Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Time for Paul Tagliabue to join the Pro Football Hall of Fame

Each of the last five years former National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue has been a couple of steps away from reaching the Pro Football Hall of Fame a semi-finalist each year. In 2007 (the first year he was eligible) 2008 and 2009 he was a finalist. Will Tagliabue reach the steps and enter the Football Hall of Fame this year? The first and most important question – should Tagliabue be in the Football Hall of Fame?

In his 17-years at the helm of the NFL, Tagliabue took a business that was running on all cylinders under Pete Rozelle’s leadership, to a business that annually generates $6 billion, an example the entire sports industry should stand and applaud.

When Tagliabue exited the National Football League on September 1, the NFL as a sports property had become a global brand. The league played a regular season game in Mexico City last year, has plans to play a regular season game in London and next year will send the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks to Beijing. And NFL Properties now generates more then $1 billon annually.

Fourteen months into his term as commissioner Tagliabue would be forced to deal with the terrible aftermath of The Gulf War, and had to consider how the NFL would react to ‘events beyond the scope of football'; Operation Desert Storm. Days after the first President Bush sent Americans into battle, the NFC and AFC championship games were scheduled for Candlestick Park in San Francisco and Rich Stadium in Orchard Park , N.Y. The following Sunday, the Super Bowl was scheduled to be played before 75,000 fans in Tampa Stadium.

As he told The New York Times’ Ira Berkow, there was no doubt whatsoever in his thought process as to what the NFL would do.

"We can't be paralyzed as a nation," Tagliabue said, "and can't act out of fear. We have to maintain appropriate respect for the situation, and keep appropriate proportion. So we've decided to play the games, but we're going to follow events right up until the kickoffs. There could be a change at any moment."

A month later, Tagliabue started setting the table for the dramatic moves forward the league has made in increasing their television rights fees. The NFL was in the final year of the league's four-year, $3.6 billion contract with five networks: the Big 3 of ABC, CBS and NBC, and the cable networks ESPN and TNT. The vision Tagliabue had was to develop the NFL as a sports property capable of moving beyond the barriers of offering their games on over-the-air carriers in each NFL market.

"We're thinking of something like a season's-ticket concept," said Tagliabue. "Maybe take an attractive game at the end of September, October, November, and December, a four-game package. You get the fans' attention by putting it on a regular basis, just like you do with 'Monday Night Football.' "

Tagliabue’s idea would be the birth of DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket. Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League, and the NCAA for both men’s football and basketball each now offer and generate tremendous sources of revenue from a concept first thought of by Paul Tagliabue. The league would wait a few years before moving forward with a ‘season-ticket package’ but it was the NFL who created the opportunity.

The next landmark date during Paul Tagliabue’s tenure took place on January 6, 1993. It took nearly two years, but Tagliabue led the NFL to the finish line with a new collective bargaining agreement with the NFL Players Association. Tagliabue had been beside Rozelle when NFL players went on strike early in the 1987 season, leading the owners to use replacement players. Years of litigation followed. Tagliabue was determined to find a solution that didn’t include litigation, a strike, or replacement players.

The key to the NFL’s 1993 CBA was the changing of free agency rules, allowing each team to designate only one player as their franchise player. Every other player could become a free agent once their contract had been completed. The essence of the 1993 CBA remains a key component to the CBA the NFLPA and the league agreed to in March.

Labor peace allowed Tagliabue’s vision of a bigger National Football League to move forward. The league expanded to Charlotte and Jacksonville in 1995 ($140 million for each franchise). The NFL also expanded into Houston ($700 million in 2002) and Cleveland ($540 million in 1999). The four expansion franchises have generated $1.54 billion in expansion fees for NFL owners.

It was Pete Rozelle who convinced NFL owners in 1963 for the good of the league the league’s television rights should be sold nationally with each franchise sharing in the revenues equally. The 32 NFL franchises will each receive $106 million annually for the league’s current TV agreement. This chart shows the incredible increase in NFL television rights since 1982:

Period AFC Package NFC Package Sunday Night Monday Night Thursday Night Total Amount
1982–1986 NBC CBS None ABC $420 million/yr
1987–1989 NBC CBS ESPN (2nd half) ABC $473 million/yr
1990–1993 NBC CBS TNT (1st half)
ESPN (2nd half) ABC $900 million/yr
1994–1997 NBC Fox ($395 million/yr) TNT (1st half)
ESPN (2nd half) ABC $1.1 billion/yr
1998–2005 CBS ($500 million/yr) Fox ($550 million/yr) ESPN ($600 million/yr) ABC ($550 million/yr) ESPN $2.2 billion/yr
2006–2013 CBS ($622.5 million/yr) Fox ($712.5 million/yr) NBC ($650 million/yr) ESPN ($1.1 billion/yr) NFL Network ($0/yr) $3.085 billion/yr

This does not include the DirecTV package that brings the total to $3.6 billion per year.

September 11, 2001 is a date will remain etched in the conscious of everyone who was alive that terrible day. Two days later, Tagliabue made the only decision he could concerning the NFL games scheduled for Sunday, September 16, 2001, the second Sunday of the regular season – Tagliabue postponed the 15 scheduled games.

''We wanted to be sensitive, certain, and right,'' a tired Tagliabue said in a conference call with the news media, ''and certainly not superficial.''

He added: ''At a certain point playing our games can contribute to the healing process. Just not at this time.''

Five hours after Tagliabue announced he was postponing the NFL’s slate of games; Major League Baseball announced they would follow the NFL’s lead and postpone their games for the entire week. All Division I-A college football conferences -- some of which earlier had said they would play that week -- called off their weekend games. NASCAR called off its Winston Cup race in New Hampshire this weekend. In each and every case, it was leadership by example; the sports industry followed the decision Paul Tagliabue believed was in the best interest of the National Football League.

''This was our commissioner's finest hour,'' said Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell to the New York Times. ''He did the right thing. I wanted our league to take the initiative, to be the pace-setter by making the correct decision quickly and decisively. Paul did just that.''

Forbes Magazine released their 2006 Business of Football Report the day before Tagliabue’s last day as NFL commissioner, August 31, adding this note relating to Tagliabue’s legacy: This year the average NFL team is worth $898 million, 212% more than when Forbes began calculating team values eight years ago. Look at it this way: Football team values have increased 11 times more than the S&P 500 since 1998. Profitability? In 2005, the average NFL team posted $30.8 million in operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization), versus $5.3 million in 1997.

There are currently 18 members of the Professional Football Hall of Fame included in the”contributors” category:
Bert Bell 1933-1959 -- Commissioner - National Football League, 1946-1959; Team Owner - Philadelphia Eagles, 1933-1940, Pittsburgh Steelers, 1941-1946
Charles W. Bidwill, Sr. 1933-1947 -- Team Owner - Chicago Cardinals, 1933-1947
Joe Carr 1921-1939 -- President - National Football League, 1921-1939
Al Davis 1963-present -- Team Owner - Oakland /Los Angeles Raiders, 1966-present; Head Coach - Oakland Raiders, 1963-1965; Commissioner - American Football League, 1966
Jim Finks 1964-1982, 1986-1992 -- Team Administrator - Minnesota Vikings, 1964-1973, Chicago Bears, 1974-1982, New Orleans Saints, 1986-1992
George Halas 1920-1983 -- Founder/Team Owner - Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears, 1920-1983; Head Coach - Decatur Staleys/Chicago Staleys/Chicago Bears, 1920-1929, 1933-1942, 1946-1955, 1958-1967; Co-Founder - National Football League, 1920
Lamar Hunt 1959-present -- Co-Founder - American Football League, 1959; Team Owner - Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs, 1959-2006
Earl (Curly) Lambeau 1919-1953 -- Team Founder/Coach/General Manager - Green Bay Packers, 1919-1949; Head Coach - Chicago Cardinals, 1950-1951, Washington Redskins, 1952-1953
Tim Mara 1925-1959 -- Founder/Team Owner - New York Giants, 1925-1959
Wellington Mara 1937-2005 -- Team Administrator/Team Owner - New York Giants, 1937-2005
George Preston Marshall 1932-1969 -- Founder/Team Owner - Boston Braves/Boston Redskins/Washington Redskins, 1932-1969
Hugh (Shorty) Ray 1938-1952 -- Technical Advisor on Rules, Supervisor of Officials - National Football League, 1938-1952
Dan Reeves 1941-1971 -- Team Owner - Cleveland/ Los Angeles Rams, 1941-1971
Art Rooney 1933-1988 -- Founder/Team Owner - Pittsburgh Pirates/Steelers, 1933-1988
Dan Rooney 1955-present -- Team Administrator/Team Owner - Pittsburgh Steelers, 1955-present
Pete Rozelle 1960-1989 -- Commissioner - National Football League, 1960-1989
Tex Schramm 1947-1956, 1960-1990 -- Team Administrator - Los Angeles Rams, 1947-1956, Dallas Cowboys, 1960-1989; President/CEO - World League of American Football, 1989-1990
Ralph Wilson, 1960 to present, founder and owner Buffalo Bills

Without discussing the merits relating to any of the 18 men who have been honored, nor opening a debate to those who haven’t yet been recognized for their contributions to the growth of football as a sport and as a business, one name on the list of those in the Pro Football Hall of Fame – Jim Finks – stands in direct relationship to Paul Tagliabue.

Tagliabue replaced Rozelle on October 26, 1989. Tagliabue’s hiring is an often told tale. It took 11 ballots, three ownership meetings in three different cities, and a New York based executive-search firm before the NFL made the best decision the league ever made. Tagliabue was elected on the eleventh and final ballot. The NFL’s old guard was steadfast in supporting Jim Finks, then the vice president and general manager of the New Orleans Saints. The new guard believed Tagliabue was the man to lead the NFL into the 21st century.

''I've had the luxury and benefit of working with Pete Rozelle for 20 years,'' Tagliabue said at a news conference after arriving that fateful afternoon from Washington. ''He's the goal standard for all founders and leaders to come. I hope to have Jim Finks working with me. He called and told me he would be supporting me 100 percent. I told him I wouldn't let him off so easily.''

''I have worked with all of the league and feel no favoritism,'' Tagliabue said. ''I hope now that we can talk about the games and competition instead of the old guard and the new guard. I hope we talk about right guards and left guards rather than that.''

The NFL continues to be a money-making machine. The current broadcast agreement guarantees each NFL franchise $106 million annually in national television revenues alone. One of the keys to the NFL’s amazing growth in broadcast dollars was the 17 years of labor peace Tagliabue’s leadership provided the NFL with.

During Tagliabue’s tenure Major League Baseball lost part of the 1994 season, that season’s World Series and MLB owners were forced to pay the MLB Players Association hundreds of millions of dollars in damages when the MLBPA successfully won a collusion lawsuit against MLB owners. (The MLB owners were levied fines in excess of $280 million dollars.)

During Tagliabue’s tenure the National Basketball Association nearly lost the 1998-99 season to a labor dispute.

During Tagliabue’s tenure the National Hockey League lost their 2004-05 season to a labor dispute and nearly lost the 1994-95 season to another labor dispute.

The bottom line – there were no labor disputes that nearly crippled the National Football League during the 17 years Paul Tagliabue was responsible for managing its affairs. That alone speaks volumes when it comes to his leadership style – he kept the engine going.

Time for the NFL to make things right by and for Paul Tagliabue – make sure Paul Tagliabue is a member of the 2011 Pro Football Hall of Fame class.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

NFL Armageddon 2011: The two steps forward, one step backwards report

Week 12 of the 2010 National Football League schedule ends tonight with a lacklustre Monday Night Football game – the San Francisco 49ers heading to Phoenix to meet the Arizona Cardinals. It was a short week that was highlighted by news of NFL officials and representatives from the NFL Players Association meeting a week ago to talk collective bargaining agreement (CBA). Two surprises – first the two sides suggested they would not meet until early December and more importantly for the first time in months, NFL.com reported the two sides had actually had positive discussions.

As first reported by NFL.com’s Jason La Canfora, those who attended the meeting are the key players to reaching a new labor accord: present at the meeting were NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell and NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith. Other attendees included Cleveland Browns president Mike Holmgren, Indianapolis Colts president Bill Polian, Atlanta Falcons president Rich McKay, NFLPA president Kevin Mawae, NFLPA executive committee member Domonique Foxworth, player advocate Ernie Conwell and player representative Pete Kendall. Getting Goodell and Smith in the same room at the same time is a move in the right direction.

The focus of the meeting was on the proposed 18-game regular season schedule. From the outside looking in, the 18-game schedule may be the key to a new CBA. An 18-game schedule would increase football generated revenue and sponsorship dollars, two keys to the NFL owners and NFL players agreeing to a distribution of football generated revenues. NFL owners want the players to ‘give-back’ money they have been making. One of the best ways for that not to happen will be for additional revenues to be generated. Both sides could get what they are looking for, the owners more money and the players they money they have been receiving from the owners.

While New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft did not attend the meeting, once again one of the NFL’s more influential owners spoke out in a Boston Globe report as to why he believes there will be a new NFL CBA in place before Super Bowl XLV set for February 6, 2011. Which is more than a full month before the current CBA expires on March 5, 2011.

“I want to assure our fans and everyone else that I’m doing everything within my power to try to help to see if there isn’t a way we can’t have labor peace before the season ends,’’ Kraft said. “In my mind, it’s possible and actually something that should happen.

“Knowing what I know now — and I’m privileged to see a lot of what’s going on — there’s a wonderful opportunity for everyone associated with the NFL to grow together.

“I came out right away after our last [labor] meeting and said I believe [a deal will happen]. And I believe it even more now six weeks later.

“I think there will be real business contracted in the not-so-distant future, real opportunities to do things. And we’ll see. What’s going to happen here is I think we have a responsibility to bargain in good faith and then the other side has to come back and bargain in good faith.’’

Either Robert Kraft is the eternal optimist (as SBN’s insider profile of Kraft suggested a few weeks back) or Robert Kraft continues to know something the rest of us are not aware of. What can Robert Kraft offer on the current state of labor talks? Insight and understanding few people have, Kraft knows what he is talking about.

“I remember the lockouts in 1982 and ’87,’’ he said. “It changed the way I looked at things in the fall. I was ticked.’’

Sports labor talks through 2002 often ended in disaster. Sports first real armageddon aside (the 2004-05 NHL season lost to a labor dispute between NHL owners and the NHL Players Association) the 2002 MLB labor accord reached hours before the 2002 MLB season would have been ruined like the 1994 MLB season (with a labor dispute) never happened when the two sides reached a new agreement as the clock had stuck midnight.

“We did an analysis that showed if we wind up having a lockout and we go right to Labor Day weekend and we get games going at the last minute — and that’s how union negotiations are, everyone takes extreme positions and everyone acts tough and you have brinksmanship and at the end you settle — well, that would not be good business.

“The whole ripple effect of the NFL and the impact, it wouldn’t be good. We collectively would lose a billion dollars, even if we played every game but we had this vacuum from the end of the season until the beginning of September.

“In the end, it’s not just ownership that’s hurt. Over 50 percent of that revenue, one way or the other, is going to the players. So it’s hurting them.’’

Kraft told The Boston Globe that last weeks discussions on the proposed 18-game schedule are indeed a step in the right direction.

“Yeah, I think that’s the makings of a deal,’’ Kraft said. “That together with what we know we can create shifting to 18 games, the incremental revenue, together with having a rookie slotted system, give the union some kind of guarantee that that money is going to be spent on players.

“Those two things allow us to do a deal. The only people [hurt] in the short term are the incoming rookies who haven’t built the game. Give the money to the guys that have built it.

“So we have the makings of a deal, and I just . . . yeah, it was encouraging to see that, and we’re going to have to do things we know with roster sizes and things like that.’’

Kraft remains focused on sending out this message as he told the Boston Globe – it makes good business sense for everyone if the two sides work towards negotiating a new CBA much sooner rather than later.

“I’m trying to do this in the best interest of both sides because I know that there’s enough there for each side to come out a winner,’’ Kraft said. “So that’s why I think we have to go like the dickens and push very hard.

“We don’t need the way typical negotiations go — you start high, you start low — because time is the enemy here. The passage of time is opportunity lost, where we both lose big. And there’s enough good things happening that we can grab it together and it allows us to do the deal. Now we just have to force our two sides together to get it done.’’

The NFLPA reported that NFLPA President Kevin Mawae wrote letters to elected officials, alerting them of the urgency of the current NFL labor negotiations. The letters were dated November 22, 2010 – 100 days until the current CBA expires and NFL Armageddon 2011 would “kickoff”

These letters according to the NFLPA’s labor related website told governors and mayors to consider the economic impact a lockout would have on the people they represent.

“As a public official, you are vividly aware of the enormous challenges that have arisen from the worst economic crisis in the United States since the Great Depression,” wrote Mawae.

“Particularly during the next 100 days, before a potential lock out by Owners, we strongly urge you to think about the hundreds of thousands of stadium workers, hotel and restaurant workers and other working people … who support the [teams] as dedicated employees and fans.”

The NFLPA letter suggested each of the 31 American cites home to an NFL franchise, stands to lose as much as $160 million in lost jobs and revenue. The NFLPA did not suggest how they managed to reach the $160 million figure.

The NFL's response appeared on NFLLabor.com (the NFL’s labor related website) and suggested there is no need to get political leaders involved.

"The union’s request for state and local political leaders to intercede in the negotiations ignores and denigrates the serious and far more substantial problems that those leaders," the league's statement says, "and that state and local workers across the country face. We can resolve our own issues as we have done many times in the past but the NFLPA has to want to participate in resolving them.

"Nobody—least of all NFL owners – wants to shut down our business. The best way to ensure uninterrupted NFL football in 2011 is for the union to stop asking everyone else to solve its problems and to sit down and engage in serious, constructive bargaining. If the union does so, we can and will reach an agreement."

Mawae wrote Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl, Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell and Governor-elect Tom Corbett offering some very chilly observations.

"It isn't an exaggeration to state that the impact would be devastating to the thousands of working men and women in the Pittsburgh area whose incomes depend on the massive, flourishing business that the Pittsburgh Steelers generates," Mr. Mawae wrote.

According to Timothy McNulty from The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette the City of Pittsburgh lost an estimated
$1.6 million in amusement, parking and payroll taxes during the NHL’s lost season work stoppage and other businesses lost an estimated $48 million, according to the Greater Pittsburgh Convention and Visitors Bureau.

"It is incredibly disheartening to know that the passion of Pittsburgh Steelers fans and the local and state funds that have benefited the team in the form of land grants and other tax subsidies are apparently taken for granted by NFL owners like Mr. Rooney," Mawae wrote in his letter to Pittsburgh area politicians.

If anyone believes, given the billion dollar plus deficits that most cities and states are facing along with rampant unemployment, politicians will step up to the plate and become involved in a game of politics and football they are kidding themselves. Both the NFL and the NFLPA are wasting everyone’s time with letters and campaigns that target politicians.

“During one of the worst economies since the Great Depression, NFL owners are preparing to cancel the 2011 season and, in the process, devastate New York businesses and stadium workers who count on football Sundays to make ends meet,” Mawae said in a statement to be released with the New York letter. “It is our hope that the owners will shelve this plan and negotiate in good faith to ensure that we are playing for the fans in 2011.”

While some progress was made this past week the letters written by Mawae make this almost a case of two steps forward and one step backwards. There was an ‘actionable’ event this past week but on the same day that event took place the NFLPA sent a series of letters to key political leaders suggesting all hell was about to break loose. What message do the players really send out if that is part of their strategic information plan?

If as Robert Kraft believes the two sides are capable of reaching a new agreement before the Lombardi Trophy is presented on February 6, 2011 at the end of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, the two sides had better take the next three months very seriously. Not a great deal of business will get done between December 20 and January 3 – making the next three weeks key to avoiding NFL Armageddon 2011. The best news (yet), Profootballtalk.com reports NFLPA spokesman George Atallah committed to devoting two weeks to intensive negotiations during the month of December.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom Sources cited and used in this insider report: NFL.com, http://www.nfllockout.com and http://nfllabor.com

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Thursday, November 25, 2010

Michael Vick – NFL Player of the Year and a great deal to be thankful for

Today is a day many people give thanks for the life they are living and often look back at the year they have lived focusing on the times they are experiencing. Tiger Woods has had a year he might like to do all over, but at the end of the day Tiger paid the price for his self created sins. If Tiger thinks about the next 365 days of his life he might be blessed to be were Michael Vick is today and were Michael Vick was a year ago. While Michael Vick may never truly reach the road to redemption in the eyes of most people, but the steps he has taken forward in the last year suggest at the very least Michael Vick is moving forward in creating a better life for himself. He may never fully pay for the sins of his past but at the least by all appearances he seemingly is a better man then he once was.

Vick appears on the cover of the latest Sports Illustrated, a piece entitled: “What Michael Vick tells us about ourselves”, a very good question. Vick was on top of the world in 2007. One of the best players in the National Football League, there were a series of allegations that Vick and several of his friends were involved in a dogfighting scheme and ended with Vick in jail for 18 months, his NFL career all but finished.

In August 2007, hours after Vick pleaded guilty to federal charges in the Bad Newz Kennels dog fighting investigation, the NFL suspended him indefinitely without pay. In a letter to Vick, Commissioner Roger Goodell said that Vick had admitted to conduct that was "not only illegal, but also cruel and reprehensible." While Vick is technically a first-time offender under the NFL's Personal Conduct Policy, Goodell handed down a harsher suspension because Vick admitted that he provided most of the money for the gambling side of the operation. Goodell left open the possibility of reinstating Vick depending on how he cooperated with federal and state authorities.

Goodell banned Vick from reporting to training camp while the league conducted its own investigation into the matter. At his July 26 arraignment, the terms of his bail barred him from leaving Virginia before the trial.

On August 27, Falcons owner Arthur Blank said in a press conference that the Falcons would seek to recover a portion of Vick's signing bonus. He said the team had no immediate plans to cut ties with Vick, citing salary-cap issues. It initially appeared that Goodell had cleared the way for the Falcons to release Vick, since he ruled that Vick's involvement in gambling activity breached his contract. On August 29, the Falcons sent a letter to Vick demanding that he reimburse them for $20 million of the $37 million bonus. The case was sent to arbitration and on October 10 an arbitrator ruled that Vick had to reimburse the Falcons for $19.97 million. The arbitrator agreed with the Falcons' contentions that Vick knew he was engaging in illegal activity when he signed his new contract in 2004 and that he had used the bonus money to pay for the operation.

The prospects of Vick returning to play professional football were the subject of a great deal of speculation. More than a few football fans (and non football fans) believed Michael Vick had lost the right to ever play on Sundays again. There would be no second chances for Michael Vick.

After his suspension, the most serious obstacles were the length of imprisonment and possible impact of probationary restrictions afterward. Vick's federal prison sentence was set to expire July 20, 2009, although he completed his sentence under house arrest at his home in Hampton, Virginia. The Virginia charges he faced were resolved and dropped in late 2008 with a suspended sentence.

During his incarceration, Vick's financial condition rapidly deteriorated due to virtually having no income and substantial ongoing expenses for attorneys, maintaining at least 6 luxury homes in Virginia, Georgia, and Florida, and providing living expenses and about 10 vehicles for friends and relatives. With debts millions of dollars in excess of assets, and facing judgments and collection efforts by some of the creditors, his attorneys filed for federal bankruptcy protection under Chapter 11 on his behalf in July 2008.

Vick's initial reorganization plan relied upon Vick again earning a very substantial income as a professional football player, which he could not assure the court. Testifying on April 3 in Newport News, Vick told the bankruptcy court judge that he believes he can play pro football for another 10 years. His agent, Joel Segal, testified that he hopes to secure Vick a well-paying contract to play football with another NFL team after his suspension is lifted and after the Falcons release him.

The Philadelphia Eagles were the NFL team to give Michael Vick that second chance. His two year contract signed on August 14, 2009 (early in the teams’ 2009 training camp) and first reported by ESPN looked like this. The first year of the deal was for $1.6 million with the second-year option worth $5.2 million, sources told ESPN's Chris Mortensen. Vick can also earn an additional $3 million in incentives over the two years of the contract, sources told ESPN.com's Len Pasquarelli.

Led by Donovan McNabb, Vick did not play very much for the Eagles in 2009. At the start of the 2010 season, Eagles coach Andy Reid’s starting quarterback was Kevin Kolb. In week one of the NFL season, Kolb suffered a concussion during the Eagles game the Green Bay Packers. Cleared to play two weeks later Eagles coach Andy Reid believed it was in the best interests of the Eagles to continue with Michael Vick as their starting quarterback relegating Kolb to the bench.

The rest, as the expression goes, is history:

In his second game as a starter versus the Jacksonville Jaguars, Vick led the Eagles to a 28–3 win, throwing for 291 yards and three touchdowns as well as rushing for a touchdown. He was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Month for the month of September. Vick suffered a rib cartilage injury in a week 4 game against the Redskins, and was replaced by Kolb. Vick had gone 5-for-7 for 49 yards with three carries for 17 yards prior to the injury. However while Kolb wasn’t given the chance to start when he had recovered from his injury, Vick returned as the Eagles starter as soon as he was medically cleared to do so.

On November 15, in a week 10 Monday Night Football matchup against the Washington Redskins, Vick passed for 333 yards and four touchdowns, while he rushed for 80 yards and another two touchdowns. Vick threw an 88-yard touchdown pass to DeSean Jackson on the first play from scrimmage in the game and went on to lead the Eagles to a 59–28 victory. Vick was named the NFC Offensive Player of the Week following his performance against his former teammate McNabb. The Pro Football Hall of Fame requested his game jersey to display after Vick became the first player to pass for three touchdowns and rush for two touchdowns in the first half of a game.

The praise has come from nearly everyone including the man who made an example of Michael Vick in 2005. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who tossed Vick out of the league establishing his ‘no nonsense’ approach to player behaviour off the football field, expressed his opinion about Vick’s play.

"There is a big message in what Michael is doing," Goodell told the Daily News Thursday morning, "He's a superstar athlete who everyone thought had everything in the world. He fell from grace tragically by making some horrific mistakes, paid a significant price, worked his way back in and now he's being successful. It demonstrates to me to get to these young men earlier and work with them and make them understand their responsibility making decisions that will define them for a period of time."

Goodell realizes what the resurrection of Michael Vick represents to the NFL. Goodell’s 11-year old son wears a Philadelphia Eagles Vick jersey. In a year were allegations against Ben Roethlisberger (Goodell suspended the Steelers quarterback for the Steelers first four games of the 2010 season) and allegations about Brett Favre’s behaviour have not helped the image of the NFL, how and what Michael Vick does is very important to the image of the National Football League.

“My main concerns were off the field. He's done terrific off the field. I'm proud of how he has responded. There are so many examples in our society of failure, people falling short. We need more success stories. I'm hoping Michael Vick will be a success story. People need to see that. People need to be inspired by that - a person made a tragic error and he's overcome it.

"It's a good lesson," added Goodell. "There is not anybody out there who has not made mistakes."

Earlier this week Vick was in Connecticut making appearances on behalf of the Humane Society of the United States sharing with people the mistakes he had made in life.

"I hear frequently about the different speaking engagements he's going to and the impact that he has when he goes," Goodell said. "He's obviously taken responsibility for his actions, been accountable and focuses now on what he can do to make others aware of the fact that you have to conduct yourself properly and make good decisions. I thought the decisions he made with dogfighting were horrific. He's turning himself in the right direction. For that, I'm very proud of him."

Sunday night the Eagles met the New York Giants on NBC’s Sunday Night Football, another ratings winner for NBC. More than 23.2 million people tuned in for at least part of the game, the return of Michael Vick has been a ratings winner for the network fortunate enough to feature Michael Vick.

According to a USA Today report: Vick is drawing the kind of TV ratings usually reserved for glamour QB's like Peyton Manning of the Indianapolis Colts and Tom Brady of the New England Patriots. Despite the lopsided score, Eagles-Redskins MNF game two weeks ago still averaged a 10.8 TV rating and 15 million viewers Monday.

Vick’s two year contract ends when the 2010 season does and while NFL Armageddon might be the biggest NFL off season story with regards to the business of the NFL, Michael Vick’s next contract will be one of the biggest player stories. Whether the Eagles tag Vick as their franchise player (forcing the team of offer Vick a one-year contract worth just over $16 million) or he becomes a free agent Michael Vick’s next contract is going to worth a great deal of money to Vick.

According to Pro Football Talk, Vick who was once a darling on Madison Avenue (in terms of his endorsements) Vick without any commercial endorsements might be on the verge of a very big shoe contract, calling it a “monster shoe deal”.

"I'm proud we were the team that gave him a second chance," Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie told SI.com. "I think the country is really built around this. It's an important principle. Because he served his time. If he didn't serve his time? There's not a chance in hell we would've done this.

"I felt he understood how horrible that culture he participated in was," says Lurie. "It wasn't just what he lost." Yes, Vick had every reason to be at his humble best. "That was the judgment call: You didn't know," Lurie says. "Of course he could say all the right things. That's why I tried hard to read his eyes and expressions. You can read someone's genuine empathy or warmth or regret; it's hard to fake. Even the best actors you can see through. I could really see an amazing regret, a terrible regret."

Only time will tell if Michael Vick has truly been reborn but if you listen to what he said to Sports Illustrated indeed Michael Vick may have learnt some very important lessons.

"I had to go through what I went through to be where I am now. I find myself in a position where I'm willing to listen; I've got coaches who are going to coach me regardless of what or how I feel. If I've got an attitude one day, or not just feeling it at the moment—I'm going to get coached, and they don't care: You step on that field, you better be ready. And I respect that to the fullest. It brings out the best in me.

"Every day is a challenge," Vick told SI last week. "Still. Right now. And it will probably be that way next year and the year after. So nothing's going to change. That means I've got to change."

Only time will tell if Michael Vick has changed. He will forever be tainted by the sins of his past. He will forever be looked at with one eye open and the other eye weary as to whether or not he is a changed man. Those are the challenges people face when they have made mistakes but at least on Thanksgiving Day 2010, Michael Vick is working hard at making amends for his past sins – and Michael Vick can be thankful for that.

For http://sportsbusinessnews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: Wikipedia, ESPN and SI

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

NBA Armageddon 2011: a near certainty

David Stern vs. Billy Hunter II appears to set for this summer. The current National Basketball Association collective bargaining agreement is set to expire on June 30, 2011 long before the start of the 2011-12 NBA season. However, several reports suggest the owners will lockout the players that day. It remains to be seen how long the lockout will last but the two sides are at loggerheads heading towards a very dark place.

"I think it's highly probable that there will be a lockout and that's what I'm preparing for because I don't see anything else right now," NBA Players Association union chief Billy Hunter said.

The NBA and the NBAPA have headed in this direction three times before. The first two times were quiet skirmishes, a three-month labor dispute in 1995 and a brief work stoppage in 1996 that lasted a couple of hours. On both occasions, the players and owners reached a deal before the start of the season. Before 1998, the NBA was the only major sports league in the United States that had never lost a game because of a work stoppage.

A six-year CBA had been in place since September 1995, but it included a clause allowing NBA owners to reopen the contract after three years if more than 51.8 percent of "basketball-related income" went to player salaries. By the 1997–98 season, 57 percent of basketball-related income was used to pay players, while the previous deal called for a 48 percent split. According to the NBA, 15 of the 29 teams posted losses that season. The NBPA disputed this figure and claimed that only four teams had losses. The leagues owners voted on whether to reopen the CBA on March 23, 1998 and the vote passed by a 27–2 margin. Negotiations between the NBPA and owners started on April 1 and nine further bargaining sessions took place in the next three months (if this is starting to sound like the current scenario – it is very much history repeating itself).

The primary issue then was player salaries as it is now, which owners wanted to see cut. A salary cap had been a part of the CBA since 1983, but it included loopholes that allowed teams to exceed the payroll limit.

Among them was the "Larry Bird exception", named after the former player who was an early beneficiary of the rule. The Bird exception enabled teams to spend an unlimited amount of money to re-sign their own players, causing a substantial increase in the value of upper-end contracts. Club owners wanted to remove the exemption and place limits on maximum player salaries. Funny how more than a decade later one of the biggest issues the NBA faces is not a Larry Bird rule but instead is what happens to NBA franchises when franchise players (that was Larry Bird representing the Boston Celtics) like LeBron James and Chris Bosh leave their current teams?

Owners also desired a modified pay scale for rookie players that would prevent them from gaining unrestricted free agency after three seasons. The players union, wanting to protect negotiating gains from previous years, opposed changes to the salary cap system, in particular those involving the Larry Bird exception. Other NBPA positions included opposition to a cap on individual player salaries and support for a raise of the minimum salary, which 22 percent of NBA players earned during 1997–98.

After negotiations between the sides broke off on June 22, the lockout started nine days later. Teams were barred from making player transactions and holding workouts or meetings for the duration of the work stoppage.

Negotiations eventually resumed at an August 6 bargaining session, the first since the start of the lockout. NBA commissioner David Stern and several owners left the talks after the NBPA presented an offer that included increased revenue sharing between teams. By September 25, twenty-four exhibition games were cancelled and training camps were postponed indefinitely as a result of stalled talks. Further negotiating sessions took place in October and November, but no agreement was reached.

The season’s first two weeks were officially cancelled on October 13 and 99 games scheduled for November were lost as a result. It was the first time in NBA history that games were cancelled due to a labor dispute. On October 20, arbitrator John Feerick ruled that the owners did not have to pay players with guaranteed contracts during the lockout. Feerick's decision gave the owners leverage in the bargaining talks.

Further games were cancelled as the lockout continued through November and December, including the 1999 All-Star Game, which had been scheduled to be played on February 14, 1999 at the First Union Center in Philadelphia. Negotiations throughout the lockout were characterized often by frequent hostility between the players and owners. One example of the heated nature of the talks came at an early December bargaining session, when Stern and NBPA executive director Billy Hunter became involved in what CBS News called "an extremely heated, expletive-laden screaming match". Both men temporarily walked away from the bargaining table.

As the days and weeks turned to late December David Stern suggested that unless there was an agreement in place by January 7, 1999 the NBA would cancel the entire 1998-99 season.

At the end of the day – wage disparity (more than any other major sport, the few make a great deal in the NBA while many of the players made the league minimum) proved to be a key to the lockout coming to an end. Agent David Falk who was considered an influential voice for the players, represented NBPA president Patrick Ewing and nine players on the union's 19-person negotiating committee. The NBPA scheduled a meeting in New York City on January 6, where players would vote on a proposal by the owners that the committee had recommended opposing. Several players, including Shaquille O'Neal and Hakeem Olajuwon, wanted the vote to be conducted by secret ballot, while others indicated a desire to return to competition regardless of how the vote went. Kevin Johnson stated that most players "were just ready to throw down [fight] Wednesday at our meeting if an agreement hadn't been reached." Faced with a splintering union, Hunter moved to resume talks with Stern. On January 6, the day before Stern's deadline, he and Hunter reached an agreement, which was ratified by the NBPA later that day and by the NBA Board of Governors on January 7.

Widely viewed as a victory for Stern and the owners, the agreement was signed by both parties on January 20, officially ending the lockout after 204 days. It capped players' salaries at between $9 million and $14 million, depending on how long they had played in the NBA. A rookie pay scale was introduced, with salary increases tied to how early a player was selected in the NBA Draft. The Larry Bird exception was retained, though maximum annual pay raises were capped. New "average" and "median" salary cap exemptions, which the NBPA had proposed, allowed teams to sign one player per category even if they were over the spending limit. The league's minimum salary was increased to $287,500, a $15,000 raise from before the lockout.

The two sides with little fanfare reached a six year agreement on July 30, 2005, averting any real labor issues since David Stern and the NBA owners pinned Billy Hunter and the NBA Players Association to the mat the one time they did battle each other.

What has changed and moving the two sides to a major showdown? The NBA is bleeding red ink, teams are losing money and the league wants serious salary rollbacks from their players. NBA Deputy Commissoner Adam Silver said so on the eve of the current NBA season.

“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 October Board of Governors meeting.

As far as Hunter is concerned – David Stern can stick his story wherever he would like too.

"I don't really see that the argument's all that compelling for the changes that they're asking for," Hunter said.

"I think the message has to be driven home to I guess that hawkish group of owners that if they're inclined, if they want to lock us out -- because we're not going to strike -- if they want to lock us out and they want to pull the roof down on themselves, then hey, have at it," Hunter said.

It is clear that NBA owners, regardless of how “hawkish group” they may or may not be, believe they can again beat the players as they did 12 years ago. Consider the players are led by the same man (Hunter) and there really is nothing to suggest the players will act any differently from how they did 12 years ago.

Does it seem unreasonable to ask workers to accept salary and payroll rollbacks? From auto workers to the minimum wage frozen at the levels it has been at for years, the working force everywhere has had to deal with frozen wages or salary cutbacks.

The current minimum NBA salary for a player with one year experience stands at $762,195 and that is for players sitting at the far end of the bench. The average NBA career is four years. The minimum NBA salary for a player in his fourth year is $915,852. If players are forced to give back some of their salaries – they will still be making far more than the average American. Now that said, they are very gifted employees with a very unique set of skills but they will still be very rich young men.

Patrick Ewing the President of the NBA Players Association offered one of the silliest comments in sports player/labor history during the 1998 lockout “sure we make a lot of money but we spend a lot of money”. One issue is certain – in any sports labor dispute neither side wins, fans and sponsors feel alienated. Maybe David Stern and Billy Hunter should be less concerned on the comments they are making and think more about how basketball fans and the NBA’s sponsors and TV partners might react to a lengthy lockout.

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

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Will the real Daniel Snyder please stand up?

In our never-ending search to get the story right, today a rebuttal of sorts – a second look at Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder. Last Wednesday’s insider “suggested” Snyder was a good NFL owner, not a great NFL owner but largely because he doesn’t get involved in the day to day operation of his football team (on the field) as do other NFL owners (Jerry Jones and Al Davis). Snyder, from the outside looking in, appeared to be at best a decent NFL team owner. Upon further review (along with several pointed emails) along with a great report from a Redskins owner, it’s time for a second look at the Snyder who purchased the Redskins for $750 million in 1999. The latest Forbes financial valuation for the Redskins pegged the teams’ value at $1.55 billion

Washington City Paper columnist Dave McKenna, admittingly not a fan of Snyder, offered some real insight into Snyder in a report (the cover piece) for the November 19 edition, titled “The Cranky Redskins Fan's Guide to Dan Snyder” From A to Z (for Zorn), an encyclopaedia of the owner's many failings.

Some of the many highlights included:

$10: Amount Snyder charged fans for admission to the team’s workouts during the 2000 training camp at Redskins Park in Ashburn. He also charged another $10 to park, thereby becoming the first owner in NFL history to use team practice as a gouging mechanism.

Snyder owns the team and Redskins fans are among the most loyal fans in all of professional sports. Did Snyder attempt to leverage a rabid fan base who has sold out every Redskins home game since 1966 for a few bucks? Yes, he did. What’s wrong with what he did isn’t so much that he had the gall to charge but that the teams’ training camp represented one of the few chances everyday fans – who don’t have access to Redskins tickets – had an opportunity to support the team. And they shouldn’t have had to pay for the privilege of seeing the team practice.

$25: Price Snyder charged for a special group of standing-room-only tickets at FedExField in 2008. The cheap tickets were linked to the high-priced suites; lobbying watchdogs said Snyder was merely attempting to skirt congressional gift limits. Damning evidence: A team brochure for instructing ticket sales personnel to explain lobbying loopholes to suite customers. Snyder denied the charge. SRO tickets now sell for $152.50, with no mention of lobbying in the sales pitch.

Charging $25 in 2008 and two years later it now costs $152.50. Wow, that has to be considered price gouging. Again it’s the simplest law when it comes to selling tickets for sports events or concerts – the law of supply and demand. Still that’s an amazing price increase for any ticket anywhere in just two years.

American Enterprise Institute: Conservative thinktank that summed up Snyder’s football operation as a “leading exemplar of this tendency toward irrationality” in a 2006 report. Kevin Hassett, director of economic policy studies at AEI, cited Snyder for running a “seriously mismanaged” operation. “I used the Redskins because they’re the most frightening example of a team that hadn’t thought through the simple economics of pro football,” Hassett said at the time. “The problems of running a pro football team are right out of the textbooks: With the salary cap, everybody’s got the same amount of money to spend, so let’s see what you’re going to do with your money. The big signing is counter to the economics of pro football. Over time, [Snyder is] spending the same amount of money as everybody else, but he’s spending it irrationally. I think they’re years away from correcting the mistakes they’ve made.”

When the conservatives assume you can’t get it right – you may have issues. Then again, who ever said conservatives get it right.

Bankrupt Airline Peanuts: What Snyder was selling to fans at FedExField. During the 2006 season, vendors offered shelled nuts in royal blue and white 5 oz. bags adorned with the Independence Air logo. Problem: The airline had gone under about a year earlier. The supplier told Washington City Paper that it stopped shipping the airline’s nuts “before Independence Air went out of business.” A spokesman for the Peanut Council told City Paper that to prevent rancidity, the recommended shelf life of a foil bag of out-of-shell peanuts was “about three months.”

This is a gem – where are the food police when you need them? But what could Daniel Snyder have been thinking? And who is the concessionaire at FedEx Field and what about their reputation? This is amazing no matter how you look at this. Did anyone die from eating bad peanuts at FedEx Field? Shame on Daniel Snyder for this one.

Conflict of Interest: What Snyder created by employing members of the D.C. media to work for Redskins Broadcast Network, wholly owned by the team. Among the many journalists who worked for Snyder while also reporting on his Redskins for major news outlets: George Michael, Michael Wilbon, Dan Hellie, Wally Bruckner, Andy Pollin, Lindsay Czarniak, Brett Haber

Snyder gets a pass on this one. While Snyder (in what wasn’t a bad business move created his own radio network) rights holders have a tenuous relationship with the teams’ they broadcast, objectivity can be questioned all too often. And with so many options for listeners – turn the channel, and do not support the advertisers if you don’t like the product.

Entertainment Tax: Ten percent fee Prince George’s County collects as part of the deal that put the stadium there. The fee, like all assorted tariffs, had historically been included in the ticket price. After buying the Redskins, Snyder removed those charges from the printed price, moving them to the invoice. The move coincided with the biggest ticket price hike in team history. The biggest losers in Snyder’s removal of fees were street sellers, since “face value” of a ticket was no longer its actual retail price.

Somewhat of a pass on this as well for Snyder. One of the biggest issues consumers have when they’re buying tickets to sports events or concerts is the ticket surcharges. That Snyder made a cash grab – every sports owner today does this. It isn’t right, but his actions are part of a greater issue.

GEICO: Insurance company and major Redskins sponsor. Snyder allowed GEICO to hand out promotional signs at FedExField last season at the same time the team had instructed stadium security to take away home-made signage, much of it involving derogatory comments about Snyder and Cerrato. David Donovan, Snyder’s attorney, said the sign ban was for “safety.”

Mean spirited on Snyder’s part but here’s a better story (and no it’s not a Daniel Snyder story). The former owner of the Ottawa Lynx (the late Howard Darwin) forced security officers to search bags at the Ottawa Baseball stadium in 1994 when the Montreal Expos and Henry Rodriguez travelled to Ottawa to play their Triple A team. Expos fans threw O-Henry chocolate bars on the field during the Expos 1994 season whenever Rodriguez came to bat. Darwin took away the bars outside the stadium but then sold O-Henry chocolate bars inside the stadium for fans to toss on the field. Sixteen years later the Expos are dead, the Lynx are dead and Howard Darwin is the late Howard Darwin.

Hill, Pat: Down-on-her-luck 73-year-old grandmother—and five-decade Redskins season-ticketholder—who was sued by the Redskins in 2009 because she could not afford to keep up payments on the 10-year, $50,000-plus club seats contract she’d signed.

Snyder would say a contract is a contract and once you set a precedent you’ve opened up Pandora’s Box and he would be right, but the optics are terrible. Who sues a 73-year-old grandmother—and five-decade Redskins season-ticketholder? Better to make the right example and honor her 50 year commitment to the Redskins then to do what Snyder did – this is what makes Snyder a legend (and no not a good legend).

Maryland Clean Indoor Air Act of 2007: Statewide ban on smoking in bars and restaurants. The law prompted regulators to order Club Macanudo, a cigar bar on FedExField’s Club Level, to either stop selling drinks and food or stop allowing smoking. Snyder stopped food and drink sales for one season. But the establishment reopened as the Montecristo Club in 2009, with the team explaining that the new facility was no longer a bar, but a tobacco shop, and therefore not required to comply with the state code. Unfortunately, a promo film for the tobacco shop posted on the Redskins website featured a bartender pouring a Bud Light from a tap, a clear violation of the law.

Pretty obvious by now that Daniel Snyder will do almost anything to make a dollar or two. The good news is that anti-smoking laws are here to stay and they’re getting tougher every year. The bad news – a perceived community leader attempted to circumvent an anti smoking bi-law, this one is really wrong on every level.

Pentagon Flag Hat: A Redskins cap sold for profit by Snyder to “commemorate September 11” in time for the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Ads boasted that the $23.99 caps, really just black Redskins hats with a red, white, and blue Pentagon sewn on the side, were “expected to be worn by the Redskins coaches.” No other NFL team put 9/11 commemorative products for sale during the 2006 season, for profit or otherwise. Snyder had previously added a $4 “security surcharge” to the ticket prices soon after the attacks.

Ok, its official: Daniel Snyder has no shame. To attempt to make money off what happened on September 11, 2001 is an act so perverse it is astounding. One question, why didn’t the NFL step up and stop this practice? This serves to embarrass the National Football League, but at the end of the day its Daniel Snyder who embarrassed himself

“Several Million Dollars”: Amount Snyder was paid by StubHub as part of the Redskins’ 2008 deal with the online ticket clearinghouse, according to StubHub spokesman Sean Pate. At the time, Snyder had been taking tickets away from season ticketholders for violating team’s policy against reselling tickets. The Washington Times reported that the team even repossessed six tickets from the Braloves, a D.C. family that had had them “since the 1940s,” after Redskins detectives found that they’d put some tickets up for sale on eBay.

Ticket reselling has become its own unique sports and concert animal in recent years but this is a good example of the practice gone wrong. There are plenty of examples from nearly every sports franchise. The sports industry needs to get this right before it really begins to hurt the entire industry but this is but one example (a good one) of an opportunity that isn’t working very well.

Weasel Stew: Menu item at the Princess Restaurant in Frostburg, Md., conceived in 2000 after the Redskins broke their training-camp lease with the local college. Jack Kent Cooke and Maryland lawmakers had worked out a 10-year, $331,000-per-year deal, designed to bring tourist dollars to western Maryland, as part of the agreement that brought the Redskins to Prince George’s County. Shortly after buying the team, Snyder defaulted on the deal so he could hold training camp at Redskins Park, where he charged $10 admission and $10 parking. In 2001, Snyder paid the school $750,000 to settle the matter. The school used the money to establish an endowment named for Cooke.

In May 1999, Snyder purchased the Redskins and Jack Kent Cooke Stadium for $800 million following the death of previous owner Jack Kent Cooke. At the time, it was the most expensive transaction in sporting history. The deal was financed largely through borrowed money, including $340 million borrowed from Société Générale and $155 million debt assumed on the stadium. The only question that needs to be asked, based not on the Weasel Stew example, but based on his ‘track record’ as Redskins owner and how he may have besmirched the franchise’s reputation, is if the estate of the late Jack Kent Cooke had a chance to do it all over, would they sell the Washington Redskins to Daniel Snyder?

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited in this report: The Washington City Paper

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Monday, November 22, 2010

NFL Armageddon 2011— One week closer to the inevitable NFL lockout

The countdown clock continues towards what now seems inevitable – NFL Armageddon 2011, a $7 billion dollar business shutting down on March 5, 2011. The past week was filled with more rhetoric from both sides (mostly the owners) and the National Football League Players Association putting the last pieces in place if the NFLPA wants to blow itself up. All in all, a great week (not) in terms of successfully negotiating a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the two sides.

The highlight from this past week from NFL owners had a record three NFL owners speaking out on the issue of whether or not there will be a new CBA before the March 5 date when the current CBA expires.

Emailing a group of season holders Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver suggested have no fears – a labor deal is near.

“Most of you are aware that the agreement that the NFL has with the players’ union, called the CBA, will expire in March,” Weaver says in a “special message” dated November 17. “In any such agreement, there are many issues to be discussed, but our negotiations are professional, not personal. We have immense respect for our players and all who play and have played this game. No one believes that it is in their interest — the union, the teams, the players, the former players, the fans — for disagreements on these issues to damage the game that all of us love and to which you have given your whole-hearted support and enthusiasm.

“There is no question that an agreement will be reached,” Weaver says. “However, the more time that goes by before that happens, the more that all of us will lose – players, clubs and fans. We remain committed to doing all that we can do to reach agreement as soon as we can on a deal that is fair to players, fans and all 32 clubs and provides for the growth and health of the game of football.”

Weaver is in an interesting position. The Jaguars have more ticket selling issues than the average NFL franchise. The Jags play their home games at EverBank Field which can seat as many as 76,867. However, the organization believed less was more and installed a series of tarps to reduce the seating capacity for Jaguars games. The covers were placed to block out seven sections in the upper north endzone and four in each upper deck section, located on the corners of each. This puts 9,703 seats out of service, leaving the stadium with 67,164 seats for the regular season. The Jags still have their hands full in selling the 67,164 tickets and while not talked about when it comes to relocation Weaver has to sell optimism when it comes to the Jags and the NFL’s immediate future.

At least Weaver, regardless of how he was trying to spin the current state of NFL labor talks, tried to communicate with his franchises largest stakeholders – his teams’ season ticket holder base. Weaver highlighted four main issues between the two sides:

1. “The great appeal of the NFL is based on the competition among 32 franchises, each of which must be strong and able to win.”

2. “To insure [sic] this competition and the safety of our players, the NFL has created the best drug and conduct policies in sports, and has focused on player safety improvements, recognition of our retired veterans and on continuing to create value for our fans.”

3. “To enhance the value for our fans, we made the proposal that the regular season be increased to 18 games.”

4. “To address inequities that have evolved under the current system, such as paying untested rookies in a manner that makes no sense, we have proposed shifting money toward proven veterans and retired players.”

Was Weaver off base in any of the suggestions? No, he was not but he also was not in a position to move the two sides forward and his comments did not move the two sides further apart.

Miami Dolphins owner Steve Ross, one of the newer NFL owners, suggested he too believed an NFL labor deal was a lot closer to reality then common sense seems to dictate.

Appearing at a sports conference in New York City, Ross did his best to calm the growing talk of labor armageddon – steps away from the NFL’s Manhattan offices.

“All owners want to see the labor negotiations be concluded and we don’t have to worry about missing a game next year,” Ross said. “Right now, it’s out of everybody’s hands. I don’t know what’s going on personally. We’re briefed, but there are some negotiations. I don’t think it’s fast enough, hopefully they’ll be concluded satisfactorily for both sides.”

Are Ross’ comments a surprise to anyone? Of course not and no they should not be a surprise. Does anyone really believe any NFL owner is going to suggest a labor deal is not near? The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month the league was looking at a near billion dollar loss in league revenues even IF a new labor accord was reached by August, saving the 2011 season but allowing for tremendous labor uncertainty.

Weaver and Ross are NFL owners but they do not (with all due respect) have the statue Pittsburgh Steelers president Art Rooney II has. The Rooney’s are one of the NFL’s founding families – when a Rooney talks NFL labor – it is well worth listening and paying attention.

"I think the owners are all committed to getting a deal done that works for the game and something that is healthy economically for the players and owners," Rooney told FoxSports.com, a member of the NFL management council executive committee for labor affairs. "I'm not going to predict any real time frame to it because I do think we have a long way to go, but I certainly think we'll get there. I hope we get there before we get to any type of a lockout. That remains to be seen."

New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft has been very optimistic whenever he has been asked about the possibility of an NFL lockout. He has suggested like Weaver and Ross that he believes labor peace is a lot closer than labor armageddon. It remains to be seen if Rooney or Kraft are right but as long as the two sides are not negotiating (and they will not be holding a joint meeting until December) the side that is closer to labor armageddon is a lot closer.

The NFLPA should be given credit for offering the owners a reasonable reaction to the owners proposed 18 game schedule (two more games). According to ESPN's Chris Mortensen, the union's proposal asks for reduced voluntary offseason workouts, among other things, if an 18-game season is to occur.

The proposal asks for voluntary offseason workouts to be reduced from 14 weeks to five weeks or 20 days. Considering the recent studies on concussions and NFL players, safety is a big concern and the union is asking for reduced contact between players.

During the season, the union wants to implement two bye weeks for each team and rosters to expand from 53 to 56 or 57. It also wants increased prorated salaries for players under contract and a reduction in the number of games players need to become vested to qualify for post-career health care and pension benefits.

“We all know what the league has done in taking steps toward a lockout, and our counterproposal to the 18-game schedule was another way for us to be as responsive as possible, and to negotiate in good faith,” NFLPA assistant executive director George Atallah told Yahoo Sports. “Our counterproposal is not primarily based on the financial construction of what 18 games would look like, but rather on the dangers of the game, and minimizing the impact that two extra games per season would have on players.”

The Green Bay Packers are publicly owned and operated business; the other 31 NFL teams are privately held and operated businesses. While the NFLPA is loathe to even consider reducing the 60 percent in football generated revenue football players are currently guaranteed as part of the CBA that is in place. As Atallah told Yahoo Sports, if NFL owners are crying poor maybe it is in the best interest of NFL owners to open up their books to the NFLPA and prove indeed NFL owners are losing money.

“You can’t ask players to play extra games without providing injury data or other information that would help to reduce the wear and tear on the players,” Atallah said. “The owners can’t view players as their automobiles – if they break down, you can just replace them with somebody else. That’s not how we approach the negotiations, and I guess you’d have to ask the NFL why their initial proposal only included one extra roster spot.”

NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith spent a good part of last week visiting the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Oakland Raiders. The Raiders were the last of the 32 NFL team player groups to give Smith and Atallah the mandate to decertify the NFLPA if they believed it was in the best interests of the union to blow itself up.

“Historically, players gain free agency through decertification,” Atallah said. “When the NFL and the owners have taken aggressive action against the players, or they have taken action to restrict employee rights, the union and the players have decertified to fight for those rights in the courts. This would be no different. If the players decide to renounce their interest in being part of the NFLPA, the league can be subject to antitrust violations. Their position on a lockout is one of the things that could be challenged in court.”

The Associated Press reported the NFLPA made an interesting decision which optically may not have been in their best interests of winning the public battle for support. The NFL makes no secret what their lobbyist Jeff Miller does in Washington; he presses the flesh and talks to members of congress on behalf of the NFL. According to AP the NFLPA has and is in the process of drafting letters to members of congress on behalf of the players.

"It's obvious that they clearly believe that Congress' involvement is very necessary," NFLPA public policy counsel Joe Briggs told the AP. "The real question will be whether a populist wave of the last election will make members of Congress ready to stop the NFL" from imposing a lockout.

"We have a very different approach to this than the players association has," NFL talking head Miller countered with. "But at the same time, if they're spending a lot of time on Capitol Hill trying to encourage Congress to engage in our collective bargaining negotiations, we can't just abdicate the playing field. We have a responsibility, too, to talk to members of Congress and their staff and educate them about the status of the negotiations."

Does anyone really expect the Congress, especially a new Congress with the 2012 Presidential election less than two years away, to focus anytime on whether or not there is an NFL lockout – not if anyone wants to see the light of day in the next election.

Stephen Ross, director of the Penn State Institute for Sports Law, Policy and Research was even more pointed in his comments in the AP report:

"The more members of Congress join in, that gives members of the public the impression that maybe the owners aren't doing something right, this is a little too greedy," Ross said.

With Thanksgiving making this a very short week – do not expect anything to get done this week – as the days and weeks get closer and closer to March 5, 2011.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this report: ProFootballTalk.com, ESPN, AP and FoxSports.com

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Friday, November 19, 2010

MLB Armageddon 2011 (nope) – labor peace rules the day

Major League Baseball ended four days of meetings in Orlando, a precursor to next month’s annual Baseball Winter Meetings, scheduled for December 6-9 at Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Resort near Orlando, Florida. Both the National Football League and the National Basketball Association are looking at major work stoppages that could begin early in 2011 for the NFL. Former MLB Players Association executive director Donald Fehr is expected to be confirmed as the new ED for the National Hockey League Players Association as early as today (Friday). While labor uncertainty may be the biggest sports story in 2011, Major League Baseball looks forward to smooth sailing when it comes to their relationship with the MLBPA in the coming years.

The current MLB CBA expires on December 11, 2011. Two key MLB officials made it clear they believe MLB will not be facing any real labor related issues in the near future.

"I can't forecast what's going to happen," MLB commissioner Bud Selig commented according to MLB.com following Thursday’s ownership meetings. "But given the history you see a huge difference. I give [MLB's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources] Rob Manfred and [union executive director] Michael Weiner credit for a constructive relationship. It isn't Marvin [Miller] vs. Bowie [Kuhn] and all the anger.

"Both sides will be very intense and have things that they want, but when you think about what went on for years nobody could have ever dreamed that we'd have 16 years of labor peace, given that we had work stoppages in 1972, '76, '80, '81, '85, '90 and '94. In American labor history it's probably as bad a relationship as ever existed."

The major reason MLB has enjoyed 16 years of so called labor peace, in the eight work labor stoppages that Selig alluded to – MLB ownership (management) lost each and every time to the MLBPA.

Year Stoppage Days Games Key Issues
1972 Strike 14 86 player pensions, binding arbitration
Work stoppage lasted from April 1 - 12
Result: Players union and owners reach accord on a new collective bargaining agreement. Owners eventually agreed to add an additional $500,000 to the pension fund. Players forfeit payment for games missed during strike, but gain the right to salary arbitration.
1973 Lockout 12 0 salary arbitration
Work stoppage lasted from Feb. 8 - 25
Result: Camps open late but season starts on time with a new three-year collective bargaining agreement. Owners raise their contribution to the pension plan and increase minimum salaries from $13,500 to $15,000 in the first year and to $16,500 in the third year.
1976 Lockout 17 0 free agency, re-entry draft
Work stoppage lasted from March 1 - 17
Result: Federal judge John Oliver issued order making pitchers Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally free agents, upholding a ruling made the previous year by baseball arbitrator Peter Seitz. Commissioner Bowie Kuhn orders camps opened and a new Basic Agreement is negotiated.
1980 Strike 8 0 free agent compensation
Work stoppage lasted from April 1 - 8
Result: Final eight days of spring training lost, but season starts on time and a four-year agreement is reached, with a clause allowing the free agency issue to be re-opened in 1981.
1981 Strike 50 712 free agent compensation
Work stoppage lasted from June 12 - July 31
Result: Players' strike cancels 712 games. Owners lose right to have clubs directly compensated for the loss of free agents. Owners win right to retain players for six years and to be compensated with other players, as well as amateurs from the draft.
1985 Strike 2 0 salary arbitration
Work stoppage lasted from Aug. 6 - 7
Result: Owners agree to contribute $33 million for the next three years to the pension fund and $39 million in 1989. The players' minimum salary increases from $40,000 to $60,000.
1990 Lockout 32 0 salary arbitration, salary cap
Work stoppage lasted from Feb. 15 - March 18
Result: Camps open late. Owners raise their annual pension fund contribution to $55 million. Salary arbitration eligibility agreed to for 17 percent of the players with between two and three years of experience. The minimum salary increases to $100,000.
1994-95 Strike 232 938 salary cap, revenue sharing
Work stoppage lasted from Aug. 12 - March 31
Result: Postseason is cancelled. Judge's ruling ending labor dispute orders that 1995 and 1996 seasons must be played under previously existing labor conditions. New agreement is signed in March of '97 with implementation of a luxury tax on big-market owners for overspending.

Rob Manfred, Major League Baseball's executive vice president of labor relations and human resources addressed the league’s 30 general managers Tuesday, pretty much offering what Selig suggested on the issue of labor, MLB and the MLBPA.

"From the Commissioner's perspective, having input from people who are in charge of on-field operations is essential," Manfred said. "It's a crucial part of our preparation process. We spent the entire day on that topic and that preparation effort and I suspect that the bulk of [Wednesday] will be spent on the same general area."

Several general managers speaking at this week’s meetings in Orlando concurred with Selig’s and Manfred’s views on the current state of MLB labor relations.

"Of all of the sports, I'd say we are the least likely to experience a work stoppage," said Sandy Alderson, a Major League Baseball executive until the New York Mets recently hired him as general manager.

"The recent track record," Texas GM Jon Daniels told The Los Angeles Times, "is pretty good."

"I give Rob Manfred and Michael Weiner credit for a constructive relationship," Dodgers General Manager Ned Colletti told The Los Angeles Times. "But we'll see what happens."

If the owners eight negotiation losing streak did not send the owners the message they needed to receive consider what happened after the owners lost to the players after 1985’s brief players strike.

Despite industry growth, owners repeatedly tried to find ways to thwart free agency rights won by the players. None of those efforts were more cynical than when owners collectively decided not to pursue free agents in the player markets following the 1985, ’86 and ’87 seasons.

Only four of 35 free agents signed with new teams following the 1985 season. Players the caliber of Kirk Gibson, Tommy John and Phil Neikro were not offered contracts. The next season, the owners acted in concert again to restrain the free agent market when players like Tim Raines, Bob Boone and Jack Morris were unable to get offers from other clubs.

The MLBPA filed grievances alleging ownership collusion in early 1986 and again in February 1987. In September 1987, arbitrator Tom Roberts ruled that the owners had violated the Basic Agreement in the first collusion case and later, in January 1988, determined damages of $10.5 million. In October 1989, arbitrator George Nicolau ruled that owners had again violated the Basic Agreement in the second collusion case, awarding damages of $38 million.

In January 1988, the MLBPA filed a third collusion grievance after an off-season players market for which the owners created an “information bank’ to share information and restrain salaries.

The players prevailed in that grievance also and in November of 1990 they reached a final settlement to all three collusion cases in which $280 million in damages was awarded to players.

Have the owners waved the white flag? Yes and no. MLB players came as close to a strike as they ever had without going on strike late in the 2002 season. As the clock struck midnight the two sides agreed to a new CBA, seeing the light of day.

When one looks at the current NFL, NBA and NHL CBA’s, each CBA includes a league imposed salary cap. NBA commissioner David Stern suggested NBA owners are looking for NBA players to give back close to a third of their current salaries if a new labor agreement is going to be reached. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell is looking for major concessions that will include players receiving less than the current 60 percent of football generated revenue they currently receive. With Don Fehr taking over control at the NHLPA who knows what to expect when the current NHL CBA ends. Remember the NHL lost the 2004-05 season to a league mandated lockout – the result a salary cap.

Baseball owners wanted a salary cap since the early 1980’s but as history has shown, they failed each time they tried to force the MLBPA into salary restraints. At first it was easy to suggest MLB owners never had the resolve that NHL owners did when they had the strength to walk away from an entire season. At the end of the day, NHL players believed ownership would not allow NHL players to resume their NHL careers until they were a broken union.

NFL players know their careers are all too short, the 1987 work stoppage and the use of replacement players ended that work stoppage essentially before it began.

The 1998–99 NBA lockout was the third lockout in the history of the National Basketball Association (NBA). It lasted from July 1, 1998 to January 20, 1999 and forced the 1998–99 season to be shortened to 50 games per team. It was Billy Hunter (still remarkably the head of the NBA Players Association) taking on David Stern. It was more like David vs Goliath, however this time Goliath kicked David’s ass.

Not so remarkably business is very good for Major League Baseball right now; the economics of the game are stronger than they have ever been according to Selig.

"Given where this country has been in the greatest economic downturn since the great depression, these may have been the two best years we've ever had, considering the environment. Am I satisfied where we are? I'm satisfied. The last six years have been the best in baseball history in attendance.

"While were down a little bit from a few years ago, it's remarkable where we are. So I feel good about it. Sure, there are some clubs that are down and owners who are disappointed, but I'll deal with that on a case-by-case basis."

Selig suggested when all the numbers are totalled from the 2010 season MLB will have generated close to $7 billion. Those are numbers the NFL enjoys and the NFL has television rights agreements that are unrivalled in the sports industry.

There remain strong sentiments for so called small market franchises (Pittsburgh Pirates, Milwaukee Brewers, Minnesota Twins) that cannot afford to compete with the teams that generate the biggest local media rights fees (New York Yankees, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Dodgers) but as recent history has indicated (the success of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Minnesota Twins) on-field success appears to be more connected to how teams’ draft more than the money they have to spend on free agents.

While the Yankees and the Red Sox have the ability to correct player mistakes through free agent spending, both the San Francisco Giants and the Texas Rangers (the two teams that met in the 2010 World Series) did not meet in the Fall Classic because of major free agents they signed – they made the right player moves at the right time.

There is a classic belief that if history can teach us anything it is to correct our mistakes. When it comes to sports and labor, what will be the driving sports issue in 2011 what works for Major League Baseball might not work for the NFL, the NBA or the NHL. One point is crystal clear when it comes to understanding how to work with their players association – Major League Baseball has learnt from their mistakes.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: http://www.stevetheump.com/baseball_stoppages.htm and http://mlb.mlb.com/pa/info/history.jsp

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Major League Soccer – does anyone really care anymore?

The MLS Cup takes place Sunday evening at Toronto’s BMO Field (it will be cold in the Frozen North on a late November evening). One look at Toronto’s three daily newspapers and media across Canada and one has to wonder if anyone in Canada’s biggest city is aware a championship is going to be contested this weekend. Major League Soccer has done a lot of things right, but appears to be at a crossroads. Attendance seems to have plateaued, television ratings are terrible, but the league continues to expand and move forward. The league’s destiny may be decided on December 2 when FIFA awards the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. The United States is bidding for the 2022 event, a key to the future of Major League Soccer.

In 1999, Don Garber was named Commissioner of Major League Soccer after spending 16 years with the National Football League as head of NFL International. Under Garber’s leadership, MLS has moved forward. In 1998 MLS reportedly lost an estimated $34 million. One of the key decisions MLS made during Garber’s tenure took place in 2003 when the league mandated that all of its member teams had to play in soccer-specific-stadiums, facilities that seat approximately 25,000.

Garber’s insight into FIFA (the governing body for soccer worldwide) and the popularity of the sport in America led Garber to create Soccer United Marketing, the marketing arm of Major League Soccer. Garber’s first major decision with SUM was to purchase the 2002 and 2006 World Cup rights for $40 million. Garber next sold the rights to Disney (ABC and ESPN). The package Garber sold ABC and ESPN included regular coverage of MLS games, a classic example of using one sport property (the World Cup) to leverage another sports entity (Major League Soccer).

Garber’s goal in creating SUM was to make the MLS the sole proprietor for soccer properties in the United States.

Major League Soccer averaged 16,675 fans per game, an increase of about 4%, the league’s third best figure ever. The Seattle Sounders, who play at Qwest Field (and who don’t play at a soccer specific stadium, and utilize only the stadium lower bowl) averaged 36,173 fans per game; their average dramatically boosts the league’s overall attendance. Overall the league is playing to 78 percent, a respectable attendance figure.

Television ratings for MLS haven’t been good. MLS ratings on ESPN2 reportedly fell 12% from last year (284,000, 24 telecasts), and down 2% from 2008 (253,000, 25 telecasts. When compared to ESPN2’s WNBA ratings, the WNBA is attracting more viewers than MLS. ESPN2 averaged 258,000 viewers for WNBA regular season games this year, and Versus averaged 366,000 viewers for IndyCar racing.

According to majorleaguesoccertalk.com, ratings on Fox Soccer Channel were ‘flat’ although terrible might be a more appropriate description. Fox Soccer Channel, whose MLS telecasts aired primarily on Saturday nights, saw its slate of 31 matches average 53,000 viewers this season, flat with last season. Fox's Galaxy-Red Bulls match on August 14, which marked the first game for Red Bulls MF Rafael Marquez, was FSC's most-viewed game telecast this season with 144,000 viewers. To put that into context, Fox Soccer Channel's viewing audience for the 2010-11 opening weekend game between Liverpool and Arsenal was 291,000 viewers (an 8am PT/11am ET broadcast on a Sunday).

Toronto is hosting the MLS in only their fourth year in the league. Vancouver joins the league next year and Montreal the year after. Ottawa and Edmonton might be looking at MLS in the next five years. Canada and MLS are working well together, something Garber acknowledged during his state of the league Tuesday.

“Well, I think our expansion into Canada has transformed Major League Soccer. I don't think we'd be the league we are today without the success of Toronto FC and without the emergence of that club and its supporters' culture, which I believe is helping to drive our focus on being more and more authentic and catering to the soccer fan.

“Toronto helped establish that foundation for us, and it will be taken to an even higher level with Vancouver and Montreal in the years to come.

“(Vancouver Whitecaps owner) Greg Kerfoot is an active member of our competition committee. He is a soccer guy through and through. I think he will help us as he will be a very strong voice on our competition committee with his experience and his thinking.
“We're actively engaged in television discussions, renewal discussions in Canada. And I believe that we'll have a broader footprint for our MLS national and local Canadian MLS team broadcasts, both next year and years to come.

“It will allow us to continue to tap into the passion that exists up in Canada for the sport. I said when I was up in Toronto last month that I believe that Toronto FC fans and the support overall in that country is helping in many ways guide the connection that many American soccer fans have with their local clubs. And that's something that I think has been a positive development for our league.

“We're certainly excited about being up in Toronto. I have said many times before, the city, the ownership group, the team and fans have earned the right to host our championship game, and I look forward to being up there this week.

“Just a couple of important points, the U.S. Soccer Board meeting will take place during the week. The United States Soccer Foundation will have a board meeting up there this weekend, and MLS Board will be meeting. We'll have close to 600 or 700 sponsors, broadcast affiliates, and friends of the sport converging on Toronto to celebrate our championship game. And I think that's just a great way for us to say thank you to the city, to the team, and to their fans.”

MLS has two franchises based in the Los Angeles market. With the Red Bull moving into their soccer specific stadium this year (attendance average 18,441 or 73 percent capacity) Garber is focused on the league’s 20th franchise becoming a second franchise based in the Greater New York market.

“As I said before, we're very focused on our 20th team in New York. We've been meeting with the city; we've been meeting with the Wilpon family, the owners of the Cosmos name and brand. We've also been meeting with other investors who have expressed interest.

“We are very, very focused on this entire process and hope to be able to get something done for 2013.

“The Red Bulls are very supportive of it. They believe a local rival will add even more passion for this sport and for the league in this market. There are 13 plus million people in this city, and there is more than enough to go around for two teams, particularly if one is in New York and one is the stadium is based across the river in New Jersey.

“I'm not at all concerned about saturation, and I'm not concerned about our ability to manage 20 teams.”

Colorado Rapids vs. FC Dallas will meet Sunday night in the MLS Cup, a match-up that doesn’t involve teams from major markets or major players, a concern Garber dismissed.

“There isn't a commissioner anywhere that doesn't sort of wring their hands when you have historic, legendary, impactful matchups because that will drive ratings and helps breakthrough.

“It happened with the NHL this past year where they had record ratings for their Stanley Cup. Because they had two of their more historic teams that hadn't been there for a while in their final. The NBA certainly had it with the Celtics and Lakers.

“However, we now have a lot of people buying season tickets in Denver, Dallas, Columbus and Salt Lake. And they're building fan bases and they're building relevance in their community. They (Dallas and Colorado) deserve to be in the championship game. If they do things right based on our system, then they have the opportunity to do so.

“So thankfully we have long term relationships with our broadcast partners who have told you (journalists) many times they're in this for the long run. So I don't sit there and worry if we don't get the right rating that we will lose a broadcast partner.

“I will say that I was in Denver Saturday night. There were 17,000 plus people there in 29° F weather. It was a great crowd and I was proud of what they were able to achieve. They sold all those tickets in a six day period. It was not part of the season ticket package.

“That proves that if you have the right team and you market it right, that you can get people to attend games in any market. It speaks to the second question. Perhaps Denver needed this boost to re-launch what had been a very strong fan base in the early years of MLS.

“Dallas certainly has an incredibly exciting team with great players who play a stylish game. Players that have been able to, I think, represent the great diversity that exists in Major League Soccer. I hope that Doug Quinn, their new president, is able to deliver significant crowd growth. I know FC Dallas’ season ticket renewals are way ahead of where they were last year. Their new season tickets are tracking faster than they have been almost in the last 10 years. So I'm confident those two teams will do better with the great seasons that they've had.”

Garber’s sentiments aside – why is the league playing its championship game on a Sunday night in Canada, in late November and outdoors? Would the league not have been advised to have played its championship game during the daytime? If MLS officials were concerned about going head-to-head with the National Football League, the NFL’s Sunday night game on NBC this week features Michael Vick and the resurgent Philadelphia Eagles meeting the New York Giants – a sure-fire ratings winner.

During his state-of-the league Garber did shy away when asked about the terrible television ratings the league is attracting. Remember the league’s biggest TV partner; ESPN’s soccer focus is the World Cup. ESPN televises MLS because its part of their World Cup package. Good for MLS, not so good for ESPN.

“We collectively could spend more money marketing our game broadcast. It is a changing landscape here in the United States and in Canada.

“We have been working with our broadcast partners to ensure we have the right schedule, to ensure that we're producing the games of the highest quality, all in high definition, to provide more exclusive nights or windows, and to work hard with each of them on promotion.

“It's important to note that our seven of the highest rated games on ESPN occurred post World Cup. While our ratings haven't grown as much as we would have hoped, the overall growth and the number of soccer broadcasts, the number of soccer channels, and the overall excitement for the sport on television here and in Canada is such that we feel very positive about what our future television picture will be.

“So at the end of the day, we spend a lot of time thinking about this, as do our broadcast partners. But it's not an easy solution.”

Garber’s comments don’t offer a great deal of insight, but he pointed out this past summer, which featured the quadrennial World Cup, saw a great deal of soccer on American television. Maybe a little too much for the consumer as far as Garber is concerned.

“There's so much soccer on television, so it's a double edged sword. People consumed a lot of soccer this summer. They got a lot of soccer with Premier League, with La Liga, the Champions League.

“One of the challenges that we have as a league is we are uniquely part of a much more competitive landscape than the other major leagues are in this country. They (other domestic leagues) are competing against each other. We're competing against them, but also a half a dozen other soccer content providers. And we've got to find ways to breakthrough that clutter with the right partners, with the right schedule, with the right players on the field.”

If New York becomes the league’s 20th franchise Garber believes 20 is the right number for the league. What happens with struggling franchises though? Dallas at 51 percent capacity, New England at 57 percent, and Chivas USA (one of the two Los Angeles based teams) at 54 percent are three examples of franchises that aren’t doing well at selling tickets. How does Don Garber feel about franchise relocation?

“Every sports league tries to avoid team moves at all costs. It is not a priority for us to move any of our existing teams. We'll do everything we can to work with those clubs that are not performing well.

“That comes from deeply engaging them with our club services group to working with them to support their efforts with branding and marketing initiatives.

“We know that in time, and I don't know what that time is, there will be a lot more teams in Major League Soccer. It's a big country. We cross three time zones. I don't know when it will be where we go beyond 20, but I would think at some point in our lifetime there will be more than 20 teams in MLS. But we have a long way to go before we can even consider that.

“We'll work hard with New York, but we're still talking to people in Atlanta. We've had people in Florida reach out to us. Fans in Miami continue to inundate me with emails, and I appreciate that.

“We've had interest in Orlando and in Tampa, plus interest in San Diego. There is a great deal of interest from many other cities and we'll continue to talk to those cities as we evolve our expansion plans.”

Major League Soccer was founded in 1993 as part of the United States' successful bid to host the 1994 FIFA World Cup. The first season took place in 1996 beginning with 10 teams. What future Major League Soccer has may indeed be linked towards the United States being awarded the 2022 World Cup. If the Lords of Football really understand the global picture, if they really want to see the sport grow in the United States, they’ll award the 2002 World Cup to the United States and Don Garber will be very happy. If not, MLS may not be around to enjoy a 2022 season.

For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom

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