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Calendar Fills Up with Sporting Events

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Calendar Fills Up with Sporting Events

Sports

Calendar Fills Up with Sporting Events

Calendar Fills Up with Sporting Events

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The Memorial Day weekend ushers in not only summer — but the busiest months on the sports calendar. It's baseball time; professional basketball and hockey crown their champions; the French Open tennis tournament gets going; and there's "the greatest spectacle in racing" — the Indy 500. Sports analyst Stefan Fatsis talks with Michele Norris.

NOAH ADAMS, host:

You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

The Memorial Day weekend ushers in not only summertime, but the busiest time on the sports calendar. There is baseball, of course. Pro basketball and hockey crown their champions.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The French Open tennis tournament gets going this weekend. And there's the greatest spectacle in racing - the Indy 500. And that means there is quite a lot to talk about with Stefan Fatsis, our sports analyst most Fridays.

Hello, Stefan.

STEFAN FATSIS: Hey, Michele.

NORRIS: In a moment we'll get to some of these summer sporting events, but first let's talk quickly about a sport that is not in season - football. This week the NFL team runners voted to opt out of their collective bargaining agreement with the players. That sounds like a real sign of trouble.

FATSIS: And it could be down the road. It means that the current labor deal is going to expire a couple seasons early, in 2010. And it does throw some uncertainty into what has been a really - really the most stable relationship between players and owners in pro sports. And what is says is that NFL owners cry for them, don't cry for them, whatever, they're earning less money than they used to, and that's because they give players 60 percent of revenue but it's also because of rising costs, stadium projects, debt, coaches' salaries. Teams actually are getting pinched.

The teams that I spent a summer with, as a player, to write a book, the Denver Broncos, recently laid off a group of employees as part of a big cost-cutting move. And this is going to become a real problem if a deal isn't reached by the 2010 season. They play that without a salary cap. That could lead to big payroll and talent disparities in the league.

NORRIS: Okay, let's get on over to hockey. The National Hockey League finals begin tomorrow night in Detroit. The hometown Red Wings play the Pittsburg Penguins in a best-of-seven series. It sounds like a good series.

Mr. FATSIS: It's going to be a good series because these are two really good teams. They're from traditional hockey towns that have rabid fan bases, strong TV interest, and they both previously won the Stanley Cup. And we haven't had a finals in hockey where that's been the case since 2001. The last three champions in hockey have come from California, North Carolina and Florida. And if you're a traditionalist, like me, you might say that that proves how the NHL strategy of aggressive expansion in the 1990s may have hurt the sport and how a more traditional showcase, like we've got now, could help it.

NORRIS: So now that hockey's back in the northland, who should we be looking for?

Mr. FATSIS: Sidney Crosby, 20 years old, center for the Penguins. He's been heralded as a potential savior for hockey, the guy to replace Wayne Gretzky, for years now. His presence in the finals will give the NHL a marketing angle as it tries to get back these casual sports fans. So far it's been pretty good. Ratings for the conference finals were up by about 70 percent over last year to around two million fans per game. That's not much by NFL standards, but it's a big improvement for the NHL.

NORRIS: Next up, racing. The 92nd running of the Indianapolis 500 is on Sunday. And we first have to mention that this will have a sort of "Dancing with the Stars" feel to it.

Mr. FATSIS: Your favorite show, isn't it, Michele?

NORRIS: I failed to mention that. That was my favorite.

FATSIS: Well, you know then that Helio Castroneves, who has won the Indy 500 twice, was a recent champion on "Dancing with the Stars," and Kristi Yamaguchi, who just won, is going to wave the green flag to start the race. Castroneves said this week in Indianapolis that he wants his race to be smooth like my foxtrot. He's from Brazil.

NORRIS: And Stefan, we should mention Danica Patrick. She's in the race, and she's coming off a big win in Japan.

Mr. FATSIS: Her first as a professional in the Indy racing league. And she is one a record three women in the Indy 500. The other two are Sarah Fisher and Milka Duno. Patrick is not the favorite in the race. That would be Scott Dixon of New Zealand. He's the pole sitter, the first car in the front row.

But Danica is the woman who has a chance to win. She's been a media darling for a long time. That win in Japan gave her even more credibility. It landed her on the cover of Sports Illustrated. If she wins on Sunday, it will be a huge boost for Indy car racing against NASCAR, stock car racing, but also just an enormous moment in history of sports.

NORRIS: Enormous moment indeed. That's Stefan Fatsis of the Wall Street Journal. He joins us on Fridays to talk about sports and the business of sports.

Have a great weekend, Stefan.

Mr. FATSIS: You too, Michele.

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