Friday, October 29, 2010

Tom Hicks – welcome to the 2010 World Series


Saturday night can’t help but be a bittersweet moment for former Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks. The Rangers with their backs to the wall down two games to none in the World Series against the San Francisco Giants will be hosting their first ever World Series, a team owned by Hicks between June 1998 and earlier this year when Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan rescued the franchise from the financial turmoil Hicks’ ownership of the team had evolved into. In a similar state are the Premier League’s Liverpool franchise and the National Hockey League’s Dallas Stars, all professional sports teams owned by Tom Hicks, each either having collapsed or on the verge of collapse as a result of Hicks alleged management issues in the last few years. Still, Saturday evening Hicks will be little more than a paying spectator when the Rangers meet the San Francisco Giants in game three of the World Series in Arlington.

"I'm excited about this," Hicks told ESPN. "I do take some personal pride in it. I figured out there were no shortcuts. We started this plan five years ago and JD has been able to really turn things around. The Mark Teixeira deal was the key and it went from there."

Hicks had hoped he'd still be the owner of the team when the plan finally came together.

"I'm happy, but it's bittersweet. There's no denying that," Hicks said in the ESPN report. "I tried the last few years to pay of HSG's debt, but the only way to do it was to sell the teams. I never thought it would turn into the fight in court, but I wonder what might have happened had we not done what we did in June."

Hicks bought the Rangers from former United States President George W. Bush and Edward W. Rose on June 16, 1998. Hicks was in his 13th season as owner and chairman of the board of the Texas Rangers and served as the team's representative on Major League Baseball's Board of Governors. During his ownership, the club had captured two American League West Division titles, winning a franchise record 95 games in 1999. At one time he was also on the board of directors of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the internet-based subsidiary of Major League Baseball.

Hicks is founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Hicks Holdings LLC, a Dallas-based family office that owns and manages the Thomas and Cinda Hicks family's sports, real estate and corporate assets and investments. Hicks Holdings' sports ownership assets at one time included Major League Baseball's Texas Rangers Baseball Club, the Dallas Stars Hockey Club of the National Hockey League, a 50% interest in the American Airlines Center, and a 50% interest in Liverpool Football Club, an English Premiership League team known as "Britain's Most Successful Football Club."

Purchasing the Stars in February 1996, Hicks was the team's chairman of the board and the club's representative on the NHL Board of Governors. He also served on the NHL Executive Committee and the NHL Audit and Finance Committee. The Stars won the 1999 Stanley Cup and were Stanley Cup finalists in 2000. The team won the NHL's Presidents' Trophy for the best regular season record in both 1997-98 and 1998-99, and has captured seven division titles under Hicks' ownership.

In addition, Hicks Holdings is a partner with Hillwood Development Company in the Victory Park project in downtown Dallas, and co-developer of Glorypark, a 75-acre urban town center adjacent to Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, neighbouring the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium. Hicks Holdings is also developing Champions Park, a 40 acre office/retail development in Frisco, Texas, adjacent to the Dr Pepper Ballpark and Dr Pepper StarCenter, and is a venture partner in four hotel/residential projects currently under development, including the "W" Hotel and Residences at Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles. Through Hicks Trans American Partners, Hicks Holdings also selectively makes corporate and real estate investments in South America.

Hicks and George Gillett (the former owner of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens) were forced to sell their interests in the Liverpool football club two weeks ago, ironically to John Henry and the Boston Red Sox ownership group. Hicks is doing whatever he has to, to sell the Dallas Stars. The days of Tom Hicks owning professional sports teams have come to a shameful end for a man who at one time had to be considered one of the most powerful owners in sports.

The end arrived for Tom Hicks and his sport properties, called “Hicks Sports Group,” at the start of the 2009 baseball season (April 9, 2009) when as FINalternatives and many other media reported (SportsBusinessNews.com has featured the saga since it began) Hicks defaulted on more than $550 million in outstanding loans (debt) Hicks Sports Group was carrying at the time.

Hicks Sports Group at the time the group defaulted on their sports related loans, as had been noted in this report owned baseball’s Texas Rangers and hockey’s Dallas Stars, failed to make its interest payment on $525 million in syndicated bank loans on Monday. The Liverpool Football team collapsed as well, as a direct result of the debt load Gillett and Hicks had carried since they had purchased the franchise.

Hicks made his billions on leveraged buyouts, founding private equity firm Hicks Muse Tate & Furst, now HM Capital, in 1989. He retired from the firm in 2006.

According to sources, who has seen original documents relating to the loans, Hicks defaulted on a $350 million bank term loan, $100 million second-lien loan and a $75 million revolving credit facility.

Days before the banks announced that Hicks had defaulted on the loans, Hicks had hired Merrill Lynch to explore the sale of a minority stake—of up to 49%—in the Rangers. That, of course, failed and Hicks was forced to sell his entire interest in the Rangers.

The Hicks default was and for the most part still is regarded as the most dramatic manifestation of the economic crisis on the sports world.

Hicks’ sale of the Rangers was anything but a smooth process. On January 23, 2010 it was announced Hicks had agreed to sell the Rangers to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan. Hicks would have been a minority share holder in the new ownership group.

Prior to bids being placed by potential buyers, Hicks told the media the Rangers were operating under normal business with no interference from MLB. Regarding the Rangers' inability to sign 2009 first round pick Matt Purke, Hicks told MLB.com at the time, "We were disappointed that the family insisted on $6 million. The Texas Rangers were not willing to do that. It had nothing to do with MLB restrictions. There is a clear misimpression we didn't sign Matt Purke because MLB wouldn't let us. That's not true. We didn't because of Tom Hicks, Nolan Ryan and Jon Daniels. We were not willing to go to $6 million."

After his group had completed the purchase agreement, Nolan Ryan told the media the Rangers were not able to offer the 1st round pick the 6 million dollar signing bonus both parties had agreed to verbally after the draft because MLB, who were strictly overseeing the Rangers budget by this time, wouldn't approve the amount needed to sign Purke.

After the announcement of the pending sale by Hicks Sports Group, several additional hurdles occurred which had to be remedied before the sale of the team could be finalized. Several of the lenders, who were owed over $500 million, vocally objected to the deal accusing Hicks of rejecting a higher offer by Jim Crane and stated they would not sign off on the deal. Hicks was sued by 3 different parties over the land adjacent to the stadium that was sold in a separate transaction as a part of the purchase by Greenberg and Ryan.

On May 24 Hicks and HSG filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection/separation of the Texas Rangers from HSG and asked the courts to approve of the sale of the Rangers to the group headed by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan. The move was made to expedite the sale and resolve the sale prior to the MLB trade deadline and draft signing deadline

As the stalemate between HSG and its creditors continued, on May 24, 2010 the Texas Rangers filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy.[23][24] As of that date, the Rangers and HSG had an estimated debt of $575 million.[24] Much of the unsecured debt was owed in back salary. Officially, New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez topped the list of unsecured creditors with an estimated $24.9 million owed by the Rangers.[24] Additionally, the Rangers also owed Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kevin Millwood $12.9 million, and current Rangers third baseman Michael Young $3.9 million.[24] At a press conference, the Greenberg-Ryan group proposed to buy the team for $575 million.[24] The sale would repay all the team’s creditors, including players owed back salary.[24]

After several attempts to resolve the deal fell through, the bankruptcy court ordered a public auction to be held on August 4. The Greenberg/Ryan bid would be the opening bid, and other offers (subject to MLB approval) would have to be submitted by the prior day in order to be considered. At the auction, only one other MLB-approved group submitted an offer – Radical Baseball LLC, a group formed by Houston businessman Jim Crane (who was previously unsuccessful in buying the Houston Astros) and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban (who was previously unsuccessful in buying the Chicago Cubs). The auction lasted until the early morning of August 5, with the winning bid submitted by Greenberg/Ryan. The bankruptcy court approved the bid later that morning and the bankruptcy case closed. The sale to Greenberg/Ryan was approved by all 30 MLB owners at the owners meeting in Minneapolis on Thursday August 12.

When the sale was completed and approved by Major League Baseball none of the official releases referred to Hicks – he was largely part of the team’s forgotten past. Is that the price Hicks paid for driving the Rangers into bankruptcy? The Rangers had to borrow more than $40 million to meet payroll (as a direct result of Hicks’ ownership issues) and had to first deal with MLB in regard to the team's need for some payroll flexibility to acquire players needed for a playoff run. (General manager Jon Daniel’s decision to acquire Cliff Lee on July 9 from Seattle is one example of a trade that had to be first approved by MLB).

"I tell you what, in some ways it's been kinda fun," Daniels told The Dallas Observer of dealing with the financial constraints attached to the bankruptcy. "It's been challenging. It forces you to think about things a little differently."

"Tom's taken a pretty significant public hit, and I understand some of it, but, in my opinion, he's been a very good owner," Daniels says.

A spokesperson for the Hicks Sports Group tired to explain what went wrong in a report published by The Dallas Observer.

HSG in 2006 aimed to land a better interest rate and terms for the debt related to the purchase and "enhancement" of both the Rangers and Stars and their assets, along with generating new capital to support operations.

The refinancing and teams' modest payrolls still weren't enough to enable HSG to pay the interest on the notes, so Hicks sunk more than $300 million of his own money (as opposed to the more than $100 million figure cited in court documents) into HSG, which the spokesperson says he "does not expect to be repaid."

"After loaning the teams and HSG millions to make interest payments and meet operating shortfalls, Mr. Hicks finally said he could not do that anymore," the spokesperson says of why he made the decision to default on the loans on March 31, 2009.

Hicks spun the failure to pay as a calculated tactic to negotiate with the 40 lenders and said in a statement that HSG had been "impacted" by the global credit crisis. He also began seeking investors to buy up to 49 percent of each team so he could retain majority ownership.

"The whole thing from the beginning has been nothing but negotiations," says Rustin Polk, a Dallas bankruptcy lawyer not involved in the case but who has followed along closely because he's a baseball fan. "By playing hardball, he gets a better deal for himself."

Still one has to wonder how Tom Hicks, who lost untold hundreds of millions of dollars (a reported $85 million in the last three years alone) feels as he watches his Rangers in the World Series – essentially coming up a year short on the dream of every sports owner, being a part of a championship run.

“Tom ran into the perfect storm for a leveraged sports asset: The economy falling apart, fans go away and corporate sponsors go away,” said Mike Cramer in a New York Times report, who invested in some of Hicks’s nonsports deals before becoming the president of the Southwest Sports Group, the holding company for the Rangers and the Stars. “All of a sudden, if you’re running a small deficit with a team that is performing O.K., now you’re running a larger deficit, and it’s harder to pay the bills.”

The Dallas Stars won two Stanley Cups while Hicks owned the NHL franchise. For better or for worse he did sign Alex Rodriguez and bring him to Dallas, a calculated risk at the time that failed.

“The mistake I made with the Rangers was I tried to catch up with the Yankees,” Hicks said. “I had to invest $50 million, because we lost more than that and finished in last place. You can’t change quickly, because you’re locked into contracts.”

“I can’t do anything about having too much debt like thousands of other companies in this financial crisis,” he said. “I’ve transitioned.”

“There were several people interested, but he was a big figure in Dallas, and he made it obvious that he was going to be an aggressive bidder,” said Craig Stapleton, who was part of the ownership group with George W. Bush that sold the team to Hicks for $250 million, which at the time was the second-most ever paid for a professional baseball team. “No one questioned his financial ability.”

If the Rangers win the World Series should Tom Hicks receive a World Series ring (yes the Rangers could come back and win the World Series)? Would he? Absolutely, he paid a price. Hicks was in San Francisco for games one and two and will certainly be at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington this weekend. At the heart of the matter is that Tom Hicks is a true entrepreneur. He may have failed but at least he tried. He had the courage and the conviction, it just didn’t work out as well as Hicks might have hoped it would.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: ESPN, The New York Times, Wikipedia and FINalternatives

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Thursday, October 28, 2010

LeBron and the Heat will be on (and LeBron will again be popular)


LeBron James and the Miami Heat are set to make their South Florida debut Friday night when the Heat hosts their Florida NBA cousins the Orlando Magic at the American Airlines Arena. 2010 will in part be remembered by sports fans as a year when the image of professional athletes took a tremendous negative hit. While both Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger faced alleged sexual related allegations, and was suspended for the first four games of the NFL season, Brett Favre is facing allegations that hurt his image – both Favre and Roethlisberger are dealing with bad personal choices. The Tiger Woods saga began 11 months ago but was front and center throughout 2010 – again poor personal choice hurt his image and how people look at professional athletes.

For reasons that have nothing to do with “behaviour” and lifestyle choices Tiger, Ben and Brett will (and still might be) highly respected – unlike professional sports own Lucifer, LeBron James who set the sports world on fire when he decided to hold an hour long press conference to announce where he would play basketball this year. LeBron, a free agent at the end of the 2009-10 NBA season, made a great basketball decision leaving Cleveland for Miami. How he made his announcement is what should forever be regarded as one of the worst public relations decisions an athlete has ever made (in terms of announcing where he wanted to take his considerable athletic skills). Examined in that context LeBron made a mistake that many thought he might never recover from – his image is forever tarnished. History should be telling sports fans: never say never when it comes to an athlete with a bad image. Sports fans properly educated can and will forget, move forward and once again embrace an athlete they had once despised.

Nike, LeBron’s most important sponsor, embarked on an ambitious campaign to help re-educate the public and how they look at LeBron James. Dubbed “Rise” by the Nike spin masters, they have created a masterful multi-media campaign featuring James speaking in his own voice. In the film, he addresses his off-season controversy head-on and focuses on the road ahead.

Rise features several sides of LeBron’s personality: athlete, competitor, comedian and businessman. It opens with him sitting in a chair in front of the backdrop of “The Decision” asking, “What should I do?” Throughout the film LeBron rhetorically asks everyone for their opinion and each scene reflects opinions that have been expressed. A notable scene includes LeBron saying, “I am not a role model,” borrowing a famous line from fellow Nike athlete Charles Barkley. LeBron also humorously asks, “Should I try acting?” He gets advice from Don Johnson, an actor best known for his role as Detective Sonny Crockett on the iconic 80’s TV series Miami Vice, who advises him that things will get better with time. LeBron also reads part of a soulful poem written by world-renowned poet, Dr. Maya Angelou. The film ends with LeBron driving to the net and saying in response to everyone, “Should I be who you want me to be?”

“In Rise, Nike amplifies LeBron’s voice,” said Davide Grasso, Vice President of Global Brand Marketing. “We’re celebrating his courage to forge his own journey even when others may have disagreed with his decisions. It’s this Just Do It spirit that defines LeBron and Nike as we strive to inspire all young athletes.”

The campaign debuted globally with a 90-second film on YouTube on Monday, October 25th and subsequently aired on TNT Tuesday, October 26, during the Heat’s season opener in Boston against the Celtics. The campaign will also air during sports and entertainment broadcasting across national networks into November with the main placements to include TNT, ESPN, and Sports & Youth Cable (BET, Comedy Central, MTV2 Fuse, Adult Swim, Fox Sports, ESPN Family, TNT NBA, NBA TV).

As noted the spot was featured during TNT’s broadcast Tuesday night. The game was a ratings record for TNT, a powerful ratings winner doubleheader that opened with the Heat – Celtics game and ended with the Los Angeles Lakers home opener (and pregame ceremony that honoured their 2010 NBA World Championship).

TNT’s doubleheader coverage of opening night of the 2010-11 NBA season delivered record-setting ratings and audience for the network, averaging a 3.5 US rating, 5,493,000 total viewers and 4,025,000 households.

The opening game, featuring the Miami Heat vs. Boston Celtics, earned a 4.6 US rating and delivered 7,433,000 total viewers and 5,339,000 households, making it the most watched regular season NBA game on cable of all-time (topping the Chicago Bulls vs. LA Lakers on Feb. 2, 1996).

Game two of the doubleheader, featuring the Houston Rockets @ Los Angeles Lakers at 10:30 p.m. (ET) delivered a 2.4 US rating, 3,719,000 total viewers and 2,823,000 households, making the doubleheader the most watched NBA Opening Night doubleheader in Turner’s 27 years of tipping off the season.

Other highlights from TNT’s exclusive doubleheader include:

• TNT’s opening night doubleheader saw double digit growth in ratings, total viewers, households and all key demos over last year’s record setting exclusive openers (Celtics/Cavaliers, followed by LA Clippers/LA Lakers).
• Locally the games delivered huge audiences in their home markets of Miami (15.5 HH rating), Boston (17.1 HH rating), LeBron James’ former home market of Cleveland (10.6 HH rating), Houston (7.4 HH rating) and Los Angeles (9.7 HH rating).

Joyce Julius & Associates, who determine accurate measurement and evaluation of sponsorships and promotional programs, offered some very interesting insight into the impact LeBron had Tuesday night.

While the Boston Celtics may have been victorious on the court during its opening night matchup with the new-look Miami Heat, it was LeBron James who was most on the minds of the TNT broadcast crew, as the iconic player’s name was mentioned 157 times during the telecast—41% more than the next most-mentioned player, Dwyane Wade.

According to research conducted by Joyce Julius & Associates, Inc., the Miami power trio of James, Wade and Chris Bosh were mentioned individually on 333 occasions throughout the broadcast.

Meanwhile, Boston’s version of the Big Three—Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen and Paul Pierce—had their names referenced just 174 times, or some 90% less than their Heat counterparts. Boston free agent signee Shaquille O’Neal provided the star power for the Celtics, collecting 78 TV announcer mentions.

The Boston Celtics won the game and were accordingly mentioned 17 more times than the Miami Heat, 174 to 157, respectively.

Nike has been consistent in their support of athletes in troubling times. Nike was steadfast earlier this year in their support of Tiger Woods. Nothing has changed as to what Tiger did and that his marriage is over. He’s had a terrible year on the golf course. However he did play well at the Ryder Cup and it appears Tiger is on his way back. He may never manage to become the icon he once was but it doesn’t seem like everyone is angry with Tiger Woods these days. Is he a better man? No, that hasn’t changed, but Tiger Woods wasn’t the first and won’t be the last professional athlete or the last man or woman to pay a price for making a terrible decision in regard to his marriage.

CNBC’s Darren Rovell put Nike’s LeBron James commercial in proper context – at the end of the day it’s all about Nike’s bottom line, the selling of shoes. According to Rovell, in the first two hours of its release Monday afternoon on YouTube, approximately 9 out of every 10 people who posted Nike LeBron commercial on their Twitter account felt that the ad was good.

ESPN reported Wednesday The first Heat cards of James and Chris Bosh that were found in packs of officially licensed NBA cards have fetched as much as $42 in online auctions tracked by Beckett Media.

According to the ESPN report those are prices paid for just standard basketball cards, not ones that include an autograph or a piece of a game-used jersey on the card. That's not bad at all, according to Beckett Senior Market Analyst Keith Hower, and that's the kind of interest that should remind basketball collectors of another elite player.

"The last time a team change for a marquee player had such an impact on the hobby was the return of Michael Jordan in a Washington Wizards uniform," Hower told ESPN. "A Jordan Bulls card would typically trade for around $5, but the new uni saw his first Wizards cards selling for upwards of $25 per."

Both Bosh and James made their Heat debuts in the 2009-10 Panini Season Update set, which was the final product before this season's cards arrived. Bosh's card in the set has sold in online auctions for anywhere from 30 cents to $14 with a typical high of about $10.

James' card has proven to be a bit more pricey -- but still as volatile -- as it has sold for as low as $17 and as high as $42. Hower said a majority of the sales fell between $15 and $30, which is where the card presently sits in Beckett's price guide.

Just in case Heat fans didn't have enough cards to look out for, though, Panini America, the lone licensee of NBA cards, just recently tipped off its season with 2010-11 Panini Prestige. That product includes more than 20 cards of James and more than a dozen different Bosh cards that just might be hotter once the season is in full swing.

LeBron and company, according to Bloomberg Media, have been very good for Miami’s economy.

“We’re well aware that the eyes of the world will be on Miami, and we wanted to put our best foot forward,” said Marc Sarnoff, chairman of the Miami Downtown Development Authority and a city commissioner in a Bloomberg Media report. Heat owner “Mickey Arison probably gave us a better stimulus package than 10 Barack Obamas combined.”

“Everything that could have been done within the timeframe before the Heat opening night has pretty much been done,” said Sarnoff.

James may create as much as $21 million in new economic activity to Miami, less than 1 percent of the city’s overall tourism revenue, said Chris Lafakis, an economist at Moody’s Economy.com.

“There’s absolutely going to be more people coming from out of town,” he said in a telephone interview. “But given the size of Miami’s economy, it’s not going to be a noticeable boost.”

“My guess is that the Heat is not going to play to too many empty seats on the road,” NBA Commissioner David Stern, said at a news conference last week. “It’s certainly not a zero-sum game. There’s been an addition because many teams are selling the Heat as part of a package, part of a grouping of games.”

As the Bloomberg report pointed out when James uttered these words during his televised special “taking my talents to South Beach,” LeBron’s choice of words and how he made the announcement hurt his image. A Seton Hall University Sports Poll found that 22 percent of respondents view James less favorably because of how he handled the free-agent process, with just 2 percent viewing him more favorably.

James mistakes included not telling the team he had played the first seven years of his career for, the Cleveland Cavaliers (James was born and raised in nearby Akron). It wasn’t Chutzpah on James’ part – it was a public relations mistake. It’s worth saying it again – he made the right basketball decision, he just went about announcing his decision the wrong way.

When it comes to the rise, fall and resurrection of a basketball superstar the rise, fall and resurrection of Kobe Bryant can serve as exhibit A and, like Ben Roethlisberger and Brett Favre, Bryant faced sexual related allegations, far different from what LeBron James is guilty of – bad media management. The Miami Heat are a team no one other than their fans in South Florida appear to like – but they’ll sell out their season (home and away) generate GREAT ratings and deliver brand recognition to the NBA – and that is good for business and LeBron James.

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

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Wednesday, October 27, 2010

NFL Armageddon – the dominos continue to fall towards the inevitable


Try as they may to suggest otherwise, the National Football League and the NFL Players Association seem to moving closer and closer towards a showdown that, unless both sides radically change their thinking process, will result in a devastating work stoppage. The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the owners and their work force ends in March. With no real meaningful talks currently scheduled, to suggest time is running out on the two sides reaching an agreement before the deadline is becoming more and more real.

“Owners are committed to not having any work stoppage,” the Dallas Cowboys owner said in an interview with Bloomberg Television Monday afternoon. Talk along these lines is nothing more than rhetoric; talk for the sake of talk, nothing more than that.

Bears Chairman Michael McCaskey offered his thoughts on the chance of a labor stoppage, more of a reaction to the suggestions made last week by New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft that a work stoppage could be averted.

“I believe it's possible to get to an agreement. This enterprise my grandfather helped found and grow over the years has turned out to be the most watched and popular sport in America, and all of us — players, coaches, fans, sponsors, TV networks — get so much out of it and benefit so handsomely from it, and that stands to continue. Surely there is a way to divide the economic pie and decide on work rules in a way that continues the prosperity and appeal of the game.”

When asked if he believed the odds relating to a work stoppage (great choice of words relating to football) McCaskey was honest in his speculation with the Tribune.

“It's hard to assign a probability because the thing is going to go through stages, and the likelihood of something happening or not happening is going to change with each stage. The agreement will not be reached soon. But it is entirely possible to do it, and if both sides will come to the table with a will to continue what has made the NFL so special, we can get an agreement.”

Speaking with Time Magazine, the NFL commissioner, who will play a key role when the two sides decide its time to negotiate and bargain in good faith, offered even more of the same points he’s already made.

“I’ll play any role I can to make sure we reach an agreement so we continue to play football. I’ve said repeatedly, the sooner we do that, the better. There could be revenue loss starting right now. That hurts everyone. We’ll work night and day.”

Why is this important to note? Last week the Wall Street Journal published a report that suggested NFL owners could lose close to $1 billion if an NFL lockout was declared in March but settled in August in time to save the 2011 season. Just the spectre of an NFL lockout has sponsors running away from the NFL or looking for opportunities to send a message to the NFL that the league had better get their act together in terms of reaching a new labor agreement. Goodell has to do much more than he is doing. Roger Goodell has to step up and force the issue with NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith, get in a room with Smith and start talking CBA.

One of the issues to move to the forefront in the last week was the NFL health care debate. According to NFLlabor.com the NFL Players Association and the NFL have exchanged letters on the issue of health insurance coverage of NFL players in the event that the current CBA expires next March 3 without a new agreement.

NFLPA General Counsel Richard Berthelsen inquired as to “whether it is in fact true that the owners intend to cease paying the players’ health insurance premiums if there is no new CBA after March 30, 2011, and if so, whether the owners’ actions in that regard will be a ‘COBRA qualifying event’ which will enable the players to thereafter keep their coverage in place by paying the premiums themselves.”

In response, NFL Senior Vice President of Labor Litigation & Policy Dennis Curran pointed out that it is well known that an employer is not obligated to provide wages or salary, or to pay for continuation of wage-related benefits, for employees during a work stoppage. He noted that employers uniformly refrain from doing so in those circumstances.

Curran also said that for at least a decade it has been well established that participation in a strike or lockout is a COBRA-qualifying event. Under the federal law known as COBRA, affected employees are entitled to continue their employer-provided health insurance coverage but at their own or their union’s expense. For example, during the 2004-2005 NHL lockout, the NHL’s players union secured substitute coverage for its members as its expense.

“Given how well settled these issues are, why has the union elected not to inform its members of their COBRA rights?,” Curran asked. “Through its public rhetoric about this issue, the union has created and exploited concern among its members and their families; it has done so knowing full well that no player or family member need suffer any loss of coverage.”

Curran called on the union “to clarify this issue with the players and correct the misimpression that its public rhetoric has created.”

What exactly is Smith waiting for? The people who hire and pay his salary, current NFL players, will lose their medical coverage on March 3 unless a labor agreement is reached. Its unimaginable given how tough it is to play football that football players would be left without medical benefits on March 3, 2011 – like Goodell, Smith had better realize the clock is ticking and he needs to act now.

The real question – does Smith “get it”. Smith spoke with The St. Paul Pioneer Press offering a variety of opinions on the implications of an NFL lockout.

“With all due respect, hits over this weekend have gotten more press coverage than the fact that 5,000 to 6,000 family members in the NFL stand to lose their health care in March,” Smith said. “We’ve got several kids on kidney dialysis. We’ve got at least one who’s in need of a heart transplant.

“While I would love to live in the world where I just react to something that happens on Sunday, I’ve got 1,900 players and another 5,000 family members with more at stake.”

NFL spokesperson Greg Aiello (always an open and honest source of information) suggested the medical care issue is one reason why the two sides had better get back to the bargaining table soon.

“This is yet one more reason to get back to the bargaining table and get an agreement,” Aiello said. “But there is no question that a strike or lockout triggers rights under a federal law known as COBRA that allows employees to continue their existing health insurance coverage without interruption or change in terms — either at their expense or their union’s expense.

“This means that no player or family member would experience any change in coverage for so much as a single day because of a work stoppage. The union surely knows this, and there is no excuse for suggesting otherwise.”

Aiello also pointed out that the NHL Players Association paid for substitute health coverage for its members during the 2004-05 lockout.

For his part Smith is trying to send a message to football fans --- we are all one, labourers in a fight together.

"You injure one, you injure us all," Smith said at Minnesota’s Eagle Street Grille. "We're going to stand as one with our fans. We're going to stand as one with the people who get their hands dirty and work to bring this game to every fan in America. We believe this lockout is not good for America. We know it's a bad thing for people who dig football as much as I do."

"Concession workers. Food preparers. Security. Trade workers. Right off the bat, there will be thousands that depend on that work," she said. "But it's also important to remember beyond that, hotels, restaurants and businesses that cater to game folks, they also lose."

So let’s understand what DeMaurice Smith is trying to say – Joe the Plumber (remember Samuel Joseph Wurzelbacher from the 2008 American Presidential Election) and the 1,900 members of the NFLPA are one and the same? The average NFL salary was a shade under $1.8 million in 2009, but that can be a misleading number. Less than a quarter of the roughly 1,800 NFL players made that amount last year, and less than half make a million dollars per season. And the average NFL career is three years, but to suggest the tens of millions of Americans who watch football every Sunday are somehow remotely related in terms of what they do to NFL football players is silly.

“Yes, they probably are paid more than others. The time that they work is probably less. But the chance of injuries is much greater," Shar Knutson, president of the Minnesota AFL-CIO offered. "They won't be able to get health insurance in March. Even if you do make a good wage, there's something unfortunate about that.

"They're union members. We'll support them as union members. And just the fact that in this area the Vikings are so revered, people won't be happy with the bosses if they end up going into a lockout."

For its part the AFL-CIO isn’t doing anything to help the NFL labor situation – except garner press coverage and create more confusion.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka sent a letter to both sides on September 30“offering” to help both sides reach a new labor agreement.

"I would like to invite you both to meet with me to discuss how an agreement might be reached," the letter reads. "I believe such a meeting would be an immediate and important step toward saving football for the 2011 season and avoiding the significant job losses that will occur if owners lock out the players and cancel games."

Mr. Trumka if you were objectively interested in helping and not hindering the process, you might be advised to at least ensure anyone associated with the AFL-CIO doesn’t comment in favour of one side (the NFLPA) as Knutson did in Minneapolis last week.

ESPN’s Lester Munson shared these thoughts on whether or not Trumka could be of any help in setting this battle.

“It's hard to imagine how Trumka, with all of his other responsibilities as the leader of the AFL-CIO, could sort through the complexities and the antagonism.

“If Trumka wants some advice on the issue, he should perhaps call former president Bill Clinton. After the 1994 baseball work stoppage caused the cancellation of the World Series and had the 1995 season in jeopardy, Clinton thought he could contribute to a settlement. After four hours with the players and the owners, he gave up and suggested arbitration of pending issues, the one thing both sides would not accept.

“It was easier for Clinton to negotiate with the Israelis and the Palestinians than it was to mediate between baseball players and team owners.”

Maybe at least this week the two sides can agree to meet again and have a serious conversation and if you want to be a cockeyed optimist, maybe the two sides will stop dealing in rhetoric and start dealing in the serious issues and challenges they’re facing.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The St. Paul Pioneer Press, NFLlabor.com and ESPN

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Welcome to the 2010-11 NBA season: Plenty of business issues to consider


The National Basketball Association season begins tonight with the much ballyhooed Miami Heat visiting Boston to meet the Celtics and on the left coast the two time defending NBA champions Los Angeles Lakers will host the Houston Rockets. The highlight of the off-season focused on Pat Reilly resigning Dwayne Wade and at the same time picking up the two most talked about free agents LeBron James and Chris Bosh.

As far as NBA commissioner David Stern is concerned – it is all good news when it comes to the Miami Heat heading into the NBA season.

“I think that in USA Today there was a big front page article about everybody looking forward to either seeing the Miami Heat or seeing them lose, depending upon what city you're in, or seeing them win if you're a fan. And I think that's team has generated spectacular interest, and all in all it's been very good for the NBA.”

While the Miami Heat are set to benefit from their free agent harvest, the same cannot be said for the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise and their fans. The Cavs had the best regular season record last year, had James the two time league MVP before being ousted by the Celtics in the second round of the NBA playoffs.

Stern did his best to spin the Cavs short-term future positively. “I think they have a lot of players who would like to demonstrate that they can be part of a winning team, and they're players of some accomplishment who may well have been overshadowed, shall we say, by one of the most glamorous players and best players in the league.

“But I think for the fans of Cleveland, they had that player and they had him for seven years as a result of the NBA draft and his renewed contract, and now, let's go, everybody on board, and let's see how the team can do without that player. And I'm kind of thinking they'll do better than most people are expecting.”

LeBron James’ decision to move to South Florida was the right basketball move for the NBA’s best player that said, what message did LeBron leaving for South Beach send to NBA fans?

“I think under any system, we're probably going to have something that allows a team to have a financial edge in keeping a player. But then it becomes up to the player, whether he wants to take advantage of that or not. So I think we'll keep something like that going, but I wouldn't claim that that's the be all and end all, but here we are. And I think that LeBron and D Wade and not D Wade but Chris Bosh demonstrated that there are some things that are more important to our teams and our players than money.”

That remains to be seen but the Toronto Raptors historically have never demonstrated any ability to keep their players. From Damon Stoudamire, to Vince Carter to Tracy McGrady, try as they might have the Raptors have not been able to build a team though the players they have drafted. Not quite the message any league wants sent to a teams’ fans and sponsors. Stern for his part completely dismisses any notion the Raptors are facing any real challenges.

“I think that you've got a committed ownership group, an extraordinary president of basketball operations, a pretty good roster that's made good use of its draft picks and free agent signings, and I think you're being much too negative, which is your prerogative and maybe even your job, but I don't agree with all of your premises.”

Stern is just doing what a commissioner should do spinning a story the best way he can. But the bottom line is that the Raptors play in a hockey town. While the Raptors are filling Toronto’s Air Canada Centre for the most part, the message Bryan Colangelo’s Raptors had better deliver this season is a winning team that will challenge come playoff time.

It was a ten years ago that the Raptors Canadian cousin, the Vancouver Grizzlies left for Memphis. One franchise failed, but with the Raptors inability to build a contender despite drafting many of the ‘right players, does David Stern ever sit back and wonder if it made any sense to expand to Canada in 1995?

“Oh, my God, absolutely not. Those are only the questions I get from Canada. I need to pump you up a little bit. We are so lucky to have Toronto -- this most diverse, thriving, international city -- that I can't even imagine where that question would come from, really.”

The Cavaliers and Raptors both lost their franchise players, players they had been building their foundations around. The Denver Nuggets face the same challenge this season with the near certainty the Nuggets are going to lose Carmelo Anthony this year or at seasons end through free agency. Is it in the best interests of the NBA to consider enacting a teams’ ability to put tag a player a ‘franchise player’ like the NFL does? In the NFL a franchise player is paid a great deal of money but that player is unable to move to another team.

“I think that the franchise player is an interesting concept. I think it's going to come up in our collective bargaining. But leaving that aside, I think the players are entitled to get the benefit of what they bargained for. And the union bargains for free agency; the players serve out a certain contract length and have come into a system that provides that free agency. And it's hard for me to buy your premise that somebody who has played for a certain number of years under a contract and is a free agent is thereby dictating where he's going to play. He's exercising his rights that were given to him by the collective bargaining agreement to sign a contract with another team.

“And just as in many cases, players sign a contract and they can be traded. Those are the rules of the game, and they're bilateral.”

The Grizzlies moved to Memphis. Now in their tenth year in Memphis, when the spectre of NBA contraction is raised, Memphis has to be at or near the top of any list. The Grizzlies finished 28th in NBA in attendance last year, averaging 13,485 fans per game. The Grizzlies finished 29th in NBA attendance during the 2008-09 season and the league’s bottom feeders average ticket price that year was $24.11, far below the NBA $49.47 average ticket price. The inability to sell tickets at less than average ticket prices on a consistent basis makes the Grizzlies franchise one the league has to be very concerned about, but not if you ask David Stern.

“I think the answer is it's been successful. I think we wanted to be, along with Michael Heisley and the ownership group, more successful. I'll be down in December to celebrate that 10th anniversary, and we're pleased with their response, and we're pleased in the community.

“You know, we need to work hard together to do what every team has to do, sell tickets and induce sponsors to support the team. And on the basketball side, to have the team win. Amongst those of us in the office who are fans, and there are a couple of us, you know, they're a much improved team.

“You know, I'm not sure let's see how we write the history of the Pau Gasol trade. I like Mark. I think he's doing a heck of a job. I like the team that they've surrounded him with. I like everything about them, whether it's there's lots of good stuff going on in Memphis. A lot of pressure on the team and the coach, but that's why it's a great game.”

Is David Stern talking the truth when it comes to the Grizzlies? – yes and no. Does anyone really expect the commissioner of the National Basketball Association to admit on the eve of a season that one of his franchises is staring at an uncertain future – of course not. But at the same time, one would be foolish to admit the NBA is serious about their financial future when teams that are losing so much money the Grizzlies face a very uncertain future in Memphis.

The Sacramento Kings face an uncertain future in the California city. The Kings play in the Arco Arena a facility it seems basketball fans no longer want to ‘experience’ an NBA game in. The Kings have finished 30th and 29th in NBA attendance the last two years and while their average ticket price is near $60 per game, owner Joe Maloof, Gavin Maloof want a new arena built.

The ARCO Arena, the facility the King’s currently call home is located in a once isolated area on the expanding northern outskirts of Sacramento. It was constructed at a cost of just $40 million, the lowest of any venue in the NBA. It is also the smallest arena in the NBA with a seating capacity (17,317).

In 2006, there was a campaign to build a new $600 million facility in downtown Sacramento, which was to be funded by a quarter cent sales tax increase over 15 years; voters overwhelmingly rejected ballot measures Q and R, leading to the NBA publicly calling for a new arena to be built at another well-known Sacramento facility, Cal Expo, the site of California's state fair.

The league’s attempts to work with Sacramento city officials to secure taxpayer funding for a new arena have failed. Is Stern concerned about the Kings future in Sacramento?

“I'm going to say that my optimism on there being a new building has faded completely. We really tried hard, the Maloof family has spent an enormous sum of money, people of goodwill from Senator Steinberg to the Governor to the Mayor Johnson, have joined in, and frankly it wasn't, I guess, to be, because we were missing an essential party. And so I don't have any more good ideas.

“Where we flow on that is right now, we've got a season to worry about, and I know that the Maloofs are spending their time feeling really good about their Rookie of the Year last year, their draft choice this year, their coach and the general makeup of their team, and their tickets are you should tell all of your listeners they should rush out because they may get shut out. The tickets are going like hotcakes. That's all I'm focusing on. I'm waiting for the we're all going to catch our breath to see what great ideas come out of Sacramento with respect to a new building for the Kings.”

That said – when Stern could not get a new arena built in Seattle for the Sonics the franchise moved to Oklahoma City (where the team is doing well). History has clearly demonstrated when it comes to David Stern he is a man of action and if there is not a new arena in Sacramento (or at least shovels in the ground building one) in the next three years the NBA will move the team…..either to Anaheim or Las Vegas.

Issues in Toronto, Memphis, Sacramento – what can be called small markets. The “C” word ‘contraction’ being talked about. Commissioner Stern, with the 2010-11 season set to begin tonight, does the NBA have an issue with small market franchises?

“I would say that we're committed to small market teams. We are going to have a new CBA eventually and we're going to have a more robust revenue sharing. The issue of contraction is one that has to be discussed in the context of collective bargaining with the players, whether if there are markets where there may not be buyers for teams that are looking to be sold, that raises the issue of contraction. But it's a sensitive subject for me because I've spent 27 years in this job working very hard not only to maintain all of our teams but along the way add a few.

“But I think that's a subject that will be on the table with the players as we look to see what's the optimum way to present our game, and are there cities and teams that cannot make it in the current economic environment. I'm not spending a lot of time on it.”

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

NBA Armageddon 2011 – enjoy this year’s Hoop it Up


The 2010-11 National Basketball Association schedules tips off Tuesday night with marquee match ups featuring the Miami Heat visiting the Boston Celtics and the defending World Champion Los Angeles Lakers hosting the Houston Rockets. In NBA commissioner, David Stern’s, pre-season press conferences (two this year on Thursday and Friday) while not declaring war on the NBA Players Association he sent a clear and concise message to the NBAPA. The NBA owners intend to cut player costs by as much as 30% when the current collective bargaining agreement expires at seasons end. If ever there was a declaration of war between management and a group of players, suggestions of a 30% cut in salaries is a very bad sign.

It was not Stern who made the veiled threat to the players’ but NBA deputy commissioner Adam Silver who outlined the NBA’s economic woes.

“We pay the players 57 cents on every dollar, which by definition means it needs to cost us less than 43 cents on every dollar we generate.

“Even though we reported we have record season ticket sales over the summer and otherwise very robust revenue generation because of the built in cost of the system, it's virtually impossible for us to move the needle in terms of our losses.

“As we've said previously, our losses were roughly $380 million last season. We made a report to the Governors that said in essence we're going to lose in the range somewhere around $340, $350 million this season based on our projections.

“The answer to your question is there's no chance we can change the fundamental economics regardless of our success because it just costs us too much money to generate those sales.”

And the 30 percent cutback? Currently, NBA players are collectively paid $2.1 billion annually. “We would like to get profitable, have a return on investment. There's a swing of somewhere in the neighborhood of $750 to $800 million that we would like to change. That's our story and we’re sticking to it.” Stern announced following the league’s Board of Governors meeting Thursday.

Players Association executive director, Billy Hunter, said the union is bracing for a lockout after the season in the following statement regarding collective bargaining:

“The position expressed by the NBA [Thursday] is regretful, since in February 2010, the players unequivocally rejected the owners’ proposal which called for a hard cap, a 40 percent rollback in player salaries, unlimited expense deductions and the elimination of guaranteed contracts.

“The players and the union would prefer to work towards attaining a fair deal that addresses concerns raised by both sides and improves the game. But, if the owners maintain their position it will inevitably result in a lockout and the cancellation of part or all of the 2011-2012 season. The players and union will prepare accordingly.”

Stern was dismissive of Hunter’s comments when he spoke to the media Friday declaring: “I don't believe that Billy wrote that because he wouldn't threaten me with a lockout, and all I can say is that's what negotiations are for and we're looking forward to our next negotiating session.”

So let us fully appreciate what Commissioner Stern “suggested”. He did not believe a statement released by the NBAPA attributed to the NBA Players Association executive director Billy Hunter was said by Billy Hunter. You do not have to read between the lines to understand how much respect David Stern has for Billy Hunter and the NBA Players Association.

David Stern is one not someone who plays well with others, at least when it comes to managing the National Basketball Association. He is the emperor of basketball, a master at running the NBA. One of the not so subtle veiled messages Stern sent to the players – there exists a possibility the league would consider contracting franchises. Call it what it is, addition by subtraction.

In another “interesting” development, CBSSports.com learned that salaries may not be the only area cut as the NBA tries to gets its financial books up to speed with the explosion in popularity the league will experience this season. A person with knowledge of the owners discussions told CBSSports.com, the league "will continue to be open to contraction" as a possible mechanism for restoring the league to profitability.

The owners’ ongoing talks about competitive balance, profitability and revenue sharing have included the notion of whether teams are operating in "the best available markets," the person said, and whether reducing the number of teams from the current 30 would help improve the product and the bottom line.

Stern briefly addressed the issue of contraction Friday. When asked if there is a model or notion for changing the rules for revenue sharing and how might that look in the new CBA?

“It’s going on a parallel front, not in the CBA but along with the CBA, and that's something that's being handled by the Planning Committee chaired by Wyc Grousbeck of the Boston Celtics.

“But generally speaking, I think we're committed to a model that will, A, be more robust; B, has certain performance standards in it, and hence the issue of contraction gets mentioned because every team that's in the league has to be able to carry a certain weight, make a certain standard; and then we need to make them able to compete on the court and to have an opportunity to be profitable. Those are the three prongs that are going to guide the revenue sharing.

But it would be premature to do that finally without having some better idea of what the new collective bargaining agreement will be”

Contraction is a powerful tool for management to use in any labor negotiation. Is there a more powerful tool to use in terms of delivering a message to a group of athletes than the ‘threat’ of job losses? Major League Baseball had a plan in place to eliminate the Minnesota Twins and the Montreal Expos and while the plan never went anywhere, if followed, though would have provided MLB with some actual teeth in trying to deal with the MLBPA.

The same can be said if franchises go bankrupt and the league allows those teams to dissolve. Both the Ottawa Senators and Buffalo Sabres declared bankruptcy just prior to the 2004-05 NHL lockout. While both the Senators and Sabres are thriving under their current ownership, if NHL commissioner Gary Bettman had allowed the Ottawa and Buffalo franchises to collapse he could have broken the backs of the NHLPA and averted the crippling year long NHL lockout.

Stern, for his part made it clear – on the eve of the 2010-11 season, despite suggestions that a year from now the NBA may be in the midst of a lockout, he remains optimistic and has no real fears regarding the suggested $750 million cutback in player costs.

“You know, the number is a number that in some shape or form we had put out there back in February when we presented our proposal, our January proposal to the players, so I didn't think I was breaking new news about that. That was the task back in January.”

“But since I've been commissioner I'm allowed to be optimistic and not consider it a cloud because I've probably been in a dozen collective bargaining negotiations, the last 10 of which involve some of the same actors that are currently at this table. So we know we're going to get an agreement done, and we think that the enthusiasm of the season and the prospective growth that it will ultimately represent will enable us to sit down with the players and negotiate in good faith, and we both seem intent on doing all that we can to reach a deal.”

A reported $380 million loss last year and suggestions of losses this year between $340 and $350 million, is the NBA and David Stern pushing the panic button when it comes to negotiating a new CBA with its players?

“Well, I'm not going to say I'm not going to use the word "urgent." It's important. One of the things that we have found out ourselves is that as we work with our teams to keep the high level of sales and customer service of first class arenas and all the amenities of continuing escalation, even in prices of making our players secure and traveling them around the world by charter, that it has become much more expensive to do the same things that we have always done.

“And number two, the world has changed. The ability of the economic situation we're in the worst we've gone through the worst recession in the lifetime of anyone who's on this phone call, and it sobers people as to what additional investments or funding shortfalls they want to make to support their assets. And I'd say the combination of those two have caused us to say, okay, we need a reset that makes this viable so that we can work together with our players to share what we hope will be the continuing upside of an officially operated league.”

For their part, several NBA players made it clear they are getting ready for what they believe is the inevitable – a protracted NBA lockout.

"It's a major concern for both parties: the athletes and the owners," Pacers veteran point guard T.J. Ford told the Indianapolis Star. "I feel the NBA is at its peak right now. I don't think either party wants a lockout."

"I think everybody believes in Billy Hunter and I think they're going do their best job in getting the best deal for us," Ford said. "A lockout would not be good."

The NBA Players’ Association, The Providence Journal reported, briefed all the players during meetings over the summer in Las Vegas. When asked if there could be a lockout this summer, the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo answered: “I don’t know. I’m preparing like there is one. I’m saving a lot of money this year.”

Rondo added that “it would be great if we could get a ring, then a lockout, but I’m just focused on the season.”

While Rondo still has the bulk of his career remaining, Boston center Jermaine O’Neal is nearing the end of his. Basketball has been very, very good to him as he’s earned a reported $153 million over his 14-year career.

“I think the business of basketball is going to take care of itself,” said O’Neal. “The owners and the union are going to do what’s best for the game. At the end of the day if there are losses, I am sure the players’ union doesn’t want to see the losses the NBA is taking. As players we’re talking about it, but we can’t worry about it right now. We have 82 long games ahead and that’s the focus we have to have.”

O’Neal said he “anticipates that the (salary structure) is going to be the way it is now, with some adjustments, some tweaks,” but also expressed major concerns over what difficult negotiations or a possible lockout could do to the sport.

“It’s about when you get the hard-working, 9-to-5, Mr. Joe who is spending his last couple of dollars to come and support the league. We don’t want to turn the audience off,” he said. “As a player and as a fan of basketball I want the support from our fans to continue and not get turned off by two groups arguing about millions of dollars that they don’t have. They create the millions of dollars for us, so that’s the only thing that I worry about.”

“There’s a lot of negotiations that are going on, and I don’t really know how it’s going to end up,” the Clippers‘Chris Kaman told The Los Angeles Times. “They’re saying lockout. You just never know. You’ve just got to be ready and prepare yourself for that, moneywise.

“I’ve been saving a lot — looking out.”

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this insider report: The Providence Journal

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Thursday, October 21, 2010

The National Football League and hard hitting – it’s all about the money


Hard hitting football – is that not what the National Football League is about? Do tens of millions of football fans watch NFL football Sunday’s because of “Hard hitting football”? What is and is not legal hitting in the NFL has become an issue following two decisions NFL commissioner Roger Goodell made this week. Are Goodell and the Lords of the Pigskin right or wrong in the two announcements the league made this week?

The NFL announced Tuesday that three players – Pittsburgh’s James Harrison ($75,000), New England’s Brandon Meriweather ($50,000) and Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson ($50,000) – have been fined a total of $175,000 for flagrant violations of player safety rules.

The fines were issued by NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations Ray Anderson. In letters to each player, Anderson said, “Future offenses will result in an escalation of fines up to and including suspension.”

In the second quarter of Pittsburgh’s game against Cleveland, Harrison unnecessarily struck a defenceless receiver in the head and neck area. That action violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (g) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that it is unnecessary roughness if the initial force of the contact by a defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenceless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass. Anderson added that the action also violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (h) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that if a receiver has completed a catch and has not had time to protect himself, a defensive player is prohibited from launching (springing forward and upward) into him in a way that causes the defensive player’s helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm to forcibly strike the receiver’s head or neck area – even if the initial contact of the defender’s helmet, facemask, shoulder, or forearm is lower than the receivers neck.

Anderson noted that Harrison is a repeat offender, having been fined $5,000 for unnecessary roughness (roughing the passer) in Pittsburgh’s September 19 game against Tennessee. These are the first violations for unnecessary roughness this season for Meriweather and Robinson.

In the second quarter of New England’s game against Baltimore, Meriweather unnecessarily struck an opponent in the head area with his helmet. Additionally, in the third quarter, Meriweather unnecessarily struck an opponent in the head and neck area. Those actions violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (f) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that it is unnecessary roughness if a player uses any part of his helmet (including the top/crown and forehead/“hairline” parts) or facemask to butt, spear, or ram an opponent violently or unnecessarily.

In the second quarter of Atlanta’s game against Philadelphia, Robinson unnecessarily struck a defenceless receiver. That action violated Rule 12, Section 2, Article 8 (g) of the NFL Official Playing Rules, which states that it is unnecessary roughness if the initial force of the contact by a defender’s helmet, forearm, or shoulder is to the head or neck area of a defenceless receiver who is catching or attempting to catch a pass.

Wednesday, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell announced the league was taking what league officials believe are necessary steps to protect players from what they believe are dangerous hits. Goodell who has been a very proactive commissioner sent a memo to each of the leagues players, team coaches and team officials

Goodell notified teams that more significant discipline, including suspensions, will be imposed on players that strike an opponent in the head or neck area in violation of the rules.

A memo to the clubs from Commissioner Goodell was accompanied by a message and video to NFL players and coaches. The head coach of each club has been instructed to show the video and read the message to his players and coaching staff as soon as possible. The video includes examples of illegal hits and legal hits under NFL rules.

“One of our most important priorities is protecting our players from needless injury,” Commissioner Goodell said. “In recent years, we have emphasized minimizing contact to the head and neck, especially where a defenceless player is involved. It is clear to me that further action is required to emphasize the importance of teaching safe and controlled techniques, and of playing within the rules. It is incumbent on all of us to support the rules we have in place to protect players.”

The enhanced discipline will be imposed even in cases of a first offense, including the possibility of suspension for first-time offenders, the clubs were told.

Following is the message to be read to all coaches and players:

TO NFL PLAYERS AND COACHES:

One of our highest priorities is player safety. We all know that football is a tough game that includes hard contact. But that carries with it an obligation to do all that we can to protect all players from unnecessary injury caused by dangerous techniques from those who play outside the rules.

The video shown today shows what kind of hits are against the rules, but also makes clear that you can play a hard, physical game within the rules.

Violations of the playing rules that unreasonably put the safety of another player in jeopardy have no place in the game and that is especially true in the case of hits to the head and neck. Accordingly, from this point forward, you should be clear on the following points:

1. Players are expected to play within the rules. Those who do not will face increased discipline, including suspensions, starting with the first offense.

2. Coaches are expected to teach playing within the rules. Failure to do so will subject both the coach and the employing club to discipline.

3. Game officials have been directed to emphasize protecting players from illegal and dangerous hits, and particularly from hits to the head and neck. In appropriate cases, they have the authority to eject players from a game.

Reaction to the two decisions has been “interesting”.

Chicago Bears LB Brian Urlacher, one of the leagues marquee players told the Chicago Tribune: “"It's freaking football. There are going to be big hits. I don't understand how they can do this after one weekend of hitting. And I can't understand how they can suspend us for it. I think it's a bunch of bull(crap).

"You know what we should do? We should just put flags on everybody. Let's make it the NFFL — the National Flag Football League. It's unbelievable.''

"There was one bad hit this past weekend: the Meriweather hit,'' Urlacher said."The other two hits were legal hits. Robinson had a great hit. They were both running full-speed.”

Steelers LB James Harrison, fined $75,000 by Goodell was furious, angry and frustrated – all at the same time. When he was told he would be fined $75,000 Harrison suggested he had had enough and he was ready to quit playing football and retire from the game.

"I really truly hope it's something that can be done," Harrison told Fox Sports Radio. "But the way that things were being explained to me today and the reasoning for it, I don't feel I can continue to play and be effective and, like I say, not have to worry about injuring someone else or risking injury to myself."

Harrison told Fox Sports Radio that he was trying to hit Massaquoi in the mid-section, but that the receiver lowered his body at the last second, which led to the Steelers defender hitting him near the head.

"I'm going to sit down and have a serious conversation with my coach and see if I can actually play by NFL rules and still be effective," Harrison told Fox. "If not, I may have to give up playing football.”

"My opinion is, play the game like the game like is supposed to be played and whatever happens, happens," 15 year NFL veteran Ray Lewis told the USA Today after the NFL fined three players for violent hits, including one by New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather that concussed Ravens teammate Todd Heap.

"If you go into the game thinking about any of that stuff, I'm telling you, the game will be diluted very quickly. … You look at the (Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James) Harrison hit (on Cleveland's Mohamed Massaquoi), you look at all these hits and whatever they may be, the bottom line is, you go into your defensive (meeting) room (and) you're getting praised for them because that's the way the game of football's supposed to be played."

Lewis, an 11 time Pro Bowler is reputed to be one of the hardest hitters in the NFL – a player who has earned tens of millions of dollars in large part because he hit other NFL players as hard as he did.

"You can't think about it," the Ravens' leading tackler (50) added. "I don't care if it's a fine or a suspension or whatever, because if you do (think about it) you get yourself in trouble. That's like going on the field and worrying about an injury; if you worry about it, you're gonna get hurt and not gonna play the best way you know how to play football."

"As a defender, you're not thinking about that line," he said. "You're thinking if somebody's getting ready to touch that ball, they gotta get dealt with. That's the way I've played the game since the beginning, the way I've watched the game since the beginning and no matter what they try to do, that part of the game can't change. The game is called tackling and hitting and that part will never change.

"The game is way too fast and you just never know what's gonna happen in between a play, and that's why you just gotta play it out. You can't think about it, you can't hesitate about it, you just gotta play it and not worry about what the league is saying.

"Whatever the league's gonna do, they gonna do, man.

What makes the leagues thinking curious to say the least is a report from ProFootballtalk.com, a suggestion that in no uncertain terms the NFL is actively marketing the so-called vicious hitting the league is now condemning.

According to PFT: photos available at the "NFL Photo Store" included an image of Steelers linebacker James Harrison's hit on Browns receiver Mohamed Massaquoi and Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather's hit on Ravens tight end Todd Heap.

ReplayStore.com holds a license to sell photos from NFL games and placed what they believed were NFL sanctioned photos of the hits the league had fined players for Tuesday.

"We regret the mistake," NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said in an e-mail to PFT. "The photos will be taken down and we will ensure that no photos of illegal plays will be available again. An outside vendor uses an automated process to post photos for sale to fans. We will fix the process immediately."

Fix the process immediately? That may be fine but at the least the NFL should rescind the fines levelled at players whom the league intended to profit over by allowing the pictures to be published for resale.

Former NFL offensive lineman Mark Schlereth appearing on ESPN called it as he saw it.

"Too bad the acronym NHL has been taken because we could call (the NFL) the 'National Hypocrite League,' " Schlereth said, as he held up an image of a DVD called "Moment of Impact" that the NFL was selling on its website.

"The NFL sells it, and to take away $75,000 from a player who's just playing is ludicrous to me." Schlereth added he thought fining Pittsburgh Steelers LB James Harrison $75,000 was a "criminal" move by the NFL.

Schlereth added, "We glorify these hits. We make money on these hits. That's what we do, and the NFL profits on that."

"You can't take the NFL and what we do and eliminate contact," he said. "The game of football is about going out there and separating the man from the ball. Going out there and playing hard. It's reaction. The players are so fast, so big and so strong. It happens in a moment's notice. It's not like players are saying, 'Watch me try to decapitate someone.'"

The NFL, Schlereth said, was built upon the fans interest in contact. "You take all the contact away, guess what you are... you're soccer," he said.

Schelerth went as far to suggest that players in this week's Sunday or Monday night games play "touch football."

"Go out on the field and don't hit anybody," he said, "and let's see how popular your game is."

Was Roger Goodell a hypocrite? Is the NFL overreacting? A sampling of current and former NFL players suggests that may be the case. However while in no way suggesting whether or not Goodell was right or wrong, it is very important to fully appreciate the context of Goodell and the NFL’s decision making process.

Football is a violent game, a sport were a young man’s life can take a tragic turn in one moment of time. One such moment in time took place Saturday afternoon.
Rutgers defensive tackle Eric LeGrand was paralyzed below the neck after making a tackle during a game against Army, late in the fourth quarter on Malcolm Brown during a kickoff return after Rutgers had tied the game at 17.

The New Jersey resident who played at Colonia High School — just 15 minutes from Rutgers Stadium in Piscataway — appeared to duck his head while making the hit.

The junior lay on the turf for at least 5 minutes while medical and emergency personnel treated him and players on both teams took a knee and watched.

LeGrand remains paralyzed below the neck and his life forever changed. There are no words that can add any comfort to what Eric and his family will have to live with for the rest of Eric’s and their lives. Did Eric know the risk he took everyday that he played football – hopefully.

What happened to Eric LeGrand had to be on the minds of every NFL player, coach and official. What happened to Eric LeGrand had to be in the thoughts of every media person who reported on NFL games on Sunday. The prayers and thoughts of everyone are with Eric and his family. Eric LeGrand played football with the intensity that earned the respect of his teammates, his coaches and his opponents. Indeed his destiny may have been to play on Sundays. While Eric has not spoken to the media since his horrific accident, Eric’s reaction to the NFL decision on what the league is calling vicious hits would be enlightening, informative and interesting.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: USA Today, Chicago Tribune, Profootballtalk.com and CBC.ca

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Fenway Forever – it makes economic and business sense


It is one of sports true and lasting cathedrals. Opened on April 20, 1912, Fenway Park remains a lasting legacy to what is good about sports. The Yankees play in a House that Steinbrenner Built forsaking the House that Ruth Built a year ago. Chicago’s Wrigley Field that opened in 1916 is almost as magical as Fenway. The Green Bay Packers Lambeau Field remains a magical destination for sports fans. Other than Fenway, Wrigley and Lambeau, professional sports franchises have long forgotten about the shrines they once played in, in favour of maximizing revenue generation.

Tuesday, the Boston Red Sox announced the last in a series of Fenway Park renovations the organization has undertaken in the last decade.

Three new state-of-the-art High Definition video display and scoring systems, upgrades to the Gate D concourse including new and extended concession areas, and the repair, waterproofing and seat replacements of the lower seating bowl in Right Field highlight the 2011 list.

This off-season will mark the final year of major annual improvements to the ballpark, thus completing a ten-year plan. This year's effort fulfills a pledge made by ownership upon acquisition of the club and reaffirmed in 2005, to improve every facet of the ballpark, while preserving and protecting the ballpark for future generations. The improvements completed at Fenway Park over the past ten years have been designed to ensure that the park will remain structurally sound and the home of the Boston Red Sox, for the next 30-40 years.

With a 2010-2011 off-season investment estimated at $40 million, the investment for the 10 year program is estimated to total approximately $285 million, the largest investment in the history of the almost 99-year old iconic ballpark.

"This is the last year of a ten-year series of improvements to Fenway Park that has given this venerable old ballpark new life," said Red Sox President/CEO Larry Lucchino. "With more seats and more standing room, wide open concourses, a reinforced structure, new and improved restroom facilities, and many more food and beverage options for our fans, Fenway Park remains vibrant and appealing leading up to its 100th Anniversary in 2012."

Additional work being planned for this off-season includes the concrete repair, waterproofing, and seat replacements of the Right Field lower seating bowl originally constructed in 1933-34. This will mark the completion of the repair and waterproofing of the entire lower seating bowl, a project started with the Bleachers in 2007 and continued with the original 1912 bowl in 2008 and the 1933-34 Left Field seating bowl in 2009.

Existing Dugout, Field Box and Loge Box seats will be replaced by new seats with cup holders on a new concrete base. Dugout and Field Box seats will also be padded. As in previous years, Grandstand seats in Right Field will be refurbished and fitted with self-rising mechanisms that enable the seat to retract automatically once a patron stands up. This will allow for more room in the seating rows and improved mobility for fans entering or exiting the rows.

Other projects underway include new and expanded concession and merchandise stands in the Gate D area and a repaired and upgraded ground level concourse stretching from Gate D to Gate C that will include utility upgrades, new concrete concourse flooring and life safety improvements.

All off-season improvements were designed by D'Agostino Izzo & Quirk of Somerville, MA, and overseen by Ipswich Associates of Boston, MA, who will serve as the Program Manager. The concrete repair work will be completed by NER Construction of Wilmington, MA. The General Contractor for the off-season projects will be Walsh Brothers of Boston, MA.

Fenway Park Improvements 2002-2011:

Fenway Park has undergone a series of annual improvements since the New England Sports Ventures (NESV) purchased the team in 2002. The group assembled by John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino was the only candidate vying for ownership of the ballclub that proposed to save and improve Fenway Park, America's oldest and smallest ballpark. The team has since focused on a series of improvements, with goals of increasing capacity by at least 10%; improving fan amenities such as concessions, restrooms and entry points; ADA accessibility and circulation including elevators and stairs; and, also improving the ballpark exterior with new year-round restaurants, wider sidewalks, street trees and lighting.

Most notable among these improvements are:

• 2002: New Dugout Seats; Yawkey Way Concourse.
• 2003: Green Monster Seats; Big Concourse; Expanded Dugout Seats; New Green Monster Manual Scoreboard.
• 2004: Right Field Roof Deck; Third Base Concourse.
• 2005: First Base Deck; 'Game On' Restaurant; New Playing Field
• 2006: EMC Club; State Street Pavilion Level; Renovated Private Suites; Distributed Sound System
• 2007: Steiner Third Base Deck; Renovated Private Suites
• 2008: Expansion of Seating on State Street Pavilion Level, Coca-Cola Corner; Concrete Repair and Waterproofing of Bleachers and new seats; 'The Bleacher Bar'.
• 2009: Right Field Roof Box Expansion; Concrete Repair and Waterproofing of the original 1912 Seating Bowl and new seats; Repairs to the Jeano Building, including the replacement of its roof and restoration of the windows and doors; New Front Row Seats.
• 2010: Concrete Repair and Waterproofing of the 1933-34 left Field Lower Seating Bowl; New Home Plate Deck, Concession Stands and Restrooms.

On March 23, 2005 the Red Sox ownership group announced that as far as they were concerned Fenway Park is the home of the Red Sox.

"It is an honor to have the opportunity to protect and preserve Fenway Park," said Principal Owner John Henry. "We see how its history and charm attract people from all over the world, and how it helps connect generations within families.

"We will continue to listen to our fans and make improvements inside the park, at our own private expense, as we have done over these past three years."

"When we set out to purchase this franchise and this ballpark, we were the only group that promised to save Fenway Park if at all possible," Chairman Tom Werner said. "We believed we could, and we committed to try. Now, through the success of the improvements made thus far, and with those slated to come, we have kept our promise. We have honored our commitment to preserve and improve Fenway Park."

"We have lived at Fenway Park for more than three years," President/CEO Larry Lucchino said. "We have studied it in detail. We have studied the Fenway, Kenmore, and Longwood neighborhoods, which are essential components of this ballpark's life and our fans' experiences. We have made improvements each of the last three years, and we have major improvements on tap for the next several years. It's time to culminate this courtship with a loud, clear, long-term public commitment. We are proud that Fenway Park will be our home for years to come, and we are confident it will generate the revenue we need to be successful."

The real question does it make good business sense for the Red Sox to stay at Fenway Park beyond the stadiums 2012 centennial or should Henry, Werner and Lucchino look at all of their options?

The Red Sox then owned by the Yawkey Foundation proposed a replacement for Fenway Park in 1999 according to Baseball Digest. Several sites were proposed by the team for a new ballpark, but many individuals, as well as the city of Boston, expressed an interest in refurbishing Fenway Park. An organization called Save Fenway Park! was organized in 1998 to promote ways to preserve the old ballpark. The reluctance the Yawkey Foundation faced in building a new stadium for the Red Sox convinced Red Sox CEO John Harrington it was time for the Yawkey Foundation to get out of the baseball business and sell the Red Sox.

On January 17, 2002, a day after a new Red Sox ownership group was approved, prospective club president Larry Lucchino announced plans to hire architect and urban planner Janet Marie Smith to oversee stadium issues in Boston. Smith played a major role in the design of Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore and Turner Field in Atlanta. This action began to fulfill the promise that the new owners made to preserve Fenway Park instead of building a new ballpark. The team has been gradually adding seats where they can, primarily on the roof down the base lines and, most notably, 274 seats above the "Green Monster" in left field.

Fenway Park is home of one of the more remarkable sports streaks – 901 consecutive sell-outs. The last time Fenway Park wasn’t sold out – May 14, 2003 when the Texas Rangers were the visitors.

Fenway Park’s capacity for the 2010 season: 37,402 (night), 36,974 (day). The stadium has 40 suites. The Red Sox average ticket price for the 2010 season was $52.32 – not the highest average ticket prices in Major League Baseball. The Cubs hold that honor at $52.56 and both teams are a shade ahead of the Yankees $51.83 average price. Both Wrigley Field and Yankee Stadium seat more people but the Red Sox have for the nearly eight full baseball seasons, eight years of hosting 81 home dates proven to be the toughest ticket in sports. There have been plenty of tickets for games at Fenway Park available through the secondary ticket marketplace, but as far as the Red Sox are concerned their games are sold out.

In today’s crowded sports marketplace Fenway Park seems just about right. A capacity right around 37,000, 40 suites and with the Green Monster seats a sprinkling of seating that can generate extra revenue.

It just does not make sense for the Red Sox ownership group to consider a new Fenway Parka along the lines of what George Steinbrenner tried to do with the new Yankee Stadium. The Yankees attempted to rebuild Yankee Stadium, with several subtle changes. The Yankees decreased the seating capacity, added some suites but focused their efforts on luxury or club seating and many “interesting amenities”, restaurants and other additions with the goal of building the Yankees revenue base.

The key difference is the size of the New York market as compared to the Boston market. New York is home to corporate America, the greater New York area is home to close to 30 million people. Greater Boston is tenth in population among U.S. metropolitan statistical areas in the United States, home to over 4.4 million people.

As much as it made economic sense for the Yankees to recreate Yankee Stadium, the Red Sox have focused their efforts on creating every lost dollar they can from the most endearing sports facility today – Fenway Park. For the Red Sox, that makes for both good business and great baseball.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this Insider Report: Ballpark Digest, Save Fenway and Redsox.com

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Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Barry Bonds – his heart is in the City by the Bay

The loveliness of Paris
Seems somehow sadly gay
The glory that was Rome
Is of another day
I've been terribly alone
And forgotten in Manhattan
I'm going home to my city by the bay.

I left my heart in San Francisco
High on a hill, it calls to me.
To be where little cable cars
Climb halfway to the stars!
The morning fog may chill the air
I don't care!
My love waits there in San Francisco
Above the blue and windy sea
When I come home to you, San Francisco
(the immortal Tony Bennett)

Barry Bonds went home Tuesday afternoon to the one place on the planet where Barry Bonds remains a beloved figure – San Francisco. Invited along with some of his teammates from the 2002 National League championship team, Bonds received a lengthy standing ovation when he trotted out to the pitchers mound and threw out the ceremonial pitch before the start of game 3 in the National League Championship Series.

Bonds did jumping jacks in the dugout before running onto the field. He raised his arms and tipped his cap to the fans at AT&T Park. He was greeted with loud cheers, with a few boos mixed in. Bonds then sat in the front row with Giants managing partner Bill Neukom.

The 46-year-old Bonds never announced his retirement. The seven-time NL MVP last played in 2007 and hit 762 career home runs.

"That was a tremendous feeling," Bonds, the former Giants left fielder and Major League Baseball's all-time leader with 762 home runs, told MLB.com. "This place has always felt like home to me. My father [Bobby Bonds] and my godfather [Willie Mays] played here. There's no better place in the world. This is home, man."

"The fans have always been great to me," he said. "You just don't know what you're missing until you've been away for a while. It brings chills up and down my spine."

Bonds is among the most reviled figures in sports history. Other than in San Francisco, were he played the last 14 years of his MLB career, Bonds remains one of sports most despised individuals.

At times, as has been well documented, Barry Bonds has been his own worst enemy. Even before Barry Bonds faced allegations of using performance enhancement drugs, even before Barry Bonds faced perjury charges, Barry Bonds aloofness and what appeared to be arrogance bothered the media creating a media firestorm. The tale of troubles linked to Barry Bonds is not a pretty story.

Since 2003, Bonds has been a key figure in the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO) scandal. He was under investigation by a federal grand jury regarding his testimony in the BALCO case and was indicted on perjury and obstruction of justice charges on November 15, 2007. The indictment alleges that Bonds lied while under oath about his alleged use of steroids.

In 2003, Bonds became embroiled in a scandal when Greg Anderson of the Bay Area Laboratory Co-operative (BALCO), Bonds' trainer since 2000, was indicted by a federal grand jury in the United States District Court for the Northern District of California and charged with supplying anabolic steroids to athletes, including a number of baseball players. This led to speculation that Bonds had used performance-enhancing drugs during a time when there was no mandatory testing in Major League Baseball. Bonds declared his innocence, attributing his changed physique and increased power to a strict regimen of bodybuilding, diet and legitimate supplements.

During grand jury testimony on December 4, 2003, Bonds said that he used a clear substance and a cream that he received from his personal strength trainer, Greg Anderson, who told him they were the nutritional supplement flaxseed oil and a rubbing balm for arthritis.

This testimony, as reported by Lance Williams and Mark Fainaru-Wada, has frequently been misrepresented. Later reports on Bonds' leaked grand-jury testimony contend that he admitted to unknowingly using "the cream" and "the clear" substance.

In July 2005, all four defendants in the BALCO steroid scandal trial, including Anderson, struck deals with federal prosecutors that did not require them to reveal names of athletes who may have used banned drugs.

On November 15, 2007, Bonds was indicted for both four counts of perjury and one count of obstruction of justice as it relates to the government investigation of BALCO.

On February 14, 2008 a typo in court papers filed by Federal prosecutors erroneously alleged that Bonds tested positive for steroids in November, 2001, a month after hitting his record 73rd home run. The reference was meant instead to refer to a November 2000 test that had already been disclosed and previously reported

His trial for obstruction of justice was to have begun on March 2, 2009, but jury selection was postponed due to eleventh-hour appeals by the prosecution. The trial is currently scheduled to begin March 21, 2011.

Federal prosecutors on Friday submitted the lineup of witnesses that they intend to call during the much-delayed Barry Bonds perjury trial. The list includes Rockies first baseman Jason Giambi and Greg Anderson, Bonds’ former personal trainer at the center of the case who has been steadfast in his refusal to testify against Bonds.

The list also includes former baseball players Bobby Estalella, Armando Rios, Marvin Benard, Benito Santiago, Randy Velarde and Jason's brother, Jeremy Giambi. Estalella is expected to testify that Bonds told him he used steroids. The prosecutors will call the other retired players and former football player Larry Izzo to the witness stand to discuss their steroid use and dealings with Anderson.

ESPN’s Lester Munson, a Chicago lawyer and journalist who reports on investigative and legal issues in the sports industry, shared some interesting thoughts on what might take place at Barry’s upcoming trial.

“Although there has never been much doubt that Bonds lied to the grand jury, there is considerable doubt that the prosecutors can succeed in convicting him. The key continues to be Anderson's refusal to testify. If Anderson suddenly and unexpectedly told the prosecutors he is willing to testify, Bonds would be in serious jeopardy and would be looking to negotiate a settlement. But without Anderson and with Illston holding the prosecutors to highly technical and rigorous standards on evidence, their case is problematic.”

And Munson made it clear to ESPN – he doesn’t expect Anderson to say anything against Barry Bonds at the March trial.

“In their trial memorandum filed Friday, the prosecutors stubbornly refuse to accept Anderson's refusal to testify. They tell U.S. District Judge Susan Illston that they will again subpoena Anderson to testify. If, as expected, he again refuses to testify, they are asking Judge Illston to "immediately conduct contempt proceedings and imprison Anderson" until he agrees to testify or, if he persists in his refusal, until the end of the trial. Even though Anderson served more than a year in jail for his previous refusals to testify and was released without testifying, the prosecutors continue to pursue him. Do they have some indication that Anderson has changed his thinking and might testify this time? There is no indication in the papers filed on Friday. Bringing Anderson back before Judge Illston for a second finding of contempt is highly unusual, and could irritate Judge Illston. It seems like a dubious and desperate move by the prosecutors.”

It appeared at times Barry Bonds was all about Barry Bonds caring little about anyone but Barry Bonds. Bonds withdrew from the MLB Players Association's (MLBPA) licensing agreement because he felt independent marketing deals would be more lucrative for him, that did not endear Barry to anyone but for him that was what he believed was the best business decision he could make

Bonds was the first player in the thirty-year history of the licensing program not to sign. Because of this withdrawal, his name and likeness are not usable in any merchandise licensed by the MLBPA. In order to use his name or likeness, a company must deal directly with Bonds. For this reason he does not appear in some baseball video games, forcing game-makers to create generic athletes to replace him. For example, Bonds was replaced by "Jon Dowd" in MVP Baseball 2005.

All of that said – this can be taken to the bank. Barry Bonds remains one of the greatest players to ever wear a baseball uniform. Bonds hit 762 home runs in his career more than any other player ever has. Bonds won seven National League MVP awards. Bonds won eight golden glove awards. Bonds won 12 Silver Slugger Awards and Bonds was an All-Star 14 times.

Did Barry Bonds play in an era when the use of performance enhancement drugs by baseball players’ went unchecked for the most part? Was Barry Bonds the only player who allegedly used performance enhancement drugs? Barry Bonds is not well liked, but that does not mean Barry Bonds was not a great baseball player. Indeed he may have been the greatest baseball player EVER. Tuesday, San Francisco Giants fans thanked Barry for the joy he brought to his hometown.

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

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