Monday, December 13, 2010

NFL Armageddon – tick tock goes the NFL Doomsday Clock

As another week passes, week 14 of the 2010 National Football League season ends tonight with a rare Monday night doubleheader with the New York Giants – Minnesota Vikings woe begotten game originally set for Sunday moved to Monday and the ESPN Monday nighter which features the Baltimore Ravens heading to Houston to take on the Texans. In NFL labor news no news is not good news and the only news from the past seven days was really no news to report – at least in terms of the NFL and the NFL Players Association meeting to try and talk about a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

One of the key players on the NFL side in terms of negotiating a new CBA, Jeffrey Pash, the NFL`s vice president of labor and the leagues general council did conduct a far ranging media interview. Pash joined the NFL in 1996 and was brought to the league by former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. Pash worked with the National Hockey League following time with Washington based law firm Covington & Burling after graduating from Harvard’s Law School.

The current CBA expires on March 3, 2011, NFL Armageddon 2011 will start within hours of the current CBA expiring. With Christmas less then two weeks away, one has to wonder if the two sides do not meet and talk CBA in the next week they may not talk CBA until after January 3. Is time really of the essence in negotiating a new CBA?

``It is a mistake to characterize negotiations on sort of a day-by-day basis, whether you are making progress or whether you or not making progress. The reality is we have got a long way to go and we have a lot of work to do. The only way we are going to make progress and get to an agreement that works for fans, players and clubs is to just have a relentless focus on meetings, on discussions and on analysis.

“From our perspective, we are fully committed to getting that done and we are fully engaged in that process”.

From Pash`s perspective does he believe the NFLPA is focused on getting a deal done?

``I can’t speak for the NFLPA. I know what the NFL’s view is, I know what our owners have instructed us to do and I know the amount of time and focus that this is getting throughout our organization.

``I don’t characterize what is going on at the other side. I just know that it is going to take a shared commitment to accomplish this. One side can’t do it alone. The Players Association should speak for themselves. I shouldn’t speak for them.``

Pash can suggest whatever he wants but from the outside looking in, it appears the two sides are nowhere near meeting and talking about a new CBA.

``I don’t know who is telling you that there is progress or what is leading them to say that. I’m not saying that there isn’t; I’m not saying that there is. Characterizing the negotiations, as I say, on sort of a day-by-day basis like you are reading a stock market chart is a mistake.

``You have to be focused on driving for a comprehensive agreement that will give you long-term improvements that will make the game better for fans, that will allow growth and that will allow the league and the players to take advantage of new technologies and new market opportunities. A lot can be done to improve the game on the field and for the fans in the stadium and at home. There are a lot of opportunities out there. We have to work out a structure to take advantage of those.``

What is disappointing – according to Pash, the two sides have some dates but meetings may or may not happen on those dates – in other words, much to do about nothing.

It has been 10 days since NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith sent a letter to NFL players that created a firestorm of sorts. The letter (a prudent and necessary move on Smith`s part) suggested with the end of the NFL season right around the corner and NFL players receiving their final 2010 pay checks (NFL players are not paid for playoff appearances) to keep their last three pay checks as a form of insurance for when the NFL lockout begins in early March. While it may have been the right decision for the NFLPA to make – the NFL did not quite see Smith`s letter in the same light.

``I have no idea what his deadline was. He never communicated any deadline to us. If there is a deadline and the deadline has passed and that means that we are not going to have an agreement, it would be an important development. He hasn’t communicated that to us.

``I focus on what we can do. I do not try to characterize what the union does. I assume that they will tell us if they have reached a deadline and they are going to stop. If they have a deadline and we are past it and so they are going to talk and their focus is going to be on litigation or whatever else their focus will be on, I assume they will tell us that. If they have a deadline and it has passed and they are keeping that a secret from us, I can’t do anything about that.

``They certainly haven’t told us that they are cutting off negotiations.``

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported in early November that even if a full 2011 NFL season is played, the league stands to lose in excess of $1 billion in revenues if as expected a lockout begins on March 5. Does Pash believe that the 2011 NFL season can be saved?

``I don’t know. That’s certainly the goal. The goal is to have an agreement well before that. The goal is to have an agreement.

``We have every incentive to get an agreement as soon as we can. We have said, we have told the union, and it has been public, that if there is an extended uncertainty that it is costly for both sides. It is costly for us and it is costly for the players. There is every incentive to try to reach an agreement sooner rather than later.

``That’s what our focus is. Are we going to do it? I can’t guarantee that, but I know what our focus is and I know what our directions are from our owners. If both sides are equally committed and equally focused, then there is no reason why we can’t get an agreement.``

Another issue involving the NFL and the Players Association is the decertification process. Each of the 32 NFL teams have already agreed to decertify if asked to do so by the NFLPA.

``If the union goes out of business, then I don’t know who you negotiate with. That would be a serious complication. Who would you make a deal with if the union goes out of business?

``That would be a very fundamental question. Who would speak for the players? Who would have the authority to negotiate? Who would we be permitted to negotiate with? I don’t know. It would be a serious problem``.

Memo to Jeffrey Pash – given that the two sides are not actively meeting, maybe that is the serious issue that needs to be addressed, not whether or not there is a union to negotiate with.

Pash made one thing crystal clear – the key to everything and everyone may be the players agreeing to an 18 game regular season schedule.

``We have had a lot of dialogue on that. Both sides have shown recognition that a season with 18 regular-season and two preseason games is clearly better for fans. It is a more attractive season, it is a season that would deliver more value to the fans and it would allow a lot of growth opportunities that don’t exist with the current structure. Those growth opportunities would be beneficial for the players as well as for the clubs. There is recognition that it is a realistic and easy agreement to reach in the context of an 18-game regular season.

``We clearly do understand and recognize the concerns that the Players’ Association has raised about that kind of a change and have made a number of proposals to try to respond to those concerns. We have had a good dialogue on it and will continue to have a good dialogue on it. It is something that both sides recognize the value of so both sides will work hard to incorporate it into the new agreement.

``I can envision any number of things, but as I said, both sides understand that it is an easier agreement to reach in that context. Does that mean no other agreement is possible? I don’t think I would ever say that but both sides recognize that it would be considerably more difficult.

``I think both sides would recognize that by the fact that we have exchanged detailed proposals on the subject and had detailed discussions on the subject. We will continue to do so.

``Out of respect to not just the process but to the people you are negotiating with, we shouldn’t get into specifics. Doing that is not only unfair to your negotiating partner but it is sort of contrary to, at least, my view as I’ve said that you can’t track these things like a stock ticker. People have to be free to express ideas and thoughts, ask questions and probe: ‘What if we did this? I’m not saying we will and I’m not saying I have authority, but what if we did this? What would you think about this?’

``We have to be able to have those discussions without people waking up the next morning and reading about what was said. In fairness to your negotiating partner, you’ve got to be able to do that.``

Pash`s diatribe aside, here are the facts. NFL owners are looking for the players to agree to an 18 percent cut in their share of football generated revenues (down from the current 60 percent). One would have to believe that if NFL players agree to an 18 game regular season schedule the owners will dramatically improve their offer to the players – it is not as Pash suggests a key, but the key.

The players need to focus on the bigger picture – and those issues include improved health benefits, long term disability and pension. It also does not even look at the issue of guaranteed contracts (of the four major North American sports leagues, NFL, NBA, MLB and NHL) only the NFL does not offer guaranteed contracts.

It might be in the players’ best interests to accept a drop in revenues from football generated revenues, agree to an 18 game schedule but have the owners agree to a CBA that includes a better life during and after their NFL careers – that would be real vision on everyone`s part, however an unlikely event.

``There is sort of a general mantra that nothing is agreed to until everything is agreed to. There are certain issues that are probably more prominent. Certainly economics, an 18-game season, a rookie (wage) system and free agency rules, those would be more prominent, but there are a host of other issues that don’t get much public attention that are important to the players and that are important to the clubs. All of those things have to be resolved.

``Obviously, if you can make a lot of progress and reach some tentative agreements on some of the major issues, some of the less contentious issues do tend to get resolved more easily and perhaps more quickly. As I said, there is a lot of work to do.``

For this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, December 07, 2010

An injustice, a crime, a sham – Marvin Miller not in the Baseball Hall of Fame

For the fourth time in the last seven years, the Baseball Hall of Fame has denied Marvin Miller his rightful place among the greatest honor offered to those who have in one way or another impacted professional baseball. Monday, as was the case in 2003, 2007 and 2009 those entrusted with the responsibility of voting on behalf of the Baseball Veterans Committee let him down again. Miller fell one vote short of enshrinement.

Serving on the committee were Hall of Famers Whitey Herzog, Johnny Bench, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, Tony Perez, Frank Robinson, Ryne Sandberg and Ozzie Smith along with White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, Orioles President Andy MacPhail, former Phillies owner Bill Giles, Royals owner David Glass, Bob Elliott of the Toronto Sun, Tim Kurkjian of ESPN, Tom Verducci of Sports Illustrated and retired Los Angeles Times reporter Ross Newhan.

Marvin Miller offered the following Monday: "The Baseball Hall of Fame's vote (or non-vote) of December 5, hardly qualifies as a news story. It is repetitively negative, easy to forecast, and therefore boring.

"Many years ago those who control the Hall decided to rewrite history instead of recording it. The aim was to eradicate the history of the tremendous impact of the players' union on the progress and development of the game as a competitive sport, as entertainment and as an industry. The union was the moving force in bringing Major League Baseball from the 19th century to the 21st century. It brought about expansion of the game to cities that had never had a Major League team. It brought about more than a 50 percent increase in the number of people employed as players, coaches, trainers, managers, club presidents, attorneys and other support personnel, employees of concessionaires, stadium maintenance personnel, parking lot attendants, and more. It converted a salary structure from one with a $6,000 a year minimum salary to a $414,000 a year salary from the first day of a player's Major League service. The union was also the moving force for changing the average Major League salary from $19,000 a year to more than $3 million a year, and the top salary from $100,000 to more than $25 million a year. The union was a major factor in increasing the annual revenue of all Major League clubs, combined -- from $50 million a year before the union started in 1966 to this year's almost $7 billion a year. That is a difficult record to eradicate -- and the Hall has failed to do it.

"A long time ago, it became apparent that the Hall sought to bury me long before my time, as a metaphor for burying the union and eradicating its real influence. Its failure is exemplified by the fact that I and the union of players have received far more support, publicity and appreciation from countless fans, former players, writers, scholars, experts in labor management relations, than if the Hall had not embarked on its futile and fraudulent attempt to rewrite history. It is an amusing anomaly that the Hall of Fame has made me famous by keeping me out."

Current union chief Michael Weiner wrote: "On behalf of members past and present of the Major League Baseball Players Association, I express my frustration, disappointment and sadness that Marvin Miller today was again denied his rightful place in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Every person who has benefited in the past half century from baseball's prosperity -- player, owner, executive, manager, coach or member of the media -- owes a debt to Marvin. Marvin's legacy is undiminished by this vote; the Hall, by contrast, once again squandered a chance to better itself as an institution."

Former union boss Donald Fehr expressed similar sentiments, writing that once again Marvin Miller has been denied election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"There can be no question as to the extraordinary contributions that he made to baseball. In the last half of the 20th century no one had a greater or more meaningful positive impact on the game than did Marvin Miller.

"Generations of players are already in his debt, as all future players will be. The fact that a few members of the Expansion Era Committee saw fit to continue to deny recognition to the representative of the players -- who are the reason that the Hall exists in the first place -- says more about them than it does about Marvin.

"This is a sad day for anyone who is or has been a Major League player."

MLB commissioner Bud Selig made it clear as far as he is concerned; Miller belongs in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

"Marvin Miller belongs in the Hall of Fame, if the criteria is what impact you had on the sport, whatever way one wants to value that impact," Selig said in an interview with the Major League Baseball Network. "Yes, Marvin Miller should be in the Hall."

Former MLB commissioner Fay Vincent echoed Selig’s comments in an Op-Ed piece after the late Bowie Kuhn was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008.

"It's preposterous that Marvin Miller isn't in the Hall of Fame," Vincent said. "It's an embarrassment. Some of it is bitterness against Marvin for having taken baseball to its knees over the years, and some of the people who are negative about him are just being small-minded. I don't think a fair-minded person can have any question."

Vincent looks at Marvin Miller, the state of baseball, the bigger picture and realizes – if you do not believe Marvin Miller should be in the Baseball Hall of Fame maybe you just do not understand the state of baseball. You definitely do not get it if you blame Miller for what the owners are paying baseball players.

"That's like blaming Thomas Edison for putting the candle industry out of business," Vincent said. "Marvin Miller brought players out of indentured servitude. They were basically slaves. How can you argue that it was anything other than a great thing? It meant that baseball became part of the modern world."

“Whether you agree or disagree, he was one individual who had as large a ramification as anybody on the history of the game,” Baseball Hall of Fame member Tom Seaver told The New York Times in 2007. “The Hall of Fame is an historical repository, he deserves to be there.”

When Marvin Miller was elected as the first executive director for the Major League Baseball Players Association in 1966, the average MLB salary was $19,000. The reserve clause tied players to whatever organization they had signed with as youngsters for life. Effectively, the reserve clause represented slavery. The numbers are staggering. Consider when Miller assumed control of the union, the minimum salary has risen to $380,000 from $6,000 and the average salary to a little less than $2.7 million from $19,000.

Brad Snyder’s book, ‘A Well Paid Slave’ looks back on the life and very tough times of Curt Flood. Curt Flood changed professional sports in 1969 after he refused to accept the St. Louis Cardinals trading the All-Star outfielder to the Philadelphia Phillies. Flood contacted Miller and the rest became baseball free agency. Flood and Miller failed in their attempts to rid MLB of its archaic reserve clause, but Flood’s courage and conviction along with Miller’s drive and determination led to the end of the reserve clause and free agency in 1976.

“To me Flood epitomized the modern player who began to think in terms of union, to ask questions like "Why is baseball an exception to how labor is treated in other industries? Why should we be treated like property? Why should we agree to have a reserve clause?" Basic questions that had gone unasked.” Miller offered in a 2004 interview with Counterpunch.

“Curt Flood came to me to discuss the possibility of a lawsuit and I thought that it was a losing case, the chance of winning was terrible. How was he going to finance it? I felt that he would indeed need help, and I was concerned how easy it was to make bad law with a bad case--and I felt the union should back him. And I began to lobby his case with the executive board and since we were going to meet in early December 1969 in San Juan, I arranged with Curt to have him come to the meeting, and have Curt be questioned, and when it came time to bring Curt in, I had already briefed him, and maybe some of them knew Flood but not in this context. I brought him into the board meeting and turned it over. And finally a board member asked Curt, 'The motivation here: why are you doing this?”

“Was it--to attack the reserve clause to stop the owners from trading a player where he didn't want to go? Or was this a sign of 'black power' and Curt looked at him and said 'I wish it was" but we are dealing with an issue that affects every player. Color has nothing to do it. We are all pieces of property,” Miller remembered the impact Curt Flood had on the growth of baseball.

Let us be very clear. Flood had the courage, but it was Miller’s understanding of the law and how baseball players were being treated that led to the explosion in salaries. At the same time it sparked the MLB becoming a business capable of generating billions of dollars annually.

There are those who will argue Marvin Miller is responsible for economic disparity and chaos in sports. Former MLB commissioner, the late Bowie Kuhn (inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008), was a strong believer that Miller hurt the game more than he ever helped it. When you consider industry revenue had risen to a record-high $5.2 billion this year from $1.2 billion in 1992 it is easy to appreciate how little Kuhn understood regarding the evolution of sports as an industry. Because of Miller’s leadership, not Kuhn’s ineptitude, sports is a half trillion dollar industry. When Miller left the MLBPA in the hands of Donald Fehr when he retired in 1986, the MLBPA has continued to be the strongest union in America.

When Miller left the United Steel Workers to take charge of the newly formed MLBPA in 1966, the players union, as Miller told “Counterpunch” in 2004, was anything but strong.

“I don't know that they wanted a real union [at first]. If I had to make an educated guess, the one thing the players had which they prized was their pension plan. It was called a benefit plan, That had been put into effect also in 1947 once again the owners saying, let's do something to prevent the union here. 18 years later, two things, were concerning the players. One was that the pension had not kept pace over 18 years of progress; also they picked up strong rumors that the owners were wanting to change it. Television by 1965 had grown tremendously. [L.A. Dodgers owner] Walter O'Mally saw this and wanted to after the benefit plan. But beyond that I was also learning that it was like pulling teeth learning what else made them unhappy.”

“This was because they were a work force basically unschooled in working conditions. They had all undergone a bunch of brainwashing that being allowed to play major league baseball was a great favor that they were the luckiest people in the world. They were accustomed never to think, "This stinks. We need to change this." You have to remember baseball players are very young and with few exceptions have no experience in these matters,” Miller recalled.

During Miller's term as director from 1966-84, the players' average salary rose from $6,000 to more than $500,000. In addition, there were increases in pension funds and per-diem allowances, vast improvements in travel conditions and ballpark facilities and the right to arbitration to solve grievances. The cost was often dear, such as the loss in court in Curt Flood's challenge of the reserve clause and players' strikes in 1972 and 1981. There was no greater victory, however, than in the 1975 Andy Messersmith-Dave McNally case in which arbitrator Peter Seitz ruled that the players were not chained by the reserve clause, opening the door to free agency.

His legacy was creating a strong association with remarkable solidarity out of a constituency that at first had next to no history of union activism with a sizeable portion of players to whom such activity was considered subversive. To appease that element, the players thought of offering Richard Nixon, then a private citizen, the job of general counsel. Miller preferred New York attorney Richard Moss. The players wanted Miller and changed their minds about Nixon. Miller and Moss went on to succeed as the "M&M boys" of labor negotiations.

Miller initially was not in favor of the 1972 strike during Spring Training, but was surprised to hear the players demanded such action. Similarly, he was moved by the players' action in 1981 because the issues then did not affect active players as much as those who would come in the future. Miller's pride in what the Players Association has accomplished in 40 years extends beyond what it has meant to the players, but to the entire sport.

"There has been an improvement that affected everybody," Miller told the Times. "Now there are more players, scouts, concessions workers, managers, general managers, club presidents and so on. I look at that with great satisfaction. That wasn't my job as I viewed it. My job was to right some wrongs, improve conditions of players, and that was done. I confess: that's a great source of satisfaction to me. I didn't do it all, but I played a part. I helped build a structure that has held together."

While Miller not being voted in is not a criminal act – there was a crime committed against Baseball Hall of Fame’s integrity, an action that impacts the image of the Hall of Fame and takes away from the hallowed halls of Cooperstown.

For this is Howard Bloom

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Monday, December 06, 2010

NFL Armageddon 2011 (the lockout): This has become a dark ride

Week thirteen of the 2010 National Football League season ends tonight with one of the marquee games of the regular season – the New York Jets heading to Foxboro to meet the New England Patriots. The two teams are 9-2 and the winner will become the prohibitive favourite to hoist the Lombardi Trophy at Dallas Cowboys Stadium on Sunday, February 6, 2011, less then a month before National Football League owners are expected to lockout NFL players. The current NFL collective bargaining agreement expires on March 3, 2011 and based on events that have taken place over the last few days, unless there is a dramatic about face – the NFL’s inevitable will indeed be NFL Armageddon 2011.

The bad news was fast and somewhat furious (both literally and figuratively) over the last few days. Sunday ESPN’s NFL Insider Chris Mortensen broke the news that the NFL Players Association is expected to file a collusion lawsuit against NFL owners no later than Wednesday. Friday, news emerged from the New England Patriots that suggested NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith was advising his membership to withhold their last three pay checks, suggesting NFL players save their pay checks for the upcoming monsoon.

According to Mortensen, “NFL Players Association is on the brink of filing a collusion grievance against NFL owners based on a case it has been building since only one of 216 restricted free agents was signed to an offer sheet during the offseason, according to union sources.

“NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith is reviewing the case that has been collected by his legal team and is expected to approve a collusion filing with the Special Master by Wednesday's deadline, as dictated by the current CBA. The Dec. 8 deadline is established as within 90 days of the regular-season opener, which was Sept. 8.”

According to Mortensen the NFL’s rationale for not pursuing restricted free agents was largely based on the uncertainty relating to the 2011 NFL season – what the new CBA would look like.

On Saturday, multiple media outlets reported, in a move that should not have surprised anyone, Smith advised his membership “to save their last three game checks this year in case there is no season in 2011.”

On the surface that might seem almost like a declaration of war on the player part but it is more of a symbolic gesture then anything else. It is tough convince young men making hundreds of thousands to millions of dollars it is in their best interest to save today for tomorrow but that was the responsible message the union leadership had to deliver.

"That deadline has now passed," Smith wrote in his letter to the players. "It is important that you protect yourself and your family."

The news did not bring joy to those working at the NFL’s Park Avenue Manhattan offices.

NFL spokesman Greg Aiello called the union's deadline "disappointing and inexplicable, especially for fans."

"We hope this does not mean the union has abandoned negotiating in favor of decertifying and litigating," he said. "We are ready to meet and negotiate anytime and anywhere. But it takes sustained effort and shared commitment to reach an agreement. One side can't do it alone.”

Just one second Greg – was it not the talking head for the NFLPA George Atallah that suggested a few short weeks ago the NFLPA was ready to meet with the NFL and get a deal done (in fairness to George the NFL talking head Aiello is saying the same thing)

"Today's memo to NFL players was an internal deadline to prepare, not for CBA negotiations," Atallah wrote via Twitter, following up with two more tweets: "The NFL knows that we have exchanged correspondence and met regularly," and "To spin this as an end to the NFLPA's negotiating is dumb. Perhaps the outrage can be directed towards preventing a lockout."

With the reality of lengthy two week Christmas break a mere two weeks ago (December 21 thru January 4) the two sides spent much of the past week discussing a report the NFLPA had released relating to the economic impact an NFL lockout may or may not have.

Edgeworth Economics Senior Vice President Jesse David and NFLPA Assistant Executive Director of External Affairs, George Atallah held a conference call Friday to discuss the economic impact of a 2011 lockout.

The discussion focused on an independent study conducted by Edgeworth Economics. Edgeworth’s study was based on publicly available data from NFL teams, stadium managers/owners and other public agencies.

Edgeworth estimated that a NFL Lockout in 2011 would result in an average of lost revenue of $20 million per game that is not played (the range runs from about $12 million to $40 million) or an average of about $160 million in local spending. In addition, a protracted lockout could cost each NFL city as much as 3,000 jobs.

"The point here is not to try to get sympathy to a group of players or anything like that,'' union spokesman George Atallah said.”It's just to identify the broader impact that this game has.''

"When the teams and the developers are seeking that money, they often commission studies of the economic impact that a stadium and the NFL operations in it will have on the local economy,'' David said on a conference call arranged by the union. "Those numbers are clearly relevant to the question of what will happen if NFL activity stops.''

"These 10 were taken as representative. They include teams in large markets or high-revenue teams like the Cowboys. They include smaller-market or lower-revenue teams, for example, like the Saints. They run over a range of time periods from 2002 to 2010. ... We've assumed,'' David said, "that those as a group are representative of the league more broadly. If they're not, then the number could be slightly different.''

Aiello took the NFLPA economic study with a grain of salt suggesting “"The fairy tales continue.''

To which Atallah shot back, “Tell that to the mayor of Buffalo, who estimated $140 million in lost revenues in one of the NFL's smallest markets. Why don’t you tell the hotels, bars, stadium workers and people that support the game what they lose in an NFL lockout?''

Aiello claimed the league does not have its own estimate of the potential effects of a lockout on NFL cities. But he questioned the validity of the union's numbers.

"None of these third-party studies cited today had anything to do with the economic impact of a season-long work stoppage. If any of this had credibility, each city would have its own figure, taking into account all the relevant factors, such as stadium capacity, fan base, and market demographics,'' Aiello wrote. "It's unfortunate that the union has been circulating unattributed research about the impact of a potential lockout and it's now clear there is no such credible, original research done by the union, the league, or anyone else.''

Let us get one thing straight when it comes to any economic study – if you are hiring the guys doing the study chances are they will deliver the results you are looking for. Look no further then those infamous Super Bowl studies subtly sponsored in part by the National Football League, whatever the local Super Bowl organizing committee happens to be and the local chamber of commerce. Who is kidding who here – every report suggests in no uncertain terms a Super Bowl is worth hundreds of millions of dollars to a city.

There is no doubt a Super Bowl is of tremendous value to a city in building that cities brand. Super Bowl XLIV was in Miami – during one of the better times tourists head to South Florida. Does anyone not believe many of the hotel rooms Super Bowl XLIV filled would have been filled anyway – regardless of whether or not Super Bowl XLIV was held in Miami?

NFL owners are scheduled to meet December 15 – and it is easy to believe the lockout will be the focus on their meetings that day; well hopefully the owners may be interested in discussing what they might do to negotiate a new CBA. Currently NFL players receive 60 percent of football generated revenue. The owners want that to drop by 18 percent to 42 percent, not as dramatic as the 33 percent NBA owners are looking for from NBA players in their new CBA but a dramatic step backwards from the 60 percent the players bargaining and negotiated for in good faith in previous CBA’s. That’s not suggest times have not changed, but the last time anyone checked the NFL owners club can be called the billionaires owners club.

Of course NFL owners have a right to make money but....NFL owners (as is their right) refuse to open their books to the players. NFL owners may suggest the start-up costs for the NFL Network have been considerable, but the NFL gives games to the NFL Network, games it could sell to its network partners and generate even more revenue from its media rights fees.

Thursday night the NFL Network showcased Michael Vick’s Philadelphia Eagles and the Houston Texans. Vick is the NFL story of the year, meeting the NFL’s Houston based franchise – Houston being the fourth largest American TV market if the average marquee NFL game attracts between 15 and 22 million viewers. How does the NFL feel when a game on the NFL Network manages to gather 5.4 million viewers less than the 7.05 million watchers with the matchup between Miami-Heat-Cavaliers, the third-highest in cable history for an NBA regular-season game. Through its first four games this season, NFL Network has averaged fewer than 5.8 million watchers.

The NFL Network offers some tremendous programming but it might be in the best business interests of the NFL to put their games on network TV or ESPN, generating more revenue and more money to pay the players and for the owners to pay their bills.

Enjoy tonight Monday Night Football game – enjoy the remaining regular season game, the playoffs and Super Bowl XLV – then get ready for NFL Armageddon 2011.

For this is Howard Bloom

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

A dark day for American Soccer, they’ll be no made in the USA World Cup

Try as they may, those who love what is often called “the beautiful game” of football more commonly called soccer in the United States took a dramatic step backwards Thursday when FIFA the world governing body for soccer awarded the 2022 World Cup to Qatar. With a population of 1.69 million people, Qatar will be the first Arab nation to host the World Cup. In the fourth and final round of voting Qatar beat the American bid, a stunning blow to the United States that hosted their first World Cup in 1994.

“Obviously, we’re disappointed. We put a lot of hard work in. We had a great bid and I think we’ve told a great story that is accurate about American soccer. We’re disappointed for our committee, for the millions of fans that got behind the bid, and everyone that’s been involved, the cities around the country, starting at the White House and President Clinton, who has been fantastic. There’s no other response or feeling that you are going to have in such a situation other than sharp disappointment”, said U.S. Soccer President and Bid Committee Chairman Sunil Gulati.

As one would hope and expect, Gulati took the high road immediately following the announcement, saying the right things.

“We think we had the best story and we think we had a great bid, but I want to congratulate Qatar. We accept the result. Games are won and lost. Sometimes you dominate and lose, sometimes you get outplayed and win, but (this) is not like that. This is an election. Do elections have fair results? As long as the elections are fair then you accept the results. From that perspective, we have no issues.”

Soccer has enjoyed unprecedented growth for the sport in the 16 years since the 1994 World Cup was held in the United States. One of the key legacies from the 1994 World Cup has been the formation of Major League Soccer. With 20 franchises either currently competing in MLS or cites having been awarded expansion franchises and set to join the league in the next few years. There will be no legacy from the World Cup that was never awarded to the United States and a fair issue for American soccer, what will the impact of losing the 2022 bid have on soccer in the United States?

“What we’ve always said is we are on a trend line that’s positive for this sport, whether it’s the league or the national team. I’ve always viewed this as a huge pedal, and a World Cup hosted in the U.S. would give us a foot down on that pedal and take us to a new trend line. So, we are obviously not going to have that. Will that trend line still be positive? Yes. Will we still get to where all of us – where Don and I and others – want to get? The answer is yes. It’s going to take longer. It’s going to be harder. This was a big part of that plan. There’s no way around that.”

Gulati sentiments aside – however he or anyone else associated with soccer in the United States tries to spin this, this is the worst possible outcome. Soccer participation continues to increase dramatically every year – but the age old issue, translating that support into increasing the sport from a spectator and a marketing perspective remains an ongoing challenge.

A look back at some of the key numbers from the 2010 Major League Soccer season paints a picture of an American professional sports league that is nothing more than a Tier II sports league. The so called Tier I sports leagues include the National Football League, Major League Baseball, National Basketball Association and National Hockey League. Tier II leagues include the WNBA and what is left of the Arena Football Leagues – sports properties fighting every year to survive. That is the uphill battle MLS faces in the wake of Thursday’s news.

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 do not 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 have not 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, 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).

"It's very disappointing," MLS commissioner Don Garber offered. "I'm a bit shocked. We ran a great campaign. We felt very good about it. All of the people we met throughout the last two years, including the last two days, told us we were in pretty good shape.

"The sport's in good shape," Garber continued. "It would have accelerated a lot. It would have given us a 12-year target to be able to do a lot of things to get us to where we want to be faster. And now like everything in the soccer business, you've just got to work harder and recognize sometimes you've got to do it the hard way. And that's what we've got to do.

"I am surprised and I'm sure most of America is surprised," Garber said. "I'm disappointed and most of America is disappointed. It's not just soccer fans who took a little shot in the head today. I think it's our entire country, which could have shown the world how passionate we are about the global game and how a diverse country we are to support the most diverse sport in the world.

"So, like everything else, we'll take a deep breath and go back to what we do every day, which is building the game,” he added. “It just might be a little bit harder now. It might take a little bit longer."

What makes the news even more shocking – how did a country with a population of 1.6 million, who has never managed to secure a spot in a World Cup and that is roughly the size of the state of Connecticut win the right to host the most coveted event in sports other than the right to host an Olympic Games? That is what makes this an impossibly bitter pill for American soccer believers to ever accept.

"Mainstream America really doesn't understand the world of international sport," Garber said. "They might ask the same questions about Chicago losing the Olympics."

Clearly the United States of America needs to ask one very important question – why have not two of the most important groups (the International Olympic Committee and FIFA) when offered the chance to send their biggest events to major American cities rejected the United States of America? The economic engine that drives the IOC are American based companies and American television accounting for roughly 57 percent of the IOC’s total dollars and 76 percent of their total television dollars. While not as important to FIFA – why did not FIFA understand their sport might have been able to take a quantum leap forward if the United States had been awarded the 2022 World Cup in terms of American companies investing in soccer?

Sooner rather than later American companies and the American television networks need to deliver a clear and concise message to the IOC and FIFA – you may like the color of our money and our companies but we have an issue if you have no respect for our country.

Both FIFA and the IOC are not exactly democracies when it comes to how they vote for events like the World Cup. The Swiss chapter of anticorruption organization Transparency Int’l had asked for the votes to be postponed until a complete understanding is offered on recent bribery allegations published and broadcast by European news media for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup. Two FIFA officials were suspended for trying to sell their votes and others had been accused of unethical behaviour.

“I am sure FIFA is going to evaluate this process. The President has said in retrospect that they shouldn’t have done two (World Cup bids) at the same time and given some of the other things that have happened along the way, I am sure they are going to review. But that’s up to FIFA and not something I am going to comment on today.” U.S. Soccer President and Bid Committee Chairman Sunil Gulati suggested late Thursday.

“There's no way around it: I am disappointed. Millions of U.S. soccer fans worked hard to bring the World Cup to our country. To come up short is very difficult to take.

“But in the face of this disappointment, we shouldn't lose track of all that we achieved. During the past two years, the outpouring of support for soccer in the United States has been inspiring and historic. More than one million people signed on to our Bid, and more than 100 million watched last summer's World Cup.” Were some of the comments Gulati included in a letter published on US soccer’s website to American soccer fans.

Again comments saying all the right things but at the end of the day – this is a disaster. The North American sports industry is becoming more and more fragmented every year. Consumer disposable dollars continue to shrink at alarming rates. Corporate America clearly has fewer dollars to invest.

There is no good news for soccer in Thursday’s news in the United States – none. The sport of soccer in the United States is a lot like salmon swimming upstream – and we all know what eventually happens for salmon in their struggle to swim upstream.

For this is Howard Bloom

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