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The Malaysian Insider :: Sports

Billionaires vs Millionaires row could shut down NFL

Posted: 02 Mar 2011 08:04 PM PST

Marking time to midnight for a US$9 billion entertainment juggernaut. — Reuters pic

NEW YORK, March 3 — A row between billionaires and millionaires threatens to rob the American public of watching their favourite sport as a contract deadline between NFL owners and the Players Association fast approached.

How to divide US$9 billion (RM27.3 billion) in revenues generated by the most popular US sport was at the core of the labour talks for a new collective bargaining agreement to replace the one that expires today at midnight.

Without a miraculous meeting of the minds, NFL owners were expected to announce a lockout of the players in the absence of a new labour pact, and the business of the professional gridiron league would be put on hold.

For season ticket holders and sofa-bound fans devoted to watching on TV from home, uncertainty over the future could lead to heartbreak over a 2011 season delayed or destroyed.

For Madison Avenue executives who market the commercials, the Hollywood talent that makes them, the media moguls who pay billions for TV broadcast rights and even the souvenir sellers at the stadiums, the economic effect could be crippling.

The players are largely satisfied with the status quo, but owners want a bigger slice of revenues.

At present the owners take US$1 billion off the top to cover their costs before dividing the rest, with the players' share of the remaining US$8 billion set at just under 60 per cent.

Owners have said they would be willing to leave the split as agreed in 2006, but want at least another billion dollars put on their side of the ledger before the share taking — which could cost the players more than US$500 million a year.

Court action

Jockeying between the sides has moved from the bargaining tables to the courts for collisions worthy of pigskin action.

The NFL sued the Players Association saying it was not bargaining in good faith, intending instead to set the stage for its members to sue the league on antitrust grounds.

The union, meanwhile, won a court ruling that the NFL had breached their CBA by structuring contracts with television partners to receive a US$4 billion stockpile of cash to help it through a possible lockout.

"When this gets before the US court system anything can happen," Andrew Zimbalist, professor of economics at Smith College and author of books on sports business, told Reuters in a telephone interview yesterday. "Nothing is a slam dunk."

Labour strife last marred an NFL season in 1987, when a 24-day players strike led owners to use replacement players for three games and one game was lopped off the schedule.

The players, however, won the right to reach free agency after decertifying the union and taking the league to court.

Jeff Pash, general counsel to the NFL and its lead negotiator, has said no lockout would be implemented as long as good-faith negotiations were proceeding, but the prospects of further court action could exacerbate their differences.

League officials estimate lost revenue of US$1 billion if no agreement is reached by September, and could rise by a further US$400 million a week if regular season games are scrubbed.

Zimbalist believes there is room and motivation for compromise, and does not believe the season will be lost.

"I'd be extraordinarily surprised if this went beyond a few games of the season," he said about a worst-case scenario.

For the near term, teams will still conduct the annual draft of college players next month — the primary way clubs rejuvenate their squads — but no draft picks can be signed, and the league's nearly 500 free agents will remain in limbo.

Players will not be allowed to work out with their teams and a protracted wrangle could disrupt pre-season training and stall development of new players coming to the teams.

The financial outlook could be bleak for media partners if an agreement was not reached.

"A strike would risk over $3 billion in gross national advertising dollars generated by the NFL," Nomura media analyst Michael Nathanson said in a client report. — Reuters


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Law-makers set to continue goal-line testing

Posted: 02 Mar 2011 06:50 PM PST

The goal that wasn't given — Germany's goalkeeper Manuel Neuer watches as the ball crosses the line during the 2010 World Cup match against England on June 27, 2010. Lampard's shot dropped cleanly past the German goal line but was not given by the referee. — Reuters pic

LONDON, March 3 — Football's law-making body is expected to approve more experiments with goal-line technology systems on Saturday, but there is still a long way to go before any hi-tech device helps a referee make a decision.

A year after goal-line technology was rejected by the International Football Association Board (IFAB), the item is back on the agenda following tests carried out at Fifa's headquarters in Zurich under the auspices of the Swiss-based technology research institute EMPA.

Although all 10 systems on trial failed Fifa's stringent tests last month, there has been a notable shift in the board's attitude towards using a hi-tech system.

The issue was resurrected by Fifa president Sepp Blatter when England were denied a goal against Germany in last year's World Cup finals when a shot from Frank Lampard clearly crossed the line.

IFAB, which consists of four officials from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland plus four from Fifa representing the other 204 member nations, is the ultimate guardian of the laws of the game and is famously conservative body.

Any new proposal needs six votes to pass into law and in the past the Northern Ireland and Wales FAs have joined Fifa in opposing the official introduction of goal-line technology.

Sources close to world football's governing body told Reuters all 10 companies which took part in the trials failed to meet Fifa's criteria, but that does not mean experiments will cease as Fifa is now willing to embrace a system if it can deliver a verdict to the referee within one second.

"The results of the tests will be considered by the International Board meeting in Wales and it will decide," a Fifa spokesman said.

IFAB will now decide on the next step and if experiments do continue there will be more discussions over commercial use and what competitions would be eligible.

While the debate about goal-line technology is again the main item on the agenda, IFAB is also considering other proposals and is likely to allow UEFA to continue with its five-man match official system at next year's European Championship in Poland and Ukraine.

UEFA president Michel Platini, a staunch opponent of goal-line technology but the principal advocate of having extra officials behind the goal-line, is expected to be at the meeting at Celtic Manor near Newport, Wales to argue the case.

Other proposed law-changes relate to objects on the field, including extra balls and animals, players wearing snoods and coloured tights plus referees using "vanishing spray" to mark where defensive walls stand.

There have been two well-publicised incidents recently of objects on the field of play — one alive and one inanimate.

In October 2009 there was confusion over the rules after Sunderland scored against Liverpool in a Premier League match when a shot from Darren Bent went in after taking a deflection off a red beach ball thrown on to the pitch by a Liverpool fan.

This week in Colombia an owl stopped play in a league match between Pereira and Atletico Junior having been injured by the ball. This posed an irritation for Panamanian international Luis Moreno who tried to kick the stricken bird into touch.

However, it will rule whether players can continue to wear neck-warming snoods or if they pose a safety risk, and consider a proposal from the FA of Wales that tights must be worn in the same colour as team shorts to avoid confusing the opposition.

Saturday's event marks the 125th anniversary of the Board which was put together in 1886 at the behest of the four British associations, 18 years before Fifa was formed. — Reuters

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