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Controversial Call Hastens End to NFL – Referee Dispute

Monday, October 15th, 2012

There was a quick turnaround in the NFL referee lockout after a replacement referee botched a call that turned a Green Bay Packers’ Hail Mary interception into a touchdown for the Seattle Seahawks during a pivotal “Monday Night Football” game.  Thanks to the national uproar that resulted, the NFL and the NFL Referees Association (NFLRA) quickly reached an agreement that ended the controversial four-month lockout.  According to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, “We’re sorry to have put the fans through that.  Sometimes you have to go through something like that in the short term for the right agreement in the long term.”

Not surprisingly, money was a crucial issue in the lockout.  Aside from salary, at stake was the referees’ pension plan, which the NFL wants to convert to a 401 (K) program.  Under the settlement, current referees will see their existing pension plan remain in effect until after the 2016 season.   That will change in 2017 when the NFL starts depositing $18,000 annually into a 401 (K) account for each referee, a figure that will increase to $23,000 a year by 2019.    The pension plan costs owners in the neighborhood of $3.3 million a year.  To put that into perspective, the average NFL team is valued at nearly $1.1 billion.

Then there’s referee pay.  Despite being highly profitable to the tune of $9 billion in annual revenues, the NFL pays its part-time referees a starting salary of just $78,000 a year.  Contrast that with the starting salary of a MLB umpire, which totals $120,000.   According to Bryan Knowles, “Of course, you could argue that they (MLB umpires) officiate dozens, if not hundreds of games a year, while the NFL ref will top out at about 20 – a fair point.  Yet, this doesn’t stop Peyton Manning from making more money than Alex Rodriguez, despite the difference in workload.”  With the settlement, NFL referees will see their paychecks rise from an average of $149,000 in 2011 to $173,000 this year and to $205,000 by 2019.

As an aside, approximately $300 million in bets were placed on the Packers-Seahawks game internationally, according to RJ Bell, CEO of  Nearly $150 million more was bet on Green Bay (who was favored to win) than Seattle.  “Due to one call by the replacement refs, the bettors lost $150 million, and the bookie won $150 million for a total swing of $300 million on one debatably bad call,” Bell said.

Saab Story

Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Venerable Swedish automaker Saab is unable to pay its employees and is likely headed into bankruptcy.  Saab and Zeewolde, Netherlands-based owner Swedish Automobile NV, are in talks to raise cash, the company said.  Options include selling and leasing-back the factory in Trollhaettan, Sweden.  “There can however be no assurance that these discussions will be successful or that the necessary funding will be obtained,” said Swedish Automobile, which was previously known as Spyker Cars NV.

Saab’s chances are “slim,” according to Martin Crum,  an analyst at Amsterdam’s Effectenkantoor BV.  “The company is still not able to produce cars; that’s the main concern.  If you don’t sell cars, you don’t get cash in.”  The pending property sale “can provide some badly needed liquidity for the short term, but for the longer term they of course need more,” Crum said.  Saab came close to being a casualty of GM’s brand shedding after its government-backed bankruptcy, when it stopped the production of Saturn, Hummer, and Pontiac cars.  The Swedish unit was slated to shut down after a group led by Koenigsegg Automotive AB pulled out of talks.  Spyker’s bid came after GM had already begun to shut down Saab, ultimately paying $74 million in cash and $326 million in preferred shares.

A spokeswoman for Saab admitted that approximately 2,200 office workers, designers and engineers might not be paid as Sweden goes into a holiday.  Apologizing for leaving production line staff without paychecks, she said “The last thing we want is to be forced to come with this very sad news the day before a major Swedish holiday.  We would not have done this if we were in a situation where we had an alternative.”  She said Saab was not actively preparing for bankruptcy, but the carmaker is making an eleventh-hour bid for cash by negotiating a sale-and-lease back of its Trollhättan factory with unnamed parties.  “(Bankruptcy) is not the scenario that we are working with.  We are working very intensively on securing short-term financing to improve the situation of the company, of course to pay our employees and to work with suppliers to get production going again.”

Neil King, an analyst at IHS Automotive, said Saab seems to have been left behind by the emerging market boom in nations such as Brazil, China and India.  “They suffered as a result of the financial crisis but unlike their peers, they have not capitalized on booming demand for premium cars in the emerging markets.”  Saab production fell sharply from 123,000 in 2007 to 33,000 in 2010.

Swedes are mourning the waning of the Saab brand,  which was established in 1937 and became one of two internationally known Swedish automakers along with Volvo.  At present, Saab appears to be on its last leg as there has been no recent talk of a government bailout or rescue plan.  Upon hearing the news, one employee said “It is dreadful.  Completely unbelievable.  I get chest pains,” worker Fredrik Almqvist said.  “How on earth are we supposed to pay our bills?”  “I have worked at the factory and know many who worked there.  You should never give up hope, but right now it looks extremely bleak,” Veli-Pekka Saikkala, a representative of IF Metall, said.

Writing on the Automobile website, Donny Nordlicht  says that Saab appears to have had a bit of a reality check, as its latest press statement says ‘There can, however, be no assurance that these discussions will be successful or that the necessary funding will be obtained.’ Saab’s newfound realistic outlook is not assuaging fears, however.  IF Metall is demanding that the automaker pay its members wages, saying it needs to resolve the short-term cash flow issues immediately.  If Saab does not pay up, IF Metall has threatened to enter legal proceedings to procure the wages, something that would most likely end only in bankruptcy for the automaker.”

RIP Hummer: 1992 – 2010

Monday, March 15th, 2010

 GM pulls the plug on the Hummer after deal with Chinese firm sours.  General Motors took its Hummer brand off life supports and will let the iconic SUV die a peaceful death.  GM’s brief statement said that its planned sale of Hummer to the Sichuan Tengzhong Heavy Industrial Machines Company “cannot be completed,” without giving a reason. The $150 million deal had been stalled as the companies awaited approval from the Chinese government.  GM had been trying to sell Hummer for a year, and had made a preliminary deal with Tengzhong last June.

The off-road leviathans (17 mpg/highway and 10 mpg/city) started life as the Hum-Vee, a military vehicle whose special options included troop carriers, gun turrets and radar.  The original manufacturer was AMC Jeep’s General Products division, which started selling a civilian version of the M998 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV or Hum-Vee) to the public with the brand name “Hummer”, also known as the H1.  In 1998, AMC General sold the brand name to General Motors, but continued to manufacture the vehicles at its Mishawaka, IN, plant.  GM assumed responsibility for marketing and distributing the niche vehicles.

In time, GM introduced two homegrown models – the H2 and H3 – which it built at the same Shreveport, LA, plant where the Chevrolet Canyon and GMC Canyon pickups are produced.

Controversy dogged the Hummer throughout its life.  Criticisms focused on its size; ecological perceptions; poor fuel economy; safety data and concerns; and stability control.  Still, many Hummer devotees (including this author) put their vehicles’ heavy-duty capabilities to good use by partnering with The Hummer Club, Inc., and the American Red Cross to receive CPR and first aid training so they could assist victims during disaster situations.

The science of global warming is still in dispute, with credible people on both sides.  A recent poll showed that just 36 percent of Americans believe the evidence of human-induced climate change, a slide from the 47 percent reported in early 2008. According to author Jeffrey D. Sachs, “The rise of unemployment has perhaps made people more reluctant to accept adverse news on living standards.  There is also considerable public confusion about climate science and possible remedies.”

Rest in peace, Hummer.