MLS strikes “significant” broadcast deal with NBC Sports Group

Major League Soccer (MLS) commissioner Don Garber has hailed the agreement of a broadcast rights deal with NBC Sports Group as a “significant step forward” for the organisation.

The three-year agreement, which commences at the start of the 2012 MLS season, calls for 45 MLS games and four US men’s national team matches to be televised live across both NBC and NBC Sports Network each season. This marks the first rights deal for NBC Sports Network, the newly named cable channel that will be re-branded from Versus on January 2, 2012.

Each season, NBC will broadcast two regular-season MLS games, two playoff games and two appearances by the US men’s national team, marking the first time four MLS matches will have been broadcast on English-language network television in the United States since 2002.

The NBC Sports Network will televise 38 regular-season games, three playoff games and two US men’s national team matches. The new agreement replaces the existing arrangement with Fox Soccer Channel. “Our new partnership with the NBC Sports Group is a significant step forward for Major League Soccer and US Soccer,” said Garber.

“The NBC Sports Group is world-renowned for its award-winning coverage, superb broadcast quality and promotional expertise,” Garber continued. “We are excited to be part of NBC’s ambitious plans for soccer, and look forward to reaching a considerable audience on multiple platforms.”

Mark Lazarus, chairman of NBC Sports Group, added: “MLS is a perfect fit for our new group, and we are uniquely positioned to help grow soccer in the United States with extensive coverage on NBC Sports Network, significant programming on the broadcast network and our growing digital platforms. Additionally, this agreement complements the partnerships that five of our regional

Olympics Minister responds to London security concerns

UK Olympics Minister Hugh Robertson has rubbished suggestions that the widespread riots in London this week have increased doubts about security provisions for the 2012 Games.

Robertson attempted to reassure the leaders of 200 National Olympic Committees at a reception last night after London endured a devastating third night of rioting in various boroughs of the capital city on Monday evening. In China, the state-run Xinhua news agency reported that “the image of London (has been) severely damaged, with people sceptical and worried about the public security situation during the London Olympics”, and reports across the globe have highlighted security questions surrounding the Games in the wake of the violence.

With all police leave cancelled and officers drafted into London from other parts of the country in an effort to contain further incidents, England’s friendly football match against the Netherlands at Wembley Stadium in North London, scheduled for this evening, has been called off. However, Robertson told the Press Association that those doubting whether security arrangements for the London Olympics will be adequate were “very, very wrong”.

“The Olympic security plan is incredibly detailed, with an intelligence-led plan and risk-based modelling,” said Robertson. “Public order is one of the risks modelled and though we will need to see what comes out of the events of the last few days this is a risk that we have planned for and catered for. We have a commitment to deliver a safe and secure Games and we will do so. All the evidence shows this trouble is low-level criminality driven by messages on social networks and not some new, emerging security threat.”

The top two police officers at London’s Metropolitan Police resigned recently in the wake of a phone-hacking scandal, but the Government has insisted that security preparations for the Games have not been jeopardised. The International Olympic Committee pledged its support for London’s security preparations for the Games, with a spokesman saying: “Security at the Olympic Games is a top priority for the IOC. It is, however, directly handled by the local authorities, as they know best what is appropriate and proportionate. We are confident they will do a good job in this domain.”


Adidas Show Impressive Financial Figures


Adidas announced their financial figures for the first half of 2011 with revenue increasing a massive 14%, a substantial increase of 10% on a currency-neutral basis in the second quarter of the year alone.

Europe saw them have a huge leap in revenue where sales went up 21% as a result of strong increases at both Adidas and Reebok.

Herbert Hainer, Adidas Group CEO, said: ‘After outlining our strategic vision for the company through to 2015 late last year, we have wasted no time and come out of the starting blocks in typical adidas Group fashion – fast and focused’.

‘No matter which way we break down our results – by segment, by region or by brand – all facets of our business are excelling’.

The Adidas Groups gross margin increased 0.2 % to 49.2% (2010: 48.9%) in the second quarter as a larger share of higher-margin retail sales as well as a more favourable product and regional sales mix more than offset an increase in input costs.

This led to their Group gross profit to increase by 6% to $2.143bn while other operating expenses as a percentage of sales decreased 60 basis points to 43.3% compared to 43.9% the prior year, primarily due to lower marketing expenses.

‘No matter which retailer I speak to, or which market share statistic I read, our product sell-throughs are stronger than they have ever been. Despite severe external pressures from currency volatility and rising commodity prices, we were able to defend our profitability as a result of our unparalleled strength in innovation and design as well as supply chain excellence,’ added Hainer.

‘After the strong first half performance, we are on our way to record sales and earnings in 2011. This is all the more notable as various currencies have been weakening versus the euro, which negatively impacts our financial results in the short term’.

Serie A hit by another match fixing scandal faces threat of player strike

Atalanta is set to start the new Serie A season with a seven-point deduction for its part in the latest match-fixing scandal to hit Italian football, while league officials have also been threatened with the prospect of a player strike.

Newly promoted Atalanta, along with fellow Serie A outfit Chievo Verona, were two of 18 clubs cited last month for suspected match-fixing. They received notification of their punishments at a hearing before the Italian Football Federation’s (FIGC) sporting prosecutor in Rome on Wednesday. According to Reuters, last season’s Serie B game between Atalanta and Piacenza came under scrutiny following reports of irregular betting patterns. This has resulted in Atalanta’s veteran captain Cristiano Doni being handed a three-and-a-half-year ban, while team-mate Thomas Manfredini received a three-year ban.

Chievo chose to enter a plea bargain and was fined Eur80,000. Their punishment relates to the actions of Stefano Bettarini, who was registered with the team but never played a game. He was charged with attempting to influence the outcome of matches, entered a plea bargain and has been banned for 14 months. A range of punishments have been handed out to lower league teams, with the decisions yet to be ratified by the FIGC. The investigation began in November and has taken in 18 suspicious matches, leading to 16 arrests.

Meanwhile, a Serie A player strike has resurfaced after Italian Players’ Association (AIC) president Damiano Tommasi claimed the Italian Football League has yet to sign a new collective agreement. The old agreement, concerning players’ rights, expired a year ago and the 2010-11 Serie A season was twice threatened by strikes before they were narrowly averted. The new campaign is set to kick off on August 27, but Tommasi has warned that action will be taken unless a deal is reached that suits all parties.

England Hockey goes to the Max with new partner

The England Hockey Board has announced a major new title sponsorship with Maxifuel.

The sports nutrition brand has signed a three-year agreement to become the new title sponsor for hockey’s leading indoor competition, the Super Sixes Championships and Super Sixes Finals, which will be held at Wembley Arena on January 29, 2012.

The renamed Maxifuel Super Sixes Finals will see the top men’s and women’s teams from the Maxifuel Super Sixes Championships compete at an end-of-season showpiece event featuring both the men’s and women’s finals, plus the men’s semi finals.

“This deal represents a significant investment into hockey for Maxifuel,” said Mark Morgan, the company’s senior sponsorship manager. “We see this as an exciting opportunity to help the England Hockey Board to grow the sport from grass roots to the international game, and to ultimately generate future success for the national team.”

Jonathan Cockcroft, commercial and membership director at England Hockey, added: “Maxifuel has been helping the England and Great Britain hockey teams fulfil their potential on the pitch and I’m delighted that we are expanding our partnership to help take the Super Sixes Championships to a new level.”

Super League converts Sky Sports extension

The Super League has secured a “record-breaking” five-year extension to its broadcasting agreement with Sky Sports, taking the partnership up to its 21st year.

The new deal will see Sky Sports screen live rugby league matches from the 2012 season through the 2016 campaign, taking in Super League XVII to Super League XXI. The agreement will see up to 70 Super League games being televised each season, including all Play Off matches and the end of season Grand Final at Old Trafford, Manchester.

“At a time when broadcast fees in sport have been under real pressure, this is a tremendous outcome for the sport of rugby league,” said Rugby Football League (RFL) chairman Richard Lewis. “It clearly demonstrates the confidence that Sky Sports has in the game’s current and future appeal and will give everyone involved in the sport a real boost. This is the first time we have sold domestic rights independently of international rights and so it bodes well for those sales which will be concluded either later this year or early next year.”

All live Super League coverage will be shown in HD and selected matches in 3D, while they will also be available on mobile, online and tablet devices via Sky Go. Since 2001, television income for rugby league has markedly increased. This growth has been matched by an increase in the number of fans attending matches from 1.2 million in 2002 to 1.7 million in 2010.

“Our partnership with Sky Sports has been an important factor in the sustained growth of the game over more than a decade and we value the relationship we have with Sky and thank them for their continued support and excellent broadcast production values,” added Lewis. “The extended partnership from three to five years will enable us to plan for the future and tackle the issues we need to address in order to make Super League stronger.”

NBA goes to court over labour dispute

The lockout saga surrounding the National Basketball Association (NBA) took a new twist on Tuesday as the league filed two claims against the players’ union (NBPA).

An unfair labour practice charge, placed before the National Labor Relations Board, asserts that the NBPA has failed to bargain in good faith by virtue of its “unlawful threats” to commence a sham “decertification” and an antitrust lawsuit challenging the NBA’s lockout. Meanwhile, a federal lawsuit lodged in New York seeks to establish, among other things, that the lockout does not violate federal antitrust laws and that if the NBPA’s “decertification” were found to be lawful; all existing player contracts would become void and unenforceable.

“These claims were filed in an effort to eliminate the use of impermissible pressure tactics by the union which are impeding the parties’ ability to negotiate a new collective bargaining agreement,” said NBA deputy commissioner and chief operating officer Adam Silver. “For the parties to reach agreement on a new CBA, the union must commit to the collective bargaining process fully and in good faith.”

The claims come just a day after NBA officials and players’ representatives met for the first time since the league declared a lockout on July 1. NBA owners, citing losses of US$300 million for the 2010-11 season and in excess of $1.5 billion over the six-year term of the recently completed collective bargaining agreement (CBA), are seeking significant reductions in player compensation. A hard salary cap, shorter contracts and a major shift in the split of basketball-related income (BRI) is being sought. The previous CBA saw players receive 57% of league BRI, equating to $2.176 billion from the total of $3.8 billion for the past season.

Ahead of the lockout the NBPA reduced its counter proposal to 54.3%, the equivalent of $100 million per year of additional revenue to the owners over a five-year term. However, with NBA commissioner David Stern having warned that the league will make a $300 million loss in the 2010-11 season, the two sides were still $7 billion apart in their demands over a 10-year CBA.

NBPA executive director Billy Hunter has slammed the league’s latest move stating its actions “are just another example of their bad-faith bargaining, and we will seek the complete dismissal of the actions as they are totally without merit.” Hunter added the union hasn’t made any decision about renouncing its role as the collective bargaining representative of the players. He said: “We urge the NBA to engage with us at the bargaining table and to use more productively the short time we have left before the 2011-2012 season is seriously jeopardised.”