Monday, July 27, 2009

Is Wayne Weaver the NFL's Version of Marcel Aubut

Is Wayne Weaver the NFL's version of Marcel Aubut?

By Evan Weiner

July 27, 2009

7:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- Back in January 1995, a dejected Marcel Aubut exited an elevator on the seventh floor lobby of the Marriott Marquis in Times Square in Manhattan and told whoever was listening who knew him in the crowd milling about that the Quebec Nordiques were done by the new Collective Bargaining Agreement that National Hockey League owners negotiators and players representations had just reached. Aubut owned the Nordiques and he was right. About a half a year later Aubut sold his Nordiques to Charles Lyons and his Ascent group which moved the franchise to Denver.

The owners’ pact was far too generous for the players for small market Quebec to survive and even if Aubut secured a new arena in Quebec City, he probably would not have generated enough revenues to continue a viable business. A hockey team after all is a business.

Sometime in 2011 or maybe 2012, perhaps Jacksonville Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver will emerge from some elevator and sound an awful lot like Aubut. Weaver might be saying that the Jacksonville Jaguars franchise cannot afford the new collective bargaining agreement reached by National Football League owners' negotiators and the players association.

Perhaps Weaver will keep his team and move the operations to a new stadium say in the City of Industry, California east of Los Angeles or just sell the team to people who want a franchise in the Los Angeles marketplace. Or he might find that businesses and people have flocked to Jacksonville and the city is flourishing in 2012 or 2013 just like city officials predicted back in 1991 when a number of business leaders including Jeb Bush went after a football team and formed Touchdown Jacksonville! Touchdown Jacksonville! gave up on the bid in 2003 after the Jacksonville city council said no to a financial package to rebuild the Gator Bowl.

By August 1, 1993, the city council reworked the money allocation deal and the NFL awarded the league's 30th franchise to Jacksonville with Weaver at the helm.

If a stadium is built in the City of Industry, Weaver's Jaguars, Buffalo's Ralph Wilson, San Diego's Spanos' family, Minnesota's Zygi Wilf, St. Louis' owners along with the York family in San Francisco and Al Davis in Oakland figure to be getting calls from Ed Roski who is planning the stadium. There is a catch though; Roski will not build the stadium without an agreement from at least one NFL owner.

Jacksonville, while being successful on the field, is increasingly ceasing to be viable in the NFL. Sure the team gets a lofty paycheck from the league because of television revenues but the Jacksonville market is not or cannot support the team at an NFL level based on attendance at the Jacksonville stadium.

The two pre-season games have not been sold out and even though the team could "buy" the remaining tickets and trigger a sellout which would allow the games to be shown live in Jacksonville and other cities with the Jaguars territory, the team decided it wasn’t worth the effort since the team pays the costs for TV production and the combination of buying tickets and production costs meant red ink.

The pre-season TV blackout is just the tip of the iceberg for the franchise. The city has not been able to attach a corporate sponsor on the stadium which means that Weaver is not getting millions from naming rights and a staggering total of about 17,000 of the team's 42,000 season ticket subscribers from 2008 decided for various reasons not to renew for the upcoming season. This is the third season that Weaver will not have a naming rights partner. His former partner gave him $620,000 annually to put up a shingle on the building, Weaver was hoping for $4 million annually in 2006, so far no one is really interested in putting up a new shingle.

Weaver's rebuilt Gator Bowl stadium does hold close to 77,000 people but over the years, portions are the stadium were closed off to bring the seating capacity down and with it, the likelihood of sellouts so games can be televised locally except that has not exactly happened. More than 9,000 seats were covered by a tarp beginning in 2005 but by 2007 even with less tickets to sell, Weaver failed to have a full house in two of the team's first three home games. The Jaguars bottom line has suffered in the 21st century.

On November 2, 2005, Jacksonville officials and Weaver signed a new stadium agreement which reduced the team’s rent at the stadium between 2006-08. The deal ended the threat that Weaver would break his lease and move elsewhere.

Weaver was given a Super Bowl to host in 2005, there is one theory that smaller cities like Jacksonville bid on getting a Super Bowl because they think it is a huge opportunity to attract business. After all, corporate bigwigs, not everyday football fans attend the Super Bowl and with golfing opportunities along with mingling with local business leaders and politicians, there is always that possibility that an area can entice a CEO or a corporate decision maker to relocate in the Super Bowl host city.

Those assumptions are always wrong. Jacksonville did not land any companies because of the 2005 Super Bowl. In 1997, during the National Hockey League's expansion presentation, there was an item that related to teams moving into cities and whether a "big league" presence influenced companies to move into a city because of big time sports. There was a study done in Charlotte, North Carolina about businesses that moved into that area following the announcement that Charlotte had secured an NFL team in 1993. The answer came back that no company that moved into Charlotte between 1993 and 1997 did so because there was an NFL expansion team in the city.

Jacksonville lost season ticket holders after the 2005 Super Bowl.

Jacksonville is not the only team that is having trouble selling tickets but the Jacksonville problems manifested long before the 2008 economic meltdown and there have been reports in the past that the team was headed to Los Angeles. Weaver debunked those reports a year ago when there was a rumor he was ready to sell the franchise.

Whether Weaver can afford to own the Jaguars in 2012 in Jacksonville is open to question. NFL owners want to change the financial formula that they use to pay players, particularly signing bonuses and seem willing to go into 2011 with the idea of locking out the players in an effort to gain cost containment.

Weaver does share national TV revenues but is lagging in generating local revenues which has pitted big market owners against small market owners in league battles as the small market owners want a piece of Jerry Jones' Dallas marketing dollars or Daniel Snyder's local revenue to pay down debts or expand scouting and coaching staffs. The outcome of the 2011 negotiations will determine whether Weaver will become the NFL's version of Marcel Aubut.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The NBA Celebrates Birthday #60 Next Week

The NBA Celebrates Birthday #60 Next Week By Evan Weiner

July 25, 2009

11:30 AM EDT

The National Basketball Association celebrates birthday number 60 on August 3. David Stern's NBA of 2009 is made up of smoke and mirrors, lasers and loud music, dunks and ballet. Its cell phones at courtside, luxury boxes with waiter service and wired seats, arenas with wide concourses for customers to buy merchandise and in-arena restaurants and food courts.Maurice Podoloff's NBA of 1949 was the Harlem Globetrotters vs. the Washington Generals in first and featured game of a doubleheader with the home team against an opponent as the night cap along with double headers at Madison Square Garden featuring four teams. Eventually half of the league’s teams, four squads, could be found in one arena on certain nights at the Garden.

August 3, 1949 is the date that Podoloff’s Basketball Association of America completed poaching National Basketball League franchises and unified “major league” professional basketball under one umbrella. The BAA started in 1946 with teams in the United States’ big east coast cities like New York, Philadelphia and Boston while the NBL began life in 1937 in the American Midwest "We had doubleheaders just to get the people into the Garden," said Jerry Fleishman who played with the BAA New York Knickerbockers. In fact the Knicks didn't even play a full schedule of games at the Garden as they also used an armory as a home court. Today, if the Knicks are good, the waiting list for a Knick ticket is long and the team, when if it is good, can sell out for years. "One day the Warriors played the Boston Celtics and the Knicks played the Fort Wayne Zollner Pistons named after Fred Zollner the owner."We used to play in a high school in Fort Wayne and if you went into the stands after a lay up, you'd come out chewed up" Fleishman was also in the forerunner of the Continental Basketball Association, the Eastern Basketball League which was a weekend minor league. He played for Scranton on Saturday and Sunday and was in business the rest of the week. Fleishman's NBA stories are pretty much the same as other league pioneers. The BAA and the NBL were rag tag collection of teams that were poorly financed and made moves based on finances not talent.

“In the first couple of years, nobody knew whether this thing was going to last,” said Ralph Kaplowitz who played in the BAA’s first game as a member of the 1946-47 Knicks. “As you look back, all the teams really had trouble, as a matter of fact a couple of the teams dropped out after the first year.”

Kaplowitz was sold to Philadelphia in the middle of January 1947.

“I was fortunate because I was instrumental in helping the team win the World’s Championship at that time with Joe Fulks, Howie Dallmar, George Senesky, Angelo Musi and Jerry Fleishman. We had a great team.”

The Philadelphia Warriors may have been the best team in the BAA and the BAA may have had the big cities but the NBL had the talent and one talent in particular, George Mikan. The BAA wanted Mikan in its league and to get him they had to entice the Minneapolis Lakers to leave the NBL. Podoloff and his owners looked at the Minneapolis team and saw an opportunity to make money.

“I was probably part of it because the BAA was getting started at the time and the old league was the National League and they (the BAA) went in and took four of the top teams,” said Mikan. “I was with the Chicago American Gears and then I was drafted by the Lakers and played with them before the merger. The merger came in 1949.”

The BAA and NBL needed the Harlem Globetrotters to help with recognition and on February 19, 1948, Abe Saperstein’s Harlem Globetrotters took on the National Basketball League’s Minneapolis Lakers in the first game of a doubleheader at Chicago Stadium. The Basketball Association of America’s New York Knicks and Chicago Stags played what was thought to be the “main” game but the 17,823 fans who attended the game wanted to see the Globbies and the Lakers. The Lakers weren’t in the BAA, so it was just an “exhibition game” that featured Goose Tatum and Marquis Haynes. The Lakers had Mikan. Mikan started out his career with the Chicago American Gears of the Professional Basketball League of America in 1947-48. The league never made it past November 12, 1947. The 16-team PBLA folded and Lakers ended up with the big guy from DePaul University.

The first Lakers-Globetrotters match up was still on the mind of the Minneapolis coach in 1947 John Kundla decades later. He was still smarting over the 61-59 Globetrotters win.

“The first two games they beat us,” said Kundla. “I will tell you, I am not making excuses but (Jim) Pollard didn’t play in the first game and I think Don Carlson didn’t play in the second game, but what happened too was that Abe Saperstein had both of his officials. Another thing, Jim Pollard mentioned it to me, it was an exhibition game. We didn’t get a cent for it. Like Jim Pollard said, we didn’t even get a cup of coffee for it.

“I didn’t mean any thing, it was sort of a resting fun game. But when they beat us twice in a row, we had pride and they never beat us again. And I will tell why, Max Winter, our general manager, said when we were going to play them a third time said, Abe you have one of your officials and the NBA will have one of our officials and we didn’t have any trouble with them since.”

The Lakers-Globetrotters games were pretty devoid of the Globetrotters stock and trade fancy dribbling and wise cracks except for one routine at the end of one of the games which still bothered Kundla.

“No they didn’t except Marquis Haynes dribbled once in a while,” the Hall of Fame coach said. “He dribbled for the last part of part of the (second) game when they had a four or five point lead for a little while. When he got to Minneapolis (on March 14, 1949), we had the biggest crowd ever there, Slater Martin did the same thing, he repaid him for that dribbling.”

The Globetrotters beat the Lakers for a second time on February 28, 1949 before 20,046 people at Chicago Stadium. The 49-45 win would be the last time the Globetrotters would beat the Lakers.

A healthy Lakers team defeated the Globetrotters 68-53 two weeks later.

“Yeah, we had a little pride, because we won the championship the first two years too,” said Kundla on finally beating the Globetrotters. “We weren’t going to take that anymore. After the humiliation, they started playing ball. I think the last game we played (January 3, 1958) Abe Saperstein left the Chicago Stadium and disappeared for two days.

Bobby Wanzer was the 10th pick overall by the Rochester Royals in the 1948 BAA draft. He was older than most first year players being 27 years old but had been in the Marines during World War II and then went to Seton Hall University. Wanzer just wanted to play some ball and then get on with his life. Instead he ended up playing nine years in Rochester and only quit because of a knee injury at the age of 36. He was a player-coach with Rochester and coached with the Cincinnati Royals. He became a basketball lifer until he was 40 which was totally unexpected.

“A lot of us came out of the service and we figured we play a few years and then go to work. But it beat working. We all loved the game and probably would have played it for nothing,” Wanzer said. “Coming out of the service, you missed three years out of your life or four. It was just great to be able to play ball.”

Wanzer was joining a Rochester Royals squad that had just left the National Basketball League along with Minneapolis, Fort Wayne and Indianapolis to joining the Basketball Association of America. Wanzer thought the National league was the stronger of the two “major” professional leagues at the time and the shift of the four franchises probably saved the BAA.

Rochester’s Les Harrison brought athletes to Rochester, his collection included baseball players Del Rice and Chuck Connors and an eventual Pro Football Hall of Famer, Otto Graham who led the Cleveland Browns to championships in both the All American Football Conference and the National Football League. Graham is the answer to a trivia question. He is the only athlete to win “major league” championships in basketball with the 1945-46 Royals and the 1946 Cleveland Browns of the AAFC in the same calendar year.

The NBL was not a fulltime enterprise. Graham ended up with the Browns. And quarterbacked Paul Brown's championship squad. Graham became a football superstar and one of football’s highest paid performers, something that was no going to happen in Rochester playing basketball. "We won the championship in all four years there," said Graham. "We played in the championship game six straight years in the NFL and won three of the six there. I went to college on a basketball scholarship. I didn't even play football I played intramural football," he said. I played with the Royals the season before the All American Football Conference had started. My teammates were Del Rice, Chuck Connors, the Rifleman of TV fame (both of whom also played Major League Baseball Bob Davies, Red Holtzman, Fuzzy Levane and we won the championship. "I think I'm the only guy to have played on a championship basketball team and football team in the same year (1946). I played in Fort Wayne, Indiana and in fact they did dominate professional basketball at that time. We knocked them off. It was fun. But basketball took up too much time and I couldn't play football and basketball both, so I stuck with football. "The NBL was the best league in the world. The Browns hadn't started yet and the Browns and the All American Football Conference didn't start until the fall of 1946. So I had nothing to do at that time, so after I started football, it overlapped with basketball and I didn't go back."

Both Wanzer and Graham agreed. The NBL caliber of ball was better than the BAA.

“Actually our league (the NBL) had the best teams,” Wanzer explained. “Us, Fort Wayne, Minneapolis, that was the savior.”

Rochester had been a strong basketball outpost. The Rochester Seagrams basketball team was one of the strongest independent operations in the United States and the team barnstormed the nation. The Seagrams became the Pros and the team was asked to join the National Basketball League in 1946 after the end of World War II. The team was renamed in Royals in a name the team contest and won the NBL Pennant in 1946-47. The Royals took home another flag in 1947-48 but lost a playoff game to Chicago and went home. The following season, the Royals finished with the best record in the NBL but lost to George Mikan and the Minneapolis Lakers in the NBL Finals three games to one.

The Royals and Lakers were BAA powerhouses. The Royals were 45-15 in 1948-49 but the team’s playing facility, the Edgerton Park Arena was strictly third rate and possibly dangerous for opposing players finishing lay ups. If the arena’s side doors were open, the player might have ended up in his uniform in the parking lot freezing during a cold and snowy Rochester winter.

“It was a regulation court but there was very little space between the end of the court and the swinging doors, you can run right out and end up in the snow,” Wanzer laughed. “You were lucky if it didn’t lock on you, you were out in the snow. The arena was a little way from the lake (Ontario) but it wasn’t the coldest building.”

Wanzer’s Royals did win a BAA championship despite the presence of Mikan in the league. The Royals beat the New York Knickerbockers in seven games in 1951. Mikan’s team had eliminated the Royals in the previous three playoffs.

“Well we had to beat them once in a while,” Wanzer laughed. “He (Mikan) was a great player. As I said the two best teams in basketball in those days was Minneapolis and us. Each year we would win the division or they would win it. In the playoffs, they always managed beat us but the one year we beat them and we went onto win the championship.”

Otto Graham might have continued his basketball career if the money was right with Rochester in the NBA although his teammate Fuzzy Levane said Otto planned to play just two years of pro basketball.

Graham was the highest paid player in the NFL when his career ended in 1955. He made $25,000. In mid-1990s dollars, that $25,000 would be worth about $400,000 according to Graham. The Browns received less than a $1,000 per man for winning the 1946 AAFC championship. Graham said the entire the 1950 NFL championship season was the highlight of his career. Travel was limited to buses and trains in both football and basketball. "Rochester is now out in Sacramento after going to Cincinnati and Kansas City and Fort Wayne is in Detroit. I remember one train trip. We played a ballgame in Rochester; we spent the night on a train, not a sleeper but sitting up all night long. I was so mad and we had to go to Oshkosh two nights later. That's the way it was in those days. Our owner (Lester Harrison) wanted to save money. "It's tough to do both sports," he said of Deion Sanders and Bo Jackson who played Major League Baseball and were in the NFL at the same time in the 1990s. "But if I was paid they kind of money they got, I would be tempted."

In today’s NBA, virtually every player has a guaranteed contact. In the BAA, there was no such thing as a guaranteed contract. Players would come and go like Bill (Butch) van Breda Kolff who joined the Knicks in February 1947.

“I think all the pro players now should spend a year the way it was then,” van Breda Kolff laughed as he recalled the formative days of the NBA in the mid-1990s. “Then they would appreciate their lot. The absurdity of the thing nowadays is that these players don’t have any idea of how good they have it.

“And yet, we didn’t complain in those days either because we were doing what we wanted to do. We wanted to play basketball, we loved to play and we got paid anyway. We got five dollars per day, per diem when we were on the road and if you were going on a train, you can’t eat for five dollars in a day. But that was the way it was and we did it.”

Basketball players had other careers to pursue, no one was going to get rich off of the basketball industry, not the owners, not the general managers, not the coaches and not the players. The NBL and BAA was loaded with young guys either out of college or fresh from fighting in World War II and basketball was a way station for a couple of years to kick back and then get on with life.

“I don’t whether it was the NBA or the BAA or the NBA again, I don’t know, I think more of it, we had a lot of fun,” said van Breda Kolff. “And if you lose a few games in a row, then we would start singing. ‘Someone’s gotta go.’ Because if you lose a few, they were always looking to pick someone up. There is no such thing as guaranteed contracts, no cuts. You were there day by day.

“We’d sing it right in the locker room before a game. You lose four in a row, you’d said hey fellas we got to win one because ‘Someone’s gotta go!’ We would get together, all we have to do is play better defense, look for each other a little bit more, play together a little but hard, do everything, the fundamentals and then we would win a few games.”

There was very little money that was lost if a player got cut.

“The first year, I don’t think anybody got paid more than five or six thousand dollars or something like that,” said van Breda Kolff. “Multiple that by 12 people and the payroll would be at the most $100,000. Train, train, train and then in that one year they put in Denver, Anderson, Indiana, and Oshkosh, and Sheboygan and those, I think we flew a couple times to Chicago but most of the times it was train.”
The Basketball Association of America and the National Basketball League buried the hatchet and merged entities on August 3, 1949. The United States Congress didn’t have to approve the business transaction and President Harry S. Truman didn’t have to sign legislation that created a professional basketball monopoly. The owners just merged their leagues.

“The National Professional Basketball League and the BAA merged in 49-50. The year before that, four teams from the National Professional Basketball League, Rochester, Minneapolis, Indianapolis and Fort Wayne jumped the National Basketball League and merged with the BAA,” said Levane. “The next year, they (the BAA) wanted Syracuse and another team, Anderson but the heads of the National Professional League said either you take every team or you don’t take any.

“Leo Ferris from Syracuse with Danny Biasone signed up the five Kentucky kids to own the Indianapolis franchise and that was the thing that set up the whole thing.”

The NBA became a 17 team league but it remained just a step above minor league levels.

“All the old guys, Ned Irish (Knicks), Les Harrison, Gottlieb from Philly would turn over in their graves if they saw what is going with a $2.4 billion TV contract and guys like Ewing and Jordan making $20 million a year, it was inconceivable,” said Levane nearly 50 years after the merger took place. “The last guy on the Knickerbockers making the minimum salary which is $250,000 which was ten times as much as the whole Rochester Royals payroll in 1945-46 which was a championship ball club.

“I will tell you the names on that ball club, Al Cervi, Red Holtzman, Bobby Davies, Otto Graham, Chuck Connors, Fuzzy Levane, Dutch Garfinkle and so on. That was a pretty good crew.”

Those names mean next to nothing to most NBA fans although Holtzman is still treated as a deity in New York for winning two championships as the New York Knicks coach in 1970 and 1973 and his protégé Phil Jackson has had a stellar coaching career. Graham is in the Football Hall of Fame and somewhere, someone is watching old Rifleman TV shows on the web that feature Connors who is remembered as an actor not as a basketball or baseball player.

The NBA at 60 bears no resemblance to the entity that was formed six decades ago on August 3.

Friday, July 24, 2009

A History Lesson for the United Football League

A History Lesson for the United Football League

By Evan Weiner

July 24, 2009

10:00 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) – Football training camps are opening around the country and this year there will be a competitor to the National Football League as the United Football League plans to operate with the new league’s training camps opening around September 1 in Casa Grande, Arizona. The UFL’s first season will start in October with teams in Las Vegas, New York, Orlando and San Francisco. It is unclear what the organizers of the UFL eventually plan for the league which will not only compete for attention with the NFL but also college football.

UFL backers understand that there were three American Football Leagues, one All American Football Conference, one World Football League, one United States Football League, one XFL and even an NFL branded league which started as the World League of American Football and ended as NFL Europa which failed. Two planned leagues never got off the ground another played two weeks in 2000 and folded. Even the non rival Arena Football League failed financially. Only Lamar Hunt’s American Football League succeeded and ultimately the NFL and Hunt’s league merged. The NFL did take three All American Football Conference franchises, Baltimore, Cleveland and San Francisco in 1950.

Football is a tough business.

On August 2, 1973, Gary Davidson started talking to investors about putting together a world-wide football league that would challenge the NFL. Davidson had been involved in the founding of both the American Basketball Association in 1967 and the World Hockey Association in 1972. By January 1974, Davidson was able to hold the first World Football League meeting with representatives from Anaheim, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Detroit, Honolulu, Memphis, New York, Orlando, Philadelphia, Toronto and Washington attending. The league's first major coup was the signing of the Super Bowl Champion Miami's three top offensive stars, Larry Csonka, Jim Kiick and Paul Warfield by the Toronto franchise. The trio signed their contracts on ABC TV’s on a Sunday afternoon, March 31, 1974. The trio would start playing in the WFL in 1975. The move gave the league credibility and put the league on the map in terms of publicity. But the signing went only so far as the WFL could not get a TV deal from the three American TV networks, CBS, NBC and ABC possibly because the three networks had partnerships with the NFL and that was a major blow. The WFL did get a TV agreement with Eddie Einhorn's TVS network and opened training camp in June 1974 with 12 teams. Toronto owner John Bassett relocated his planned hometown team to Memphis after members of the Canadian Parliament objected to the importation of American football and how it might harm the Canadian Football League. The WFL started with teams in Anaheim, Birmingham, Chicago, Detroit, Florida (Orlando), Hawaii, Jacksonville, Memphis, New York, Philadelphia, and Portland on July 19, 1974. The WFL came out of the chute with impressive figures. The six games drew 258,624 people. More than 53,000 showed up for the Southern California Sun-Birmingham Americans game at Legion Field. In Jacksonville, 59,112 attended the New York Stars-Sharks match. The Philadelphia Bell drew 55,000 to its opener against the Portland Storm. But the bloom was quickly off the rose. The American magazine Sports Illustrated revealed that 100,000 of the Philadelphia Bell's 120,253 tickets distributed were freebies. The Detroit Wheels filed for bankruptcy in October, The Jacksonville Sharks could not meet their payroll. Houston moved to Shreveport, the New York Stars ended up in Charlotte. The league, which boasted of a "Stylized" look with uniform color coordination augmented by some big name talent, Csonka, Kiick, Warfield, Ken Stabler, Calvin Hill, Bill Bergey, Daryle Lamonica and Ted Kwalick, was sinking rapidly. The league's only championship game featured the Birmingham Americans and Florida Blazers. The Americans were receiving paychecks; the Blazers had not been paid for months. "My first experience was a head coach in the World Football League," said Jack Pardee years after that 1974 season. "I knew I was taking a little risk when I left the NFL as far as the financial stability. But to have a chance to be a head coach, I thought it was worth the risk." Pardee could even name the date when the Florida Blazers financial problems began plaguing the team. "September 6 was the first paycheck that bounced and players could not get paid," he recalled. "We would have to get advance money to fly or to put a game on. But meantime, how do you live day to day when you can't get your laundry done, or buy toilet paper for the bathroom or get your cleaning supplies around the facility. "Without money you can't afford to do all of that. You know we had a good team going by then. We were one of the better teams in the league and we had a group of young players that were trying to prove that they could play professional football. "As a coach if the bathrooms needed a cleaning, or if you are out of toilet paper, if the laundry had to be done and the soap to be bought as a way to keep the team together, if a light bulb burns out, or is going to replace it? Pardee did just that. He kept the team alive with his own money to daily necessities. "The people in Orlando were great to them," said Pardee. "Everybody knew the plight of the Florida Blazers. I know there were apartment owners who cut guys slack. There were a little bit slow around Orlando then. The restaurants would pop for meals for guys and we got Mc Donald's gift certificates and laundries gave the guys free cleanings. It was kind of a community effort to keep the team going." Somehow Pardee held the Blazers together and the team went 14-6 and won its first two playoff games. They traveled to Birmingham to face the Americans in the championship. They lost 22-21 when they failed to convert a two-point play. But losing wasn't the big story as far as the financially floundering league went. After the game, the Americans celebration was muted. "All the Americans’ equipment was seized after the game," Pardee said talking about law enforcement officials entering the Birmingham locker room after the game and sheriff's impounding the equipment. "There were questions about the gate receipts from that game. Our players pretty well got screwed on that too." The Blazers returned home and Pardee got a tip from the local sheriff in Orlando. Get all of your personal belongings out of your office. "Our office was padlocked the next day, I got advanced notice," he said. "I told the players get all of your personal things out, don't wait until the next day and come and pick up your personal items. If there is something you need you better take it." Pardee said he learned one lesson. You need ownership to have professional football. Pardee did think other owners would come in and rescue the WFL, and it did occur but as Pardee pointed out, "they ended up biting the boot too." Davidson had hoped that would comprise an American division and eventually the WFL would field teams in Tokyo, Madrid, London, Munich, Paris, Düsseldorf, Rome, Mexico City and Stockholm. By April 16, 1975, Davidson's plan to become the dominant brand in football worldwide was shattered. A new World Football League called the New League, Inc. was formed with Hawaiians owner Christopher B. Hemmeter as the Commissioner of the WFL. WFL II would have 10 teams, Anaheim, Birmingham, Charlotte, Chicago, Hawaii, Jacksonville, Memphis, Philadelphia, San Antonio and Shreveport. Portland was added as the 11th team on April 30.Hemmeter came up with a proposal that the WFL adopted. The Hemmeter Plan was designed to make as many as of a team's costs possible "variable costs," that is costs which vary directly in relationship to that team's revenues. According to the 1975 World Football League Media Guide, the league gave an example of how the plan would work. "If Company A agrees to pay Company B revenues for some service, then the amount of money Company A pays out varies directly with the amount of money it takes in. If Company A makes a lot of money, both it and Company B make a lot. If it makes no money at all, both it and Company B get nothing. The important point to understand, however, in that in the latter case, if Company A agrees to pay Company B a flat sum, say $10,000 for the service, it would have to pay out $10,000 despite the fact it had no money." Hemmeter Plan called for making player and coaching salaries, stadium rentals and league assessment variable costs. The plan allocated 42 percent to players salaries, 3% to the injured reserved pool, 10 percent to stadiums, and six percent to the league. The remaining 39 percent went to office rent, staff and utilities. There has a ceiling of $650,000 attached to these costs. "What is truly revolutionary in the WFL in 1975,” the league's media guide stated, "is the idea of paying player salaries based on a percentage of revenues. The average salary in the WFL in 1975 will be one percent of the team's income after taxes. WFL team incomes in 1974 ranged between $1.1 and $2.85 million. With gate sharing grouped much closer in 1975. If a team takes in $2 million, its average player would earn $20,000. On the other hand, if WFL teams earned the $7 million that many NFL teams did last year, the average player would earn a ‘whopping’ $70,000 a year. WFL teams need only earn half as much as NFL clubs for the average WFL salary to equal the average NFL salary." When the WFL reorganized, only two of the original owners were left, Hemmeter and Bassett. The WFL made it very clear that the only the name, the World Football League and the league logo, remained from the old entity. As a good will gesture, the new WFL offered to pay some of the debts that the Davidson league incurred by offering 1.5 percent of all ticket and TV revenues over a 12-year period under a court administered program. The majority of the debts owed were to players. Hemmeter also required all 11 teams to put up $545,000 before the season started to cover fixed costs. The Chicago Winds, a team that courted Joe Namath, folded on September 2. By October 22, the entire operation went down.

There was no TV deal in 1975. The league drowned in a sea of red ink. "The football was an orange or yellow football. That was a fun league but we knew right away in that league it was over almost before it started we quit getting paid. Marty Schottenheimer was on my staff, that's where we really started his career as a coach. So there was something good that came out of that league also," said Dick Coury, who coached the Portland Storm in 1974. The World Football League tried gimmicks to entice the fans to come. "It was a fun league. They tried to do as much as they could to get some of the fans to say this is a fun league and do as much as they could to get some support that way." Coury's situation in Portland didn't differ much from Pardee.The Storm didn't pay the players after a while and the players stuck with Coury and the team "We just tried to live day to day and every once in a while we would get a little money to spread amongst our players to keep them going," Coury recalled. "It was really tough for everybody. The city of Portland was great. A lot of the people chipped in and helped our players financially and with food. The people were great to our players. The World Football League almost folded within three or four weeks of starting." Ron Mix, who was involved in the Portland Thunder franchise for a brief time thinks the WFL could have made a major impact on the football scene had the owners shown some fiscal responsibility. "My impression of it is that league absolutely had a chance to become successful, if ever a league did," said Mix. "At the time when that league was formed, great football players in the National Football League at the top of their peak were making $60,000 a year. Larry Csonka was making $60,000 a year. "What ruined that league was that individual owners went crazy and started signing players at outrageous amounts like Larry I think received $1.3 million to sign. You can not tell me that if the team had made a drop date offer of $100,000 bonus and $100,000 a year in other words, a couple of hundred thousand they could not have signed Larry. I know they would have able to. But they spent the league into absolute bankruptcy when the country was ripe for another thing." Mix is reluctant to talk about his WFL days and thinks some World Football League coaches and executives carried a "WFL stigma" on their back and weren't necessarily offered NFL positions once the league folded. One WFL player/coach who was not stigmatized was one time New York Giants coach Jim Fassel believes he took the last snap in WFL history in a Southern California Sun-Hawaiians game in Honolulu. How Fassel ended up quarterbacking a game is an interest tale in itself and illustrated just how poorly the league was faring at the end. "I was a player coach for the Hawaiians the first year and I didn't go back the second year. I went into business," he explained. "I told them if I could ever help them, I would. Right at the end, before the league folded their quarterbacks (Rick Casata and Sonny Sixkiller) came in and made a power play for some more money or they wouldn't play. So they got rid of them and called me at two in the morning the day before the game and asked if I would fly over and play quarterback. "I hadn't played a game in a year and a half and my wife thought I was crazy. I said I do it as a favor; it wasn't what I wanted to do. The only thing I ask is a round trip prepaid ticket and I want a guarantee that the insurance policy has been paid and enforced because if I got hurt I didn't want to pay for it myself and I don't care how much they pay me for the game. "So I jumped on a plane at six in the morning and flew over there and played in that game. The only reason that the Hawaiians phoned me was I was with the Hawaiians the first year and (Coach) Mike Giddings told me when he phoned me that you are the only guy that knows this offense and can play quarterback. The problem was I had a bad knee that needed fixing and I never got it fixed and I hadn't played in a year and a half. "The league folded the next day or the following day that's why I wanted a prepaid ticket. Once the league folded I was on the next plane."

Fassel is now coaching the Las Vegas team in the UFL.

Bassett had hoped he could get the Memphis Southmen to join the NFL with the Birmingham Vulcans in time for the 1976 season. Bassett would eventually sue the NFL accusing the league of conspiring to boycott them by refusing Memphis an NFL franchise. The suit was dismissed. Hemmeter conceded that there was little possibility a second league could survive. Bassett would own another football team years later in the United States Football League, the Tampa Bay Bandits. The NFL for its part tried to keep WFL players out of the NFL for the1975 season after the league folded. The players sued in Minneapolis federal court, where John Mackey, (and eventually Marvin Powell, Freeman McNeil, and Reggie White would filed) and got an injunction to prevent this from happening.

The WFL completely vanished when Bassett’s suit was dismissed. A handful of WFL players entered the NFL in 1976 with Danny White being the best of the group as he had a number of good years quarterbacking the Dallas Cowboys. Hemmeter became a successful real estate developer in Hawaii and the NFL put the Pro Bowl in Oahu. Hemmeter was proven right over the years, there is little possibility that a second league could survive.

The UFL is hoping to prove Hemmeter wrong.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

United States Congress Needs to Change Cable TV Law
United States Congress Needs to Change Cable TV Law

By Evan Weiner

July 23, 2009

10:30 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- This is an open letter to the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Minority Leader John Boehner along with United States Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. It is time you undo the 1984 Cable TV Act and give people choices. Collectively, you are bickering over “choices” on health care, collectively abortion rights is part of the Senate’s litmus test for Supreme Court nominees with the words “pro choice” connected to any discussion, so why is there not a real “choice” when it comes to cable TV where people cannot choose what they want because of cable TV socialism where everyone pays for “basic expanded” cable TV whether they want to or not if they have cable TV?

I realize some background is needed, so Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Minority Leader Boehner and the two Senators, Reid and McConnell, lets go back to 1982 or 1983, you remember those days when ESPN was hanging on for dear life along with CNN and The Weather Channel and needed a life preserver from someone to keep going? That someone was the members of Congress and President Reagan as in 1984 it was decided to throw out competition laws and help the struggling networks by allowing cable companies to bundle the financially ailing networks like CNN, like ESPN into one group and sell that grouping to consumers as one instead of allowing consumers to pick and choose what they wanted.

The law that was signed by President Reagan didn’t say what networks should be thrown into the bundle, that was the business of the multiple system cable operators and the networks and that fight has not gone away in a quarter of a century as the Commissioner of the National Football League Roger Goodell can attest. The NFL Network cannot crack the basic expanded lineup of Time Warner or Cablevision. But the very anti-competitive cable TV law has created behemoths in ESPN, the three alleged news networks, MSNBC, CNN and the FOX News Channel and it has also created substandard information entities like the three cable TV where opinion shaped for an audience not facts reign supreme.

Back in 2004, Congress had a chance to change cable TV rules and regulations that would have benefited the consumer where severely hurting Disney, Rupert Murdoch, Time Warner and sports businesses in the United States. Congress, using a football analogy, punted. Congress made 2004 a good year so far for the cable-television industry. In May of that year, cable operators, sports franchises and cable-news networks along with other cable-channel owners got a huge victory in Congress when Rep. Nathan Deal, R-Ga., conceded he did not have the support from fellow House and Senate members to introduce legislation that would have called for the re-regulation of cable television and given cable customers a choice in what channels they wanted to purchase instead of being forced to buy "bundled" channelsIt has been five years since Congress took up the issue. Congress is now controlled by the Democrats, there is a Democrat in the White House and the Federal Communications Commission has three Democrats and two Republicans. It is time, even with two wars being conducted, the economy being broken and with health care being discussed that cable TV legislation should be considered because it is an economic issue.

Why should the 92 percent of ESPN subscribers who never watch the channel pay something in the order of four dollars a month? Why should 97 percent of the people who are paying for whether it is MSNBC, CNN and the FOX News Channel be paying for something they never watch? Should the FCC ever get around to it and recommend that cable TV be made available on a per-channel basis to consumers and Congress implements changes, cable subscribers would reap the financial benefits and cable operators, sports and the cable-TV-news industry would be greatly affected. Consumers would pay only for what they want to purchase and not subsidize channels they don't want.

Major League sports lives off cable TV money, and teams such as the New York Yankees, the New York Mets and the Boston Red Sox along with the Colorado Avalanche/Denver Nuggets, the Chicago Bulls, White Sox, Cubs and Blackhawks have formed cable networks to maximize their cable-TV dollars. Other teams such as the Los Angeles Angeles of Anaheim have very lucrative cable TV deals Cable TV has created the great money divide between the Yankees and Red Sox and the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and the Florida Marlins and the dirty secret is that the money is being delivered by people who never watch a baseball, basketball, football, hockey, soccer or college football game.

It is blatantly unfair for the consumer.

The carnival barkers on cable TV news, the handsomely paid bunch which includes Larry King, Lou Dobbs, Keith Olbermann, Chris Matthews, Bill O’Reilly and Sean Hannity would have to become legitimate newsman because they would have to work to produce an audience, not the small crowds or partisans they play to. Howard Stern found out that people liked to listen to him for nothing, but when he went to satellite radio, only a small portion of his listeners followed him. That is what would happen in cable the second cable TV laws are changed.

It might also force ESPN, an entity that is too far close to athletes to the point where the alleged “news” reporters appear in commercials with athletes which is a major conflict of interest and has too many partnerships with professional sports leagues, to clean up its way of reporting although that seems impossible when you have someone like Mike Lupica as a major talent on sports reporters show. Lupica has been known to pay people to tell him what has happened in games and if Mike denies it, the person he paid will be produced to explain why Mike paid him. ESPN’s senior vice president and director of news Vince Doria should be, as an old newspaper man, should be embarrassed by his product which included censoring a story that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was being sued in a civil matter because he allegedly sexually assaulted of a female employee of a Lake Tahoe, Nevada hotel when he was in town in July 2008 for a celebrity golf tournament.

ESPN tells people it has credibility in that it is the “World Wide Leader in Sports” but ESPN’s owner, Disney, never reveals just how they are funded with billions coming in from people who probably are not even aware that they are paying for the privilege of not watching the entity.

ESPN has created a perceived perception of greatest because it is ESPN.In 2004, The Concerned Women for America, along with the Parents Television Council, the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America, petitioned Congress, asking for pro-choice when it comes to cable-television options and threw its weight behind the Video Programming Choice and Decency Act of 2004, which would give all cable subscribers the right to pick and choose what programming they want.The bill would have allow customers to pick what they want instead of having the cable company decide what is best for consumers. Cable operators and networks are dead-set against any kind of cable re-regulation, claiming that some networks would have to charge subscribers more money for their favorite channel and that other channels, which are bundled into one large cable-price group, would cease to exist because there just aren't enough people watching their programming. According to this view, it's far better to have cable-TV socialism than cable-TV capitalism.Virtually every one of cable's more than 95 million subscribers get ESPN, but if ESPN were offered on an a la carte menu, just how many people would take the service? Maybe a tenth? Maybe less? It's an answer that the Walt Disney Co. would prefer not to know. How many people would pay a premium for the Fox News Channel, CNN or MSNBC? How many would want the Travel Channel or The Weather Channel? Or the Cartoon Network? It is a question that no one in the cable industry wants answered."Basic cable" subscribers are footing the bill for every channel without having any idea that they are paying ESPN about $4 monthly or CNN more than a quarter a month, to name two networks. Bills aren't itemized, and consumers who want "basic" have to take what the cable operator gives them without choice. Cable TV should become like PBS and provide programming that appeals to consumers and get those customers to want to pay monthly programming costs.The CWA wanted control over what it considers cable-TV indecencies. And by accident, it could have changed how Major-League and big-time college sports along with every other "basic" cable channel is financed in this country. That must have been a chilling thought in cable, news and sports executive boardrooms across the country. But cable-industry executives shouldn't be worrying yet. Congress just doesn't have any appetite to change the way Americans get their cable TV.

Perhaps emerging technologies will make cable TV obsolete in a few years with broadband a likely candidate to replace cable TV especially when HDTV capabilities are unleashed on the computer. That day is not very far away but until then cable TV is a staple in many American homes.

It is time Speaker Pelosi, Majority Leader Hoyer, Minority Leader Boehner, US Senate Majority Leader Reid and Senate Minority Leader McConnell you give Americans a choice on cable TV like you want to do in health care or in the abortion battle. Socialism seems to be a dirty word in this country particularly on the FOX News Channel, but Congress created cable TV socialism in 1984 which allows entities like FOX News Channel, MSNBC and CNN along with ESPN to exist in today’s market. Congress needs to undo the 1984 legislation because Americans deserve better than what they get for their money.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Janet Jackson, not Michael Jackson had more influence on American Society

Janet Jackson, not Michael Jackson had more influence on American Society

By Evan Weiner

July 21, 2009

11:30 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- When all is said and done about Michael Jackson, it will be clear that he was a talented musician and dancer who sold a lot of records and made some interesting music videos but it is unlikely that Michael's legacy will have more of an impact than his sister Janet. This is not meant as a slight but the reality is that Janet Jackson has left more of an impression on American society than her brother because without Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during Super Bowl XXXVIII in Houston, Texas back on February 1, 2004, American's would be getting "live" over-the-air radio and TV, warts and all, since over-the-air radio and TV station owners would not have to worry about being fined for indecent programming whether it is a visual or something said.

American politicians and political appointees or at least those politicians who were pandering for a certain block of voters became prudes and put more teeth into public airwaves indecency laws because of Janet Jackson. Those politicians wanted to protect viewers and listeners who tune into over-the-air radio or TV shows and might be offended by language or nudity. Cable TV, broadband and satellite radio do not have the same restrictions for whatever reason.

That performance changed how America's receive over-the-air TV and radio offerings and gave American conservatives a new rallying point and eventually would introduce a new censorship or morality through the threat of hefty fines against media companies who might be found in violation of "indecency."

Of course "indecency" is in the eye of the beholder and for some members of Congress, it took about 15 hours for them to start screaming about Janet Jackson's exposed breast on the steps of the Capitol in Washington.

Viacom's CBS television network had the rights to the game which featured New England and Carolina. As part of the game presentation, Viacom had MTV produce the halftime show which featured Jackson and Justin Timberlake. During a song and dance routine, Timberlake exposed Jackson's breast for less than a second but that was enough time to get the "purity and vice" machine of the Republican Party going on morality. The usual suspects got on that bandwagon led by The Parents Television Council, Brett Bozell and Phyllis Schlafly. Congress got on that train as well as Michigan Republican Fred Upton proposed legislation that would raise fines for violating indecency rules from the 2004 level of $27,500 to $275,000. Zell Miller, the Democrat who was the United States Senator from Georgia, thought the incident was part of the “decaying morality of America” and Federal Communications Chairman Michael Powell wanted an immediate investigation into the Super Bowl half time show.

This was red meat for certain politicians and their followers but for the most part it was a tame incident that was not really seen but most people until they were alerted to the fact that there was an "wardrobe malfunction" and that is when most people saw the incident on TIVO in slow motion. What has been forgotten about the Super Bowl show were the actions of the other acts including a performance by Nelly in which he pointed to his crotch and Kid Rock's poncho which looked like a cut up American flag.

Even more interesting, Janet Jackson was fingered as the culprit and got the brunt of the criticism with Timberlake pretty much emerging unscathed.

The NFL put out an apology almost immediately for the halftime show and fired MTV on the spot although the league had no problem accepting Viacom's money for the right to show the Super Bowl.

The Super Bowl gave conservative Republicans running for office in 2004 a platform and they ran with it. Janet Jackson was soon replaced on the indecency list by Howard Stern and eventually the whole thing morphed into a debate about gay rights (the Dick Chaney-John Edwards Vice President debate) which was a perfect plank for the Republicans in a Presidential election. An issue with little substance or importance, perfect for the American TV and radio punditry culture.

Eventually, Viacom was fined $550,000 for broadcasting the Jackson "wardrobe malfunctioning" incident. CBS continues to appeal the fine.

After the Super Bowl incident, Michael Powell and the FCC dug in and started to go after other areas.

By October 2004, Commissioner Powell and his FCC colleagues started thinking whether or not a hockey game that feature fights was suitable programming between 6AM and 10 PM daily.

The Federal Communications Commission did a study at the behest of Congress on over-the-air, cable and satellite television violence and how that type of programming impacts children.

The FCC already had rules banning so-called indecent programming on radio and TV between 6 AM and 10 PM daily. The FCC indecency guidelines have been in effect since 2001 but most people were unaware of the rules until Janet Jackson's bare breast was exposed after a "wardrobe malfunction."

The FCC was very serious in 2004 about what was seen on TV, after all it was an election year but the study was crucial business not only to those looking for an election issue aside from the Iraq War and the FCC could give politicians some cover for other "important" issues.

Yes, hockey fighting be might very well be considered violent programming. This is a major problem for not only the National Hockey League, but also the National Football League which has sold violence for decades going back to the CBS production of the Violent World of Sam Huff, narrated by Walter Cronkite, in 1960.

One of sports major selling points is violence. When the Nashville Predators began marketing its product to Tennessee in 1998, the marketing department showed hockey collisions and NASCAR accidents in sales presentations.

Sports TV highlight shows feature collisions, fighting and general rowdy behavior. Sports video games routinely feature fighting and blood.

The National Hockey League did fight back in 2004. NHL attorney Phillip Hochberg wrote a letter to the FCC saying that “the NHL feels that it is improper to even consider whether a sport like hockey would fall into any definition of televised `violence."

Should both the Congress and the FCC get involved and regulate fighting in hockey, violence in football, boxing matches, and high and tight pitches in baseball? Of course not.

Can Congress and the five FCC Commissioners really push hockey and other sports contests into the so called off hours and would sports fans, advertisers and sports owners along with network executives go along with it? They could.

And does a hockey fight really lead children into violent behavior? Probably not except for maybe play fighting. Children who like to fight don’t need a hockey fight to prod them.

After all millions grew up watching the Three Stooges which really featured violence. Did the Stooges really affect kids growing up? Of course not. And will the FCC stop at sports or the Stooges, Bugs Bunny and local TV News also be relegated to the 10PM to 6AM graveyard shift? The study came and went and was not revived by anyone after the 2004 vote.

But the morality fight goes on and on. ABC-TV scheduled the movie Saving Private Ryan for Veteran's Day 2004 but 65 of the network's affiliates would not show it because of language concerns in the movie. Howard Stern was fired by Clear Channel stations (whose Texas owners had heavy ties to the Bush White House although to be fair Clear Channel became a major factor in the broadcasting industry because of the 1996 Telecommunications Act signed by President Clinton). There were incidents surround the 2009 Super Bowl.

Michael Jackson never influenced the American radio and TV industry like his sister inadvertently did. Michael may have been a cultural icon but his sister Janet has left a larger impact both culturally and politically because of a one off performance at America's biggest sporting event back in 2004 and the echoes of that performance are still resonating.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Will there be an NBA or NFL Season in 2011?
Will there be an NBA or NFL Season in 2011?

By Evan Weiner

July 16, 2009

3:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- You don't need a crystal ball to know that 2011 is going to be perhaps the most intriguing sports year in North America ever. The National Football League and the National Basketball Association may not be operating because of labor actions.

Both leagues and their players are two years away from the end of their respective collective bargaining agreements. The football players are acting as if they except the owners to lock them out of training camps in 2011, the National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern said earlier this week that at least half of the NBA's 30 teams are money losers, the NBA has reduced the salary cap for team payrolls slightly for the 2009-10 season and there is a thought that the cap will be tightened more so in the summer of 2010 with the worsen economic conditions finally being felt by the league.

On Wednesday the new Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association DeMaurice Smith took some of his labor association members to Congress to discuss the economics of the National Football League. Smith's tactic is a new dimension for football players in their talks with the owners, he wants Congress to understand the players side of the story, that the owners are making a lot of money thanks to acts of Congress, including the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act and the 1966 American Football League-National Football League merger and that the players, who are the game, continue to get a fair shake in divvying up the NFL money pie.

It is an interesting but risky ploy by Smith and raises the question of whether he wants to help or hurt his membership. Undoing the 1961 and 1966 legislation would ultimately have a crippling financial impact on the players. Additionally Congress has never sought to unravel either of those pieces of legislation. Scrapping the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act will impact not only the NFL, but Major League Baseball, the NHL, the NBA and college sports along with golf and tennis tournaments as TV revenues, whether they come from over-the-air network TV or cable, provides the financial underpinning needed to run sports successfully and performances salaries are pegged to TV dollars along with ticket sales and marketing partnerships.

The National Football League Players Association has always been considered the weakest of the four major league sports players groups in North America. Whether it was Ed Garvey or Gene Upshaw at the head of the table, the main criticism is that the association leadership always looked for money first and did not look after pension benefits, health benefits for players on the field and retirees nor did they bother with getting contract guarantees. Talk to players who were part of the 1982 or 1987 labor actions and they think the strikes were pretty much a waste of time that accomplished very little.

NFL players get paid significant salaries but the way contracts are structured, players can keep salary bonuses but if they are cut, they get a slimmed down severance which is different from the other sports whether it is Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association or the National Hockey League.

Smith has to be aware that the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act allowed the 14-team NFL to pool it's resources and gave NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle the ability to sell the league as one entity in a bidding war between the two major broadcast entities of the day (1961), the Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) and the National Broadcasting Company (NBC) with CBS winning. Because CBS was constantly beating out NBC for the NFL rights in the early 1960s, NBC said enough was enough and funded the American Football League with a lavish TV contract prior to the 1965 season. NBC's money gave the AFL additional credibility and eventually the leagues would agree to merge.

The merger required an act of Congress. That happened in October 1966. The two pieces of legislation rocketed the NFL into the upper stratosphere which enabled the sport to blast past baseball in popularity.

In the 1980s, two Congressional bills inadvertently created new and lucrative revenue streams for sports although the NFL did not jump into the cable TV game until 1990 some six years after the Cable TV Act of 1984 which allowed cable companies to bundle networks such as ESPN, WTBS, CNN and the Weather Channel into basic expanded tiers and sell the package as one entity to consumers instead of offering a la carte choices. The Congressional legislation saved ESPN from going under along with the other networks and quickened the migration of sports from over-the-air TV to cable TV which was able to pay leagues and teams more money than networks because there were two sources of revenue streams, cable TV fees and advertising instead of the one stream, advertising, which was available to over-the-air TV networks and stations.

The 1986 Tax Act had revisions which changed the formula of paying off municipally built stadiums and arenas and limited the amount of money municipalities had available to pay off debt from events inside of new stadiums and arenas built after 1986 to just eight cents on the dollar. The stadium and arena game became a nuclear arms race between cities throughout the United States as political and business leaders wanted to make sure they satisfied owners wallets and egos by building the best facilities they could on the public dime, facilities which upped potential (and untapped) revenues streams to unimaginable levels prior to the Reagan era or even in the first five years of the Ronald Reagan Presidency.

The cable TV and tax bills opened the door for billions of dollars to be captured by the owners of NFL, NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball teams in the 1980s and now Major League Soccer is taking advantage of the changes in the tax code dating back to 1986.

NFL owners want to keep more of the revenue coming into the league because of high debts that have been incurred but various owners who overpaid for a franchise or put too much into the building of a new stadium. The owners still have not come up with a sufficient revenue sharing mechanism that will keep Dallas' Jerry Jones happy or Cincinnati's Mike Brown enthused. It is a little more than seven months to the Super Bowl but the NFL's real big game will take place after this year's championship game as the league and players need a deal struck by the start of free agency in March or the rules of the Collective Bargaining Agreement change. The owners will no longer have to abide by a salary cap while the players give up two years of free agency from four to six years. If there is no deal by March 2010, the likelihood that the owners will lock out the players in 2011 increases expediently.

Expect the rhetoric from both sides to increase as well with the looming March free agency period.

Meanwhile NBA owners and players will soon get to the bargaining table to discuss life after the 2010-11 season and it might get very ugly long before the end of the current bargaining agreement. NBA revenue streams from marketing partnerships are down, ticket prices are being dropped and that means basketball related income will be less, the players get 57 percent of basketball related income at present. NBA owners say they are losing money and for the first time in ages, players salaries will go down in 2009-10.

Sitting on the sidelines are Major League Baseball and the National Hockey League. In 2004, the NHL owners locked out the players for an entire season and got a salary cap as part of the new deal. The NHL labor negotiations seem to set the tone for the NBA and Major League Baseball as the two players associations came up with new deals without a labor action because the theory goes the players saw the owners meant business in hockey and because of various cross ownerships in the three leagues, the players paid far more attention to the hockey lockout than they would under normal circumstances. Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL are joined at the hip because of ownership overlaps in the various leagues and in the ownership of regional cable TV networks. Baseball's collective bargaining agreement ends after the 2011 season. The NHL's deal could end as early as September 2011 or September 2012.

It is doubtful that Bill Hunter, the National Basketball Players Association's Executive Director, Paul Kelly, the NHLPA Executive Director or Michael Weiner, who is succeeding Donald Fear as Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director, would seek out Congress and ask them to change the playing conditions by reviewing the laws that have strengthen the owners' pocketbooks, but DeMaurice Smith is going down that road, at least he has put Congress on notice that he might need help. Smith might have been on President Obama's transition team and might know how Washington works but Bill Clinton could tell him a little something about sports collective bargaining. President Clinton tried to use the bully pulpit of the Oval Office to end the 1994-95 baseball strike.

He failed. Neither the owners nor the players wanted to listen to the president. It took a United States District Judge in March 1995 to end the strike after that judge ruled the owners had violated the National Labor Relations Act by ending the free agency and salary arbitration systems and the judge ordered the reinstatement of the old collective bargaining agreement after finding that the owners (the owners chief negotiator at the time was Richard Ravitch who recently was named by New York Governor David Patterson as the state's lieutenant governor) did not bargain in good faith. One of those owners was Texas Rangers Managing General Partner George W. Bush.

The District Judge? Sonia Sotomayor who is President Barack Obama's choice to fill the vacancy on the Supreme Court.

Monday, July 13, 2009

LA Still Shut Out of NFL
LA Still Shut Out of NFL

By Evan Weiner

July 13, 2009

11:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- The National Football League's training camp portion of the calendar is around the corner and for the 15th consecutive season, Los Angeles does not have a franchise in the league and chances are very good that 2010 will mark the 16th season without the NFL doing business in the United States' second biggest market.

Just when the NFL will return to the market is anybody's guess. Ed Roski, who was a major player in Los Angeles' bid back in 1999 to get a 2002 NFL expansion team after the NFL virtually handed Los Angeles a team only to see stadium issues sink the bid, would like to build a football facility in the City of Industry but that process has come to a halt because Walnut, California filed suit in Los Angeles County Superior Court to block the development of a Roski in neighboring Industry, citing insufficient study of the environmental impact.

Until that is resolved, nothing is happening. There is no need for even thinking about ordering cement for the project.

The City of Industry stadium could be the home to two NFL teams, if it is ever built. There are NFL owners whose leases are expiring in the next few years including Ralph Wilson's Buffalo Bills, Zygi Wilf's Minnesota Vikings, Al Davis' Oakland Raiders and the York family is looking to leave Candlestick Park or whatever corporate name is on the stadium shingle in San Francisco and the Spanos family's San Diego Chargers. Wayne Weaver's Jacksonville Jaguars franchise has been in financial trouble.

Roski, Majestic Realty and the City of Industry may want to build a stadium to house two football teams but Walnut's suit is just one obstacle in what really is an obstacle course. The global recession has taken a toll on the owners of three NFL franchises who are opening new buildings in 2009 and 2010.

Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has not been able to sell the naming rights to his new stadium in Arlington, Texas. Arlington raised some local taxes including the sales tax by a half cent on the dollar, the local hotel/motel occupancy tax by two cents on the dollar and car rental tax by five cents on the dollar to fund half of Jones' new Cowboys playground, an estimated $325 million and Jones was hoping to sell naming rights to offset the costs of the new stadium. The Cowboys Stadium is opening and it is estimated that the total bill for the stadium is $1.15 billion not the $600 million that was targeted.

In East Rutherford, New York, Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV and the Giants owners, the Mara and Tisch families, have not sold naming rights to their new stadium. While there is no official public funding from New Jersey that is going into the stadium, Trenton lawmakers agreed to pay for infrastructure that the stadium needs to operate and that is running into the hundreds of millions of dollars, the football owners are getting all sorts of tax breaks from the state to help offset some of the costs of building the new facility.

Both the Arlington and East Rutherford facilities will be part of "stadium-villages" that come complete with retail shops and other facilities.

Roski announced plans for the City of Industry stadium in April 2008 and the cost of the facility is supposed to be $800 million. That was before the economic meltdown of September 2008. The developers claim no public money would be used in stadium construction which is a good thing in California because the state is broke and IOU's don't pay stadium bills. The City of Industry stadium would be part of a complex that would include retail stores and offices both of which were better ideas in April 2008 compared to July 2009.

California has an NFL stadium problem. Alex Spanos nine years ago started complaining publicly that his Chargers needed a new San Diego stadium. In the nine years and three months since Spanos told this reporter about his plight, he seems to be in the same position, looking for a stadium. The latest area interested in Spanos' Chargers seems to be nearby Oceanside at an old drive-in movie theater site that would be big enough to house a stadium but there is a problem. A stadium rises 200 feet or so and the 92 acre piece of land is within a mile of the Oceanside Municipal Airport. The United States Federal Aviation Authority would have to review any stadium plan to see whether the structure would pose a hazard to planes taking off and landing. Until that is determined, the Oceanside proposal is on hold.

The city of Santa Clara wants to bring San Francisco 49ers home games down the 101 from Candlestick Park by 2014. The city has approved a more than $900 million stadium within city limits with the claim that the city will kick in only $79 million in construction cost. Voters will go to the polls next year in Santa Clara to approve or turn down the project.

There is a slim possibility that Al Davis' Oakland Raiders could join the Santa Clara project.

The Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson has four years left on his deal with New York and Orchard Park. The franchise has also been "loaned" to Toronto, Ontario and plays a regular season game a year in the city which is about an hour and a half north of Orchard Park. The Toronto's sports titan, Rogers wants more than just one game annually.

Minnesota Vikings owner Wilf is pressing the state legislature for a new stadium but it has been a slow go for Wilf.

Los Angeles is a world class city but Al Davis left the LA Coliseum for Oakland in 1995 and down in Anaheim, Georgia Frontiere decided a new St. Louis stadium was better than Anaheim. The Coliseum remains a problem in Los Angeles football politics as the LA Coliseum Commission still believes that the NFL has to deal with them when it comes to putting a franchise in the area and if some other LA area decides to go after an NFL team, the Coliseum Commission pulls in some IOUs and elected officials in Sacramento take care of the competition.

The NFL might hold football classes for women in LA and even have an owners meeting in Dana Point which isn't far from LA but that is it, there is no actual NFL football played in LA. In fact there will not even be a United Football League team in LA this fall. LA does have big time college football, USC and UCLA, and for the time being it will have to suffice.

There will be no NFL football in LA in 2009.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Is Chicago My Kind of Olympics Town? Is Chicago My Kind of Olympics Town?

By Evan Weiner

July 11, 2009

11:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- It is amazing that many very bright people turn into spineless jellyfish and feel the need to genuflect in front of the International Olympic Committee. Add Chicago Mayor Richard Daley to the list of politicians and business leaders who become cream puffs when they talk about the International Olympic Committee and the group's president Jacques Rogge. The Chicago Mayor is concerned that too much criticism is being directed at the city's bid for the 2016 Summer Olympics and that just might turn off Rogge and his international gang and cause Chicago to lose out on a plum prize, the Summer Olympics.

Daley thinks the winning the Olympics bid would be an economic engine that will create jobs and prosperity in Chicago. Daley has also promised that Chicago would pay for all cost overruns that the 2016 Games accrue. Daley isn't the first politician ever to misjudge the real value and importance of the Summer Olympics and probably will not be the last. It seems that he has caught the same illness that Montreal Mayor Jean Drapeau had four decades ago when he went after the 1976 Summer Games.

Montreal finally paid off the Olympics bill in 2006 and has little to show from those Games except for a stadium that has had constant roof problems and a legacy of having generations pay down the debt on those Games.

Daley apparently has not studied recent Summer Olympics history either. The 2004 Athens Summer Olympics was an economic disaster that will cost Greek citizens billions, the 2000 Sydney, Australia Games is still costing Australians hundreds of millions of dollars because of the lack of business for venues that were constructed for the two week athletic competition.

Nonetheless Daley has a vision that Chicago will benefit greatly from United States federal dollars being poured into his city for construction jobs and security apparatus.

What Daley fails to understand is that once the Games leave town, there is very little left behind that is a money generator for a city. Daley should visit Atlanta which hosted the 1996 Summer Games and Salt Lake City which had the 2002 Winter Olympics. Salt Lake City businesses actually saw a decline in foot traffic during the Games and businesses in and around the Atlanta area did far worse than the Atlanta Olympic Committee promised.

Of course Daley could point out that Los Angeles made money on the 1984 Summer Games, but there were unusual circumstances surrounding the LA Games. The IOC was so desperate to put on a show after the American boycott over the Soviet Union invasion of the 1980 Moscow Games that it allowed Peter Ueberroth, Harry Usher and the rest of the LA organizers to use existing facilities instead of building all new venues for events and Ueberroth along with Usher and the rest of the committee were able to pay for the Games through a combination of TV and commercial sponsorship. That allowed the Games to be financially successful.

The next two Olympic tournaments, the 2010 Winter Games in Vancouver and the 2012 Summer contests in London are racking up big debts, much more than anyone ever anticipated and with the global economy still in the depths of a major recession, the world wide economic stress since the Great Depression in the 1930s, it appears that local taxpayers will have to pick up the costs of accumulating debt.

The Russians appear to be having financial problems in Sochi, the host city for the 2014 Winter Games.

Holding an Olympics no longer makes any sense because of the demands of Rogge's international cabal. The International Olympic Committee wants host cities to underwrite cost overruns, build new and shiny facilities for events and allow the IOC not local policy to enforce drug laws.

For whatever reason people like Daley become smitten with the Swiss-based IOC. Chicago is vying for the Games against Tokyo, Japan, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and Madrid, Spain. Chicago's Olympic bid committee may have two fatal flaws. Chicago is counting on huge sponsorships to help pay off some of the costs of the Games in a climate where corporations are cutting back significantly on sports spending. Richard Daley may be promising that Chicago will underwrite cost overruns but other political leaders in the city are not behind writing a blank check to satisfy Rogge and IOC delegates who will vote on which city is best suited to hoist the Olympics on October 2 in Copenhagen, Denmark.

The United States Olympic Committee did not win any friends in Rogge's camp this week by announcing an agreement with Brian Roberts' Comcast to start a United States Olympic Committee cable TV channel. The IOC is of the opinion that a US Olympic Committee cable channel will play havoc with United States broadcast and cable TV network bids for the 2016 Games and might cut down the American bids. The IOC depends on American TV dollars to provide a significant chunk of Olympics funding.

Chicago's three competitors are ready to throw all sorts of money to the IOC in bidding for the Games. Brazil, which is holding an even bigger sports event -- the 2014 FIFA World Cup, is ready to write a huge check to cover local infrastructure costs.

Madrid, despite Spain's huge unemployment rate, is back again trying to win an Olympics. Madrid was beaten out by London for the 2012 Games. Madrid already has some Olympic venues ready to go.

Tokyo seems to have a lot of public support and the bid committee seems want to brainwash a lot of young people with the creation of an education program which is designed to promote Olympics values.

It is unclear whether that will include Avery Brundage's values, the one time President of the United States Olympic Committee who eventually became the President of the International Olympic Committee. Brundage called the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, which were staged in front of German Chancellor Adolph Hitler, the finest in modern history and as IOC President declared that the Games must go on after the murder of 11 Israeli athletes in the Olympic Village during the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics.

Also unclear is whether the Tokyo education program will celebrate the values of another IOC President, Juan Antonio Samaranch, who in 1967 was appointed Government Secretary for Sports by the oppressive Spanish Head of State Francisco Franco. Samaranch, who wanted to be addressed as "Your Excellency" (just like Rufus T. Firefly, the Groucho Marx character in Duck Soup) also presided over the IOC during a period of wide scale corruption in the 1990s which included members of the Salt Lake City committee giving IOC delegates gifts in exchange for votes in the awarding of the 2002 Winter Games.

Chicago politicians are now debating the merits of funding cost overruns. That is not something the IOC will look upon favorably. Richard Daley knows this and has sent out the word, stop whining and put up the money because that is the only language the IOC and IOC delegates understand.