Sunday, December 30, 2012

SBN Sports Business Person of the Year – Lance Armstrong

The biggest sports business story of 2012 produced Sports Business News’ Person of the Year, Lance Armstrong an athlete who has done more damage and harm to the image of sports, the marketability of athletes, sports sponsorship than any athlete, team or event in recent sports history. The ramifications linked to Lance Armstrong fall from grace are far ranging and are expected to have a negative long-term impact on the business of sports for years.

Lance Armstrong continues to remain defiant, seemingly oblivious to how the world feels about his actions, since his complete fall from grave began on August 23. While never admitting he has ever tested positive for use of performance enhancement drugs, late on Thursday August 23, 2012 Armstrong announced he would no longer fight the charges the United States Anti-Doping Association had levied against Armstrong that throughout his once storied cycling career Armstrong used banned substances.

Amaury Sport Organization organizers of the Tour de France continue to demand Armstrong return the $3.6 million he was awarded for winning the Tour de France seven consecutive times from 1999 to 2005. Dallas based SCA Promotions are ready to sue Armstrong after paying the now disgraced cyclist $12.5 million for winning the 2004 and 2005 Tours. In October Lance Armstrong was stripped of the seven Tour de France titles he had never earned but been awarded.

At the height his popularity Armstrong was worth more than $125 million. Armstrong earned most of his money (more than $100 million) from his sponsors: Nike, Anheuser-Busch, Oakley, Trek Bicycles and smaller brands like FRS, an energy supplement, and Honey Stinger, a maker of organic waffles. Armstrong’s sponsors ended their business relationships with the disgraced icon in the days immediately following his August 23 announcement.

The sponsors have the right to sue Armstrong if a “morality’s clause” was included in their agreements. Morality clauses have become standard in most endorsement agreements. The clause protects companies if during the lifetime of the agreement the endorsee does damage and harm to the image of the company. More often than not the clause allows companies to end their contractual obligations but rarely offer companies the right to ask for their sponsorship fees back. Armstrong’s sponsors exercised that option in their contracts.

David B. Newman, a partner in the law firm Day Pitney told The New York Times: “They’d have to spend a lot of money to prove these allegations,” Newman added. “From a return on investment, you’d spend a lot of money on lawyers and lawsuits, and more publicity can’t help your product.”

He added, “They don’t walk away happy, but they’ll say, better to cut our losses now.”

When asked several months ago what Armstrong would do if his sponsors sued him for damages, Tim Herman, one of Armstrong lawyers, told the Times, “We don’t have a plan for that, because I do not expect that to happen.”

SCA Promotions a Dallas based company is expected to go after Armstrong for $7.5 million Armstrong won in a 2006 lawsuit against the company, and an additional $4.5 million they paid Armstrong.

Armstrong successfully sued the company after SCA refused to pay a $5 million bonus Armstrong was owed for winning the 2004 Tour France his six of seven fraudulent titles. Armstrong was awarded the $5 million insurance policy the United States Postal Cycling team purchased in advance of the 2004 Tour de France with SCA against Armstrong winning the Tour. The additional $2.5 million represented the court costs which Armstrong was awarded when he won the lawsuit.

“There is no revisiting that,” Herman said in the New York Times report. “If everyone who had settled a case finds out something later on and they want to renegotiate or relitigate, the system would break down. The point is, the agreement is unequivocal. There is no going back.”

Jeffrey Dorough, SCA’s corporate counsel, told the New York Times the firm was preparing a letter to Armstrong demanding that he return $12 million — the $7.5 million and an additional $4.5 million it paid for a previous victory.

“It is inappropriate for him to keep any bonuses that were contingent on him being the champion of the Tour de France,” Dorough said. “We’re hoping he’ll respond to our letter.”

During the 2006 lawsuit Armstrong offered sworn testimony that he had never used performance enhancement drugs, allegations that have since been proven false after 11 of Armstrong’s teammates and 15 support personal associated with Armstrong’s seven Tour de France titles offered sworn testimony to the United States Anti-Doping Association that Armstrong had used performance enhancement drugs.

“In any deposition, if he would deny the usage of performance-enhancing drugs, he would open himself up to criminal prosecution for lying under oath,” said Andrew Stoltmann, a lawyer in Chicago who has represented professional basketball, football and baseball players in the New York Times report. This would be testimony in addition to the sworn testimony Armstrong made in 2006 were under oath he testified that he had never used performance enhancement drugs.

“Prosecutors love high-profile obstruction of justice cases to serve as a deterrent for lying under oath.” Stoltmann offered.

As 2012 comes to an end none of Lance Armstrong’s former sponsors have announced they intend to file a lawsuit against Armstrong to recover the sponsorship fees they paid him. It appears unlikely any of Armstrong’s former sponsors will file lawsuits, however it’s a safe bet from August 23, 2012 forward companies will insist morality clauses are included in sponsorship agreements and that they will be enforced. Lance Armstrong has made it much more difficult for athletes to enjoy the benefits associated with endorsement opportunities.

Last Sunday The Times of London announced they were filing a $1.5 million lawsuit against Lance Armstrong. According to The Associated Press: “The Sunday Times paid Armstrong 300,000 pounds (now about $485,000) in 2006 to settle a case after it reprinted claims from a book in 2004 that he took performance-enhancing drugs.”

"It is clear that the proceedings were baseless and fraudulent," the paper said in a letter to Armstrong's lawyers. "Your representations that you had never taken performance enhancing drugs were deliberately false."

The paper, which is owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., said its total claim against Armstrong is "likely to exceed" 1 million pounds ($1.6 million).

"The Sunday Times is now demanding a return of the settlement payment plus interest, as well as its costs in defending the case," the paper said.

It’s impossible to know or understand what Lance Armstrong is thinking. He was fearless in defending a reputation he never earned – badgering and bullying anyone who suggested he used performance enhancement drugs. It wasn’t necessarily a sense of entitlement that convinced Armstrong that he was right and everyone else pointed fingers at Armstrong was wrong; it was more likely something as simple as “if everyone else was cheating why can’t I”.

Armstrong’s actions will forever be inexcusable. Lance Armstrong may not care, however if he ever really believed in the message he offered to millions, if he believes in doing what is right, Lance Armstrong needs to return the $17.9 million and fade into obscurity.

Lance Armstrong stands represents everything that is wrong in sports and for that matter the world we live in. Once a hero to hundreds of millions of people, the Lance Armstrong who emerged in 2012 is a bully, a cheat, a person with little if any honor. For all the wrong reasons, for all the harm and damage Lance Armstrong inflicted on the sports industry in 2012 – sadly Lance Armstrong is Sports Business News Person of the Year.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Tim Tebow, paying the price

Tim Tebow is today what he has been throughout his football career – one of, if not the most polarizing figures in sports. With Tim Tebow it is black and white; you either love Tim Tebow or nearly everything Tim Tebow does upsets and angers you.

Thankfully for Tim Tebow his New York Jets career ends Sunday. Tebow’s season with the Jets has proved to be embarrassing to the 25th overall selection in the 2010 NFL draft, when the Denver Broncos made one of the more interesting draft selections in recent NFL Draft history.

The Jets picked up Tebow in a trade with the Denver Broncos on March 21, after Tebow led the Broncos to an improbable 2011 AFC West Division title. He started three meaningless games during his 2010 rookie season, became the Broncos starting quarterback during week seven of the 2011 season – after media pundits suggested Tebow was fourth on the Broncos three-man quarterback depth chart during the Broncos pre-season. Tebow amazed the football world in 2011.

The 6-9 Jets travel to Buffalo to meet the 5-10 Bills in Buffalo Sunday. The game will mark the end of the Jets season, Tebow’s career with the Jets, along with Rex Ryan’s head coaching career with the Jets and general manager Mike Tannenbaum. Ryan and Tannenbaum are both expected to be fired Monday.

Tebow’s arrival in New York proved to be one of the keys to both Ryan and Tannenbaum’s undoing. While Jets owner Woody Johnson will never suggest he had anything to do with Tebow’s arrival in New York, after the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis, the Jets who have had issues selling tickets. Tebow’s arrival in New York pushed the Giants off the front pages of the sports section, the Jets captured the attention the team needed to promote ticket sales.

Tebow has averaged seven plays per game, thrown eight passes, completing six this year. Although not his fault, Tebow was never given an opportunity to start with the Jets this year. After the Jets were embarrassed losing 14-10 on Monday Night Football on December 17, Ryan benched Mark Sanchez after the Jets turned the ball over six teams against Tennessee. Instead of offering Tebow a chance to start last Sunday’s 27-17 loss to the San Diego Chargers, Ryan went with the team’s third string quarterback Greg McElroy as his starter.

Following Sunday’s loss to Tennessee, ESPN New York reported Tebow was so incensed with how he has been treated while playing for the Jets “he told the coaches he didn't want to be used in any Wildcat packages Sunday against the San Diego Chargers. In Tebow's absence, wide receiver Jeremy Kerley -- a former high school quarterback -- ran the plays for the first time all season. The Wildcat has been Tebow's package, and was the reason Jets coach Rex Ryan and offensive coordinator Tony Sparano said he was brought to New York.”

"He was disappointed, there's no question, he was disappointed he was not named the starter," Ryan said after the game. "I'm not going to get into private conversations that I have with players. It was my decision to use Jeremy Kerley in the Wildcat, without question. I'll say this: I believe if Tim's number was called, he would've went in and played -- I don't think there's any doubt about that.”

"It's been disappointing; obviously (the season) didn't go as we thought, as I had hoped," Tebow said after Sunday’s game. "But sometimes in life you have that. Sometimes you have setbacks and you have to look at them as an opportunity to step back up and keep working and figure out what to do."
Wednesday Tebow offered this to the New York media about what did or didn’t happen Sunday.

“When people are talking about how you play football or how much, that’s one thing, it really doesn’t bother me. I think the only thing that has been disappointing for me these last few days, and frustrating, is the people saying, “Oh, you quit on the team” or “You’re not a good teammate.” I think that’s disappointing. You ask the people that I’ve played with, and I take a lot of pride in that, you ask the people that I’ve played with, my teammates, the people around me, and they know I’ll do anything for my teammates. I would go out there and play my heart out, be the first one at practice, the last one to leave, do whatever I can for my teammates.

“For people to not know the situation and loathe something, then start to bash your character, and say, “You’re phony” or “You’re fake” or “You’re a hypocrite,” I think that’s what’s disappointing and that’s what’s frustrating because it’s a football game. That’s one thing, if you’re good or bad at football, but your character, your integrity, that’s who you are as a man, and that’s a lot more important. I think that’s what’s disappointing for me and frustrating because I take that way more seriously than I’ll ever take a football game.”

ESPN charter members of the Tebow fan club have backed off in their Tebow support. Monday SportsCenter, ESPN analyst Merril Hoge suggested Tebow “Tebow as phony as a three dollar bill”.
ESPN had been big Tebow supporters; a stance according to an interview ESPN President John Skipper did with The Sports Business Journal no longer was the case.

"I said, 'Guys, we didn't handle this very well.' Going to training camp wasn't a problem. We just stayed on it relentlessly and too long.

"The quote that I hated was from Doug Gottlieb. ... I didn't love that. I want people to think about what works for the next 10 minutes might not be the best thing for us for three years. That one hit home with me."

Gottlieb who no longer works for ESPN told The Dan Patrick Show 'You can't talk enough Tebow.'"
Skipper made it clear to The Sports Business Journal fuel by Tebow’s power to drive ratings ESPN decided to ride the Tebow wave as long as they could.

"We've had some good discussions internally about trying to be careful. In some ways, the more difficult internal conflict is between long-term storytelling and ratings. We all know that if you focus on the Tebow story, for the next 10 minutes you're going to do better. But the question is trying to take a long-term perspective and saying, 'Guys, let's not get over excited about one story and hyping it.'"

Tebow’s March arrival in New York was hailed as the second coming by Madison Avenue.
“Tim Tebow can be the king,” marketing expert Ronn Torossian, the CEO and president of 5W Public Relations in New York told the New York Daily News in March. “In terms of the Tebow brand, I think that Tim Tebow is already a national celebrity. He’s known off the field. There is no bigger place to shine than in New York City and I think the Tebow brand is one that transcends sports. I think the guy can get unlimited sponsorships in New York City.”

Tim Tebow and “Tebowmania” arrival in the biggest NFL market has been a disaster. Nine daily newspapers, two cable sports channels, three all-sports radio stations – the Tebow brand that Forbes suggested could be worth as much as $10 million has little if any value. Tebow is expected to be traded to the Jacksonville Jaguars or released by the Jets and signed by the Jaguars in the coming weeks. Tebow is from the Jacksonville area. Tebow remains a hometown hero in an area where he led the University of Florida to a national championship.

A year ago Tim Tebow as the toast of the NFL after leading the Broncos to the AFC west title and a stunning first round playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Led by Peyton Manning the 2012 Broncos have won ten straight games and are one of the best teams in the NFL. Manning has all the ability Tim Tebow dreams about having, however both Tebow and Manning won in Denver.

Rex Ryan and Mike Tannenbaum deserve to be fired after the Jets disastrous 2012 season. Tim Tebow deserved to be treated a great deal better than he was with the Jets, he should have been offered the opportunity to start the game Greg McElroy did, not only would that have been the right decision for the Jets and Tebow, it would have made Jets fans a little happier. When the Jets start selling their 2013 season tickets in the coming weeks and months rest assured Jets fans will remember how badly the organization managed to treat Tim Tebow.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

The Year in Sports – concussions the order of the day

Concussions plagued the sports industry in 2012; in 2013 concussions could have a significant impact on the sports industry and an enormous impact on the business of sports. One of the largest lawsuits in sports liability history is set to unfold in 2013 the results could cripple the foundation for both football and hockey.

More than 4,000 retired National Football League players and their families have filed a lawsuit in a Philadelphia Federal Court that contends the National Football League willfully withheld information relating to player safety and the impact concussions had on NFL players between the founding of the NFL in the 1920’s through 2010.

Regardless of how the lawsuit is settled, the impact on the foundation of both the National Football League and the National Hockey League could face serious damages. Insurance premiums for Pop Warner, high school football, youth, competitive hockey development programs could skyrocket, making the organization of youth football and hockey next to impossible to be economically viable.

“Insurers will be tightening up their own coverage and make sports more expensive,” said Robert Boland, who teaches sports law at New York University in a New York Times report. “It could make the sustainability of certain sports a real issue.”

In May 2012 former San Diego Charger Junior Seau committed suicide with a gunshot wound to the chest in 2012 at the age of 43. In April, 2012 former Atlanta Falcons safety Ray Easterling’s death at age 62 was ruled a suicide. And in 2011, former Chicago Bears safety Dave Duerson committed suicide. Easterling is reported to have suffered from depression and insomnia, and then dementia that progressively worsened. The three all died from self-inflicted gunshot wounds. Last Saturday former major league baseball player December 15 Ryan Freel who suffered either nine or 10 concussions in his MLB career committed suicide. Freel was 36.

Last week the National Football League again attempted to have the lawsuit tossed out of the courts claiming according to nflconcussionlitigation.com’s Paul D. Anderson “The NFL has framed the NFL concussion litigation as nothing more than a labor dispute over workplace health and safety. The players, on the other hand, have framed this litigation as a full frontal attack against the NFL for committing wrongs (i.e. fraud and negligence) against the players.

“In its 30 page brief—drafted by some of the greatest legal minds in the country—the NFL argues that the court must kick the players’ lawsuits out of court because they are barred by the CBAs. The NFL’s reasoning is primarily based upon Supreme Court precedence, two federal judges’ Orders, and the unique nature of federal labor law.”

In July a master complaint was filed in federal court, combining dozens of existing lawsuits against the NFL. The NFL is being accused of failing to provide information linking football-related head injuries to permanent memory loss, brain damage, and other long-term health issues related to concussions.

According to nflconcussionslawsuit.com:

For decades the medical community knew that repeated blows to the head caused long term brain damage in boxers.

In 1994 after a string of incidents, the NFL decided to research MTBI and its effects. Strangely, Commissioner Tagliabue named a rheumatologist (Dr. Pellman), not a neurologist, to run the study. Dr. Pellman admitted that prior to the study most team physicians relied on “on-field anecdotes” to treat concussions and the purpose of the study was to provide facts and direction for team physicians.

Strangely, the results of the NFL’s research contradicted commonplace concussion management protocols and other research being conducted by neurologists across the country. The NFL’s published findings stated that concussions “were not serious injuries” and doctors should use their discretion rather than follow an “arbitrary, rigid” concussion management system. This shocked many in the medical community and contradicted NCAA studies and practices.

Beginning in 2002, autopsies of former players’ brains showed an unusual build up of dangerous proteins believed to be the result of repeated concussions and sub-concussive events. The condition, named CTE, is marked by memory loss, insomnia, speech difficulties, impulse control and depression. Researchers notified the NFL and published their findings.

In 2007, the NFL published its own brochures for players that stated that research “has not shown that having more than one or two concussions leads to permanent problems if each injury is managed properly.” The brochure did not mention the research on CTE and NFL sponsored researchers continued to dispute that concussions caused brain damage in dead players.

In 2009, Congress held hearings on the NFL’s management of concussions. The fact that the NFL funded its own research that stood in such contrast to what mainstream medicine understood about MTBI/concussions led Congress to compare the NFL’s actions to the tobacco industry of the 1990s.

In July 2010, less than one year after denying that concussions can lead to permanent damage, the NFL dramatically changed course. They put up posters in locker rooms that cautioned its players that multiple concussions could cause permanent brain damage, memory loss, personality changes, depression and dementia. Concussions, the posters said, “can change your life and your family’s life forever.”

If the lawsuit is successful the National Football League could face billions of dollars in damages. Insurance for both the NFL and NCAA will dramatically increase. Both the NFL and college football programs have the financial wherewithal to withstand the court’s ruling in favor of the plaintiffs. The same can’t be said for Pop Warner and high school football organizations.

“A common misconception is that no one’s going to sue their youth league or nonprofit, but that’s not the case,” Dan Pullen, who runs an insurance brokerage in Fort Worth that specializes in policies for teams, players and leagues told The New York Times. “Maybe the league isn’t negligent, but there might be $50,000 in legal claims” for a lawyer to chase.

The hockey community was rocked by three deaths in 2011 two by suicide, one through a drug overdose, a first cousin to suicide. In August 2011 Wade Belak, 35 committed suicide in a Toronto hotel, two weeks earlier Rick Rypien who had signed a contract to play with the Winnipeg Jets committed suicide and in May 2011, Derek Boogaard, one of the most feared fighters in the league, died of an accidental overdose of painkillers and alcohol in the middle of a post-concussion haze. Belak, Rypien and Boogaard were NHL enforcers, hockey players known for their ability to fight throughout their major junior and professional careers.

Sidney Crosby missed most of the 2010-11 NHL season after suffering a series of concussions. According to a January 2012 Toronto Star report midway through the 2010-11 NHL season more than 73 different NHL players had missed games through brain related injuries.

Bill Hubbard, chief executive of HCC Specialty, a New York-based company that also specializes in the sports industry in January told the Toronto Star, he believes insurance companies are going to have to rethink insuring hockey players who have suffered concussions.

“Right now you’ve got 10 per cent of the league affected by concussions,” Hubbard said. “While I don’t know where the breaking point is, at some point, if it keeps trending this way, companies are not going to be able to insure NHL players for concussions.”

“We used to have one question asking players their history with cardiac issues and other problems like concussions,” Greg Sutton, the company’s president told The Toronto Star.

“Now, concussions have their own section. We’re asking about frequency, how bad they were and how many games they missed. We know you’re not recovered from brain injuries because the symptoms go away. This is not an organ like the liver that can regenerate itself.

“You’re going to see a lot more contracts with concussion exclusions. It’s a big risk. Teams are going to have more exposure related to concussions that they’re going to have to eat.”

The National Football League, NCAA football and the National Hockey League need youth football and hockey to develop football and hockey players. Dramatically increased insurance costs could make it next to impossible for the key development leagues to function. As 2012 comes to a close, concussions and the NFL retired player lawsuit could have a lasting impact on the sports industry.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Sunday, December 23, 2012

The Year in college sports – a game of musical chairs

College conference realignment one of the most important sports business stories from 2011 proved to be the biggest college sports business story for 2012. 2012 will be remembered as the beginning of the end for the Big East Conference, a conference that made mistakes in 1982 and 1991 that led the conference falling apart in 2012.

The 1985 Final Four played Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky included Villanova (who beat Georgetown in the championship game), along with St. John’s and Memphis State. During Saturday afternoon’s Final Four semi-final doubleheader, the 23,000 fans in attendance chanted “Big East, Big East” repeatedly; three of the four schools (Memphis State the lone exception) from the powerful Big East Conference.

Founded in 1979, the Big East was the brainchild of the late Dave Gavitt, who was the conference’s first Commissioner. The Big East became a reality on May 31, 1979, following a meeting of athletic directors from Providence College, St. John’s, Georgetown and Syracuse universities. Seton Hall, Connecticut and Boston College completed the original seven school alliance.

Boston College left the Big East in 2005 along with Virginia Tech and Miami (both joining the Big East in 1991). Five schools moved to the Big East from Conference USA—Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida, Marquette, and DePaul.

In July Syracuse announced they were leaving the Big East for the ACC along with Pittsburgh (who joined the Big East in 1982). On November 20, 2012, Rutgers announced it would be leaving the Big East to join the Big Ten Conference as a full member, effective with the start of the 2014–15 academic year. Then Louisville said they were heading to the ACC. Finally last Saturday the heart of what remained of the Big East, the non-FBS schools (football schools): DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John's, Seton Hall and Villanova collectively announced they too had had enough and were leaving the Big East on June 30, 2015 – ironically what will represent the crowning moment in time for the Big East, the 30th anniversary of the 1985 Big East Final Four. In the last eight years the Big East has lost 17 schools to realignment.

"Earlier today we voted unanimously to pursue an orderly evolution to a foundation of basketball schools that honors the history and tradition on which the Big East was established," the seven presidents said in a joint statement nine days ago. "Under the current context of conference realignment, we believe pursuing a new basketball framework that builds on this tradition of excellence and competition is the best way forward."

There are many reasons why the Big East fell apart; one of the key mistakes the Big East made was rejecting Penn State in 1982 when Penn State was interested in joining the Big East. An independent non-affiliated school in 1982 Penn State was interested in joining the Big East with only five schools in favor (Penn State needed six out of eight). Penn State joined the Big Ten. Despite the fallout from the Jerry Sandusky sex abuse scandal and the subsequent firing of Penn State’s legendary football coach Joe Paterno last year, Penn State has been very good for the Big Ten. The Big East accepted Pittsburgh instead, and the rest is history.

The Big East was more of a basketball conference than it was a football conference. The seven schools that announced they were leaving the Big East last Saturday hammered home that point. Geographically the original seven Big East schools were with the exception of Georgetown located in the Northeast corridor. When Miami, Virginia Tech and West Virginia joined the Big East in 1991 the conference forgot about its basketball roots and where its power lay – in the Northeast.

Mike Tranghese, who was the league's commissioner from 1990-2009 believes once Syracuse announced they were leaving the Big East the end had arrived for the Big East.

"There was too much stress put on the structure (of the Big East)," Tranghese told ESPN. "Mostly by football and the money.

"I'm not crying or moping on it. It was an incredible run for 30 plus years. I'm sad to see it go and it's time to move on and focus on what lies ahead in the future.

"Everything in this day and age is about money," Tranghese said in the ESPN report. "I don't know what Mike, John or I could have done. We weren't strong enough football-wise and we got picked apart. If there was someone out there that could have made us more powerful we would have went after them.

"I think they're good people, they always wanted to make it work," Tranghese said. "I think they tried as hard as they could. When Syracuse left, that ripped the heart out of a lot of people. When it got down to Louisville or UConn (going to the ACC) that was another big blow to the basketball schools from a basketball standpoint.

"That was the breaking point."

If men’s basketball was the driving force behind the Big East, the Big East Tournament held at Madison Square Garden was the epicenter. For the 31st consecutive season, the tournament will be held at Madison Square Garden in New York City, from March 12-16, 2013.

While Tranghese isn’t angry about the end of the Big East, the same can’t said of the University of Connecticut’s women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma. Under Auriemma, the Huskies have won 7 NCAA Division I national championships, advanced to 13 Final Fours, and won over 30 Big East Conference Championships. UConn was interested in leaving the Big East for the ACC; however the ACC instead invited Louisville a football playing member of the Big East to join the ACC.

"I hope they all leave tomorrow," Auriemma said earlier this week when asked about the seven schools that had left. "But they can't, because we have to play out the [2012-13] schedule.

"But as soon as it's over, let them go and do what they need to do, just like Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia did. West Virginia did it the right way. They said they didn't want to be in the Big East any more and said, 'See you later, I'm out of here.'

"I hope they all take that approach.

"Everyone has their own ideas and theories. Everyone wants to live in a nostalgic world where, as Garrison Keillor said, all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average.

"Everyone wants to live in the place where the nine original schools of the Big East are all together and will play against each other forever. Then football became the driving vehicle. You are either at the table with the big boys or you are not.

"The Catholic schools did a really good thing. They stayed at the table for as long as it took them to make as much money as they could. And once they saw all the money running out, they decided to go play somewhere else. Had some of them managed to vote appropriately over the last 10 years [as Big East conference members with a say on rights' fees], we wouldn't be in the situation we are now.

"They did what was best for them, just like a lot of Catholic schools do. They like to say the state schools are the big bad guys. I've heard my share of that in my time in the conference [28 years]."

It’s easy to understand Auriemma’s anger but difficult to accept given that Connecticut’s wanted to leave the Big East for the ACC but wasn’t invited. Connecticut played a game of musical chairs and lost, there are no more chairs – they are the ones left standing.

Along with not inviting powerful Penn State in 1982 and losing Syracuse in July, the Big East fell apart for a number of other important reasons, that included “expanding” the Big East to Virginia and Miami.

The Big East will try and continue after the seven schools leave the conference in July 2015. Tulane is set to join the Big East along with San Diego State. UNLV and Fresno State have been contacted unofficially by the Big East and had very general conversations. Boise may or may join the Big East.

When the Big East began in 1979 schools if they wanted could bus to road game, in a few years’ time if the Big East still exists, schools will be flying across the country to compete against each other. Optically isn’t terrible, it sends out the wrong message about student athletes being students.

The Big Ten and Pac 12 both created their own television networks. The SEC is set to announce their conference will have a television network. The Big East for many years was aligned with ESPN, never focused efforts on creating a Big East Network. As Mike Tranghese told ESPN the Big East’s problems are all about money – the lack of a Big East Network will forever haunt the Big East.

Football has become the economic engine behind college sports, basketball remains important but it doesn’t generate the tens of millions of dollars a successful football program can for a major university. Most of the football playing schools left the Big East, last Saturday the seven non-football playing schools had enough. The Big East conference realignment, the biggest college sports business story of 2012.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Sports Industry and the greater good

The world we live in sadly changed forever when twenty children grade one students at Sandy Hook Elementary School and six grade school teachers were murdered last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. The sports world, sensing both a responsibility and an opportunity to actively participate in the growing national debate concerning gun control; many athletes and coaches demonstrated that on occasion sports can be more than about the games that are played, sports have an important role in the world in we live in and using that role offering comfort in troubling times.

Athletes began reaching out through their Twitter accounts early Friday soon after news of the tragic events began to unfold. Saturday NBA players were introduced before scheduled games embracing their children. Sunday, the National Football League observed a moment of silence before each of scheduled games; individual players offered their own personal tributes. Professional athletes are feeling the same sense of profound loss hundreds of millions of Americans have experienced in the last week.

New York Giants receiver Victor Cruz wrote Jack Pinto on the shoes he wore in last Sunday’s Giants game, a tribute to six-year old Jack Pinto. Cruz was Jack’s football hero. Tuesday, on his off day, Cruz drove from New York to Newtown to give Jack’s parents the shoes he wore as a tribute to young Jack. Jack was buried Monday wearing his number 80 New York Giants Victor Cruz football jersey.

“You don’t know whether to say thank you, you don’t know whether to say you appreciate it,” Cruz said, searching for words. “It just, it leaves you kind of blank. But I’m definitely honored by it. I’m definitely humbled by it. And it’s absolutely unfortunate, but it’s a humbling experience for me.

“We got to smile a little bit, which was good for them,” said Cruz, who listened to the family, played some of the Madden NFL video game with kids and even played some football in the front yard. “It was a time where I just wanted to be a positive voice, a positive light in a time where it can be really negative. They’re a great family, and they’re really united right now, and it was good to see.”
Newtown is less than 100 miles from New York City, the small Connecticut town home to many New York sports fans.

Donna Soto the mother of slain Sandy Hook teacher Victoria Soto received a surprise call from New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter, Tuesday soon after Victoria’s funeral.

“Vicki loved the Yankees — that was part of her eulogy,” her cousin James Wiltsie said Wednesday night. “No one in the family reached out, so (Jeter) must have heard about it and ... reached out.
“It was a surprise and unexpected. Donna was ecstatic over it and very happy. She spoke to him for quite some time.”

Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson reached out to the family of Grace McDonnell, speaking with Grace’s 11-year old brother Jack Tuesday. Monday night Johnson wrote the names of the 20 children including Grace and six teachers on his cleats before he took the field against the New York Jets. During the game he set a franchise record with a 94-yard touchdown run as the Titans won 14-10.

“Jack seems like a really nice kid. It’s really a great family really, and my heart goes out to them,” Johnson said Wednesday. “It’s a situation where I just want to lift the family up, or lift anyone up who is going through such a tough time. Anything possible I can do to lift their spirits up a little bit, that’s all I want to do.

“They were excited to hear from me. I just wanted to give my condolences and make sure they stay strong and keep God first,” Johnson said. “When I talked to Jack, we mostly talked about the game. He told me he liked my run. I think his dad was a Jets fan before, but they are new Tennessee Titans fans now. It was a nice conversation.”

Mike Mu, Johnson’s manager, spoke with Chris McDonnell as well.

“He said they were cheering on the Jets and they saw C.J.’s shoes and thought it was a special thing he did,” Mu said. “He said they were cheering C.J. on during his 94-yard touchdown run, and they were all excited and smiling when C.J. crossed the goal line because ‘our family saw Grace crossing the end zone’ before C.J.”

Kevin Durant who plays for the Oklahoma Thunder wrote Newtown, CT. on his shoes before the Thunder’s 113-103 win over the Los Angeles Clippers last Friday night.

“The way they have shown their support in the last few days is fabulous,” Newtown boys basketball coach Tim Tallcouch said of athletes such as Durant, Cruz and Co. “Even if their actions for a short time help ease the pain, it's worth it.”

“There's a lot more people than just myself thinking about them,” Durant said. “A lot of people are praying for them. I just happened to be one of the guys having a platform. Just having that platform, I wanted everybody to recognize them.

“Hopefully, it can help.”

Two college basketball coaches Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey and Syracuse Hall of Fame coach Jim Boeheim seized moments in time delivering powerful messages about the need for greater gun control in America.

Monday night Boeheim the third coach in NCAA history to win 900 or more games, an unforgettable moment from one of the greatest basketball coaches in college basketball history.


“This will probably offend some people,’’ Boeheim said, according to The Post Standard in Syracuse. “If we in this country as Americans cannot get the people that represent us to do something about firearms, we are a sad, sad society. I’m a hunter. I’ve hunted. I’m not talking about rifles. That’s fine. If one person in this world; the NRA president, anybody, can tell me why we need assault weapons with 30 shots in the thing. This is our fault. This is my fault and your fault. All of your faults if we don’t get out and do something about this.’’

What inspired Jim Boeheim to use his 900th win as a platform to talk about greater gun control in America? Appearing on the nationally syndicated Dan Patrick show, Boeheim offered this explanation.

“I thought about it all day. I was home before the game, I watched the all day shows and I remember specifically a congressman from Texas saying we really need to get guns in the hand of that lady, the lady that was the principal, so she could shoot this guy coming. I mean do we really have people in congress thinking that way? Is it possible. You cannot believe there is a thought process of thinking like that. To maybe get trained policeman in every school in the country you would probably have to have a couple of them in every grade school and pre-school and I mean that’s not possible. I think the least thing we can do is to get assault rifles out of the country.

“Well when are you going to use it? That was a good moment. There were a lot of cameras trained on me, I knew it would get attention, I knew it would get your attention, it was on a couple of other shows today and I’m sure a lot of NRA people are going to be writing me nasty e-mails. I just think we have to speak up. You do, I do, we have national platforms. Do you believe we should have assault rifles in this country? (Host: I believe it should be difficult to get certain weapons.) I think you can get a hand gun, a shotgun, or a rifle. I hunt, I used to hunt and I think you should be able to get all that stuff. You should have better background checks and I just don’t think we need 30 clip weapons. I just don’t. Let’s do something about it. If we can’t shame them into doing this then we can’t do much within our system.”

Tuesday evening Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey spoke to the media following his team’s 65-55 loss to Ohio State. Kelsey isn’t going to the Hall of Fame and won’t win 900 games, but he grabbed his moment in time to deliver a message.

"This has to be a time for change," he said. "And I know this microphone's powerful right now, because we're playing the (seventh)-best team in the country. I'm not going to have a microphone like this the rest of the year, maybe the rest of my life.

“I’m going to be an agent of change with the 13 young men I get to coach every day and the two little girls that I get to raise. But hopefully things start changing, because it's really, really disappointing.

“And I'm gonna give them the biggest hug and the biggest kiss I've ever given them. And there's 20 families in Newtown, Conn., that are walking into a pink room with a bunch of teddy bears with nobody laying in those beds. And it's tragic."

None of these men can change what took place last Friday. Because they work in the sports industry that were offered opportunities to comfort those in pain or send a message to tens of millions of Americans. Life will go on for these men and their families. Life will never be the same for the 26 families in Newtown, Connecticut.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

NHL Armageddon 2012: at the edge of the abyss (cliff)

The National Hockey League lockout the league’s third in the last twenty years, the second prolonged work stoppage in 19 years has caused irreparable damage to the NHL’s brand. Regardless of whether the NHL and the NHL Players Association reach an agreement on a collective bargaining agreement (CBA) in time to save part of the current NHL season, when the NHL returns, the league will never completely recover for the harm that has been inflicted on the NHL by the league’s owners and players.

“My clients are beyond frustration with what’s happened, “ Brian Cooper, president and CEO of S&E Sponsorship Group which handles significant NHL sponsors told Canada’s Globe and Mail. “The public has soured on them. Better to wait till the brand is forgiven. By then, it’s probably next summer at the earliest before people will consider the NHL brand again.”

“As a brand or sponsor there’s no time to do whiz-bang plans for half a season. We have back-to-business plans in place in case they settle, but they’re diminishing by the day. You can’t replace the dollars taken away, even if the NHL comes back tomorrow.”

Eight years ago the NHL lost the entire 2004-05 season to a work stoppage, the first major professional sports league to lose an entire season to a labor dispute. Wednesday, the NHL set a mid-January deadline for there to be a settlement or the entire 2012-13 NHL season will be canceled.

Last week President Obama suggested it was time for the two sides to reach an agreement. Tuesday Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper who has been working on a hockey book for several years told Quebec broadcaster TVA the NHL was “risking its brand and relationship with sponsors as a result of the impasse.”

The NHL suffered few if any ill effects from the 2004-05 lockout. Hockey fans returned in record numbers. The league made several key changes to NHL rules; however that wasn’t the cause for the league to succeed after a season long work stoppage. Hockey fans came back believing the game they loved had been fixed. The NHL is well aware the league has the smallest fan base of the four major North American sports. However it also has the most loyal fan base.

Hockey fans care deeply about their sport. When the last work stoppage began on September 15, 2004 Gary Bettman and the league did a masterful job in selling hockey fans on the importance of a salary cap saving the NHL. Players’ salaries accounted for 73 percent of league revenues, two franchises the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators had filed for bankruptcy protection during the 2002-03 NHL season, the league was bleeding red ink. The NHL was broken and Gary Bettman promised to fix the league for hockey fans.

As upset as hockey fans were eight years ago when they had to live without their sport for an entire year, NHL fans believed in what the league was selling eight years ago, a salary cap represented salvation.

In the eight NHL seasons hockey fans enjoyed before being forced to once again endure a lengthy lockout that again threatens an entire NHL season, NHL revenues rose from $2.1 billion to $3.2 billion annually. The NHL signed a 10-year $2 billion contract with NBC. It was clear to NHL fans the league needed a salary cap eight years ago, eight years later the league is telling fans the league it didn’t get it right eight years ago.

The NHL counts on gate receipts more than any of the four major North American spectator sports for revenues. NHL fans were filled to 96.7 percent capacity when at the end of the 2011-12 season, record attendance for the NHL.

NHL sponsorships are at record levels. On February 22, 2011 the NHL announced an eight-year $375 million sponsorship with Molson and Miller for North American beer rights.

"Whether it's people not actually physically going to the venues and consuming there, consuming in venues around the outlet before that, or indeed having NHL sort of parties at home, all of those occasions have disappeared off the map and you just can't replicate them," CEO Peter Swinburn said in a November interview.

"It's a national sport, the whole of Canada is glued to it one way or another so there's no real regional difference at the moment that we can detect."

What the NHL doesn’t seem to appreciate – the NHL is a very small fish in a very big pond. Molson the league’s biggest sponsor is upset, but what about smaller retailers and businesses, how do they feel about the NHL and the labor lockout?

"Our NHL business is off substantially," Mitchell Modell, CEO of the 150-store sporting goods chain which bears his family name told the Sports Business Journal. "The dollars are small relatively, but the percentages are big. Thank God for the NBA, because it came back strong last year [after that league's lockout] and they are more than offsetting our NHL sales."

Seven of the NHL’s 30 franchises are based in Canada. Most NHL observers believed there would be little if any impact when the game finally returns in Canada, fans will return and support a game ingrained in Canadian culture. That might not be the case.

“There’s a compounding effect to this, fool me once, fool me twice and all that,” said Bruno Delorme, a sports-marketing expert at Montreal’s Concordia University in a Globe and Mail report.

There appears to be little trust between the NHL, the NHLPA and hockey fans. The Globe and Mail reported: “Level5 a 10-year-old company based in Toronto that has done “brand” analysis for such major enterprises as the NFL, NBA, 3M Co., Rogers Communications Inc., Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd., Second Cup Ltd., and BCE Inc. believes that regardless of when the NHL returns the league faces a tremendous challenge in marketing the league. The company based its findings on a series of interviews they conducted in the last few weeks.

“We found damage at levels we have not seen,” Level5 chief executive officer David Kincaid told the Globe and Mail. “It’s quite alarming, really.

“If anyone thinks that the lockout can end and everyone will come back to Happy Valley, it ain’t going to happen.”

When the NHL returns the league had taken it for granted Canadian fans would return, along with hockey fans in several traditional American markets (fans of the New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings) nearly half of the NHL’s 30 franchises.

Kincaid was surprised by the results when it came to how Canadians feel about the NHL in December 2012: “If we had done this study 10 years ago, 20 years ago, we would have seen half of Canadians or more say they were passionate about the game.

“Think what this means to the sponsors of hockey,” Kincaid told the Globe and Mail. “For almost one-third of Canadians, you are wasting your time on them. You’ve lost them. They are not going to become even ‘neutral.’”

Clearly hockey fans are angry. When the current lockout is settled, regardless of the outcome the NHL and the NHLPA are going to need to make major changes in their leadership. Fans, the league’s corporate and broadcast partners have had enough of the current cast of characters.

Gary Bettman has been the NHL’s commissioner for twenty years will likely leave the NHL shortly after a settlement is reached, along with deputy commissioner Bill Daly. Both men have done admirable jobs, however both men have been the NHL’s face for the two major work stoppages and in Bettman’s case three.

Don Fehr was retired before becoming the NHLPA’s executive director a few years ago will return to private practice.

What the NHL and NHLPA need is new dynamic leadership that sends a clear and concise message to hockey fans, NHL sponsors and the league’s broadcast partners. The NHL and the
NHLPA once hockey returns are going to work together as partners. An eight year CBA, a ten-year CBA isn’t going to matter if when the next CBA expires the NHL and the NHLPA are going to be where they are now, as warring parties holding the hearts of hockey fans hostages.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Tuesday, December 18, 2012

NHL Armageddon 2012: The NHLPA in search of fool’s gold

The National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) is in the midst of voting to essentially end their union. When the voting ends Thursday, more than 66 percent of the voting membership (the 700 hockey players with NHL contracts) are expected to authorize their union’s executive committee to disband the players’ association through a ‘disclaimer of interest’ filing, and if the board acts on that authority by Jan. 2, it could open the league’s 30 owners to individual player anti-trust lawsuits and punitive damages amounting to triple their salaries. The strategy is doomed to fail, the end result, NHL owners will be positioned to crush the NHLPA as they did in July 2005.

The NHLPA are following the same path their National Football League Players Association and National Basketball Association Players Association union brothers tried last year during their respective ownership lockouts. The NFLPA won the first round of their court battle in federal district court in Minnesota, but lost in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which reversed the district court judge by a vote of 2-1. The Eight Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the two sides the NFL and the NFLPA were attempting to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement (CBA).

Sportnet.ca’s legal expert Rod Becker pointed out “the appellate court stated that under the Norris-La Guardia Act, federal courts are forbidden from enjoining lockouts in the middle of labor disputes.”

In November 2011 the National Basketball Association Players Association filed a disclaimer of interest in their labor battle with the NBA. Twelve days after the filing the NBA and the NBPA reach an agreement on a new CBA, before the courts have ruled.

New York Federal Judge Paul Engelmayer who will decide the NHL and the NHLPA’s legal fate has the legal precedent he needs to toss the NHLPA claim out of his court and suggest to the NHLPA it is in the unions’ best interest to continue doing what they have been doing, try to reach an agreement with the NHL. Judge Engelmayer will likely point out to the NHLPA while the negotiations have not been successful, there have in fact been negotiations with the NHL, and they haven’t been successful, as was the case with the NFL and the NFLPA.

“That's because the players have gone about this process in such a transparent way. What the NHL players are doing (as I'm writing this) is two steps closer to an obvious charade than what the NFL players did in 2011. First of all, since a disclaimer of interest is a quick process, it will be easier for Judge Engelmayer to conclude that it doesn't represent a real breakup between the union and the players. But second, the players are actually in the process of voting to have the union disclaim interest. “Becker offered in a Sportsnet.ca report

“Disclaimers of interest normally happen when a union has grown disenchanted with its membership and essentially fires the members and says we refuse to represent you anymore -- kind of like a contentious divorce. But when the players actually vote to have the union disclaim interest, which is like asking someone to fire you, it's pretty obvious that they aren't disenchanted with their union at all. And just to make the sham clear, it was the NHLPA's executive board that voted to authorize the players to vote to authorize the union to disclaim interest in further representing the players.”

The threat of triple damages could motivate the NHL according to what one insider told The New York Daily News.

“The league will be responsible for three times all the salaries it owes to the players – that will be billions of dollars,” said Jeffrey L. Kessler, a Winston & Strawn partner who represented both the NFL players and NBA players during their respective 2011 labor disputes. “If you were faced with a billion-dollar liability, what impact would that have on your desire to settle?”
Before the NHL panics at Kessler’s suggestion, the league would have to believe the NHLPA has a case has merit.

“I don’t think litigation (on either side) will have the effect of making it more likely that a deal will be done,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Daily News in an email Monday, when asked if there were scenarios outside of regular bargaining that could save the season. “Given late timing, I’m not sure it plays a role this season at all. It may play a roll down the road if the season is cancelled, but it is our belief that would play out in a favorable way for the Clubs.”

The legal process is slow and far from certain. Both sides believe they will prevail in court and while the legal precedent may favor the NHL, the NHLPA believe the ‘threat’ of damages could lead to a settlement?

“Just before disclaimer in the NBA, the league not only did not advance its proposal to the players, it gave an ultimatum that withdrew its proposal and said that it was going to reduce all of its offers because the players had not accepted,” Kessler told the Daily News, describing conditions eerily similar to that of the NHL in this lockout. “So the league was literally going backwards at the moment the players disclaimed. The players then disclaimed. The first thing that the league did was immediately say: ‘Nevermind the going backwards.’ The next thing it did is … reach a litigation settlement which made dramatically different and more favorable offers to the players that it had said it would never even have considered before.

“Draw your own conclusions. The players in the NBA believe that disclaiming is what got them to a litigation settlement and ended the lockout.”

The National Football League generates $9.4 billion in revenue annually. Regardless of which side won the NFL legal battles, Roger Goodell was never going to allow their to be a work stoppage that might impact the NFL regular season, there was far too much money at stake. NBA players knew when they reached their settlement with David Stern on November 26 playing a game of chicken with David Stern is a game you can’t win. NBA players and their leader Billy Smith made the best deal they could.

The level of animosity between the NHL and the NHLPA seems to be at an all-time high. Much of the anger is coming from the NHLPA and a handful of NHL agents.

NHL player agent Ian Pulver, who was a high-ranking NHLPA official in the last lockout, told Hockey Night In Canada radio on Monday that this dispute is getting far nastier than 2004-05 or the lockout-shortened 1994-95 season.

“Last time it was philosophical, cap or no cap, and it stayed at that level,” Pulver believes. “This time, I sense with the owners going to court that we’re in a new realm. Owners are treating players like they did in football and basketball. To me, it’s unfortunate and sad we’re at that point. I didn’t think we’d have another lockout because of everything that went on in 2004-05. And I was wrong.

“You hear the league is ready to die on a hill (on a couple of sticking points). If only one side wants to be flexible, a deal won’t get done.”

Ignore the rhetoric. National Hockey League commissioner Gary Bettman has led the NHL for 20 years is a professional. Bettman is doing what the owners want him to do. Don Fehr the NHLPA’s executive director is just as professional as Bettman. There have been far too many media reports that suggest the NHL isn’t interested in negotiating a new CBA with Don Fehr. Nothing could be further from the truth. Bettman and Fehr respect each other as professionals. They will in the not too distant future reach an agreement on a new NHL CBA.

Expect Gary Bettman to announce a drop-dead deadline in the coming weeks were an agreement has to be reached in order for there to be an NHL season. Expect that deadline to be on January 10 or 11. Once Bettman announces that date, expect Bettman and Fehr to sit down and hammer out the best agreement they can for their respective sides. Failure to do so will be catastrophic for the National Hockey League. There will be a truncated NHL season that starts around January 20, a 48 game schedule, and a complete Stanley Cup playoff that ends in late June.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Monday, December 17, 2012

ESPN’s First Take renamed ESPN’s Biggest Mistake

ESPN is the sports industries worldwide leader. Composed of seven different cable sports television networks, the definitive sports radio network, producers of the best sports web site, ESPN rarely if ever makes a mistake. ESPN deserves most of the praise the Disney owned company has earned. Programming seven different sports cable channels is a herculean task, mistakes can be made, ESPN’s First Take is an abomination, television at its very worst, and a black mark for all the great programming ESPN produces.

First Take originally hosted and moderated by Jay Crawford and Dana Jacobson, formerly of the show's predecessor Cold Pizza. In August 2011 Skip Bayless role with the show increased dramatically. Bayless brought his abrasive, confrontational style to the program, the end result a dramatic ratings increase with a reported 58% increase for the first 3 months of 2012, compared to the same time in 2011.

On April 30, 2012, it was announced on-air that regular guest contributor Stephen A. Smith would be joining First Take on a permanent, five-day per week basis. When Smith wasn’t available Rob Parker filled in.

First Take’s foundation is fostering debate, creating and building controversy. Thursday First Take stepped over that invisible line in the sand, when Parker an African-American questioned Robert Griffin III (RGIII’s) “blackness.”

"I've talked to some people in Washington, D.C. Some people in [Griffin's] press conferences. Some people I've known for a long time. My question, which is just a straight, honest question, is ... is he a 'brother,' or is he a cornball 'brother?' He's not really ... he's black, but he's not really down with the cause. He's not one of us. He's kind of black, but he's not really like the guy you'd want to hang out with. I just want to find out about him. I don't know, because I keep hearing these things. He has a white fiancé, people talking about that he's a Republican ... there's no information at all. I'm just trying to dig deeper into why he has an issue. Tiger Woods was like, 'I have black skin, but don't call me black.' People wondered about Tiger Woods early on -- about him."

Ceasing the moment sadly as only Skip Bayless can, Bayless looked at Parker and asked: "What do RG3's braids say to you?"

"To me, that's very urban," Parker continued, seemingly determined to dig his own professional grave and end his ESPN. "It makes you feel like ... I think he would have a clean cut if he were more straight-laced or not ... wearing braids is ... you're a brother. You're a brother. If you've got braids on."

This wasn’t the first but hopefully will be the last time Rob Parker has an opportunity to use any platform as a “journalist”.

According to Parker’s Wikipedia page: in October 2008, Parker erroneously reported that Kirk Cousins (now with the Redskins), then a quarterback for the Michigan State Spartans, was involved in a fight with members of the Michigan State hockey team. At the time of the fight, Cousins was at church with his parents. After being publicly reproved by head coach Mark Dantonio at his weekly news conference, Parker was suspended by The Detroit News for two weeks.

On December 21, 2008, at a press conference following the Lions' 42–7 loss to the New Orleans Saints, during the Detroit Lions historic 0-16 season, Rob Parker caused some controversy when he addressed a question at Lions head coach Rod Marinelli about Lions defensive coordinator Joe Barry, Marinelli's son-in-law, inquiring whether Marinelli wished that his daughter had "married a better defensive coordinator."

The question was criticized as unprofessional and inappropriate. The next day, Parker wrote that the comment was "an attempt at humor" and not a malicious attack.

Parker wrote no further columns for The Detroit News, nor did he attend any press conferences, following the incident. On January 6, 2009, The Detroit News announced that Parker had resigned from the newspaper the previous week.

ESPN suspended Parker, in all likelihood Rob Parker will never work for ESPN again. ESPN can suggest whatever they’d like regarding Parker, but they knew who Rob Parker was then they hired him.

"They brought on Rob for a reason -- he is confrontational," said a former ESPN staffer who worked at the network for years in an SI.com report. "That is his style. They want debate and conflict and that can be a good thing, to force people to look at issues and force people to look at things. I know they get hammered a lot for making everything a racial topic, and sometimes it does go too far, but they do a good job of getting debate out there that people are shying away from because it is uncomfortable."

Great sports media includes debate, discussion and different opinions. It doesn’t include what First Take has become – verbal and visual diarrhea.

The mistake First Take continues to make time and time again is creating and building stories around the show’s hosts. The hosts have become the show as opposed to the issues the hosts are debating.
RGIII along with Andrew Luck have electrified the football universe this year. ESPN reported Monday: the Washington Redskins rookie quarterback's No. 10 jersey has sold more than any other player's in a single season since the NFL started keeping track six years ago, league spokeswoman Joanna Hunter told ESPN.com. How black Robert Griffin III is irrelevant, nonsensical, what First Take has become.

"The issue is that it becomes ESPN and not First Take when people weigh in," one longtime ESPN staffer told SI.com’s Richard Deitsch. "They don't say, 'First Take said this or that.' It's, 'ESPN said this or that.' I don't wish to be lumped in with that nonsense."

"They have created a culture of this," another ESPN employee said in the SI.com report. "The fact that they didn't remove it [Parker's comments about Griffin] from the re-air [the show repeats at 12 p.m. ET] proves their intent wasn't to do anything."

There are a number of questions ESPN needs to ask about First Take. Is the risk of producing First Take worth the reward? If First Take continues to produce ratings it will be difficult for ESPN John Skipper to cancel the program.

“It’s just another show. It’s not journalism. Nobody goes, ‘Gee, look how awful it is that CBS does these awful reality shows. Doesn’t that taint their great news organization?’ We have seven networks. There’s 8,760 hours per year. We’re programming 50-60,000 hours per year. ... But people say, ‘Gee, that awful debate that you’re doing, how can the great 'SportsCenter' coexist with the debate of 'First Take.’ I don’t know, how do infomercials coexist with the great journalism they’re doing someplace else? We’re not a micromanaged place. Jamie Horowitz is the producer of 'First Take.' He’s gone in a direction that’s working. Ratings are up.” Skipper offered in an interview conducted with The Sports Business Journal conducted before the Parker incident.

ESPN’s original programming is second to none. The networks daily sports magazine show “Outside the Lines” is journalism at its finest. 30 for 30 offers some of the best documentaries produced today. First Take is a black-eye for the thousands of men and women who take tremendous pride in building and moving forward ESPN’s brand. It isn’t going to happen; ESPN isn’t to do what’s right and cancel First Take. ESPN as Skipper alluded too needs a great deal of programming and First Take sadly is a ratings winner and a money maker.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Sunday, December 16, 2012

Guns R athletes – sports and guns

An unspeakable tragedy unfolded in Newton, Connecticut Friday, the latest in a series of tragic stories focusing attention on the infamous United States Constitution second amendment, the right for Americans to bear arms.

Two weeks ago completely unrelated but now sadly linked, Bob Costas raised the issue of gun control on NBC’s Sunday Night Football. Costas vilified by right to bear arms advocates (the gun lobby) slammed Costas for using Sunday Night Football as a platform to raise the issue of gun control in America.

In the last two weeks an active NFL player murdered a 22-year old woman, a shooting in a Portland, Oregon shopping mall where three people died including the man who brought a gun into a shopping mall and Friday 20 children had their lives taken away from them. In each case guns used by people murdered innocence, tragedies directly linked by the lack of gun control in the United States of America. Guns in America, Gun control in America, now are the time to have a debate!

A recent USA Today cover story reported 75% of current National Football League players own guns. Guns seemingly have been a part of the NFL culture for a very long time.

"Most guys when they first come into the league is when they first start to realize they need protection," former NFL running back Thomas Jones told the USA Today. "Because money brings a lot of positive things. But most of the time, it brings more negative things. People don't like you for what you have, for who you are. They don't like you for what you represent. And people will go to any length to take what you have or harm you in some way just because they don't have what you have. If you don't have a firearm to protect you from situations and God forbid something happens to you, you wish you would have a firearm."

Jones played with Belcher at the end of Jones career with the Kansas City Chiefs, serving as a big brother to Belcher. Belcher owned eight guns at the time of his murder/suicide.

Tony Dungy former Indianapolis Colts head coach Tony Dungy speaking on NBC’s Sunday Night Football said that while he was the Colts head coach at the start of his team’s training camp one year he asked the 80 assembled players how many owned guns. Much to Dungy’s surprise more than 60 (75%) indicated they owned guns.

"I was always shocked at the number of guys who raised their hand. ... That was kind of eye-opening to me. ... (But) it's just a fact of life. These guys had them. ... I think so many of these young guys have been around guns and have seen guns, and they just feel that's part of the landscape for them growing up." Dungy told USA Today.

Athletes collect guns. A great deal of focus has revolved around NFL players and guns as a direct result of Jovan Belcher – regardless guns and NFL players is an issue.

"I'm not ... trying to tell guys in the league they need to purchase firearms," Jones said in the USA Today report. "I'm just saying to be realistic about our lifestyle."

The gun lobby that were so critical of Costas two short weeks have been silent following the horror guns inflicted on innocent children Friday.

Wayne LaPierre, chief executive officer for the NRA, told the USA Today that as far as he is concerned you can forget about any notion that guns are to blame for the Belcher tragedy, or that NFL players are in some way different when it comes to Americans and their right to own guns.

"It's not a culture of athletes," he said. "It is particular behavior by particular individuals that is no different from the rest of society. We've got to stop making excuses. A murderer is a murderer."
LaPierre can believe whatever he chooses but guns and the right to own guns link together Jovan Belcher, Jacob Tyler Roberts (Portland Mall shooter) and Adam Lanza; three men all in their 20’s who in the last two weeks have through their actions fostered an opportunity for Americans to debate the second amendment.

Belcher owned eight guns, Adam Lanza who murdered his mother Nancy Lanza, used three of the guns his mother collected to inflict unbearable pain. There are two issues that need to be discussed – the right to bear arms and protect yourself and the right to purchase an arsenal. Nancy Lanza owned an assault rifle, why and how would a 52-year old woman want to own an assault rifle?

James Harrison a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers not only believes in collecting guns, not only believes in the right to bear arms but believes that guns are not the issue.

"It has nothing to do with the guns," Harrison told the USA Today. "Somebody goes out and kills somebody with a knife; you going to blame the knife? It's the person who did it who's responsible."
Friday the same day Adam Lanza used a gun to murder 20 innocent children in the United States of America, twenty-two primary school children were wounded in a knife attack Friday in central China, according to CNN. What took place in China is terrible, there is a world of difference between what took place in China and in the United States; Lanza had a gun, and the Chinese maniac had a knife. Harrison can say whatever he wants too about guns and people, same day, similar crimes, and a very different end result.

"You have young people with a lot of money, and there may be a quickness in a decision to buy a gun," Dan Gross, president of the Brady Center told the USA Today. "There's a kind of social norm that exists in certain professional sports around ownership of a gun. It's kind of encouraged. And I think there's a tendency among professional athletes not to look into the right equation in terms of risks versus benefits."

The gun culture that exists in the sports world as America has sadly seen runs through the very fabric of American society. When you can visit your local Wal-Mart or Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy a gun, it’s not only easy to purchase guns, it becomes commonplace.

"You've got good Americans who love to play sports, who are disciplined, who are responsible, and they're no different from any other Americans," the NRA’s LaPierre added. "Owning guns is a mainstream part of American culture, and it's growing every day."

Following the July movie massacre in Aurora, Colorado guns sales increased by 43 percent in the Aurora area. Gun sales increased by more than 60 percent in the Tucson area following the 2010 shooting of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Giffords survived the shooting that resulted in six deaths. Sadly mass murder is good for business if you’re in the business of selling guns in America.

The tragic events that have unfolded in the last few weeks have created a national debate, one where hopefully both sides will have an opportunity to express their feelings on gun control in America. Those who believe in greater gun control will grab the moment and try and push for greater control in America. Before that does or doesn’t take place it’s time for America and Americans to have a healthy discussion about the right to bear arms.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

Roger Goodell and the ghosts of Bountygate

Tuesday, former National Football League commissioner Paul Tagliabue vacated the suspensions and fines NFL commissioner Roger Goodell levied against Jonathan Vilma, Will Smith, Anthony Hargrove and Scott Fujita for their roles as members of the New Orleans Saints in the Saints bountygate program. With three weeks left in the NFL regular season and the playoffs set to begin the weekend of January 5 and 6, if the NFL hoped Tagliabue’s ruling and decision to accept the former commissioner would end the bountygate talk, the NFL has to be disappointed the Saints are determined to keep the battle going.

"What I would like to see is the level of accountability on the part of the NFL and Commissioner Goodell in regards to the mishandling of this entire situation," Saints quarterback Drew Brees told The New Orleans Times Picayune. "We as players hold ourselves to very strict code of conduct on and off the field. We have to be accountable to that as it should be. I feel they should be held to the same standards.

"If someone would just come out from the league office and admit 'You know what, we could have handled this situation better,' it would go such a long way with both players and fans. ... People would come to realize what this thing is all about from the beginning."

In early March 2012 when Roger Goodell announced the suspensions and fines against Saints general manager Mickey Loomis, Saints head coach Sean Peyton and former Saints defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, the three men acknowledged their wrongdoings to Goodell, the football universe and sports fans.

Loomis and Payton acknowledged the violations disclosed by the league's investigation and jointly took "full responsibility."

"This has brought undue hardship on (owner Tom) Benson, who had nothing to do with this activity," the statement read. “We acknowledge that the violations disclosed by the NFL during their investigation of our club happened under our watch. We take full responsibility. He has been nothing but supportive and for that we both apologize to him.

“These are serious violations and we understand the negative impact it has had on our game. Both of us have made it clear within our organization that this will never happen again, and make that same promise to the NFL and most importantly, to all of our fans.”

The ringleader in the Saints “Murder Inc.” program was the team’s former defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

“It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it," Williams said. "Instead of getting caught up in it, I should have stopped it. I take full responsibility for my role. I am truly sorry. I have learned a hard lesson and I guarantee that I will never participate in or allow this kind of activity to happen again."

Let’s be very clear – the Saints management and coaching staff admitted the hit for hire program did take place. They admitted their guilt and accepted their fate.

Wednesday ESPN reported Williams tried to end the Saints bountygate program when the NFL began investigating the accusations being made against the Saints but was overruled by assistant head coach Joe Vitt at the time.

According to an ESPN report “the transcripts, Williams said Vitt, who also was the team's linebackers coach, responded to a suggestion that the pay-for-pain setup be abandoned with an obscenity-filled speech about how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell "wasn't going to ... tell us to ... stop doing what won us the Super Bowl. This has been going on in the ... National Football League forever, and it will go on here forever, when they run (me) out of there, it will still go on."

Clearly the Saints coaching staff orchestrated and seemingly didn’t care how the NFL would react if they decided to respond to the allegations the league was hearing about. Regardless, Brees remains adamant, nothing wrong took place.

"I think we all had a good feeling just because a lot of us know the truth in the matter and know just how unfair this process has been the entire time, just hoping and praying that Tagliabue would see it as such," Brees said of Tuesday's ruling. "Of course his statement and decision were very harsh toward the coaching staff and our organization. He paints us in a bad light.

“We are very prideful about this organization, we feel like we do things the right way and we have for a long time, certainly since Sean has been here and a lot of us have been here."

Brees comments are preposterous when it comes to the punishment the NFL levied against the Saints coaches and management – Loomis, Peyton and Williams each admitted the bountygate program took place. Does Goodell owe the Saints or their players, the participants an apology – absolutely not.

"Commissioner Tagliabue said there's no one here who should feel good about their role in this with respect to the Saints," Goodell said. "This is something that people made judgments. None of those people should feel good about those judgments. To have a bounty program where you're targeting players for injury, it's completely unacceptable in the NFL, it's clear that occurred for three years
despite all of the denials."

Roger Goodell has made player safety one of his personal and professional benchmarks. The NFL is facing one of the biggest lawsuits in sports history. More than 4,000 former players and their families are suing the National Football League alleging the league and team owners knowingly withheld information regarding player safety and concussions from when the league was founded through 2010. The NFL will be forced to deal with how the league managed concussions and player safety.

For his part, Goodell is doing his best to manage the here and now – how the NFL deals with player safety today. Bountygate will forever remain a bitter scare on Roger Goodell’s attempts to deal with player safety. Roger Goodell isn’t going to apologize to anyone for trying to right the terrible wrong that took place with the New Orleans Saints.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Further on up the road – 20 years with Gary Bettman and the NHL

Twenty years ago on December 11, 1992 Gary Bettman became the first National Hockey League commissioner. In the midst of the NHL’s third labor dispute during his tenure, it’s easy to pass judgment on Gary Bettman based on the league’s third protracted labor lockout in twenty years, that would be neither fair nor just in looking at the good, the bad and the ugly – the NHL and the Bettman years. One chilling statistic Gary Bettman can’t shake, Thursday the National Hockey League will have lost 2,210 games to labor disputes in the last two decades, a shocking number, 2,224 through December 30.

On February 1, 1993, Bettman's tenure as the first commissioner of the National Hockey League began, replacing Gil Stein, who served as the NHL's final president. The owners hired Bettman with the mandate of selling the game in the US market, end labor unrest; complete expansions plans and modernize the views of the "old guard" within the ownership ranks.

When Bettman started as commissioner, the league had already expanded by three teams to 24 since 1991, and two more were set to be announced by the expansion committee: the Florida Panthers and Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, who would begin play in 1993-94. Similar to the previous expansion cycles, the focus was on placing teams in the southern United States.

Bettman came to the NHL from the NBA, where Gary worked closely with NBA commissioner David Stern and Russ Granik then the NBA’s deputy commissioner. Bruce McNall then the owner of the Los Angeles Kings and chairman of the NHL Board of Governors approached Stern about jumping ship to join the NHL. Stern wasn’t interested but suggested the NHL take a serious look at Bettman, his third in command.

The 1994–95 lockout lasted 104 days, causing the season to be shortened from 84 to 48 games. The NBA and NFL both had salary caps in 1994, NHL owners believing they could better control labor costs wanted an NHL salary cap, changes to free agency and arbitration in the hopes of limiting escalating salaries, the union instead proposed a luxury tax system.

The two sides reached an agreement on January 11, 1995. The two sides agreed to a cap on rookie contracts; changes to arbitration and restrictive rules for free agency that would grant a player unrestricted free agency once he turned 31.

The NHL and the NHLPA extended that agreement twice through September 15, 2004. During the 2003-04 the last season before the second NHL lockout during Bettman’s twenty years as commissioner player salaries accounted for 73% of NHL Hockey Related Revenues (HRR). The NHL reportedly lost $300 million during the 2002-03 season. The NHL insisted the league needed a salary cap, the NHLPA refused to agree to a cap.

On February 14, 2005, five months after the lockout began; Gary Bettman canceled the 2004-05 season along with the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"I have no choice but to announce the formal cancellation of play for 2004-05," Bettman announced.

"Virtually immediately, we as an organization, at the league level and our clubs, are going to begin planning for (next) season," he said. When asked about the use of replacement players, Bettman would say only that the league would explore all of its options.

The NHL and the NHLPA agreed to a new CBA in July 2005, a CBA that included a salary cap where the players received 57% of all Hockey Related Revenue, the owners 43% was a key element of that CBA.

In the last year both the National Football League Players Association and National Basketball Association Players Association agreed to a 50/50 revenue split, a goal the NHL had when their latest CBA expired on September 15, 2012.

The NHLPA wasn’t interested, creating the third lockout in the last twenty years. Wednesday the NHL led by Gary Bettman and the NHLPA led by Don Fehr met with federal mediators in New Jersey – no progress to report, the NHL lockout hits day 89 Thursday, more than $600 million has been lost by NHL players in salaries.

It would be a challenge to suggest the team’s that have been added to the NHL during two decades represent a success story for Gary Bettman. Factor in franchise relocation, Gary Bettman’s belief the NHL working in non-traditional hockey markets has failed. Remember when Gary was hired he was told to moving teams and expanding into non-traditional hockey markets was very important to the NHL’s Board of Governors.

The NHL added four teams through expansion during the Bettman years - the Nashville Predators (1998), Atlanta Thrashers (1999), Minnesota Wild (2000) and Columbus Blue Jackets (2000). Five teams have relocated during Bettman’s tenure The Minnesota North Stars to Dallas (1993), the Quebec Nordiques to Denver (1995), the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix (1996) the Hartford Whalers to North Carolina (1997) and the Atlanta Thrashers to Winnipeg (2010).

Nashville’s ownership has changed hands several times; the current ownership group has experienced six cash calls in recent years to keep the franchise afloat. The NHL failed in Atlanta for a second the team successfully relocating to Winnipeg a year ago. The NHL’s decision to return to Minnesota represents a good decision; the move to Dallas remains questionable. Tom Hicks owned the Stars when the moved from Minneapolis to Dallas, Hicks business problems forced the franchise into bankruptcy protection. The NHL’s decision to expand to Columbus hasn’t worked. The Blue Jackets continue to hemorrhage red ink, the team’s future in doubt.

Relocation to non-traditional hockey markets has been a disaster. The Phoenix Coyotes fell into bankruptcy protection in 2009. The league has owned the team, a blight on Bettman’s reputation. The Carolina Hurricanes have the third lowest ticket prices in the NHL, when the NHL returns to Raleigh six complete sections the PNC Arena will be priced at $9.95, a disaster for any NHL franchise, the NHL remains a gate driven league when it comes to revenue.

When it comes to television Gary Bettman has done the best he could with the hand he was dealt. After the 2004-05 season long lockout NBC agreed to televise NHL games, but only through a barter system, no rights fee was paid to the NHL. The NHL’s American cable partner ESPN walked away from the NHL in 2005, Bettman reached an agreement with Versus, a three year agreement paying the NHL $207.50 million. The TV deal with Versus was later extended through the 2010-11 season. Versus was owned by NBC Universal.

In January 2011, Comcast officially acquired NBC Universal, and then in April of that year Bettman negotiated a new 10-year deal with the merged media company, worth nearly $2 billion dollars. Comcast/NBC also announced that both Versus and NBC would increase the number of games they televise.

Coming out of the 2004-05 lockout the NHL announced league wide revenues of $2.1 billion. Heading into the current lockout the NHL reported league wide revenues of $3.2 billion. Sponsorship revenue anchored by Molson Coors in Canada and MillerCoors in the U.S has pushed NHL sponsorship revenue to record levels.

The Winter Classic canceled this season represents one of Gary Bettman’s crowning achievements, a classic example of creating what has become one of the NHL’s most important events out of virtually nothing, Gary Bettman deserves a great deal of credit for his leadership in driving the Winter Classic.

Three major labor battles, relocation and expansion into non-traditional hockey markets have hurt the NHL and Gary Bettman’s legacy. However when the NHL hired Gary Bettman his mandate was take control of the NHL’s labor situation and grow the game in non-traditional hockey markets. Gary Bettman’s failure in these two areas has as much to do with the hand he was dealt than anything else.
As much success as other sports commissioners have enjoyed in the last twenty to thirty, David Stern, Paul Tagliabue and Pete Rozelle (and everyone else) would have produced the same results Gary Bettman did.

The NHL was the fourth North American sports league when Gary Bettman became the league’s commissioner twenty years ago, the NHL will never reach the popularity and revenues of the NFL, MLB and NBA. The NHL is a regional sport, not a national sport in the United States. Gary Bettman will never admit or suggest that the NHL is a regional sport, at the end of the day Bettman is all too aware of the NHL’s place.

The NHL has experienced tremendous growth as a business as a direct result of many of the good decisions Gary Bettman has made. However the gains the NHL has enjoyed in the last few years are on the edge of cliff and could be gone if the current NHL lockout if not settled in the coming weeks. If Bettman is forced to again cancel an entire NHL season the cancelaton will cause irreparable long term damage and harm to everything the NHL has accomplished during Gary Bettman’s twenty-years as commissioner of the National Hockey League.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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