Wednesday, October 31, 2007

David Stern couldn’t be happier its time to Hoop it Up

The 2007-08 National Basketball Association tipped off last night. NBA commissioner had to breathe a sigh of relief when he was a part of the San Antonio Spurs ring and banner ceremony. Stern was forced to deal with a number of off season issues that directly slammed the image of the league. The summer began with a former NBA referee admitting he had worked with bookies to fix the point spread of NBA games, and ended with NBA Hall of Fame member and New York Knicks coach Isiah Thomas facing a sexual discrimination lawsuit.

Last week one issue Stern made clear to the media during his pre-season press conference – there hasn’t been any collateral damage (according to Stern) from the fallout from the tough off-season the league was forced to deal with, and it hasn’t impacted the league’s credibility.

“Not even sponsors, no. Not even you, actually. I think there are lots of questions about subjects, about the Knicks, about refereeing, about Donaghy. In a certain way, that's par for the course. I don't think I've ever had, on a conference call like this, when someone has told us tell us how good it's going to be, how great things are.

“So I don't think we've had to defend, what was the word you used, our credibility?”

So is David Stern just avoiding the issue or does he really believe the NBA is Teflon proof?

“This is a league that, as I said in an earlier press conference, we've dealt with, you know, we were going to be out of business when Larry and Magic retired, then when Michael retired, when drugs was an issue, when race was an issue, when HIV was an issue.

“We're here, and we plan to not only be here but we're here as successful as I think we've ever been and actually with some huge issues that we're in the process of working through. So it's never easy. But I think the people that are gathered here working at the NBA are clearly up to it.”

The good news – while Stern wants to move forward (David Stern is always in control when he’s dealing with the media) he didn’t attempt to ignore the Donaghy issue and did admit the NBA’s policy of not allowing NBA officials to visit casinos was outdated.

“Here is where we are in that investigation. Number one, the current state of the record is that Mr. Donaghy acted alone. There are no other referees that betted on NBA games.

“Number two, to the extent that we have a very broad rule that says you can't do anything could be read to include lotteries, golf, poker, including the poker game that's conducted annually at the NBA training camp. Someone has probably stepped across the line amongst all of our officials. But the reality is that about half of our officials have told us that they've been into casinos in the course of the last several years. And actually I have made a decision not to discipline them because I think the rule is overly broad. Of course, I take full responsibility for having been responsible for its enactment. I'm the CEO. I think its enforcement leaves something to be desired.

“So while we reenact while we look at our rules completely and come up with a new set of rules, which I think is going to allow casino gambling at certain times of the year, I've decided that the better view here is to take my medicine and take it's not the right thing to do, to slap these guys on the wrists. I know they probably shouldn't have done it. They know they probably shouldn't have done it. But I'm not happy with the overall situation of an overbroad rule, spotty enforcement and reinforcement. We give the yearly pep talk about not gambling, and that's it until training camp next year. We've got to decide what to do. We've got to decide to do it firmly, fully throughout the year and have consequences based upon thorough follow up, enforcement and detection.

“You know, I've been discussing this with Lamell McMorris, the head of the referees association. . We're on the same page. We want our referees to have clear sets of rules that are not overly broad and that are enforced and well understood. So that's where that is.

“We're retaining yet new and additional betting experts. We are revamping our entire security investigations, making them deeper and broader. We are developing a wide array of statistical screens that we will use prospectively after the investigation is over with Mr. Donaghy as we seek to use statistics to detect signs that something may be amiss.

“I'm having trouble reading my own handwriting. That's why I'm faltering here.

“We are going to post, relatively soon, each day the referees who are working that night's games so that we can eliminate some advance knowledge or secretive whatever edge that someone might have in knowing who the referees are. We're going to rework our work rules with respect to cell phone conduct and the like because we have rules about not using the cell phones in the locker room that were not particularly well enforced either.

“We're really now in the process of revamping all of our rules to make sure we have ones that work and that they're both highly reinforced and well enforced. And we also are going to be how shall I say this… what Stu Jackson was telling our owners, our referees are being strongly encouraged both to have better interaction with our players and coaches alike and be accessible. The league will be much more forthcoming with respect to telling the world when our referees make a mistake. That will be often. We'll probably keep it until important situations, but it will be often because only 92% of our calls are correct. We have these things called humans making the calls. The referees are okay with that. We're going to be working together with them to take the best officials in sports and just make them that much better.

“That's the refereeing sort of short position, although I'm looking here to see if I left anything out.”

But that said – David Stern is well aware at least at the start of the 2007-08 season, the league’s credibility (visa-vie) its officials could be on the line.

“I take that right away from our fans. It's a time honored tradition. Even in your asking of the question, I got, I want to push back at you a little bit. Let's separate things out, okay? I mean, Donaghy is a criminal who did bad things. There's an entire set of issues that we have to deal with with respect to gambling and the like. Let's not conflate that with issues about the competence of our officials or not. You can have what opinions you may have on that. But I choose to separate criminal conduct, just as I don't start my phone calls with you asking about Jason Blair and how it affects your reputation as a reporter or the like. I'm interested now.

“Now the second point is that we think we do have to continue to improve our officiating and demonstrate that we're improving it. So with that, we've retained Bernie Fryer, just recently retired crew chief, to work with crew chiefs to make them better mentors because we got a sense from talking with and to our younger officials that they wanted more and better training, and we wanted to respond to that.

“We're going to find more time for Ronnie Nunn to spend more time with officials on development. Indeed, because of the statistics and the like, because there's so much else to do with refereeing on the one hand, dealing with the international and national basketball community on the other, I've been discussing with Stu Jackson the splitting of the jobs between refereeing on the one hand and its supervision and basketball operations on the other and its supervision. By the time we got through discussing it, Stu and I agreed it was a good idea. Stu, given the choice, decided when that happens, which could be anywhere from weeks to more likely months, he will be doing the basketball side of it, which will be actually a very large job because in our last trip to China I announced our intention to consider a league in China and a variety of other initiatives such as working with the NCAA with respect to youth basketball, all that the NBA's role should be, not to mention USA basketball, the Hall of Fame. That's one side. And on the refereeing side, we've got to make an entirely new use of statistics and reformulate, as I've told you, a variety of rules and procedures that both improve our referees' competence, make their play calling and mistakes more available and transparent and improve their relationships with the players and the coaches, and make the good job they do more understandable to our fans.

“We're out there working on all three fronts. I would say that's different and apart from Mr. Donaghy, the criminal.”

The officials issue aside – what should be of greater concern Stern’s reaction or lack thereof in the sexual discrimination lawsuit the put the New York Knicks on the back pages (where sports resides) and on the front pages of New York’s many newspapers.

“Where it stands is it's currently on appeal. We discussed it. I reported on it to the owners at the meeting that we just finished. My own focus was to make sure as a league that we become sensitized to the issue, that we have a policy league wide with respect to training sensitivity and what constitutes and doesn't harassment, and that we set minimum standards and make sure that through our human resources department we assist our teams in doing it and make sure that they do it.

“With respect to the Knicks, it was really just a status quo. I have the power to do certain things. I don't know exactly I don't have anything in mind. I don't know whether I will do anything. But pending appeal, pending what will be further analysis of the situation, nothing has changed.”

An interesting perspective from the Commissioner – Stern knows he can do something but he doesn’t seem to know what that is – except sit on the fence. But a fairer point-of-view – with Thomas and the Madison Square Garden appealing the $11 million judgment, legally, can Stern do anything right now?

“I think that the subject is one that deserves attention, and that we have been doing it. I think that we're leading the charge in terms of equal opportunity employment and the like. But I think that I also believe in something akin to due process and trials taking their normal course, including appeals.

“Also, how shall I say this, what went on there is not without contest. I'm sure you wouldn't want to prematurely judge it. So that's my concern. And I recognize that there are people who are going to, and have, called me to task for that. But, you know, just because an action or inaction is unpopular doesn't mean that it's wrong.”

Those sentiments aside, Tuesday during an interview with ESPN David Stern offered a significant and pointed criticism of the Knicks.

Stern told ESPN: “It demonstrates that they’re not a model of intelligent management. There were many checkpoints along the way where more decisive action would have eliminated this issue.”

Knicks owner James Dolan facing an $11.6 million payout if MSG’s appeal of the lawsuit fails was quick to react to Stern’s comments; releasing the following statement.

“We have high regard for the commissioner,” Dolan said. “Right now, what we can all agree on is that the best thing for the Knicks is to get on the court and win some basketball games.”

Three reasons David Stern MUST do something when (and if) Thomas and MSG fail in their appeal. Firstly, David Stern acts with an iron fist in dealing with the players when it comes to discipline. Any miss-step is met with a suspension. How will Stern be able to bring the hammer down on NBA players if he doesn’t treat a member of the management side when they force his hand? How does David Stern believe women’s groups will react long-term to the NBA if the league doesn’t deal with Thomas when and if his appeal fails? And finally what would the ramifications be towards the future of the WNBA (and once and if) Thomas and MSG’s appeal fails?

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras seize the moment and embarrass Major League Baseball

Sunday night during the final game of the 2007 World Series, a breathless Ken Rosenthal reported that he had been contacted by agent Scott Boras. In a report, the Associated Press credited SI.com’s Jon Heyman for first reporting Alex Rodriguez was going to opt-out of his ten-year contract and become a free agent. The best player in baseball, the player whose contract seven years ago had rocked MLB to its core, was ready to test the free agent waters.

Boras negotiated the opt-out clause as part of the ten-year, $250 million contract Boras worked out with the Texas Rangers in December 2000. Rodriguez had the option of opting out of the ten-year $252 million he signed with the Texas Rangers in 2001. Rangers’ owner Tom Hicks realized he couldn’t afford the biggest contract in team sports history and dealt Rodriguez to the New York Yankees four years ago. Rodriguez had the right to inform the New York Yankees ten days after the conclusion of the 2007 World Series if he will exercise the free agency clause in his contract.

During the mid-summer classic Boras suggested not only would his client opt-out of his contract but he believed Alex Rodriguez was about to become the first professional athlete to earn more than $30 million annually. Boras being the best in the business negotiated a similar opt-out clause in J.D. Drew’s previous contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Drew opted out and signed a five-year $70 million contract with the Boston Red Sox.

Barry Bonds declared he would become a free agent Monday (a parade of names will follow in the coming days) but the team of Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras chose the bottom of the third inning of baseball’s biggest showcase to announce A-Rod had had enough of the Evil Empire and was ready to become a free agent. Among the points A-Rod made in deciding to leave the Yankees – everything from the fallout from Joe Torre’s decision to leave the Yankees, the status of other potential Yankee free agents and the transition within the Yankees ownership hierarchy (the end of the George Steinbrenner era).

"There really was no way he could make a decision (to stay) until much later in the month of November,'' Boras said. “There are no deadlines. We clearly needed more time to understand what 'transitional' meant, what the new owners intend, and what's going to happen to Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada and Andy Pettitte.''

"There was a system in place in which Alex played and in which he performed well," Boras said. "Now there is uncertainty about that. It's part of free agency that you want to know about the team you are going to be working with."

"Alex made the decision today,'' Boras said.”I thought we should notify the club.''

In a move that served to only further embarrass the Yankees even more, Boras told the media he couldn’t reach Yankees general manager Brian Cashman claiming he was forced to leave Cashman a voice mail. George Steinbrenner’s son Hank Steinbrenner speaking on behalf of the Yankees made it very clear the most successful franchise in sports history in terms of winning sports championships in their sport (26) were not happy with Rodriguez and how he went about conducting his business affairs Sunday.

“It’s a shame, but we are all in agreement: myself, my dad, my brother, all the baseball people,” he said. “If you don’t want to be a Yankee and paid what you’re being paid, we don’t want you, that’s the bottom line. You’d be hard-pressed to argue that point. If you don’t understand the magnitude of being a Yankee and understand what that means, and being the highest-paid player in baseball, I think it’s pretty obvious.”

Steinbrenner made it clear the Yankees wanted nothing more to do with a baseball player who showed so little respect to the Yankees tradition and the commitment the Yankees make in putting a winning team on the field each year.

“I don’t understand Alex’s point of view,” Hank Steinbrenner said. “Of course, he had hinted many times the past two years that he had questions about staying a Yankee. I guess he was serious. But being paid what he would have been paid, you would think at the same time there would be pride in being a Yankee.”
“I mean, come on,” he continued. “Every ex-Yankee I’ve ever talked to says the same thing: ‘Are you kidding me? Everybody wants to be a Yankee.’ And it’s not the cheap Yankees, either. It’s the Yankees who will pay whatever we have to pay. But when he opts out, that is telling us he doesn’t want to be a Yankee.”

While the Yankees are upset with how Rodriguez and Boras conducted themselves, the Yankees reaction nearly paled in comparison to how Major League Baseball reacted to Boras’ Sunday night show.

"We were very disappointed that Scott Boras would try to upstage our premier baseball event of the season with his announcement," Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer, said Monday in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

"There was no reason to make an announcement last night other than to try to put his selfish interests and that of one individual player above the overall good of the game," DuPuy said. "Last night and today belong to the Boston Red Sox, who should be celebrated for their achievement, and to the Colorado Rockies, who made such an unbelievable run to the World Series."

Late Monday realizing he had become the center of a storm that could hurt his ability to negotiate a contract for Rodriquez released the following statement to the media.

"I apologize to the Boston Red Sox and Colorado Rockies and their players, Major League Baseball and its players, and baseball fans everywhere for that interference," he said in a statement. "The teams and players involved deserved to be the focus of the evening and honored with the utmost respect. The unfortunate result was not my intent, but is solely my fault. I could have handled this situation better, and for that I am truly sorry."

An act of contrition on Boras’ part, Boras waves the white flag – that isn’t Scott Boras’ style. If he believed he hurt his ability to maximize A-Rod’s value on the open market than his apology makes sense. But like the boy who cried wolf, Boras’ track record and his understanding of the market suggests otherwise. And if Boras was as sorry as he has stated, why didn’t he consider apologizing to the Yankees as well? Leaving a voice mail for Yankees general manager Brian Cashman? Cashman deserved better.

Late Monday afternoon Cashman released the following statement to the media.

"I received a message from Scott Boras last night informing me that Alex Rodriguez formally opted out of the final three seasons of his contract," Cashman said in the statement. "We always understood that it was his contractual right to do so."

Cashman also told the Associated Press that the Yankees invited Rodriguez and Boras to negotiate an extension on the existing contract, an invitation which evidently was declined.

"We expressed our interest in keeping him in pinstripes," Cashman said. "We requested the opportunity to convey those feelings to him directly with the Steinbrenner family in an open, face-to-face dialogue.

"Alex was a key part of our success over the last four seasons, and I appreciate having the opportunity to work with him," Cashman said. "I wish Alex, Cynthia and their growing family the best of luck in the future. I only wish we could have raised a championship trophy together during his time here, which was the ultimate goal we all shared."

Boras spoke with the New York Daily News Monday suggesting money was never an issue but instability within the Yankees played a key factor in Rodriguez’s decision.

"If economics were the sole reason, you'd go in there and start talking and see if you have a meeting of the minds," Boras said. "We didn't even address (the economics)."

"It was clear that none of the player decisions would be made in that time frame, and we understood that," Boras told the Daily News. "It was just something where Alex called me and said there was no way he was going to be able to make any decisions before (the opt-out date)."

There is no doubt Alex Rodriguez is the best player in baseball. An 11-time All-Star, Rodriguez batted .314 with 54 homers and career highs of 156 RBI and 143 runs scored. Like Barry Bonds, A-Rod’s success has been limited to the regular season. While a member of the Seattle Mariners the teams he played for made it to the post season three times. In each of his four seasons as a Yankee, the Bronx Bombers made it to the post season. A-Rod hasn’t played a World Series game yet.

Rodriguez’s post season average is .279, compared to his .306 career regular season average. Of greater concern – A-Rod’s reputation isn’t that of a team player, but one who cares primarily about himself. Sunday’s decision to upstage the World Series will only serve to reinforce Rodriguez’s reputation as someone who doesn’t care about anyone other than himself.

ESPN’s Buster Olney made it clear he believed a team has far more to lose than they have to gain in signing Rodriguez.

“Rodriguez talked intermittently about loving New York and loving his place with the Yankees, but some of his peers within the team thought this was the real bluff. In the end, this meant so little to him that his time with the Yankees didn't end with the requested face-to-face meeting, but with Boras sending a text message with a document attachment to GM Brian Cashman.

“And some of Rodriguez's teammates were constantly perplexed by him, wondering why he had a knack for melodrama; they were awed by his talent and by his seeming insecurity, which they thought was at the root of his postseason struggles. He has played four seasons in New York and will almost certainly leave after two MVP awards, 173 homers and 513 RBIs, and yet somehow he never seemed to fit in entirely.

“Somebody will buy into A-Rod, of course. He's an extraordinary player. The cost will be hundreds of millions, and the heart and soul, of his next franchise.”

The richest man in the world or in this case the best player in baseball isn’t going to be worth 10 cents if his reputation is a sullied as Alex Rodriguez’s is today. If Scott Boras accomplished nothing else Sunday night, he succeeded in hurting Alex Rodriguez’s reputation. Now be very clear about one issue – Alex Rodriguez was fully aware what Scott Boras did Sunday night and has to be held accountable for the actions of his agent. Scott Boras is too good an agent to have not made his client fully aware of the ramifications for the timing of their announcement.

The relationship between an athlete and their agent makes it clear – the athlete always makes the decisions when it comes to their careers. Sunday night Alex Rodriguez and Scott Boras made a mistake. It remains to be seen if they’ll pay the price.

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

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Monday, October 29, 2007

The Globalization of North American major sports leagues – it can’t be stopped

The National Football League conducted its first regular season game in Europe Monday, with the New York Giants defeating the Miami Dolphins 13-10. The game was another stepping stone for the Giants in their quest to win the NFC (and become cannon fodder for either the New England Patriots or the Indianapolis Colts in Super Bowl XLII), while the Dolphins could be heading for the title of first team to not win an NFL game in their entire season since the 1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But off the field the NFL accomplished what the league set out to do when they announced the Dolphins and Giants would play a regular season game earlier this year – the NFL delivered their product to a new fan base.

It has taken the NFL a little longer than those running the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League but the NHL has taken an important step forward in the globalization of their sport – a prudent and important business decision.

More than 500,000 people registered to buy tickets for the game. More than 87 percent of the 88,000 tickets sold for the game were purchased by people in Britain. A near-capacity crowd of 81,176 ignored the rival attractions of four Premier League football matches on Sunday, including Liverpool's big clash against Arsenal, proving that yes even in London when an NFL game is played there are no-shows (people who bought tickets to the game but decided to ‘not’ show up).

The NFL began playing a series of pre-season games outside of the United States in 1986, dubbing the games American Bowl(s). After successful games in London's Wembley Stadium, the series was expanded to Japan. Since 1990, games have also been played in Montreal and Berlin to promote the new WLAF (later NFL Europe) which started in 1991. The 1997 game was played in Dublin, Ireland.

The largest crowd in NFL history was recorded at the American Bowl game at Mexico City August 15, 1994, when 112,376 people attended the game between the Dallas Cowboys and Houston Oilers.

At least one American Bowl game was played annually from 1986-2003 while as many as four were played per year in the early 1990s. There were three games in 1998, two in 2000 and since then not more than one per year. There was no American Bowl game played in 2004 or 2006. Since 2000, all American Bowl games have been played in either Mexico or Japan.

The two teams that play in an American Bowl game are selected by the league. This game is always the fifth pre-season game for the teams involved instead of the normal four.

Not considered American Bowl games, were several earlier pre-season contests played outside the United States. Between 1950 and 1983, there were 13 American football games involving NFL or AFL teams played on foreign soil. Six games between 1950 and 1961 pitted NFL teams against CFL teams with the NFL team winning all six games. One game was played between the AFL and the CFL with the CFL team winning. Five games were between NFL teams and there was one game matching AFL and NFL. The first ten games were played in Canada (1950-1969) then in Tokyo (1976), Mexico City (1978), and London (1983).

NFL Europa began in 1991 as the World League of American Football, with 10 teams competing in the United States and Europe. After a two-year hiatus (1993-94) following the 1992 season, the league returned in 1995 as a six-team, all-European venture, with five teams in Germany since 2005, and has existed in that format through its final season in 2007. NFL Europa was seen as a development league for the NFL; however there were a few issues the league realized over the last few years. The league wasn’t producing many players for the NFL and the consumer (the league had five franchises in Germany and one in Holland) didn’t want to support the product.

"The time is right to re-focus the NFL's strategy on initiatives with global impact, including worldwide media coverage of our sport and the staging of live regular-season NFL games," commented Mark Waller, senior vice president of NFL International.

"We will continue to build our international fan base by taking advantage of technology and customized digital media that make the NFL more accessible on a global scale than ever before and through the regular-season game experience. NFL Europa has created thousands of passionate fans who have supported that league and our sport for many years and we look forward to building on this foundation as we begin this new phase of our international development."

In addition to Sunday’s game in the United Kingdom, the NFL is preparing to stage regular-season games in future seasons in Germany, Mexico and Canada, with Germany being a strong candidate to host a regular-season NFL game in 2008. At the league’s fall meetings last week in Philadelphia the league’s Board of Governors where presented with a plan from the Buffalo Bills whereby the Bills would play eight games (five regular season and three pre-season games) in Toronto over the next five years, but that has little to do with the NFL’s plans to take their game global and more to do with expanding the Bills home region.

Since becoming NFL commissioner last September Roger Goodell has made it one of his mission statements to grow the sport beyond the United States and Canada.

"We're No. 1 in the U.S. but our future success depends in a large part on our ability to globalize," Goodell told reporters in the U.K. capital Friday. "This Sunday is clearly just the beginning."

Those sentiments aside – while the NFL has often set the bar when it comes to sports industry trends, when it comes to the globalization of their sport the NFL is clearly behind the other three major North American sports leagues.

David Stern remains one of the sports industries true visionaries. James Naismith, who invented the game in a Massachusetts gym in 1891, was born in Canada, but it was a combination of factors in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s that directly led to the explosion of NBA basketball globally

Following an embarrassing bronze medal performance at the 1988 Seoul Game, the NBA working with FIBA dropped the distinction between amateur and professional players in 1989, and in 1992, professional players played for the first time in the Olympic Games.

The United States' dominated the 1992 Barcelona Olympics with the introduction of their Dream Team. However, with developing programs elsewhere, other national teams started to beat the United States. A team made entirely of NBA players finished sixth in the 2002 World Championships in Indianapolis, behind Yugoslavia, Argentina, Germany, New Zealand and Spain. In the 2004 Athens Olympics, the United States suffered its first Olympic loss while using professional players, falling to Puerto Rico (in a 19-point loss) and Lithuania in group games, and was eliminated in the semifinals by Argentina. It eventually won the bronze medal defeating Lithuania, finishing behind Argentina and Italy.

NBA teams began touring Europe and Asia in 1988 when the Atlanta Hawks traveled to Russia for a series of games. That same year the NBA began a series of pre-season tournaments that often featured the previous years’ NBA regular season champion meeting European club and national teams. Phoenix and Utah became the first two NBA teams to open their season “on the road” when the two franchises opened the 1990-91 season in Japan.

Stern has always looked forward. Asked at the end of the league’s pre-season tour on October 6 when the league would open offices in Turkey, Stern responded:

“I think that we are aiming for 2009. The opportunity is too important here for us to not move forward and actually that was one of things we were discussing with partners and would-be partners here. And the highest level of the corporate structure indicated that they would be very happy to assist us. The one thing I found is that the Turkish business community is very proud of the strides that it makes. It is very proud that Turkey works with so many different countries and is very determined to assist the country in its growth. They also see the values of basketball for keeping the people playing and talking rather than some other activity.”

Look less at Stern’s response and more at rationale the NBA has when the league is willing to invest in opening an office in Turkey. While in speaking in Istanbul Stern recalled the genesis behind FIBA’s decision to allow the world’s best players to represent their countries in the Olympic Games.

“You know in 1992, we traveled the same year that we had the participation of NBA players in the U.S. Olympics and I would say that the wisdom of Boris Stankovic, the former Secretary General of FIBA who invited and encouraged professionals in the United States to participate in the Olympics, was very important for the development of basketball. In 1992 we were subject to certain criticism as to why such good players would come and dominate other teams. All (that was) said was that the quality of basketball would improve greatly around the world because the opportunity of the other players around the world to play against the best was going to improve ... and that was Boris Stankovic’s vision. I would say that starting with the World Championship in Indianapolis and moving to the World Championship in Japan and dealing with the Olympics in Athens, we saw how good the world has become.”

But it is all about business as the NBA’s 2007 China Tour clearly showed. The NBA teamed up with 11 marketing partners who provided Chinese fans with a complete NBA experience as part of the NBA China Games 2007, three exhibition games featuring the Cleveland Cavaliers, the Orlando Magic and Team China All-Stars, taking place in Shanghai and Macao China from October 17-20.

Adidas, The Coca-Cola Company, DHL, Gatorade, Lenovo, McDonald’s, Mengniu, Motorola, Spalding, Sohu and Toyota will work with the NBA to grow the sport of basketball throughout China. These partners have teamed with the NBA to promote their brands to the large, passionate NBA fan base in China and will interact with fans around the three exhibition games, community events, fan events, thousands of retail locations and enabling hundreds of lucky fans to attend the games live through 20 consumer promotions.

“Our unique array of marketing partners will help us bring the experience of the NBA China Games to our fans throughout China,” said Mark Fischer, Senior Vice President, NBA China. “The level of interest and activation from our partners is unprecedented and their participation will make the NBA China Games 2007 the most comprehensive NBA experience we have ever conducted in China.”

For more than a century, Americans and Japanese have been united in their love for baseball. The Japanese began playing baseball in the 1870s and quickly mastered the game. In 1896, in the first international baseball game played in Japan, a team from Ichiko (the forerunner of Tokyo University) thrashed the Americans from the Yokohama Country and Athletic Club, 29-4.

In 1905, seeking stiffer competition, Waseda University traveled to the United States in the first of many international exchanges between the two countries. Three years later, the University of Washington continued the exchange by becoming the first mainland American team to tour Japan. Over the next 30 years, 21 American college teams would come to Japan and Japanese teams frequently traveled to the U.S.

Japan's first taste of American pro ball came in 1908, when the Reach All-American team stopped during their world tour. Although the team consisted mostly of Pacific Coast League and journeyman players, the visitors won all 17 games against Japanese university and club teams (Japanese pro ball did not start until 1936).

Since 1986, a team of Major League Baseball All-Stars has made a biennial end-of-the-season tour of Japan, playing exhibitions games against the Nippon Professional Baseball All-Stars in the Major League Baseball Japan All-Star Series.

Starting in 1992 and continuing intermittently, several Major League Baseball teams have played exhibition games against Japanese teams. American teams popular in Japan include the Seattle Mariners, Boston Red Sox, and New York Yankees, at least in part due to Japanese players on those teams. Although the Minnesota Twins lack any Japanese players on their squad, they are quite popular in Japan, seen as playing baseball more like a Japanese team than the stereotypical home run hitting American clubs.

The World Baseball Classic played in 2006 during spring training was an overwhelming success both on and off the field. In the U.S., early skepticism about injuries, the Spring Training timing of the tournament and lack of national interest dissipated over the 17 days that the games were played. Skeptical journalists (present company included) who didn't support the concept going in were sold on the tournament by the time it played itself out.

"Anything you do for the first time is not going to be perfect," Commissioner Bud Selig said on Monday just before the Japanese vanquished the Cubans, 10-6, at PETCO Park to win the first championship. "But by any stretch of the imagination, this tournament exceeded my expectations in a myriad of ways. Absolutely."

Gene Orza, the union's chief operating officer, noted that questions had gone from being prefaced "if" the Classic is played in 2009 to "when" the Classic is played in 2009.

"And that's a big change in the mindset since just prior to the tournament," he said.

Attendance at the seven venues didn't reach the pre-tournament expectations of 800,000, but 737,112 tickets sold was pretty close, considering the fact that the Asian bracket, played in the 55,000-seat Tokyo Dome, didn't reach the 80 percent capacity that was originally projected. Games between China and Chinese Taipei and Korea against the aforementioned teams did not turn out to be strong draws.

The inaugural World Baseball Classic was broadcast in 205 countries around the world in seven different languages. In total, 48 different media outlets covered the tournament on television, terrestrial and satellite radio and the Internet; 20 had announcers calling the action live from the game sites.

As part of the worldwide television broadcasts of the World Baseball Classic there were several broadcast feeds that allowed for unique in-game advertising in specific regions. Every game of the tournament, excluding those played in Japan, will have between three and six different feeds with each featuring exclusive virtual signage. The regional feeds of the World Baseball Classic worldwide broadcast include US/Global, ESPN Deportes, Japan/Asia, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Venezuela.

"We are delighted to have the World Baseball Classic distributed to baseball fans around the globe on a variety of media platforms," said Tim Brosnan, Executive Vice President, Business, Major League Baseball. "This tournament was created to give fans the opportunity to experience the best baseball players in the world competing for their respective nations, and the international broadcast distribution is vital to ensure that these games are available to the greatest number of fans possible."

In the United States, ESPN and ESPN2 offered 16 live telecasts, highlighted by the March 18 semifinal games and March 20 final game from San Diego's PETCO Park. In addition, ESPN Deportes, ESPN's Spanish-language network in the U.S., televised all 39 games of the inaugural tournament. Domestic radio coverage will be provided by ESPN Radio, which aired the semifinals and final, and XM Satellite Radio, which broadcast each of the 39 tournament games in English and Spanish.

But the bottom line – the World Baseball Classic offered Major League Baseball a perfect platform to promote the globalization of baseball.

In 1938 the Montreal Canadians and Detroit Red Wings played a series of post-season games in Europe (including a series of games in Paris). After the 1959 season, the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers embarked on a 10-city, 23-game European tour.

It was the 1972 Summit Series the first time Canada’s best hockey players would meet the best from the Soviet Union in the most memorable eight-game series in hockey history opened up new frontiers for hockey. More than 50 percent of today’s NHL players still come from Canada, but most NHL rosters features a blend of North American and European players.

The Los Angeles Kings and the defending Stanley Cup champions the Anaheim Ducks opened their 2007-08 seasons in London a few weeks ago.

“For us, this was an opportunity to dip our toe in the water in Europe, take what we believe is the most international of the North American sports, and bring it to the other side of the Atlantic. And while, obviously, London and England may not be the strongest hockey markets in the world, it puts us in closer proximity to markets and people have traveled here,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman offered

“A combination of the media and television exposure, people wanting to see two real live games that count in the standings, we think is a good opportunity for us to delve in slightly, control the experience in terms of what we can provide to the players for the on-ice competition and see exactly how well this can work for us from a starting point. And so far the experience has been good.”

And how and why did the NHL end up opening their season in London? In part at least because the facility the two games were played in was managed by AEG the management company that owns the Los Angeles Kings and operates Los Angeles’ Staples Center.

“When AEG, which also owns the Kings, got involved in this fabulous facility, we started having serious talks about seeing if we could get this all to come together in a way we felt we could create an experience for our teams that from a competitive standpoint would work. Since these games count in the standings, we had to be very comfortable that the logistics would work. From a European standpoint, we're dealing with a state-of-the-art facility and the closest proximity to North America that we could get as opposed to other places. So those were two of the factors.”

And one issue Bettman made clear – with the number of Europeans on NHL rosters he believes the NHL will be the market leader in bringing a major North American sport to Europe.

“Well, it's not a question of being a leader or a follower. I would suggest that by being here today we're being a leader in some respects. But it's not about being a leader; it's about doing what's right for your game and doing it on a timetable that makes sense. For us, as strong as we've come back, there are very few businesses that could be out of business for a year and come back as strong as we did.

“We've got to make sure that our core - and our core is Canada and the United States - is as healthy and vibrant as we know it can be and will be over time as we continue to strengthen before we worry about, you know, throwing haste to the wind and saying, Oh, great, we're going to put a bunch of franchises in Europe. It's much more complicated than that both from our standpoint and as a follow-up to the last question dealing with the existing structures that are there.

“Somewhere around 30% of visits to NHL.com come from outside of North America. So that's one of the reasons that we know we can track the worldwide appeal of the game. And we have a very strong and important relationship with NASN, North American Sports Network. We were one of their priorities when they went into business a couple years ago in terms of a sport they felt would be significant for them to have in Europe.”

The biggest challenge the NFL faces in its global plans clearly is the lack of grassroots football programs. American style football is also played in Canada (some of the rules are different) but basketball and baseball is each played in more than 200 countries around the world. And football is played is played in more than 200 countries but that style of football is called soccer.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell can say whatever he’d like to about opening new markets for the NFL (“While we are the number-one sport in the U.S., our future success will depend in large part on our ability to globalize.”), the simple fact – that isn’t going to happen easily, and might be next to impossible. Goodell is right, but he’s wrong if he thinks it’s going to take place in the near future.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

London Calling – the National Football League heads over the pond

For the first time in National Football League history a regular season game will be played today in London, when the Miami Dolphins host the New York Giants. At 0-7 and without Trent Green their starting quarterback and their leading offense weapon running back Ronnie Brown the Miami Dolphins are the worst team in the National Football League, a team with little talent and even less hope. The Giants are 5-2, the game means a great deal to the Giants; legitimate Super Bowl contenders. But today’s game is less about what will take place on the field and more about the message the NFL wants to deliver off the field – the NFL is ready to take their next step in the globalization of American football.

“We’ve come a long way since we started bringing our game overseas,” National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell said in addressing the media earlier this week in London.

“While we are the number-one sport in the U.S., our future success will depend in large part on our ability to globalize. As the world shrinks, thanks to emerging technology, we will increasingly become partners with many of you in this room.
To understand the potential of NFL football outside the U.S., it is important to understand how we evolved.

“Success did not come overnight. It took us in the NFL 45 years – from 1920 to 1965 -- to become the most popular sport in America. Fifty years ago, the NFL consisted of only 12 teams. There was no Super Bowl, no national television contracts, one playoff game and no games played in primetime.

“It took time for the NFL to put in place the building blocks that any sport needs to grow:

“The right cities, the right owners and the right stadiums; Great teams and the ability to change and tailor the game to spectator interests. A sustainable competitive and balanced model that includes significant revenue sharing among owners

“In the past 40 years we’ve accelerated our growth.

“The primary force was the use of broadcast television to reach the broadest possible audience. As the media landscape shifts, we have used different media platforms, such as cable, satellite and the internet to complement and support our successful connection with fans.

“The vision of our owners – many of whom are here today, including Wayne Huizenga, Jonathan Tisch, Joel Glazer, Jerry Jones, Bob Kraft, Stan Kroenke, Dan Snyder, John York and Rita Benson-LeBlanc, and Commissioners Tagliabue & Rozelle – has played a leading role in our success.

“They have all been committed to the success of the entire league. They compete on Sunday and Monday nights on the football field, but they are business partners off the field.

“Our game plan is to keep a tight focus on core themes. We have to make sure the game remains exciting and competitive. We have to have a solid league structure with strong franchises across the board; and we have to continue to be innovative, always looking for ways to improve everything we do.

“Growth in the future clearly means expanding our presence in the global sports marketplace.”

National Football League officials announced on January 16, 2007 the league would play its first European regular season game in London.

“There were a variety of reasons. First of all, we have a great history of NFL football in London. The British fans have been great fans of NFL football for several years and London is a tremendous international city. We have a great relationship with the City of London and that was another important factor. But it was primarily because of the fan base and the fact we have such tremendous fans in London. We’re responding to that interest in our game.”

“We have tremendous television partners in London that have shown a great deal of interest in us and we have also had a great deal of support from public officials. The Mayor of London has shown a great deal of interest in hosting this game.” Goodell spun a tale to the media (that clearly wasn’t based on the facts) at the time.

The NFL made London their first choice despite the success American football has enjoyed in Germany (the better selection). Germany was home to five of the six NFL Europa franchises, the other calling Denmark home, before the NFL folded NFL Europa at the end of the 2007 season. London was home to the London Monarchs and the England Monarchs between 1991 and 1998, but hasn’t been home to an American football based rules teams in nine years.

In 1991 and 1992 the Monarchs played their home games at Wembley Stadium. In the 1991 season the team won the first World Bowl at Wembley, beating the Barcelona Dragons, the only team to have beaten them in the entire season. In the first season of the World League, crowds at Wembley averaged 40,483 for the five games. However dwindling interest - even with the advent of a new local rivalry with the Scottish Claymores - forced the team to shift its home ground to White Hart Lane, home of Tottenham Hotspur F.C., when the league resumed play in 1995, and that year average attendance fell to 16,343.

Towards the end of the 1997 season, the WLAF (World League of American Football) was starting to re-evaluate the team's situation in its market, believing that the return to London had not been as big a success as hoped. In conjunction with general manager Alton Byrd, the team was rebranded the England Monarchs and traveled the country, playing home games at the Crystal Palace National Sports Centre, Ashton Gate (home of Bristol City F.C.) and Alexander Stadium, an athletics stadium in Birmingham - another step down in the size and quality of the stadia used.

The decision divided opinion dramatically amongst the Monarchs support and rather than increase interest in the team, attendances slumped to an average of 5,944. The announcement at the end of the 1998 season that the league would add a new team, the Berlin Thunder, led to weeks of speculation that either one of the existing teams would be shut down, or that the Monarchs and Claymores would be amalgamated into a single British team. Confirmation that the Monarchs were to close down came in July that year.

Despite Goodell’s comments, the facts, such as they demonstrated NFL football had questionable support in England. All 90,000 seats at Wembley Stadium where sold for today’s game. Given the NFL put the full resources of the league’s marketing machine behind today’s game the sellout doesn’t come as a surprise. And as far as anyone connected with today’s game is concerned this is the start of something very big for the National Football League.

"I do think this will have a snowball effect," Giants president John Mara said in a New York Newsday report. "I think this will promote our game throughout the world, and will serve as a stepping-stone to bigger things down the road. It's an honor that we and the Dolphins are the first teams to embark on this venture."

While NFL Europe didn’t work, NFL officials believe with the league offering a regular season game in the market the perception of the product that’s being offered to the consumer is a key to the success the NFL is enjoying with today’s game.

"I think we've needed to show our regular-season product at the very highest level to really make this work, and that's what this is all about," said Mark Waller, the NFL's senior vice president of sales and marketing, who joined the league nearly two years ago in large part to build the sport overseas in a Newsday report.

"It's been a matter of refocusing the strategy and reallocating resources away from the NFL Europa league. Sports fans are very sophisticated; the digital age has allowed people to see the sport at the highest level. This is a way to bring the sport to them."

All that said – a one off game, does it really represent a strong indication the NFL is interested in the globalization of a business that generates close to $7 billion annually. And it’s well worth noting American networks pay the NFL $3.75 billion annually in rights fees. Before the NFL gets too far ahead of themselves in the internationalization of the NFL they would be best advised to consult with their media partners.

"I think there are some people who are enthusiastic, others are skeptical and others are unconfirmed," said Waller, who was born in Kenya to British parents and later moved back to England. He also lived in Spain and Greece before moving to the United States 11 years ago.

"With any new idea, especially one that's provocative, I would expect that. I think it's a matter of recognizing that if it's truly global and resonates globally, at some point it's proper that it's played out in a global way. But I also recognize that there are many cities in the U.S. that would like to host a Super Bowl or have an NFL team."

Goodell drew an interesting analogy from the music industry in making his case for why the NFL has to reach out to new markets.

"Speaking of the music industry, there's a fellow named Bob Dylan who wrote a song about changing times in the mid-'60s, when the NFL was in the process of overtaking baseball," Goodell said. “said: 'The old road is rapidly aging. You better start swimming or you'll sink like a stone.' For those of us in sports, it's happening again. And we'd better heed the call."

"[Owners] saw the need to try to expand the sport's profile and brand on a more global basis, recognizing as with the corporate world, you've got to reach beyond being a domestic product," Dolphins President Bryan Wiedmeier said.

The Dolphins were the team that gave up a home game to facilitate today’s game. Given the Dolphins 0-7 record, the loss of key personal, losing a home game at South Florida’s Dolphin Stadium might not have been the worst idea.

The NFL sold tickets ranging from about $92 to $183 depending on the exchange rate to Dolphins season ticket holders, who found flights for about $500 apiece. The league also arranged travel packages with tickets, but without airfare, for $1,699 to $3,749. Some 3,500 Dolphins season ticket holders are making the trip according to The South Florida Sun Sentinel’s Sarah Talalay.

Mitch Howard, who owns a suite and club seats at Dolphin Stadium, told Talalay he is using the game as something of a business trip. He's president of AQC Group, a Pompano Beach manufacturer of toner for laser printers that has a packaging facility in England. Howard, whose wife and mother will also be making the trip, has an apartment in London, too.

"I was thinking … to be able to see [the Dolphins] in London would be a great opportunity to have a vacation, visit the facility in London and introduce people in London to American football," said Howard, 45, of Boynton Beach. "We're going to bring some of the staff who have never seen a professional football game."

One of the issues the NFL faces in taking their game global – the leagues talent pool is virtually 100 percent American. Take a look at the rosters of Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League teams -- the globalization of those sports goes well beyond where those leagues have played games (each league plays games on a regular basis outside of North America). The football known to most British citizens, most Europeans and most of the world is a sport most Americans call soccer.

"I wish I had the opportunity to bring a game overseas in the 1980s," Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, the former head of NFL Properties who started its international office and ran it through the 1990s told The Washington Post. "People used to say, 'We don't want to see your second-best players.' "

"It was a unique experience for a guy like me who was in charge of NFL Properties for several years to have to sit down in an airport lounge in London or Tokyo and explain to somebody what a pigskin was," Garber said.

In 2005 the NFL played a regular season game in Mexico City. 103,000 football fans filled the stadium that day for the game between the San Francisco 49’ers and the Arizona Cardinals. The goal that day – to help create inroads into the Hispanic market for the NFL. A New York Times report suggested two years later the results speak for themselves.

According to Joaquin Del Rivero, managing director of N.F.L. Mexico, the game had a “beautiful and humongous impact” on the N.F.L.’s growth in Mexico. It helped spark 20 to 25 percent annual increases in revenue from media, licensing and sponsorship deals in Mexico the past two years, Del Rivero said.

“The first thing people ask me is, ‘When are we hosting the next game of football?’ ” Del Rivero said.

“Is there a risk? Yeah, potentially,” Waller said of global expansion. His chair faced the window that looks over Park Avenue and the world beyond. “I think there is a greater risk that it becomes a kind of global oddity, and kind of idiosyncratic within the world we increasingly live in.”

The man responsible for managing and promoting the NFL brand in Britain needless to say is one very excited sport executive today.

"The market is not saturated in the US yet, but it will be at some point in time," said Alistair Kirkwood, managing director of NFL UK, an offshoot of the league with a London office and 14 staff. The NFL commissioner, when he presented this to ownership last year, told them, "We are doing incredibly well by every consideration, but if in the next 20 years you want to grow the supporter base from 400 million to 4 billion, you're going to have to sacrifice, take some short-term hits and gamble". "This is a major statement and a major commitment." The London game is the first of two overseas matches that will take place in each of the next five seasons, with Germany, Mexico, Canada and China potential future hosts.

Organizers told The Manchester Guardian the NFL is keen to return to the UK on a regular basis and have ambitions to establish the sport here.

"Our vision in this market is to be a top five sport," said Mr Kirkwood. "We want to be behind football, rugby, cricket and formula one and within five years become the number five sport, measured in terms of television audiences and revenue. This game is an accelerator to help us move very quickly."

Earlier this month Goodell suggested playing a Super Bowl in London wasn’t out of the question.

"There's a great deal of interest in holding a Super Bowl in London," Goodell told reporters while appearing in Phoenix. "So we'll be looking at that."

That will never happen, never. The NFL likes the ability to leverage new stadiums for teams, billion dollar expansion fees and other economics benefits the league’s member teams could enjoy directly by hosting a Super Bowl. A Super Bowl in London, a Super Bowl played in a non-NFL based city, forget about that ever taking place, the league’s owners would never support the concept.

Increasing television audiences outside the U.S. would be preferable to playing more games overseas; Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones told Bloomberg News is what’s needed now.

``That, to me, is where we're doing something tangible right now,'' said Jones.

Jones opinions aside another Texan who really understands and appreciates where the sports industry may indeed be headed offered this to the Manchester Guardian.

"Sports is truly a branded consumer product of the utmost value," Texas Rangers, Dallas Stars and a co-owner of Liverpool’s Premiership ‘football club’ Tom Hicks told the Manchester Guardian. "It's a unique media and in the US we have seen media revenues grow dramatically with the NFL. It's a big business and people look at the TV ratings globally for soccer and see that the English Premier League is the best product."

A lot has to happen if the NFL is going to play regular season game on a regular basis outside of the United States (and that doesn’t include the games the Buffalo Bills plans on playing games in Toronto starting next year). But too suggest today’s game is anything more than what it is; a one-off NFL regular season game, is really putting the cart before the horse. One step at a time, but at the very least today is a first step forward in the globalization of the National Football League and on the surface Roger Goodell seems to understand and appreciate that sentiment.

“We have to be innovative,” Goodell said. “We have devoted considerable resources already to the global growth of football – American Bowls [the NFL’s series of preseason games played outside the United States, which started in 1986 at Wembley], NFL Europe, bringing the football experience to new fans and establishing a European fanbase. But it was time for something new, to take the game to the widest possible global audience in new ways.

“First, staging regular-season games outside the US. It is bringing our best product to fans here and in other international cities. The NFL is the ultimate reality TV – three hours of unscripted and unrehearsed moments. Thirty million Americans watched the Dallas Cowboys-New England Patriots game a couple of weeks ago. It was the most-watched event in the US for the week by a margin of ten million viewers. Our goal is to translate America’s obsession into the world’s passion. This Sunday is just the beginning.”

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The New York Times, The Washington Post, New York Newsday and The Manchester Guardian

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

The bigger picture: the San Diego Chargers and the National Football League

There will be a football game played at San Diego’s Qualcomm Stadium Sunday afternoon, just 48 hours after the home of the San Diego Chargers served as a disaster shelter for those left homeless as a result of the Southern California fires that have left thousands in the San Diego area homeless.

There is no easy answer as to whether or not the National Football League and the Chargers made the right decision in playing Sunday’s scheduled game against the Houston Texans. The game could have been moved to Monday or possibly Tuesday night but that would have represented a band-aid solution to the tragic events that have cost Southern Californians hundreds of millions of dollars. Thursday the City of San Diego told the Chargers the stadium would be ready, ‘punting’ the decision back to the football team. The real question that needs answering -- will Sunday’s game represent another example of how big a business the sports industry has become or will Sunday’s game represent some relief for a region that has suffered a terrible loss this week?

Chargers President Dean Spanos addressed how appropriate playing the game in the midst of the deviation was, and made it clear a great deal of thought and planning went into the decision.

“I think everyone feels very good about being able to play the game. The Mayor, top City officials and I think just about everyone really want to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. Obviously the players and the organization want to get back to normal as quickly as possible. San Diego has gone through a terrible tragedy this past week. To get to this point, it really shows how resilient the people, the fans, our organization and everybody in San Diego are following this disaster.”

“Contrary to what people might think, this wasn’t a decision the Chargers could make on our own. The NFL Commissioner in his sole discretion has the ultimate right to decide where and when a game will be played. With that in mind, please understand it wasn’t as easy logistically as a lot of people thought it might have been. We formally got the go-ahead late Thursday from the City that Qualcomm Stadium would be ready Sunday. Unfortunately the Commissioner and most of the NFL officials who would be involved in the decision-making process were in London for the game between the Dolphins and the Giants. So by the time we heard from the Mayor, it was in the middle of the night in London. So we all stayed up until after midnight and had a conference call with the Commissioner and other League officials when they woke up on Friday morning in London. During that call it was determined by the League that the game should be played as scheduled based on the Mayor’s and the City’s position that Qualcomm Stadium would be ready to go by Sunday.”

The text book hasn’t been written yet when it comes as to how professional sports franchises attempt to deal with natural disasters. With National Football League commissioner Roger Goodell in London for Sunday’s Miami Dolphins – New York Giants game (and most of the NFL’s front office staff in London with Goodell) NFL reaction to Friday’s decision to move with the game in San Diego was left to Anderson, executive vice president for football operations for the N.F.L who spoke with the New York Times.

“Going through New Orleans and Katrina underscored the necessity to make sure you’re talking to all the people who may be impacted,” said Ray Anderson, executive vice president for football operations for the N.F.L. “From local and state government officials, to the participating teams, to the players and their families — and you have to consider the fans.”

For the Chargers playing the game was a lot more than dollars and cents as Spanos pointed out at Chargers.com

“There were a lot of concerns. In fact, we waited as long as possible to even contact the Mayor and his top aides, because we knew how many very difficult issues they were managing this week. And once we did contact them, we were always sensitive to Mayor’s paramount priority of protecting the public’s safety. Of course, we were always mindful of the people that who there at the stadium using it as a safe haven until they were able to return to their homes. Putting on an event for 70,000 people, we were extremely concerned about the safety and well-being of the fans who would be attending. So we wanted to give the Mayor has much time as he needed to evaluate the situation. Eventually, as you know, we were assured by the Mayor that proper public safety personnel would be available and it would be possible to play football at Qualcomm on Sunday.”

The real question – will the game serve as an opportunity to make those left devastated by what took place this week feel better? San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders told The San Diego Union Tribune Friday evening: “I think the city ought to feel real good about the way it's responded to this crisis already. And I think a lot of people in the city and county of San Diego have done an incredible job working together to house and feed and do a lot of things. I certainly think a football game would be nice, but I don't know that that's the only thing people are focused on at this point.”

What’s important to note – the Chargers and the City of San Diego according to Spanos where on the same page when it came to making the decision to play the game?

“There was never any acrimony. The Mayor’s Chief Operating Officer, Jay Goldstone, did a fantastic job juggling this issue with all of the other, more pressing public safety issues he and the Mayor were confronting. We were always mindful of the pressures the Mayor was facing, and we never wanted to put any pressure on them to make a decision. We informed the Mayor that we would be fully cooperative with whatever decision he made – and were okay with whatever timetable the Mayor chose to make his decision. The Mayor and Jay Goldstone were under a tremendous amount of pressure, along with everyone at the Fire and Police Departments, and we were quite willing to wait patiently.”

That issue raised by those behind Chargers.com is interesting; especially given the Chargers believe they need a new stadium in the not too distant future. Did that play any role in moving forward with Sunday’s game? There is no indication it was even considered but when you’re going to go to the taxpayers for financial support its always a good idea to remain in everyone’s good books and Spanos made it clear he believes the community wants to see the game played Sunday.

“We’ve had overwhelming support from our fans and the community. People seem to want this game played and it’s something they’re looking forward to. People are excited about it. I think following a disaster like this, the thing that helps the community the most is to get back to normal – to get things running as they usually do. I think it can have a calming effect to get back to our normal routines. It’s amazing when you look at the magnitude of this disaster, and it’s unprecedented what happened here, that within a few days San Diego has done an amazing job of getting back on its feet. You really have to admire the courage of the firefighters, police officers and sheriffs, and all of the protectors of the people of this community. For the second time in four years, they have faced a major disaster and put their lives on the line for all of us.” But we also understand that for many in our community, it will be very difficult to ever get back to normal, and our hearts go out to them and to everyone harmed by these fires.”

Members of the Chargers have been affected by the fires. The team left earlier this week to train in Phoenix. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (one of the teams’ acknowledged leaders) did his best to talk about the game within the game that will be played Sunday in the San Diego Union Tribune.

“I think that’s very important for us,” quarterback Philip Rivers said. “We want to look at it like that. Anytime you can entertain people, its always going to take their minds off of what’s going on. Even for three or four hours, if you can entertain them, they’re going to take their mind off of whatever is going on in their world. That’s what we want to do.

“People in the county are going through a tough time ... To play a game, hopefully back there, hopefully that can lift people's spirits. Because this is gong to be something the county is going to have to deal with for a long time.”

Spanos believes his team will respond Sunday afternoon on the football field.

“I was in Phoenix on Wednesday on my way back from the NFL League meetings in Philadelphia and the team was very upbeat. From what I could tell, they all seemed somewhat assured that their families and homes were okay. I think the biggest and best thing for them was to get to a place where they could be with their teammates and be confident that their homes and families were cared for. It gave them a chance to further come together as a team. In some ways, it was taking a negative situation and making it a positive the best that we could. They’re a resilient group of players. I didn’t hear any complaints at all. I think they’re just anxious to get back and play a great game for everyone on Sunday.”

It what is at least an interesting announcement, the Chargers are at least prepared to help season ticket holders who can’t attend the game.

“Yes, we are offering the opportunity for those that cannot attend due to problems created by the wildfires to receive refunds by coming to our ticket office over the next two days.”

That’s interesting for a number of reasons. If someone lost their home as a result of the fire will they be interested or have the time to travel to the Chargers offices to get a refund? What happens if the tickets were in someone’s home and the tickets where burned in the fires? And what about those who may have purchased game day tickets (not season tickets) and can’t attend the game?

If the optics of the little things matter, than the Chargers should do the right thing and make it clear anyone with tickets that weren’t used for the game their money back at a later day. Sticking a deadline in the face of a disaster is not only silly, it’s insulting.

At the end of the day the National Football League is a business that generates close to $7 billion annually. The logistics in moving a game at the 11th hour are daunting and costly, but in the face of a disaster none of that matters. Sunday afternoon the San Diego Chargers will see if they made the right or the wrong decision. At best they can hope they made the best decision they could given the information they had.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Chargers.com, The New York Times and The San Diego Union Tribune

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Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Yankees made Joe Torre a GREAT offer

With the Fall Classic set to begin in 24 hours the Yankees ongoing saga (their offer to Joe Torre, Torre’s reaction, who is going to replace Torre, Alex Rodriguez’s future with the Bronx Bombers) illustrates at least in part what’s right and wrong with Major League Baseball. For baseball fans the World Series is always a special time, the end of the baseball season when one team is declared the best in baseball.

But at the same time with the Fall Classic set to open at Fenway Park tomorrow, the soap opera, and the seemingly never-ending drama that is the New York Yankees continues unabated. If nothing else the headlines the Yankees are bringing to the sport pages suggest those who love the days when the Yankees were baseball’s most dysfunctional baseball franchise are about to relive that bygone era – when the Yankees stumbled, fumbled and lost their way. These days the Yankees are having their challenges – both on and off the field. And yes the Bronx Zoo is back and open for business.

While the Red Sox and Indians were putting baseball fans through an exciting seven game American League Championship Series last week, the Yankees took more than their share of the baseball spotlight with a series of internal meetings at the teams’ spring training headquarters in Tampa Monday and Tuesday that culminated with the Yankees offering Joe Torre a one year contract which he rejected Thursday, Torre calling the contract an insult Friday and the heir apparent to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner his son Hank calling out Torre the longtime manager the weekend.

“Where was Joe's career in '95 when my dad hired him?" Hank Steinbrenner told the New York Post. "My dad was crucified for hiring him.

"Let's not forget what my dad did in giving him that opportunity - and the great team he was handed," Steinbrenner told The Post by phone from Tampa, Fla.

The sentiments represent a classic case of vintage Steinbrenner, from the late 1970’s, 1980’s and the 1990’s, statements George Steinbrenner became infamous for in a period when the Yankees won some of the time but more often than not were noted for a series of bumbling off-field hiring and firing moves. Yes the Yankees have been under fire for their mishandling of Joe Torre’s exit over the last few days, but at the end of the day the younger Steinbrenner would have been well advised to stay away from the tone of the remarks his father became famous for, when the elder Steinbrenner bought the Yankees nearly 35 years ago.

A group of investors, led by Cleveland-based shipbuilder George Steinbrenner, purchased the club from CBS on January 3, 1973 for $8.7 million. Mike Burke stayed on as president until he quit in April. Within a year, Steinbrenner bought out most of his other partners and became the team's principal owner, although Burke continued to hold a minority share into the 1980s.

One of Steinbrenner's major goals was to repair the Stadium, which had greatly deteriorated (along with the surrounding area) by the late 60's. CBS had suggested renovations, but the team would have to play elsewhere, and the Mets refused to open their home, Shea Stadium, to the Yankees. A new stadium in the Meadowlands, across town in New Jersey was also suggested. Finally, in mid-1972, Mayor John Lindsay stepped in. The city bought the Stadium, and began an extensive two-year renovation period. Since the city also owned Shea, the Mets had to begrudgingly allow the Yankees to play the two seasons out there. The renovations modernized the look of the stadium and reconfigured some of the seating.

After the 1974 season, Steinbrenner made a move that started the modern era of free agency, signing star pitcher James Augustus "Catfish" Hunter away from Oakland. Midway through the 1975 season, the Boss made another move, hiring former second baseman Billy Martin as manager. With Martin as the helm, the Yankees reached the 1976 World Series, but were swept by the Cincinnati Reds, the famed Big Red Machine.

Steinbrenner then signed star Oakland outfielder Reggie Jackson for a then record $600,000 away from his new home with the Baltimore Orioles. Jackson made a controversial comment during spring training, saying that he was "the straw that stirs the drink", and that catcher and Yankee captain Thurman Munson thought he was "the straw", but could only "stir it bad". Jackson already had bad blood with Billy Martin, who had managed the Detroit Tigers and met Jackson in the 1972 postseason. Jackson, Martin, and Steinbrenner would repeatedly feud throughout Jackson's five-year contract. Martin was hired and fired by Steinbrenner five times over the next 13 years. This conflict, combined with the extremely rowdy Yankees fans of the late 1970s and the bad conditions of the Bronx, led to the organization and stadium being referred to as the "Bronx Zoo". Despite the turmoil, Jackson proved his worth in the 1977 World Series. He hit four home runs on four consecutive pitches from four different Dodgers' pitchers, three of them in the same game. Jackson's great performance in the postseason gained him the nickname "Mr. October".

But it was Steinbrenner’s treatment of mangers that drew so much negative attention to the Yankees and the reference, the slogan (and the title of a book written by former Yankees reliever Sparky Lyle) the Bronx Zoo. Before Torre became manager in 1996, the Yankees had endured 13 different managers in 22 years, including five different stints under Billy Martin, and two each with Dick Houser, Bob Lemon and Gene Michael.

If leadership is equated in the workplace with stability then the Yankees before Torre arrived were as dysfunctional a business model that existed in professional sports. If the Yankees are going back to an era were no one knew who was in charge of the Bronx Zoo, a legitimate concern for those who see the Yankees as the model sports franchise in the industry today, especially with the Yankees moving into a new stadium at the start of the 2009 season, if the company is heading into a transitional period; and the Yankees are anything but a stable business at this critical time in the teams’ history can’t be good for the day to day business of the Yankees.

A legitimate question that needs to be discussed – just how did the Yankees after making the playoffs for the previous 12 seasons under Torre’s leadership mishandle Torre’s departure from the organization? It may have been time for Torre to leave, but at the end of the day from a communications perspective the Yankees could and should have done a more effective job of how he left the Yankees.

In many ways what happened reflects both on the inherent issue when a longtime highly visible executive (in this case a manager) leaves a sports franchise and how different that departure (in the sports industry) is different from executives in other private sector industries.

The Yankees experienced tremendous success under Joe Torre. They made the playoffs each of the 12 seasons he managed the team. They won four World Series. But in the last seven seasons, while the Yankees made the playoffs each year, the Yankees failed to win the World Series, that despite Steinbrenner investing more than $1.3 billion in player personal decisions.

Here’s where understanding the subtle differences between how a sports franchise operates and how a multi-million business functions in the private sector becomes important. Hundreds of CEO’s in the hi-tech industry lost their jobs in the early years of this decade after failing to deliver earnings numbers they were expected to deliver. The Yankees produced winning baseball in the last seven years, but why shouldn’t Torre have been held to the same scrutiny other executives would have been held too? Or should those in leadership positions in the sports industry not be held to the same level of accountability?

After a series of meetings last Monday and Tuesday at the Yankees Tampa training facility Torre flew to Tampa Thursday meeting with the Yankees management team. Torre was offered a one-year incentive laden contract for the 2008 season. The contract reportedly offered Torre a base salary of $5 million and bonuses that would have pushed Torre’s renurmeration for the 2008 season just past the $7.5 million he was paid in 2007. Additionally if the Yankees won the American League pennant next year the organization would guarantee Torre an $8 million salary in 2009. Torre’s reaction to the offer – he saw the Yankees suggestion that he be held to the same scrutiny as other executives are (stand and deliver) as an insult.

"I just felt that the terms of the contract probably was what I had the toughest time with," Torre said during a press conference held at the Rye Town Hilton, near his home in suburban Westchester County. "The one year ... the incentives; I had been there for 12 years and I felt the motivation wasn't needed.

"I just didn't think it was the right thing for me, or the right thing for my players. Whether they're on my side, or not on my side, any pressure caused by maybe the manager's going to lose his job, that pressure isn't needed when the goal is to win baseball games."

Those are fair enough comments by the man who delivered as Yankees skipper, but lets be very sure about this issue. When Torre was winning World Series in the first part of his career as Yankees manager, the affable Torre and his agents negotiated as big a series of raises as they could from Steinbrenner and the Yankees. After all, Torre delivered four World Series during his first five years as Yankees manager and he had earned whatever raises he demanded of from the Yankees. But if Torre was entitled to hefty salary increases in the first half of his Yankees career does it not make sense the Yankees were just as right to offer an incentive laden contract after he failed to deliver a title in the last seven years? And let’s be very sure about one more issue – at a base salary of $5 million Torre still would have been the highest paid MLB manager in 2008.

"When I expressed my dissatisfaction with the length of contract ... I explained that and the incentives, which I took as an insult," Torre said. "If we hadn't started this run, being in five of the first six World Series, I don't know how to say that one is never enough, or two is never enough. You're constantly driving because you know that's the goal you've set for yourself.

"There really was no negotiating. I was hoping there would be."

The 67-year-old Torre, who has managed in the Major Leagues for 26 seasons, told MLB.com he believed a negotiation might have led to a different result.

"I was obviously discouraged with the fact that they would never move off the offer they made, that they never got to a negotiation," he said. "I don't know if that was the purpose.

"The most important thing for me -- sure, money's a part of it, and five million dollars is a lot of money, and I'm not going to make that this year, so I'm not taking it for granted -- but if someone is reducing your salary, it tells you that they're not satisfied with the job you're doing. ... Two years would have opened the door for further discussion, but it just never happened."

"The decision stands on its own," club president Randy Levine said during the call. "We all believe as one that this was the best way to go. We obviously wanted Joe Torre to come back; that's why we made him the offer. We respect his decision not to go forward. We thought it was a fair offer."

"This is a difficult day, because of respect for the work that this man has done," general manager Brian Cashman said on Thursday. "At the same time, we're all willing to undertake the challenge ahead of us to find the next man who's best suited to represent this franchise in that dugout. It's an enormous position."

Levine the Yankees President has been under fire – largely directly as a result of how the Yankees positioned Levine, as the public face of getting their message out. Levine contacted the New York Times Richard Sandomir the papers’ sports business writer Sunday venting his frustration at how the media has portrayed his role in the Torre saga. According to Sandomir Levine took exception to how critical WFAN’s (one of New York’s all-sports radio stations) Mike Francesa and Chris Russo comments on Levine’s role. Levine pointed out what Mike the Mad Dog failed to tell their listeners. Levine who also sits on the Board of Directors for the YES Network isn’t a fan of the investment the YES Network had made in simulcasting their daily program on YES.

“I have seriously questioned the money that YES pays them and whether it’s an appropriate fit for the time spot at YES,” Levine told Sandomir, adding that the terms of the current three-year deal were ultimately agreed upon. “But next year it’s up again, and it’s convenient for them to attack me to help their own negotiating position.”

Robert M. Steele, a professor and ethics expert at the Poynter Institute, told Sandomir, “To me, Levine’s roles are significant, both with Torre and with the business relationship” that YES has with Francesa and Russo. He added, “If somebody had asked me ahead of time, I’d say disclose the relationship.”

Whoever manages the Yankees next year isn’t going to be paid anywhere close to the $5 million base Torre was offered. The Yankees might save a couple million dollars in what they’ll pay their manager, the ramifications of Torre’s decision might cost the Yankees tens of millions of dollars in their attempts to resign their three big free agents: Alex Rodriguez, Marino Rivera and Jorge Posada. Each of the players’ agents will simply be doing their jobs in using the turmoil that currently exists in the Yankees organization as a negotiation ploy. That’s what agents do.

If it is acceptable for Torre to be held accountable where does that leave Yankees general manger Brian Cashman. In the last seven years Steinbrenner has provided Cashman (who has been the Yankees general manager since 1998) all the financial resources he needed as general manager to build a winning team. It can be argued that not only as Steinbrenner given Cashman what he needed to win, but he’s never said no to Brian Cashman when Cashman believed the Yankees needed to a player or two. When is Brian Cashman’s future with the Yankees going to be debated?

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

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Friday, October 12, 2007

NFL expansion to Canada will not include the Peanuts cartoon gang

One of the lasting imagines in the old Peanuts comic strip was Lucy’s lemonade stand. But instead of selling lemonade, she offered psychotherapy. Imagine Lucy getting together with Charlie Brown, Snoopy, Linus, Peppermint Patty, and Woodstock , each of them setting up their own lemonade stand collecting all of their dimes and nickels and then trying to buy a National Football League franchise for $1 billion. Thursday, a report in Canada’s national newspaper The Globe and Mail suggested professional sports version of Charlie Brown and company, the Canadian Football League are planning to work together to bring a National Football League franchise to the Frozen North.

The bid will reportedly be orchestrated by the owners of the Toronto Argonauts David Cynamon and Howard Sokolowski, and seems to have the initial backing of CFL commissioner Mark Cohon. Cynamon and Sokolowski’s rationale – if you can’t beat them, join them. Cynamon and Sokolowski believe the NFL’s arrival in Canada is inevitable and believe by being a part of the process and owning the team they’ll be better able to control their own destiny and that of the Canadian Football League.

"It's the single biggest issue the CFL is facing," a league source familiar with the situation said in the Globe and Mail report.

Cohon declined to comment directly on the issue of the NFL’s arrival in Canada and the role the CFL might play according to the Globe and Mail, but did issue a statement saying: "The CFL and NFL have enjoyed a very strong working relationship for over a decade, and we have expressed mutual interest in continuing that relationship into the future. However, at no point have the CFL and NFL discussed the notion of CFL ownership of a Canadian NFL franchise."

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy added: "We do not have any expansion plans and no teams have filed the necessary paperwork for relocation."

However Thursday evening the Canadian Press did their best to reign in the earlier Globe and Mail report – all but dismissing the Globe and Mail article.

"It was thrown around as a crazy concept, just a loose, crazy concept," said one.

"The Argos owners are very paranoid about it, and probably with good reason. But it's all very, very premature . . . I think everyone is getting way ahead of themselves."

Added the other governor: "Let me tell you, this is very, very, very premature."

Both Cynamon and Sokolowski didn’t make themselves available for their reaction to the Canadian Press report.

While Cynamon and Sokolowski’s thought process makes perfect business sense, it remains to be seen if the pair have the financial wherewithal to make the plan they’re being linked to a reality. At the same time NFL ownership regulations wouldn’t allow a group to own an NFL franchise. Current NFL bylaws dictate that an NFL franchise's principal owner must have at least 30-per-cent equity interest in the corporate entity that controls a club, and no more than 25 "owners" can hold equity interest in the team. There are a limited number of individuals among the current CFL governors who might be able to come up with that 30-per-cent stake. The sole exception are the Green Bay Packers, community owned as an original NFL franchise and as a result grandfathered in and not subject to the current NFL ownership guidelines.

Much of the discussion in Canadian media circles Thursday focused not on who would own an NFL team if one arrived in Canada but where that franchise would come from. Many believe the Buffalo Bills ( Buffalo is 100 miles from Toronto ) are a prime candidate for a franchise shift. The Bills play in an aging facility and Bills owner Ralph Wilson at 89 years old isn’t getting any younger. Wilson has repeatedly gone on record saying he won't leave the franchise to his heirs (because of estate taxes) or sell it before he dies. That would create an estate sell (how the Boston Red Sox were sold) that would determine the Bills future.

In their latest subjective financial valuation for NFL franchises, Forbes Magazine (always well respected in their objectivity and accuracy) believes the average NFL franchise is worth an estimated $957 million. When the NFL next expands it’s generally believed NFL owners will demand a $1 billion expansion fee. It’s reasonable to believe the Bills might command a price of $1 billion on the open market, especially if the Bills will be able to move to another city. It’s also important to factor in where the proposed Toronto NFL franchise would play their home games. The Rogers Centre (home of the Toronto Blue Jays) is owned by Ted Rogers (the owner of the Blue Jays). While the 52,000 seat facility is at least 10,000 seats short of what’s needed for an NFL team in today’s NFL a “plan” does exist whereby the money losing hotel that is attached to the facility could be torn down and replaced with at least 10,000 seats. It remains to be seen how workable a solution that might be, but regardless Cynamon and Sokolowski are Rogers Centre tenants.

The president of the Blue Jays (the Rogers Centre primary tenant) Paul Godfrey has been a longtime proponent of bringing an NFL team to Toronto . Godfrey has championed the idea of an NFL team in Toronto for at least the last 30 years. The former Toronto Mayor was somewhat surprised by Thursday’s Globe and Mail report suggesting Cynamon and Sokolowski may be interested in bringing an NFL team to Toronto according to a Canadian Press report.

"They don't quote anybody at all so my first impression is I don't know if it's a trial balloon or speculative story," Godfrey said. "But if you use the assumption that the CFL has embraced the idea of an NFL team in Toronto , I would sure love to sit down and speak to them on behalf of the Rogers-Tanenbaum group because I think our interests are totally in parallel.

"We all believe, and I'm speaking on everybody's behalf, that the Toronto NFL team and the Toronto CFL team could co-exist. I would go further and say a Toronto NFL team would do everything in its power to ensure that the CFL is stronger and healthier in every aspect than they have been.

"I would like to speak to them to show them that there are ways and means we can work closely together with the CFL to make it all happen."

Godfrey has attended the Super Bowl and most NFL events for at least the last two decades with one goal in mind – bringing an NFL team to Toronto . While Godfrey doesn’t have the personal wealth to bring an NFL team to Canada , the man he works for- Ted Rogers, does.

Early in September 2006 Canada ’s two most important sports entities began the process that might one day create one of the largest sports ownership groups in North America – a power that will demand and earn respect. Ted Rogers owns the Toronto Blue Jays and the Rogers Centre. Rogers also owns Canada ’s largest cable provider, Canada ’s number two cable sports network, and three all-sports radio stations, along with many more media properties. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment owns the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Toronto Raptors, Toronto ’s MLS franchise, the Air Canada Centre and the new soccer specific stadium BMO Field.

A year ago Rogers replaced Bell as the supplier of telecommunications services to MLSE. Officials from both companies at the time mentioned the corporations would embark on other "joint ventures." On the surface the agreement doesn’t mean a great deal. However, as the two key players for both companies indicated, their initial ‘supplier agreement’ doesn’t begin to scratch the surface as to what these two companies believe they can accomplish together.

"I'm highly interested in an NFL team and Ted [ Rogers ] is too," Larry Tanenbaum, chairman of Maple Leafs Sports and Entertainment, said at the time. "We hope to pursue it more rigorously as soon as the NFL gives us the word."

Rogers was quick to publicly pooh-pooh suggestions he’d be interested in bringing an NFL team to Toronto , but that’s how Rogers operates. He has become Canada ’s media baron in part because of how subtle he tends to operate. But be very clear about this when it comes to Ted Rogers – he fully understands and appreciates the synergy that can be created between a sport franchise and other media properties.

If you talk to Ted Rogers you’d believe he is soft spoken. He’s not a bombastic business person/sports owner in the tradition of a Jerry Jones. Rogers has several key abilities the NFL looks for in potential owners. First and foremost, he delegates authority. A hallmark of a Rogers ’ company is Rogers hiring the right people and delegating those people the responsibility to run that company for him. He’s a man with vision and a risk taker – as long as the risk has a reasonable chance of succeeding. And let’s be very sure of one issue – when Paul Godfrey went to work for Ted Rogers, he brought his dream of an NFL franchise with him to Rogers .

As the head of Toronto ’s City Council and then as Toronto ’s Mayor, Godfrey was a key person when the American League awarded an expansion franchise to Toronto in 1976. He also played an important role in getting the SkyDome (now the Rogers Centre) built in 1989. Godfrey has the innate ability to bring people with money together and move forward on major and very costly projects. Given that Godfrey has wanted to secure an NFL franchise for Toronto for at least the last 25 years, now that he has the right people interested, Paul Godfrey finally is nearing the red zone. He knows how to get the ball into the end zone, with the end result being the awarding of an NFL expansion franchise to Toronto .

Ted Rogers represents the perfect ‘front man’ or lead owner the NFL loves. He offers the league the largest media platform any individual can provide the league in Canada . In Larry Tanenbaum, the NFL has a partner already fully vetted by the National Basketball Association. The NFL doesn’t like their owners to own other major sports franchises. The Toronto Blue Jays, Maple Leafs, Raptors and the expansion MLS franchises all closely linked to Rogers and Tanenbaum are owned by corporations and ownership groups, not by Rogers or Tanenbaum personally.

Rogers understands content is king. An NFL franchise would represent untold content for his all-sports radio stations, cable sports network and other media platforms. When Rogers (the company) purchased the Blue Jays, Ted Rogers (the CEO) made it clear he believed a tremendous synergy could be created between the Blue Jays and every facet of the Rogers media empire.

Tanenbaum has consistently shown a strong interest in playing with the ‘big boys’. When Larry Tanenbaum wants something, he has the drive and determination to find a way to get it done.

Paul Godfrey has proven on numerous occasions he has the ability to bring people and money together to create what he believes are world-class opportunities for Toronto. His biggest dream has always been an NFL franchise – he’s consumed by that goal, and with a proven track record, he’ll find a way to get the deal done. Godfrey is a deal maker.

Thursday’s Globe and Mail report was as Godfrey suggests a ‘trial balloon’ from Cynamon and Sokolowski or should their interest be taken seriously? On the surface Cynamon and Sokolowski are going to have to demonstrate they have the financial resources to be taken seriously. Rogers and Tanenbaum don’t have to prove to anyone they can talk the talk. And with Godfrey as their front man, and if they’re serious, they’d be a difficult group to compete with for an NFL franchise. Its almost Charlie Brown and company in one corner and Peanuts creator Charles Schultz in the other. Judge for yourself who’s more likely to succeed.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The Globe and Mail and The Canadian Press

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