says drug questions will dog Alex."

In the Daily News, the headline across the top was "Chipper's A-Bomb."

According to a report in The Atlanta Journal Constitution, when Jones arrived at Shea Stadium Thursday afternoon for the final game of the Braves – New York Mets series, when Jones entered the clubhouse Thursday morning and saw one of the tabloids, he tossed it on a table in disgust and said to several reporters approaching his locker: "New York media — beat it. If you guys think you're going to get anything more out of me, you've got another thing coming."

"It's just the pot-stirrers here," he said. "I'm actually defending A-Rod, and they turn around into a swipe," he said. "It's a joke. But what more do you expect from people who follow high-profile guys around with camera phones so they can get them in trouble."

Recent quotes attributed to former major leaguer Jose Canseco concerning Alex Rodriguez suggested Canseco in the midst of writing a follow-up to his best selling book “Juiced” is going to ‘spill the beans’ on A-Rod. Chipper was doing what Chipper does best, being a good guy coming to the defense of unfounded allegations from Canseco.

"There's been a lot of validation to some of the things that Jose Canseco has said over the years," Jones told the AP. "... Unfortunately, this cloud is following probably two of the best players of the century," Bonds and Rodriguez.

“... I'm playing in the steroid era. Everything that I do is going to be judged. It's the same with a lot of good ballplayers that have put up a lot of good numbers in this era that did it the right way."

What upset Jones – the gutter tabloid journalism the Post and the Daily News have become famous for.

"But that's the way the media is here," he said. "I should've known better.... Some weasel [from a New York newspaper] walked in here last night and asked me to clarify my answers. I said I was asked a question about A-Rod and I said he would have to answer questions, just like me, just like anybody else from this era. Now all of a sudden I'm taking a shot at A-Rod."

"I think he's pretty familiar with how sensationalistic this journalism is up here," he said. "I will [call him] because I want him to know what was said and in what context. It was nothing aimed at him. I was actually defending him. I think he'll see it my way."

There are many journalists who have offered opinions about Barry Bonds (none of them complimentary) that are well thought out and well presented. Certainly Bob Costas never a fan of Barry Bonds has done his best to offer a balanced, yet anti-Bonds view. He hasn’t insulted San Francisco Giants fans, he has implied that two members of the Baseball Hall of Fame are speaking for all Hall of Famers, he hasn’t twisted their remarks and it’s certain while Costas appreciates what Hank Aaron did Tuesday night, Costas respects what Aaron did.

If nothing else the full fledged assault this week on Barry Bonds by far to journalists with their own private agendas against Barry Bonds have so little respect for their profession they’ll create their own version of the truth to serve their ends. Ask yourself who is hurting the sports industry more – the athlete who allegedly used performance-enhancing drugs in an era when his sport didn’t test for those drugs, or the so-called journalists who twist the words of others?

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today, The Atlanta Journal Constitution and The Baltimore Examiner

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Howard Bloom's August 10, 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 person who caught Barry Bonds 756th career home run ball and the value of the ball, Adam Pacman Jones potentially stepping into the squared circle for TNA wrestling, the latest salaries and bonuses from NFL first round picks, the new interest in owning a NHL franchise, and a look at some minor league baseball promotions.

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Thursday, August 09, 2007

Howard Bloom's August 9, 2007 "The Truth: if you can STAND IT!" 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 Barry Bonds hitting homerun 756, the absence of Bud Selig for the historic homerun, Hank Aaron and how he congratulated Barry Bonds for passing his record of 755, the Beijing Olympics and how much it will cost, the marketing dollars behind the 2008 Olympic Games, the issue of human rights in Beijing, and the politics of the Games.

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Start it up – an Internet streaming explosion

When the year began it appeared two significant sports industry trends that showed strong growth potential over the last few years, continue to move forward as we head into the “dog days of summer”. The secondary ticket marketplace (examined in an Insider report last week) and the streaming of live sports events on the Internet continue their impressive gains through the first seven months of 2007 with no signs that growth won’t continue for the foreseeable future. In an industry searching for more, diverse and new revenue generating opportunities two announcements in the last 24-hours linking the streaming of sports on the Internet indicates those ahead of the curb in using the latest technologies are poised to capitalize on the tremendous potential for growth.

ESPN360.com Broadband Service the center of ESPN’s video streaming efforts Wednesday announced a series of dramatic content initiatives that will not only add profile to the service but provide an opportunity to increase revenues.

ESPN360.com will adopt a new programming strategy this fall, becoming a live sports-driven programming service. Under the new programming strategy, the ESPN Digital Media and ESPN Programming units will collaborate to present more than 2000 live events on ESPN360.com in the next 12 months, dramatically growing the service’s programming and delivering to fans the most comprehensive live, multi-sport broadband service anywhere. In 2006, ESPN360.com delivered more than 200 live online sports events, and through July 2007, had featured more than 500 live events.

A new user interface for ESPN360.com is in development and scheduled to launch in fall 2007. To implement the day-to-day operation of ESPN360.com’s new programming strategy, Jeff Cravens has been named the vice president & general manager of ESPN360.com.
With ESPN360.com’s shift to live programming, ESPN.com, the leading sports destination online, will become the home for ESPN’s extensive library of daily on-demand online video (http://sports.espn.go.com/broadband/video).

“With the new programming approach for ESPN360.com we are creating the leading online destination for live sports,” said John Kosner, senior vice president and general manager, digital media. “This is a tremendously exciting development for sports fans. If the game is not on one of ESPN’s TV networks, fans will check ESPN360.com – and in certain cases go there first.”

Added David Berson, ESPN executive vice president, program planning and strategy, “The evolution of this service reflects, and further develops, our overall programming strategy across all media. We are focused on giving fans the most extensive live and on-demand sports video content. The variety of ESPN360.com programming, in some regard, is a throwback to the early days of ESPN.”

As the first full-time, multi-sport, live sports-driven broadband channel, ESPN360.com will feature a broad array of live sports events and programming every day, delivering multiple live events at a time, spanning a global lineup of sports programming including (but not limited to):

Hundreds of college football and basketball games (including many out-of-market games);
NBA games;
NASCAR Nextel and Busch Series races;
College baseball, softball, hockey and lacrosse;
International rugby;
Tennis (including the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon);
Arena Football League games;
U.S. and International soccer;
Open wheel racing; international baseball;
Sports-related press conferences.

The new programming approach marks the latest evolution in ESPN’s industry-leading broadband and online video strategy. ESPN360.com currently serves tens of thousands of streams for many of its live online events. Recent programming successes include more than 500,000 streams served for UEFA Champions League soccer matches; nearly 320,000 for the 2007 UEFA Under-21 soccer tournament; more than 250,000 for both the FIFA Under-20 World Cup and the 2007 Wimbledon tennis tournament; nearly 250,000 for both college football and college basketball (not including the March ESPN360.com Championships Week All-Access trial period); nearly 85,000 for NASCAR Busch series races; and more than three million for the 2006 FIFA World Cup tournament (the service’s most-viewed event).

ESPN360.com is free to fans and is currently available in more than 15 million homes nationwide that receive their high-speed Internet connection from an affiliated service provider. The service has more than doubled its distribution since August 2006 and will expand again this fall when it will become available to all RCN high speed Internet service subscribers.

“As ESPN360.com becomes the live sports hub, the value it delivers to both sports fans and to affiliated Internet service providers is clear,” said Matt Murphy, senior vice president, digital product development. “We expect to continue to build upon the growth and success of ESPN360.com in the coming year.”

And how does ESPN generate revenue for what is billed as a free service? In order to have access to ESPN360.com one needs to agree to use a high speed Internet provider affiliated with ESPN. ESPN continues to aggressively pursue sports properties. Every agreement ESPN has signed in the last year include a clause that allows ESPN to use that content on all of their various programming platforms. ESPN may be paying a little more for rights (their recent long-term NBA agreement as an example) but they also provide programming for ESPN360.com which in turn generates opportunities for ESPN (and the mothership better known as The Disney Corporation).

Late yesterday afternoon ESPN360.com announced that, will deliver more than 150 games, including original games and simulcasts of ESPN, ESPN2, ESPN Classic and regionally produced games, throughout the season (games, dates and times will be determined on a six or 12-day basis). In addition, ESPN360.com will carry every Army home football game.

Earlier Wednesday a year to the day when the Beijing Games are scheduled to begin, NBC announced one of their more ambitious Internet streaming projects to date. According to the release Olympic fans will have access to approximately 2,200 total hours of live streaming Olympic broadband video coverage on NBCOlympics.com.

The NBA announced multi-year extensions with ABC/ESPN and Turner in late June. The agreements reportedly will pay the NBA 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.

Those increases aren’t a reflection of the demand from network (over-the-air and cable) television to put games on the small screen, but clauses that give both Turner and ESPN the right to put games their televising on TNT and ESPN and ESPN2 respectively on the Internet.

“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.

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.

Monday, Turner Broadcasting announced the launch of a new broadband channel on MLB.com. TBS, home of Major League Baseball (MLB) coverage for the past 30 seasons, announced today the upcoming launch of an interactive broadband channel designed to give fans extended online coverage of the network's MLB post-season coverage. The channel, TBS Hot Corner, will offer unique live and on-demand streaming, and will be launched on MLB.com, the official website of Major League Baseball, in September in anticipation of TBS' exclusive coverage of the Division Series and the National League Championship Series (NLCS). The TBS Hot Corner broadband channel joins other Turner Sports new media properties, including NASCAR.com, PGATour.com, PGA.com and TNT OverTime on NBA.com.

"TBS Hot Corner is an important extension of our postseason MLB coverage as it gives us a comprehensive platform to interact with fans and deliver unique in-game access like never before," said David Levy, president of Turner Sports. "Through our linear coverage of the Division Series and the National League Championship Series on TBS, and complementary coverage on MLB.com, we're proud to give fans a multiplatform experience to enjoy all of the not-to-be-missed moments that the MLB postseason has to offer."

In early September, TBS will launch the TBS Hot Corner on-demand player that will feature 90-second daily (Monday – Friday) news updates and player interviews from around the league. Beginning Oct. 3rd in conjunction with the start of TBS' postseason television coverage, TBS Hot Corner will also prominently feature a live, hosted pre-game webcast that will allow fans to interact and chat live with the host, as well as participate in polls and an interactive trivia game.

In addition to the on-demand daily news reports and live webcasts, the new broadband channel will also feature multiple streams of exclusive coverage from MLB match-ups carried on TBS, including a unique "Dugout Cam" that will give fans a birds-eye view inside both team dugouts during each game. Additional on-field cameras will be announced upon the Oct. 3rd launch.

TBS television announcers, who include baseball Hall of Famers Cal Ripken Jr. (studio analyst) and Tony Gwynn (game analyst), two-time Emmy® award-winning host Ernie Johnson, MLB veteran Joe Simpson (game analyst) and Chip Caray (play-by-play), will contribute to regular features to the channel. The studio show featuring Ripken and Johnson will be available on-demand on TBS Hot Corner following the live telecasts. The network begins its 2007 MLB postseason coverage on Wed., Oct. 3rd with the first games of the Division Series.

And when the last golf major of the year gets underway today at the Southern Hills Golf Club in Tulsa golf fans (many who will be at their desks working Thursday and Friday when the first two rounds are played, but with access to hi-speed broadband Internet) will be able to follow the final major of the year at PGA.com.

If you're a golf fan, then there isn't much that's cooler than PGA Championship Live, an exclusive online video experience from Turner Sports New Media and PGA.com that is sure to enhance your enjoyment of the 89th PGA Championship.

For the uninitiated, PGA Championship Live is a video service accessible through PGA.com that allows you to be in control of how you watch the action from Southern Hills by giving you four different video streams -- or pipes -- from which to choose.

On Pipe 1, you'll be able to watch TNT's live coverage from 1 p.m.-5 p.m. ET even if you're nowhere near a television. On Pipe 2, you'll find "playercam," which is exclusive coverage of select groups that you'll only find online. On Pipe 3, you'll get an inside look at the PGA Championship, including flyovers, classic highlights and player interviews.

Finally, on Pipe 4, you can help your own game with golf tips from the PGA Learning Center, including special in-tournament tips with PGA Director of Instruction Rick Martino outlining how players pulled off the shots that make the difference in the tournament.

Turner Sports New Media executive interactive producer Pete Scott says it takes considerable teamwork to pull off such an undertaking.

"We use the television infrastructure that's already there, the cameras that are already on the course (for Pipe 2)." Scott said. "We use that for about 70 percent of our coverage. We basically say, 'Can we get all the holes coming into our truck,' so that it allows us to bounce around the course using cameras that are already being used by CBS cameramen.

"We can't talk to them, but at least we have a feed and a picture of them and most of them know that while we're on camera, don't do anything crazy, so we basically use their pictures to help us tell the story.

"We're basically renting their facilities and personnel to basically produce our feed," he added.

There are, however, some original pictures being used as well, as Scott explained.

"We have two unilateral cameras and they're RF cameras, which means they're not hooked up to a cable, they're basically wireless," Scott said. "They can travel anywhere we want on the course with the blessing of the PGA of America."

There will also be some bonus TNT coverage available exclusively online on Pipe 1.

"(TNT) is basically going to come up an hour earlier, with the TNT branding, for Thursday and Friday to give TNT bonus coverage just for online," Scott said. "Then, at 2 o'clock, when the rest of the world is tuning to TNT, people will get the same feed on Pipe 1."

Clearly if you’re a sports league you either have a complete understanding of the potential the Internet represents and you embrace those opportunities or you unfortunately be left behind, losing money each and everyday you’re not a big part of leveraging your content on the Internet.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom

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