Sunday, May 31, 2009

Why Jim Balsillie should scare local politicians across the United States as well as newspaper executives

Why Jim Balsillie should scare local politicians across the United States as well as newspaper executives

(New York, N. Y.) -- The guy who was generously helped by Canadian taxpayers in becoming a billionaire named Jim Balsillie should be scaring all of those local and state politicians who pushed for publicly funded sports facilities along with newspaper executives who are ignoring a developing story that could have political implications across the United States.

Balsillie is pursing a scorched earth policy in trying to purchase the National Hockey League's Glendale, Arizona-based Phoenix Coyotes. The hockey team's owner Jerry Moyes declared bankruptcy and Basille has decided to overpay for a fiscally distressed business and now the whole dispute is paying out in a bankruptcy court. While newspapers executives met in Chicago on Thursday discreetly in a session that might have violated American antitrust laws to discuss a plan to save themselves by charging for newspaper content on the web, their papers are missing the opportunity to report on what is the sports industry's biggest story since the 2004-05 National Hockey League lockout. The newspaper and media industry under reported that story, no wonder why newspapers are suffering.

Here is the story the media is missing. If Jerry Moyes is successful in unloading his team and break a multi-decade lease with Glendale, taxpayers are left holding the bills to pay off a building that will become a white elephant. If Moyes is successful, what would stop Charlotte Bobcats owner Bob Johnson, who has announced his intentions to sell the five year old franchise playing in a municipally funded new arena from doing the same thing? Johnson could theoretically sell the team to Chinese interests who could move the team to Beijing in a bankruptcy proceeding and until the question of whether a league has the right to approve territories is resolved, there is nothing taxpayers, municipalities or leagues can do but watch.

Balsillie, whose Research in Motion company came up with BlackBerry, has gotten Hamilton, Ontario elected officials to pony up more than one hundred million dollars, Canadian, to renovate the city's arena should he be successful in getting the Coyotes franchise and is able to move the team to the city. Hamilton elected officials will soon find out that the actual bill when the debt is factored in will not be the figure that they think it is. Balsillie, the white knight of Canada, has the Canadian sports media waving red and white pom poms and cheering make it seven, as in a seventh Canadian National Hockey league franchise. There has been no due diligence about Balsillie and how he made his money in the back of Canadian taxpayers.

That would ruin the narrative of the white knight rescuing Canadian hockey from the evil American Sun Belt cities. It would also require some work on the part of writers who cover hockey in the Toronto area although this New York-based writer knows the Research in Motion subsidy story.

A newspaper editor curiosity should take hold and someone should have been assigned to see just how Balsillie made his money but the thought of Hamilton getting an NHL team is enough.

The newspaper executives who met in Chicago are missing an opportunity to talk to the two New York senators about their support for the NHL by laws which give the league's owners the right to assign territories and how the courts and possibly Congress may have to get involved in the business of sports to protect taxpayers who have put up billions upon billions of dollars for major and minor league sports facilities around the country.

The Charlotte Bobcats story is simple right now. Johnson is looking for a buying and has not threatened bankruptcy. Charlotte has had a mixed history of success in the NBA. The original Charlotte Hornets franchise was a major success. George Shinn's Hornets began in 1988 and at one time sold old the Charlotte Arena for 358 consecutive home games or almost nine seasons but off court activities including the death of a player and sordid details of Shinn's personal life turned people away from the arena and eventually Shinn asked for a new, publicly-funded, arena complete with numerous luxury boxes and club seats to replace the Charlotte Arena which opened in 1988. Charlotte voters said no to a new arena by a 2 to 1 margin in 2001.

Shinn moved to New Orleans in 2002 but city leaders and NBA Commissioner David Stern didn't believe the results of the referendum were totally reflective of the feelings of Charlotte residents. After Shinn left, the city's mayor Pat McCrory set out to build an arena with taxpayer’s dollars without going to the voters to ask them if they wanted a new arena. McCrory and Stern worked out a deal and the city promised it would build an arena if the NBA would return. Johnson bid for the franchise and won spending about $300 million for the right to run the franchise.

The return of the NBA to Charlotte has not been as warmly received as the original Hornets franchise was back in 1988.

Charlotte is not the only financially distressed NBA franchise. Memphis has been struggling since Michael Heisley moved his Vancouver Grizzlies to the city in 2001. Despite playing in a new, taxpayers funded, arena, Heisley has not been fiscally successful. There are other NBA franchises looking for new arenas in Sacramento and Milwaukee. If Balsillie is successful in his bid to take over the Coyotes, what would stop other owners from going Chapter 11 if there is someone willing to take a debt ridden team off there hands in a bankruptcy proceeding.

Could New York Islanders owner Charles Wang, who admitted that he regrets buying the money losing franchise, do the same thing if he doesn’t get his Lighthouse Project approved? The Moyes/Balsillie tactics could echo from community to community that put out public money for sports facilities both on the major and minor league level.

Glendale, Arizona, on behalf of taxpayers, should unleash a super lawsuit against Moyes for breaking his lease and when that happens, taxpayers will learn whether a lease agreement signed between a franchise holder and the municipality is worth the paper it is written on. Moyes broke the lease. Balsillie's legal team is promising an antitrust lawsuit against the NHL if the league says no to his bid. The NHL, NBA and National Football League do not have antitrust protection, Major League Baseball does and that is keeping the Oakland A's owner Lewis Wolff from moving his team to San Jose and it is why the New York City market has not has three teams since 1957. National League baseball owners in 1957 scoffed at the idea of Cincinnati and Pittsburgh from relocating to New York for the 1958 season.

It is a shame newspaper executives continue to miss stories and maybe they should start examine why they have become so inept and why people have turned away from the industry. Senior citizens are the last generation who are still wedded to newspapers for information. Newspaper execs have lived in a bubble forever and are in denial. Perhaps if they followed the Balsille/Coyotes/NHL saga and explained the implications to taxpayers who are paying extra fees for hotel and motel rooms, for car rentals, for restaurants, for alcohol, for cigarettes, for sewer and water and general sales taxes for these facilities, they would get more readers.

Balsillie's scorched earth policy should scare the living daylights out of elected officials who pushed for stadium/arena building as an economic engine and for newspaper executives whose papers are missing a huge story. Instead, the newspapers are asleep at the wheel saying woe is me. New York's two senators are not fighting for the Phoenix Coyotes but they want to keep Balsillie out of Hamilton because it might hurt the Buffalo Sabres franchise. Strangely quiet on the issue is Arizona's two Senators, John McCain and John Kyl. Perhaps Arizona's newspapers ought to make a call and ask what the two senators are thinking. But that might be wishful thinking asking newspapers to do more than some crime stories, some fluff entertainment stories and some mayhem stories.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Is Monterey still viewed as a potential big league city by American sports leagues?

Evan Weiner
Go to Evan's Home Page
Business of Sports Examiner

Is Monterey still viewed as a potential big league city by American sports leagues?

May 28, 2:40 PM

At one time, Monterey, Mexico was on the "A-List" of cities that could eventually house a Major League Baseball team. Former Colorado Rockies owner Jerry McMorris was absolutely certain that Monterey would have been a perfect fit for the game. Monterey had some money; the city is located about two hours away by car from the Mexico-Texas border, it wasn't far from Major League teams in Arlington and Houston, Texas which meant a Monterey team would have rivals and the city had a rich baseball history in the Mexican League.

But McMorris and Major League Baseball officials were not looking at Monterey's baseball history back in the mid-1990s when the city emerged as a potential baseball market. Monterey was and still is Mexico's third largest city, Monterey's main business was and still is the steel industry but many multinational companies had and still have a significant footprint within the Monterey business community and the city's businesses had an awful lot of links to the United States. It was judged as recently as 2003 to be a better bet for sports franchise economic success than Mexico City, the largest market in North America.

During Major League Baseball's days of infatuation with Monterey, Fortune magazine listed the city as the best Latin American marketplace. That was in 1999. The same year that McMorris’ Rockies played the San Diego Padres in northeast Mexican city. It was the second Monterey trip for the San Diego baseball club. The Padres and the Mets played the team's opening series there of the 1996 season. Major League Baseball gave Monterey more than just a casual look.

By 2003, Major League Baseball was getting pressure from the United States Ambassador to Mexico Tony Garza who suggested to Commissioner Bud Selig that Monterey host a quarter of the Major League Baseball-owned Montreal Expos 81 home games, about 20 contests, in Monterey in 2004. On October 21, 2003, California Congressman Bob Filner took to the House floor and said "it is time we include Mexico and make baseball the North American pastime."

Rep. Filner stated as his introduced a resolution before the House that "(Monterey) is one of the safest cities in Latin America" and that "it is the home to the Sultans of the Mexican League and the Sultans ballpark could be expanded to more than 30,000 seats."

The Congressman's remarks fell on deaf ears. Major League Baseball split Expos home games between Montreal and San Juan, Puerto Rico in both 2003 and 2004.

Major League Baseball did look at Monterey as a possible destination for the Montreal Expos franchise but the city was never a major contender for a team. In late 2004, Major League Baseball transferred Montreal to Washington to start play in 2005. Major League Baseball has not looked at Monterey since then. But Monterey is re-emerging this autumn as a destination for a pre-season National Basketball Association game as the league is sending Philadelphia and Phoenix to play an October game in the city.

No one is suggesting Monterey is on the NBA's expansion/relocation market list should the league decide to add more teams or move a struggling franchise. It appears that a local promoter came up with the right contract and money and the NBA was impressed enough to reach an agreement to play a pre-season contest in Monterey for the first time since 2006. NBA Commissioner David Stern and most of his owners don't mind sending teams to Europe or China to expand marketing opportunities and a one night stand in Monterey appears to fit into that category.

Why didn't Monterey become a Major League Baseball city? The best guess is that it didn't have the critical elements that a United States city could offer, which is government support for a new or renovated stadium with luxury boxes and club seats, a massive local cable TV contract and huge corporate support with companies buying tickets and writing them off as a business expense. Monterey could not put together a money package that could compete with United States cities bidding for the Montreal franchise. In the end, Washington was the only city that aggressively went after the Expos franchise. The love affair with Monterey was just one of those passing fancies.

Would Major League Baseball been able to financially compete in Monterey? The answer is no based on the fact that the Montreal franchise ended up in Washington and that Florida Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria kicked the tires in San Antonio and Las Vegas while he was searching for a city that would build him a stadium for his Florida Marlins. Loria got his publicly funded park in Miami. Oakland A's owner Lewis Wolff tried to build a stadium as part of a stadium village complex down the I-880 in Fremont and after failing there, he is asking if baseball knows the way to San Jose, California, not far from Monterey, California.

Monterey, Mexico's business community spends a lot of money on the city's two football (soccer) teams and while two baseball series were relatively successful in 1996 and 1999, that should not be viewed as the launching pad to Major League Baseball. Ticket prices back then were cheaper than what they are in 2009 and Monterey is not considered the safest city in terms of crime in Latin America anymore.

All of this doesn't mean that Monterey should be overlooked as a sports city on a global scale. The NBA is in the business of not only putting a game on the court but selling T-shirts, hats and anything else that can fit a logo of the league or individual teams and the league will have willing customers to buy whatever items the league is playing to sell even though neither Philadelphia nor Phoenix are among the league's glamour teams.

Monterey has never gone after a National Football League franchise but at the same time city officials were dancing with Major League Baseball, businessmen from the area were pitching a plan to build a stadium near the Texas-Mexico border with the hope of drawing interest from consumers on both sides of the border. Nothing ever came of the idea. It is doubtful that Major League Soccer would have any interest in setting up shop in an area that is dominated by football (soccer).

Monterey never might ever get an NBA or a Major League Baseball franchise, however the city is planning a bid for the 2020 Summer Olympics and the city hosts a women's tennis tournament. There have also been other international sports events held in the city.

There are no Jerry McMorris's, Tony Garzas or Bob Filners pushing Monterey today as a Major League Baseball city. The global recession is not showing any real signs of abating which doesn't help Monterey's big league aspirations and the United States Department of State's warning to American citizens to exercise caution when traveling to Mexico because of Mexico's violent drug trade can not be construed as a positive for Monterey.

The NBA is going to Monterey on a one night stand and that should bring up the question, is Monterey, Mexico still viewed as a potential major league sports city? The answer might come sometime in October.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The United States Supreme Court Nominee and Major League Baseball
The United States Supreme Court Nominee and Major League Baseball

By Evan Weiner

May 26, 2009

11:00 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) --- On March 31, 1995 in a New York courtroom, Federal Judge Sonia Sotomayor made Major Baseball League history. She ended the Major League Baseball strike which started on August 12, 1994. More than 14 years later, the New York-native has become the first Hispanic woman ever to be nominated to the United States Supreme Court. President Barack Obama's nominee will be on a skewer for the next few months as the United States Senate debates her credentials. If Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who is one of Washington, D. C.'s most active lobbyists, had his way, he probably would prefer some other nominee. In 1995 Federal Justice Sotomayor not only ended the baseball strike but she also supported the National Labor Relations Board's unfair labor practices complaint against the owners. Selig, then Acting Commissioner of Baseball, was the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. Another one of those owners was the Governor of Texas, George W. Bush who was the managing general partner of the Texas Rangers when the strike began. The players took their complaints to President Bill Clinton's appointed National Labor Relations Board, a panel which was friendlier to labor than the panels of President Ronald Reagan or President George H. W. Bush and on March 27, the board sided with the players that the owners were involved in unfair labor practices. The players said if a judge supported the NLRB's finding, they would go back to work. By April 2, the players were in spring training.Justice Sotomayor's career will not be judged on the basis of one decision on March 31, 1995 nor should it be by the United States Senate but she did show she wasn't intimidated by what was then 28 of the most powerful business people in the world. She followed the law.She also extended the owners losing streak in labor dealings. The owners had favorable dealings with the United States Supreme Court. In 1922, the highest court in the United States gave Major League Baseball an antitrust exemption because baseball was a game not an interstate commerce venture in finally deciding the Federal League's Baltimore Terrapin suit against the then eight National League owners. In 1950, New York Yankees minor league pitcher George Toolson was unhappy with New York's decision to demote him to the Eastern League's Binghamton Triplets farm team and refused to report to the central New York state minor league club. Toolson thought he was good enough to pitch in the big leagues and decided to sue baseball to get out of his contract so he could shop his services around and find someone who wanted him. Toolson's lawyers argued that baseball's reserve clause, which tied up a player for life with the club that signed him or a club that acquired his services, was a restraint of trade and that baseball should not be exempt from antitrust laws. Toolson v. New York Yankees was heard in 1953 by the United States Supreme Court. The nine justices upheld the 1922 Supreme Court decision, 7-2, the antitrust exemption. Toolson was the first player to challenge the reserve clause which prevented free agency to the highest court in the United States. Under a system started in 2003, a Minor League player can now shop around his services after six years if he is not on a Major League 40 man roster.Toolson ended his baseball career as a footnote in history. The Toolson case was not the last challenge to the workings of Major League Baseball.In October 1969, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies agreed to a deal that would Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Byron Browne and Joe Hoerner from St. Louis to Philadelphia in exchange for Dick Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson. For a myriad of reasons Flood decided not to report to Philadelphia and on December 24, 1969 wrote a letter advising all Major League Baseball clubs that he had the right to shop his services around before signing with Philadelphia. That wasn't the case under baseball rules and Flood, with the help of the Major League Baseball Players Association, decided on January 16, 1970 to sue Commissioner Bowie Kuhn and Major League Baseball for violating United States antitrust laws. The case went through the judicial system and went before the United States Supreme Court.The court sided with Major League Baseball in 1972 upheld the 1922 decision by a five to three margin in the case. It was the last time Major League Baseball owners would win one. Three years later, Major League Baseball's reserve clause was eliminated when an arbitrator, Peter Seitz, ruled that Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally, who had played the 1975 season without contracts could become free agents. Seitz's ruling undid the reserve clause and led to an agreement between the owners and players that made players free agents after the equivalent of six full major league seasons.Major League Baseball owners and the players saw two strikes in the 1980s, the 1981 and 1985 seasons. Major League owners were found guilty of colluding to keep players salaries suppressed following the 1985, 1986 and 1987 seasons and were forced to pay a $280 million settlement to the players in 1990. It has been widely speculated that Major League Baseball expanded in 1991 to Denver and Miami in part to get the United States Senate, particularly Florida Senator Connie Mack III and Colorado's Tim Wirth, off of the industry's back to preserve the antitrust exemption and also use the expansion monies to pay off the settlement.The 1994-95 strike was the last time Major League owners and the players failed to reach a collective bargaining agreement and had a work stoppage. Judge Sotomayor restored Major League Baseball's old collective bargaining agreement with her ruling. She ordered the owners to restore free-agent bidding, salary arbitration and the anti-collusion provisions of baseball's expired collective bargaining agreement.On September 29, 1995 a three-judge panel in New York voted unanimously to uphold Judge Sotomayor's injunction.Should Justice Sotomayor be confirmed by the Senate and take her place on the high court, it is very unlikely she will ever see a challenge to what remains of the Major League Baseball antitrust exemption from a Major League player asking for free agency. The Baseball Fans and Communities Protection Act of 1997 was introduced on the first day of the 105th Congress in 1997 by Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-Michigan), which was intended to remove baseball's antitrust exemption concerning labor. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) introduced similar legislation in the Senate that year and called it, ”The Curt Flood Act of 1998."The Curt Flood Act of 1998 was signed into United States federal law on October 27, 1998 by President Bill Clinton.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The Phoenix Coyotes Bankruptcy and the Curious Toronto Globe and Mail Editorial About Gary Bettman
By Evan Weiner
May 23, 2009
4:30 PM EDT
(New York, N. Y.) -- To those editorial or opinion writers at the Toronto Globe and Mail, the War of 1812 ended nearly two centuries ago and you know what, Canada won. But if you are among those who still read newspaper editorials, as if newspaper opinion pieces have any relevancy anymore and frankly the sad truth is they don't, the Globe and Mail guys apparently think National Hockey League Commissioner is lobbying bombs into Manitoba instead of just protecting his league as Jim Basillie is attempting a hostile takeover of the bankrupt Phoenix Coyotes and moving the franchise to Hamilton, Ontario.
The whole sordid mess is being played out before a bankruptcy judge in Phoenix, Arizona and there could very well be other fronts in what has become a full scale sports league skirmish that Basillie and Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes are conducting against the National Hockey League and probably against the National Basketball Association and the National Football League. Basillie has also drawn the wrath of two United States Senators and the town of Glendale, Arizona is about ready to unleash a lawsuit protecting the city from losing the Coyotes with decades left on the lease between the NHL team and the municipality in the building that was paid by taxpayers. More on that later, first things first, it is time to examine newspapers and how journalists in Canada have become cheerleaders for Basillie.
The Globe and Mail editorialists have accused the NHL and Bettman of a "slap" in the face of Canadians and Basillie by attempting to block the sale of the Phoenix hockey franchise to Basillie. It is the latest in a long line of criticisms of Bettman by the Canadian media who have been ticked off for years that a "New York lawyer" has been in charge of the league. In some instances, the "New York lawyer" could be viewed as a code for something else. Perhaps Canadian hockey writers and Jesse Jackson can compare notes about people who live in New York City and the city's suburban areas. For the record, this writer is a life long New Yorker, born in Manhattan, lived in Queens, Ramapo (Jackson and the Canadian writers would have a blast there) and Westchester. There has always been an underlying tone in prose from Canada about the "New York lawyer."
At last look, Bettman wasn't leading a group ready to invade Manitoba nor was he part of the Fenian Raids of Canada between 1866 and 1871 nor did he call Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper a swine or a worm or an upstart (you have to watch Duck Soup with the Marx Brothers to understand that line, but Rufus T. Firefly did smack Trentino across the face after being called an upstart). The New York lawyer also made sure that Edmonton maintained an NHL franchise in the late 1990s but the Globe and Mail has equated Bettman to rogue status while forgetting that Balsillie owes all of his riches to Canadian taxpayers who funded BlackBerry research and that Basillie has become so used to living on taxpayers handouts that he asked Hamilton city officials for money to renovate the city's arena and got it.
Perhaps it is that editorial thinking that has landed newspapers in dire straits fiscally although it is more likely that newspaper publishers ignored the evolving technology and never thought a recession would sink the industry. While Basillie and Hamilton politicians were exchanging wedding vows to provide high cost entertainment, Canadian Auto Workers were coming to terms with the General Motors and Chrysler bankruptcies. The auto workers make up a chunk of Ontario's workforce. Some of them hockey fans who if they lose their jobs can follow the Hamilton or the Southern Ontario team on cable TV, radio or websites which provide quicker access to information than say the stately old Globe and Mail. Some of those out of work former auto maker employees may see some of their future taxes go to pay off repairs for an arena they may never step into for Basillie's hockey team. The same Basillie who has become a billionaire with their financial help. Basillie played by the rules with BlackBerry, but Canadian journalists should be pointing out facts instead of being infatuated with the technology genius.
Canadian newspapers have been acting like teenagers in love with the Basillie moving the Phoenix franchise to Southern Ontario trek. American sports pages are ignoring what will be the biggest sports story of the year, and probably sports biggest case since Cleveland Mayor Mike White and the Cleveland city council threatened to sue the National Football League in 1996 following Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell's relocation of his football team to Baltimore with three years left on the Browns-Cleveland lease at the city's stadium.
White and NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue worked out a deal whereby Cleveland would drop a lawsuit and would build a new football facility. Cleveland was promised a new team and the city retained the team's name, the Browns, the team logo and colors and the team record book. Cleveland got an expansion franchise in 1999.
The inclusion of New York's two United States Senators in this battle of sports is rather interesting because New York and Ontario are sizeable trading partners but the relocation of the Phoenix team to Hamilton, which is not far from Buffalo might impact Buffalo Sabres tickets, advertising revenues and could seriously harm the franchise in what is a very weakened economic area, western New York State. Buffalo cannot make it without Canadians attending games; the NFL's Buffalo Bills have regionalized the franchise by holding training camp in Rochester and scheduling games in Toronto. The National Hockey League, the National Basketball Association and the National Football League do not enjoy the same antitrust exemption that Major League Baseball was given by the United States Supreme Court in 1922. Could Senators Charles Schumer and Kristen Gillibrand introduce legislation, which certainly would be welcomed by Bettman, NBA Commissioner David Stern and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell along with their owners that would strengthen league's by-laws to make sure leagues are in control of where they place franchises and who owns teams?
Oddly enough, the Globe and Mail has not come out against Canadian protectionism of the Canadian Football League. In the 1970s, the World Football League, which lasted one and half seasons, wanted to put a team in Toronto for the 1974 season and Canadian lawmakers threatened to make sure any American football league would never play in Canada. Parliament never pursued the protectionism after John Bassett moved the Toronto franchise to Memphis.
Bettman and his legal team have NHL owners saying no to Basillie's buyout, they have drawn Congressional interest, they have MLB, the NBA and NFL on their side and the city of Glendale will unleash a major lawsuit to make sure taxpayers, the people ultimately responsible for paying the debt on the city owned facility protected. Glendale claims it is owed a $700 million fee if the hockey team is moved as the lease between the league and the team has 26 years remaining. This should be a troubling notion to all of the cities and municipalities across the United States who have spent billions upon billions of dollars for new sports facilities. If Moyes can declare bankruptcy and just sell off the assets and get out of paying the lease, who will be next? Taxpayers need protection as well and a Glendale suit should be avidly watched by every municipality which forked over money either in building a facility, or in granting programs like payment in lieu of taxes or tax incremental funding.
Of course the Globe and Mail, the paper that accused Bettman of slapping Canadians and Basillie in the face, has sportswriters like Allan Maki covering the business end of hockey. Mr. Maki sounds like Rush Limbaugh in hoping Bettman fails in court and that will be the end of his term. Of course a hockey writer doesn’t understand the nuisances of owners meetings and that Bettman is just doing what the owners want him to do. Mr. Maki needs to study sports league and history or maybe ask Fay Vincent what happens when owners fall out of love with their commissioner. Fay Vincent was fired by the Lords of Baseball although technically Vincent resigned after owners voted 18-9 that they had no confidence in him in 1992. One of those owners who said no, Chicago White Sox and Chicago Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf, the man who wants to buy the Phoenix Coyotes.
Mr. Maki needs to understand that until Los Angeles Kings owner Phil Anschutz and others are done with Bettman, he will stay on the job. Of course Maki is a writer for the Globe and Mail, a haughty position within the newspaper community and perhaps he is preaching to his fellow Canadian hockey writers in calling for Bettman's ouster. At least Mr. Maki didn't call him the "New York lawyer."
By the way, Mr. Maki did not mention that the NHL is a more than $2 billion a year business. He mentioned the United States cable TV contract with Versus. Mr. Maki, like many of his fellow writers in Canada, fails to understand that ESPN did not want NHL games and Versus stepped in with some money. Perhaps someone who understands the cable TV business would be better served as a critic but the Globe and Mail has a hockey writer.
The Toronto Sun also wants Bettman to go. Another newspaper editorial about his lack of getting a major TV deal in the United States. Across Canada, Bettman is seen as an enemy of the people, at least in the eyes of the media.
Of course the Globe and Mail editorial page, the Maki column and the Toronto Sun no confidence vote mean nothing except to create some chatter on radio talk shows and cable TV in Canada. The only person who counts is Phoenix Bankruptcy Judge Redfield Baum and this all goes back to bankruptcy, Jerry Moyes filed Chapter 11 and wants to cut his losses. Moyes owns the Coyotes franchise but does he really run the team is the first piece of this puzzle. The NHL apparently was paying the bills starting in November 2008, not Moyes. The second part of the puzzle is simple. Does the NHL have the right to govern itself? There are many instances in sports where the leagues have said no to prospective owners. In 1983, Ralston Purina had enough of owning the St. Louis Blues National Hockey League franchise and sold it to Saskatoon interests led by Bill Hunter. The NHL refused to let the sale of the relocation of the franchise go ahead and found another owner to take over in St. Louis. In 1994, the NBA blocked the move of the Minnesota franchise to New Orleans and found a local owner. In Major League Baseball during the 1970s, owners blocked the relocation of the San Francisco Giants to Toronto and the Oakland A's to Denver. In the 1980s, the Lords of Baseball twice refused to allow Texas Rangers owner Eddie Chiles to sell his team to Edwin Gaylord because of the fear that Gaylord would launch a cable TV superstation in Dallas. Chiles eventually sold his team to a group fronted by the son of the United States President at the time in 1989, George W. Bush. The rest is history.
Hockey is a sensitive subject for Canadians. It is a way of life. Hockey's biggest names, Gordie Howe, Bobby Orr, Bobby Hull never played NHL games with Toronto or Montreal back in the day and there is something still wrong some 37 years later that Bobby Hull was not allowed to play for Team Canada against the Soviet Union in the biggest global hockey series in the sports history because he signed with a World Hockey Association team, Winnipeg, and left the NHL's Chicago Blackhawks. Business is business after all.
The bankruptcy case, the Glendale lawsuit, the United States Senate intervention, the threat of subsequent lawsuits may keep going and going with the real winners being the lawyers with billable hours. The real loser here is journalism, the globally respected Globe and Mail being reduced to a puerile state with lines that seemingly came out of a 1933 Marx Brothers movie, Duck Soup. Perhaps both the Canadian and American media really need to have a broad introspective look and see where they lost their way in virtually everything they cover, but they again about 110 years ago, William Randolph Hearst invented a war, the Spanish American War where people died. Fortunately in this case, no one is in peril, Glendale may lose a hockey team or may not, life will go on no matter even for the editorial writers at the Toronto Globe and Mail and Sun Media and the Toronto Sun and a good number or Canadian journalists who are wearing their Team Canada shirts because they want Basillie to bring home a hockey team. It is just business, nothing personal.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Islanders, Nets linked together by common history, together again in Brooklyn?

Evan Weiner
Go to Evan's Home Page
Business of Sports Examiner

Islanders, Nets linked together by common history, together again in Brooklyn?

May 21, 8:17 PM

So how much has changed in the three years and eight months to the day since this column was written by this reporter in the New York Sun about a proposed arena being built in Brooklyn for Bruce Ratner's New Jersey Nets and how Nassau County politicians shouldn't feel so snug that Charles Wang would keep his Islanders in the county?

Apparently not much. Just change a few dates and the September 21, 2006 column could be easily rewritten today and it is. Remember just about all of the column is nearly four years old and it serves to illustrate just how slowly government works on big project proposals.

The New York Islanders franchise has always been more a topic for Nassau County politics, cable TV, and real estate than it has been a sports team competing in a major professional league. Almost 34 (now 38) years after the NHL gave Roy Boe an expansion franchise in Uniondale, not much has changed. Islanders owner Charles Wang is currently wrangling with Nassau County politicians to develop land around the Nassau Coliseum and has a large cable TV security blanket.

But Nassau County politicians really shouldn't feel so smug about the long term prospects of having an NHL team -- not with Nets owner Bruce Ratner's new Brooklyn arena in the picture. As the centerpiece of the urban development being proposed for the Atlantic Yards, Ratner’s arena will house the Nets and other, as yet planned, sports events. That could mean hockey.

Wang is hoping that Nassau County will give him the go ahead later this year to proceed with his plans to modernize the Nassau Coliseum. If that falls through, Brooklyn could finally lasso its first professional hockey team and transform the borough into America’s newest pro sports hub.

Because of the huge cable TV deal that Cablevision and Madison Square Garden owner Charles Dolan bestowed on the franchise nearly 25 (29) years ago, it’s highly unlikely that Wang would move from the metropolitan area as he'd be unable to get the same deal in any other market That leaves Brooklyn as a very real option.

Ratner has the green light to build his Brooklyn arena and development project after the MTA approved his offer last week (September 2005) for the 8.3 acre parcel of land in downtown Brooklyn. Ratner has one half of what an arena needs, an NBA team.

Out on Long Island, Wang has a hockey team that could be on the move if Nassau County can't move ahead on its March agreement with him to develop some 77 acres of land surrounding the Islanders’ home building. Wang is ready to invest hundreds of millions of dollars into renovating the Coliseum and building a commercial and entertainment zone around the old arena. But problems have arisen.

The Association For a Better Long Island has asked Suozzi to extend the deadline for others to come up with a proposal for the site beyond the October 1 deadline. Nassau Republicans, along with former Hempstead Supervisor and Senator Alphonse D'Amato, want a deadline extension so others can make a proposal for the land (Wang won the bid).

Ironically, it was Nassau Republicans back in the mid-1990s who first came up with the idea of marrying the Islanders ownership to a redevelopment plan. New York City real estate developer Howard Milstein and Steven Gluckstern bought the Islanders in 1998 with the thought of building a new arena as part of a plan to develop acres of parking lot and other land.

Milstein purchased the franchise from John O. Pickett, the man credited with saving the Islanders from financial ruin and building a championship squad in the late 1970s. Pickett had gotten a big assist from Dolan, who had contributed a huge local cable TV deal. Dolan gave the Islanders a long-term guaranteed contract with big money in an effort to not only keep the franchise on Long Island but also to make sure various Nassau and Suffolk municipalities would renew his cable TV franchise. Dolan could offer two exclusive local Long Island programs -- the Islanders and News 12-- to show he was responsive to local communities.

In effect, Milstein made two purchases from Pickett: He bought the hockey team and then bought the cable TV contract. Pickett had drastically under-funded the Islanders, preferring instead to keep the cable TV money for himself rather than reinvest in his team.

To understand how politicized the franchise really is, you have to look at the Islanders history.

In the late 1960s, Nassau County was building an arena that would house Roy Boe's New York Nets of the American Basketball Association. The NHL, which had expanded by eight teams between 1967 and 1970, all of sudden decided to add two more teams in 1971. The league gave Boe a team which would play in the Nassau Coliseum.

As the Islanders were building a fan base and quickly becoming one of the NHL's better teams, Boe was losing money on both the Nets and Islanders. By 1976, Boe and the ABA desperately wanted to merge with the National Basketball Association. When the leagues did reach an accord, Boe took a financial beating when he had to pay off the Knicks for “invading” the Garden's NBA territory. In 1977, Boe could not pay his bills and sold his best player, Julius Erving, to the Philadelphia 76ers for badly needed cash. Now, Boe was in the NBA but his team was awful without basketball’s most electrifying player. The cash drain also affected the Islanders.

Boe eventually sold the Nets to investors who took the franchise to New Jersey, but the Islanders remained in dire financial shape. Pickett stepped in and, with Dolan's TV contract, the team was able to keep and pay its players. But when Pickett stopped using the cable contract to fund his team and pocketed the money in the late 1980s, the Islanders hit rock bottom.

By the early 1990s, someone in Nassau County came up with an idea: Link the Islanders ownership to land development. In 1997, Milstein and Gluckstern took the bait. Milstein and Nassau County Executive Thomas Gulotta reached an understanding to build a new arena and develop the area in 1998, but that deal was gone by January 1999 because the two parties could not agree on who should do the arena construction. Wang stepped in shortly thereafter.

Is there anyone in Nassau County who can come up with another plan that would include Wang as a tenant of the Coliseum? (The answer was no) And if so, would Wang even accept with the prospect of a brand new Brooklyn arena staring him in the face? Realistically, Wang could put the Islanders up for sale and Ratner, who could be looking for additional business for his Brooklyn building, seems like a logical buyer.

Of course, Ratner and Wang were competitors in the bidding for the Nets. Ratner won. Is there enough bad blood to prevent these two from doing business? Would Dolan try and block Wang from selling his franchise to Ratner, if it got that far, because the Islanders would be infringing on Dolan's Rangers territory?

As the October 1 (2005) Nassau County deadline for developers to come up with a plan to create an “urban village” around the Nassau Coliseum approaches, the franchise remains more valuable because of its long term metropolitan area cable TV contract and potential real estate worth than as a hockey team, whether the team is in Nassau County or in Brooklyn.

In the time between the September 21, 2005 column and today, Ratner has survived numerous court challenges and has scaled down the project because of the souring economic conditions. The Town of Hempstead has not made a decision on the Lighthouse Project and the Town Supervisor Kate Murray seems to have abdicated her position (it would be nice if there was a legitimate media source pinning Murray and any politician for that matter down for answers, that doesn't seem to be the case with political flaks making sure the politician stays on message instead of answering questions, but that is another column for another day except to say that politicians work for the people not the other way around although it sure seems that way) as supervisor and is letting the issue slide into oblivion.

Ratner has never pushed for an NHL team but the Brooklyn building will be hockey friendly according to people in the know. Those people also claim Ratner wants an NHL in the building or did years ago. Wang has attracted interest from Queens as well, so he may have some very viable options inside New York City instead of in the burbs. Ratner claims he will break ground on the building this fall and he has always had New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg''s support. Wang may be seeking Bloomberg's backing as well if Kate Murray decides to keep dodging meetings and not answering questions. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Is Frugal the new Frivolity?
Is Frugal the new Frivolity?

By Evan Weiner

May 20. 2009

12:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- I was listening to Bloomberg Radio this morning and one of the guests on the morning Surveillance program piqued my interest. His name was David Rosenberg, the Chief Economist at Gluskin, Sheff and Associates in Toronto, and his topic seemed simple; people are living a more frugal lifestyle instead of being frivolous with their money.

It is pretty straight forward, people are still spending but the spending on high priced products is a thing of the past and being cheap is vogue for the next few years, the next five years or for as many as the next 10 years. Rosenberg in the interview confessed to being a Montreal Canadiens fan but didn't talk about the frugality versus frivolity argument in sports.

But there is no doubt that people and companies have become frugal when it turns to sports. The Steinbrenner family is finding out in New York that there is a limit to how much people are willing to pay for the top priced seats at the new Yankee Stadium, Jerry Jones is calling his new Dallas Cowboys stadium in Arlington, Texas, Cowboys Stadium as he has not been able to strike a deal for naming rights at the facility.

Sports spending for high ticket items such as club seats and luxury boxes is slowing and the days of $20 million a year naming rights for facilities for Citibank’s $400 million, 20-year agreement with Fred Wilpon’s New York Mets new stadium seems so 2006 in a 2009 world.

College football in the United States may find out that there are more frugal people than frivolous consumers in a couple of months. The President and Chief Executive Officer of the National Football Foundation and the College Football Hall of Fame, Steven J. Hatchell, acknowledges that 2009 will be a different world than say 2008 or 2007 was.

Money is tighter.

"Well, I am not sure on a global sense, I am a good one to ask," said Hatchell. "I know on our Board of Directors within the colleges, I think that we hear that things seem to be going very well to be candid with you, the TV contracts are in place, we have Commissioners and AD's (Athletic Directors) on our board and everybody said there is a cautiousness out there and everyone is trying to be very cautious about their spending and probably being a little bit more thoughtful about how they do things than maybe in the past.

"I have to say that we have not heard any alarm go off, we have heard caution but we have not heard any alarm and right now it seems like people feel things are strong. I think as we get closer to football season we will know a lot more. (College) Basketball is just over and now where does it go? The one thing we hear from everybody is that they got to be cautious because they don't know what to expect in the fourth quarter of the year.

"I hate to use that word over and over again but all we hear is people are more cautious. Donors are saying, hey I have been with you for 20 years, just give me a little time to make our contribution or we are going to wait a little bit."

But holding off on money will have an impact on college football costs. College football is fortunate, television contracts and long term marketing deals were signed before the economy imploded and both over-that-air and cable TV networks were willing to pay top dollar for the programming. That money is in the bank, but what happens if boosters cut their funding?

"I think the difference in a lot of the major programs in the country have to do with coaching staffs and what you pay with coaching staffs and I think that is what separates at all of different levels. Again what I would say, we haven't determined or heard anything that there is a difference right now, you see where people (fans) might drive for our contests as opposed to flying or they might try to schedule more than one contest on a trip and maybe some of those are good things to do period that might make a change well in the future.

"I think the fear for a lot of folks is, if it goes too far does it cost sponsorship of programs? Does it mean that some sports would be in jeopardy? But there hasn't been any of that happening. I think AD's right now are smarter than they ever have been and working closely with their universities and I think they are probably on top of it better than anytime in the history of intercollegiate activities."

Massachusetts Institute of Technology recently dropped eight sports. But that was on the Division III level where there are no big TV contracts or athletes receiving performance scholarships.

"There is always different reasons for that (dropping sports) and I don't know the MIT situation. I know people for the most part like to host as many sports as they possibly can do. There is a philosophy there now, let's do a great job with the sports that we have and maybe have the bare number that you have to have to be at a particular level within the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletics Association).

"I don't know I just think that conversations that our athletic directors are having are so mature, so well developed, it is not like the old days where we hope this works out. I think there have taken the guesswork out and I think they know where they stand pretty much and hopefully there won't be any of those cutbacks."

The College Football Hall of Fame is located in South Bend, Indiana, the home of the University of Notre Dame. It is far too early to access the recession’s impact on the Hall.

"We have not (felt the impact) but keep in mind that the College Football Hall of Fame, our test of that has to do more with what happens with Notre Dame home games and what happens in the summer. Right now it has been about the same I would say so the real test will be when we get closer to football," Hatchell said. "Are there meetings there and are there different things that happen during the football season that would be more of a test for us, how that goes and how that pans out. But the schools that are coming to play Notre Dame are planning a lot of things at the Hall of Fame.

“There seems to be also the attitude of people saying we are going to stay closer to home this summer so what are the hours of the Hall of Fame, we are getting those kinds of calls from around the country, we are traveling through the area, we are coming into Chicago, its two hours to drive over, probably a little more at home interest than we have had in the past."

Hatchell sounds a like David Rosenberg in that sense. People may becoming more frugal and visit the College Football Hall of Fame instead of more elaborate outings. In fact, college football itself may become more frugal with frivolity money dries up and people look to shop for bargains instead of going to high end places.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Did Schwarzenegger Open the Door for LA to Return to the NFL? Evan Weiner

May 15, 2009

10:45 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- Has California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger accidentally opened the door for the return of a National Football League team to Los Angeles with a proposal to sell the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and other state properties to help close the state’s multi-billion dollar deficit? The answer could very well be yes because in many ways it has been the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum Commission that has been a major impediment in the league’s plan to place a franchise in the Los Angeles area to replace the two teams, the Coliseum-based Raiders and the Anaheim-based Rams, which departed the area after the 1994 season.

The Coliseum Commission believes that the National Football League should only consider the Coliseum as the venue of choice in Los Angeles and since the Coliseum Commission has enormous clout in both LA and in the state capital in Sacramento, it has been able to get in the way of attempts to build other football facilities in the Los Angeles area.

The City of Industry is studying a proposal put forth by Ed Roski, who failed to land an NFL expansion franchise in LA in 1999, to build a stadium village complete with commercial and residential properties. In April 2008, the California State Senate blocked an attempt by the City of Industry to divert $820 million in property tax revenue from government services and use it for development subsidies. Although the Coliseum Commission was on the sidelines on the issue, it can be deduced that it had a heavy hand in the State Senate’s action.

Los Angeles County Supervisors led the charge against holding a legislative hearing about the City of Industry’s request. The Coliseum is sacred ground in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile towns around the City of Industry have expressed concern about having a football stadium within their backyards. Walnut is suing and asking for another environment impact study of the stadium and Chino Hills officials want to know how the stadium will impact traffic going through the city on game day. Another group, Citizens for Communities Preservation is suing Roski’s Majestic Company in an attempt to block the stadium. Diamond Bar has no problems with Roski’s plan.

The Coliseum Commission is no doubt watching how the court cases will unfold.

Governor Schwarzennger’s proposal also includes the sale of the Cal Expo grounds in Sacramento and that could close the door on that city’s efforts to build an arena for the National Basketball Association’s Maloof Brothers-owned Sacramento Kings franchise from getting a new arena. The league brokered a deal with Cal Expo officials to use part of that land to build a new arena along with a village of housing and commercial property surrounding the new sports facility.

The Maloof Brothers, have been seeking a new arena for the better part of the 21st century. The team’s previous owner was seeking a new building in the 20th century. In 1996, then Kings owner Jim Thomas proposed building a Major League Baseball stadium and an NBA Arena in the city but by 1997, the idea fell apart and Thomas began threatening to sell the team because the franchise was losing money.

Sacramento city leaders, fearing that Thomas might move the team to Anaheim or some other city, loaned him $22 million to help ease his financial burden. Thomas then sold the franchise in 1998 to the Maloof Brothers.

In 2001, Sacramento Mayor Heather Fargo put together a task force to study whether Sacramento should green light an arena and entertainment center in the city’s downtown area and, by November 2002, there was some sort of commitment to the plan. But the Maloof Brothers pulled out of the proposed venture within a year because they did not want to get stuck with a debt service bill. When the issue was revisited in 2004, the Maloofs were unhappy when a city councilman offered a resolution that would cap municipal spending for the proposed $350 million arena at $175 million. The Maloffs were not impressed with putting up $175 million and the spending cap.

Apparently the NBA’s spending cap on salaries was fine with the Maloofs but a municipal spending cap on an arena was unacceptable.

In 2006, the Maloofs and the city seemed to have struck a deal for a new arena that would have secured the franchise for decades if voters said yes in a November 2006 referendum The city, through the general tax, would have put up at least $470 million for the arena and parking. The city would own the building, but all of the revenue generated for all events held inside the building would go to the Maloof brothers. Not only that: The siblings would keep all the money earned from selling the naming rights to the city owned arena.
The Maloofs would pay off Thomas' old loan, which they inherited after they purchased the team. Additionally, they would pay $4 million in annual rent, an amount that could easily come from naming rights. They will also have to kick in $20 million for arena repairs. The Maloofs walked away from the deal however.

The Maloofs and the city fought over development surrounding the arena, the city wanted commercial and residential building to ring the new facility to spur downtown development but the Maloofs, who would get just about every nickel of revenue inside the building, wanted the land for an 8,000 space parking lot. The Maloofs wanted the big parking lot because they would keep all of the money generated from the lot. The Maloofs wanted the same parking deal they had and still have at the old arena.

That might not seem like a deal breaker until you do the math. Assuming the Maloofs fill the lot and charge $10 a car, that would mean $80,000 a night multiplied by 41 and you get more than $3 million annually from parking alone just from Kings events. The Maloofs would also get parking money from non-Kings events at the building, so the parking lot issue was a deal breaker.

The NBA got involved in 2007 by hiring John Moag, the man who convinced Cleveland Browns owner Art Modell to accept a Maryland offer for a new Baltimore stadium in 1995. Moag went to work and eventually crafted a proposal for a new arena-village at Cal Expo

Now that Governor Schwarzenegger is planning to sell off the property, it might be back to the negotiating table for the NBA, Moag and the city or the Maloof Brothers may finally call it a day in Sacramento and either sell the team to someone who might want to keep it in small market Sacramento with limited revenue streams from cable TV and corporate support, sell the team to a group who might move the franchise elsewhere or just move the team to another city.

Schwarzenegger may have opened one door for a franchise and closed another with his proposal of selling state properties.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Why Does Basillie Need More Canadian Government Financial Assistance? Why Does Basillie Need More Canadian Government Financial Assistance?

By Evan Weiner

May 13, 2009

9:45 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) – I am not a big fan of the Toronto sports media scene, whether I read about Toronto sports, I see local sportswriters break out their blue and white pom poms and write like fans who can put together a sentence. Now that Jim Basillie has put in a bid to buy the Glendale, Arizona-based Phoenix Coyotes, those same writers have put on their red and white Team Canada jerseys and have adopted an us against them, Southern Ontario versus the desert mentality with the hope that their knight in shining armor, Basillie moves the franchise to nearby Hamilton.

(A point of fact, a good many Canadian hockey writers seem to wave pom poms for their local teams, whether it is in Ottawa or Edmonton or other Canadian cities. But then again, as the New York Times columnist George Vescey pointed out to me many years ago, sportswriters are apologists. Sportswriters also have rooting interests.)

It would be refreshing to see the Toronto sports media take off the red and white uniforms and ask a very serious question about their savior of Canadian hockey, Basillie, It would be a very complex question that would require a bit of research, not much though, but here it goes. How much money did the Canadian government throw Basillie and Research in Motion’s way in the mid and late 1990s to help develop BlackBerry and how much of that government aid for research help make Basillie super rich. The second part of the question is why does Basillie need Hamilton and Ontario public money to refurbish the Hamilton arena to meet NHL standards, after all he became very rich because of the Canadian government’s help in funding the research for BlackBerry. Shouldn’t Basillie reach into his own pocket and give back to Canada if his goal is to own a Canadian based hockey team or is Basillie just another corporate welfare recipient?

That might be a tough question that is sure to get Basillie’s public relations people very upset but it is a fair question. Reporters should ask difficult questions not throw softballs to major league hitters in all areas not just hockey. Public relations people should not be setting agendas nor should reporters be afraid to ask a complex series of questions.

Basillie on the surface really isn’t any different than any other potential owner. If he can get a municipality to put up money, then why should he not accept funding?

Instead of that question being asked, there is the NHL owes Hamilton a franchise because one time New Jersey Devils owner John McMullen in the mid 1980s, dissatisfied with East Rutherford, New Jersey and paying off the New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers for invading the three teams territory and playing off Colorado Rockies owner Peter Gilbert after buying the financially ailing Denver-based team, kicked the tires and looked at Hamilton as a potential place to put his hockey team or how the NHL passed over Hamilton in the early 1990s and gave an expansion team to Ottawa instead of how Hamilton was fleeced back in 1925 when a New York bootlegger Bill Dyer purchased the Hamilton Tigers and moved the team to New York. The New York Americans franchise came before the New York Rangers and played in Madison Square Garden. The Garden owners liked how the hockey team was received in New York and decided to own their own team, the Rangers, and a year later Dyer’s franchise played second fiddle to the Rangers. The franchise was suspended in 1942 because of World War II and never reactivated.

Hamilton built an arena that was up to 1970s standards that was opened in 1985. The Copps Coliseum wasn’t designed with the future in mind and lacks a sufficient number of luxury boxes. The arena would need about $180 million in renovations to bring it up to 21st century state of the art NHL standards. Basillie isn’t willing to put up that kind of money and that should run Canadians the wrong way although Basillie has proven he has learned his lessons over the years and knows how to make demands. Basillie reportedly wants $150 million from Hamilton and Ontario coffers.

Basillie has never been much for public relations. Ontario has been hard hot by the recession with 11,000 lost jobs in March and 171,000 jobs between October and the end of March. Ontario will be hard hit by the possible liquidation of Chrysler and the pending June 1 General Motors bankruptcy. It is not a good climate to be asking for a government handout even if it is for an NHL franchise.

Hockey may be a way of life in Canada but in the overall economic scheme, hockey is does not provide an economic stimulus and while Hamilton is thought to be a potential goldmine for an owner, non-hockey fans should not be helping Basille’s bottom line. Canadians have given Basillie enough; they helped in part in the development of BlackBerry. Balsillie should build his own place; he has the money in part because the Canadian government has been so good to him.

Why Balsillie needs another handout is a question that Basillie needs to answer and hopefully someone in the Toronto media area will not act like a hockey fan dying for a seventh Canadian franchise and ask Basillie about the need to live off the public dole for a Hamilton hockey team.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

America’s urban policy failure: Sports facilities as economic engines

Evan Weiner
Go to Evan's Home Page
Business of Sports Examiner

America’s urban policy failure: Sports facilities as economic engines

May 12, 1:07 PM

In the future, people who study and write about civilizations will make judgments about policies. The future Fred Siegels of the world will dissect urban policies and politics of the late 20th century in the United States and will undoubtedly reach the following conclusion.

Spending public dollars to fund sports stadiums and arenas was a failed public policy and did very little to create economic stimulus in any United States city in the 1990s and into the 21st century. Fred Siegel is a world-class chronicler of past civilizations, an author, a college professor, and a columnist and was a speechwriter for New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Mr. Siegel also read my book, “The Business and Politics of Sports” and told me that it wasn’t a sports book; it was a public policy book.

I thanked Fred Siegel for elevating me but that doesn’t mean it puts me in the same league as Fred Siegel or others who study urban policies or politics but it does allow me to say this. Sports facility spending was a failure for taxpayers and a bad policy that cost taxpayers billions upon billions of dollars for little or no return.

Who is to blame? Elected officials, not sports owners. Elected officials were so desperate to make sure that their cities were included in big time sports that they raised all sorts of taxes to get facilities built. They chased billionaire owners who had the glamour item they wanted, big league teams with big stars. It was a feel good item, a business that could make a whole city come together but sports franchises do nothing to solve cities and states real problems.

Sports franchises don’t solve unemployment or housing problems, sports franchises don’t improve the quality of health care or education. Sports franchises provide some entertainment, in Major League Baseball’s case, there are 81 home games a year out of a calendar of 365 days or 366 in leap years, a city might have an NBA and NHL team using an arena about 90 days a year and throw in some college basketball, that would be a 100 day use in a 365 or 366 day annual calendar. A National Football League team will use a facility about 10 teams a year.

In 1997, then Nashville Mayor Phil Bredesen said he would have been better off building a full sized supermarket instead of a football stadium or an arena as a supermarket hat is opened 24 hours a day, seven days week employs more people than a team, has people in the community spending money in the place and the employees generally live in the area and spend money within a community unlike sports owners and athletes. Mayor Bredesen though cited an intrinsic value as the reason that Nashville needed a National Football League and either a National Hockey League or National Basketball Association team. He thought Nashville needed an identity even though Nashville is globally known as the world’s capital of country music.

Phil Bredesen words should be studied now, next year and in decades or centuries from now when people ask why did sports become a central part of urban planning. He half admitted that pursuing sports franchises was not a sound fiscal policy.

Here is why the municipal sports arena/stadium building policy has failed. In the late 1980s and throughout the 1990s, politicians sold the public on the need of building sports cathedrals to spur local economies. Construction workers who would spend about two years putting together the facility would lay down the actual brick and mortar. They would have a job even though they would be paid roughly the same amount as if they were building a mall, a factory or homes. Once the facility was built, there would be jobs for people ranging from working in the team’s office to ticket takers, vendors and parking lot attendants. But there was a flaw in that thinking, if a team left an old facility in the city, they would be moving their employees to the new place of business unless they attracted a team from another city but that happened just once in baseball when the Montreal franchise was transferred to Washington, it happened a few times in basketball with the moves of Vancouver to Memphis and Charlotte to New Orleans and with NBA expansion to Charlotte. People did not make the move and lost jobs and were replaced by others. The new Charlotte team hired new employees. In football, Houston moved to Nashville, Cleveland relocated to Baltimore, the NFL expanded, not by choice necessarily to replace those cities, Anaheim and Los Angeles lost teams that ended up in St. Louis and Oakland, the NFL did create new franchises in Jacksonville and Charlotte. The NHL added nine teams, San Jose, Tampa, Ottawa, Anaheim, Miami, Columbus, Nashville, Atlanta, and St. Paul, Minnesota and relocated three franchises, Hartford ended up in Raleigh, Quebec City moved to Denver and Winnipeg relocated to first Phoenix then Glendale, Arizona.

Some jobs were created but not enough to create economic stimulus and some eateries; bars and businesses near arenas were opened but nothing that would shake up an economy.

In return, the municipalities would make money from organization’s using the facility through rent payments, taxes and people would travel from other places to watch games and would stay at local hotels and motels, eat at restaurants and rent cars. In theory, municipalities would make millions of dollars off of the stadiums and arenas.

That has not happened. The failure rates are astonishing. City after city built facilities and in some cases, the buildings were antiquated within the first five years of the building’s existence. Miami and Charlotte opened new arenas in the late 1980s; the Miami Arena was finished as a viable facility within 10 years. Cash strapped Pittsburgh, which was experiencing fiscal problems before the 2007-09 recession, was still paying off the debts of Three Rivers Stadium after the building was demolished. Seattle owes money on the demolished Kingdome and the final bill won’t come due until 2014.

Even the stadiums that are perceived as “winners” like Camden Yards in Baltimore are not. The baseball stadium was the final piece of the puzzle in the rebuilding of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. The Baltimore Orioles got a gem of a stadium, which cost taxpayers more than $200 million, and there is an additional $14 million in annual payments in upkeep and debt. Maryland then built a football facility for the Baltimore Ravens; some jobs were created at the facility at a cost of more than $100,000 per job created. Maryland taxpayers are picking up an $18 million a year tab to keep the facility in top-notch shape along with paying off the bills.

The jobs that have been created include per diem ticket takers, vendors and some parking lot attendants.

The Maryland experience is the norm. In Indianapolis, the city agreed to build a new arena for the National Basketball Association Pacers and a new facility for the National Football League’s Indianapolis Colts. The agreement with the Pacers owners, the Simon Brothers, included a provision that the Simons pay $15 million to help maintain the city’s arena. The Simons claimed they lost money in nine of the 10 years the team played in the facility and could no longer afford the payment. The lease provision originally signed between Indianapolis and the Simons gave the owners an out after 10 years of paying the annual $15 million fee.

The Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board determined someone underestimated the annual upkeep on the new football facility by $20 million annually and that has blown up a huge hole in the budget. Coupled with the Simons decision to pull the plug on the $15 million annual stipend and costs at the minor league baseball park and the Indiana Convention Center, the Capital Improvement Board is facing anyway between a $43-47 million deficit and the question facing the panel is simple. How do you get revenues to fund the gap?

The answer? Hope the Simons kick in $5 million annually, convince the football Colts owner Jim Irsay to rewrite his contract and give the board $5 million a year after the contract stipulates no payment from Irsay, double the state tax on alcohol with the Marion County extra tax revenue going to pay off the board’s debt, raise the Marion County restaurant tax from 2 to 2.25 percent, which punishes no sports fans who never use the facilities, raise Marion County’s hotel tax from 8 to 9 percent which moves the hotel tax when the state rate is thrown in to 16 percent and direct the hotel taxes generated by a hotel next to the conventional center to the board. Additionally, workers at the facilities will be asked to take a pay cut and ticket taxes will be raised from six to 1o percent.

That hardly sounds like an economic engine or stimulus package.

Indianapolis is not the only city that needs to pay off enormous debt on sports facilities.

In St. Louis, there is a huge hole where construction was supposed to take place as part of a planned “stadium-village” for the St. Louis Cardinals baseball franchise. St. Louis will host Major League Baseball’s All Star Game in July and the stadium was supposed to be the sparkling jewel of the urban renaissance that the owners, St. Louis and Missouri politicians envisioned. It has not happened and with the recession about ready to hit commercial real estate, that hole may be there for quite a while.

Politicians have not learned from their mistakes. In cash strapped Yonkers, New York, Mayor Phil Amicone continues to push to build a minor league baseball stadium-village as part of urban renewal. This project has been on the table for years and doesn’t make any sense. Yet Mayor Amicone and his allies want the project to be built despite example after example of failure. Next time Mayor Amicone goes to Washington, he should stop by the new baseball park and see how much development has taken place in the area.

Stadium villages some green chutes in a mostly barren environment.

Teabaggers and conservatives hit the streets on April 15 to protest high taxes. Teabaggers have been asleep at the wheel for years not monitoring what has happened in the past 23 years since the 1986 Tax Act rearranged how stadiums and arenas were financed. The President Ronald Reagan era tax bill, which was signed off by members of both parties, had a loophole that allowed just eight cents on every dollar generated within a stadium or arena to go to pay off building debt.

As a result, politicians cobbled together a series of tax increases to pay off the buildings. Sports team owners went to politicians after they saw the loophole and said build use a new facility or we will leave. It was a threat but as the late Dr. John McMullen, the owner of the Houston Astros and New Jersey Devils once said about sports, decisions are made from emotion not reality, politicians acted emotionally and did not want to lose a major league team because it would diminish a city’s perceived perception as a “big league” town.

The politicians raised hotel, motel, sales, alcohol, cigarette, car rental taxes, lotteries and funds from casinos to fund construction. One set of politicians was so hell bent on keeping a team, Arlington, Texas, that it seized land from a citrus farmer to build the Texas Rangers baseball franchise, an organization that listed George W. Bush as the team’s managing general partner, a stadium that was partially funded by a one half of a one cent hike in the local sales tax and granting a special tax zone within the stadium’s perimeter. Because of Mayor Richard Greene’s decision to build a stadium, Arlington was sued for taking the land and ended up paying nearly $5 million for the property. Arlington got the baseball team and went after Jerry Jones Dallas Cowboys football team. A leopard never changes its stripes nor does the Arlington government. A new mayor, Robert Cluck, pushed for the team and raised the local sales tax by a half cent and seized land by eminent domain for Jones’ new playpen. Arlington paid out millions in setting eminent domain disputes.

A number of cities had referendums on sports facility construction, sometimes elected officials just decided to build a facility after holding some public hearings. The elected officials sold the local public on stadium/arena building by saying the local population would not be paying for the facilities, as the “tourism” taxes from hotels-motels/restaurants and car rentals would take care of the bill. The politicians neglected to point out that most of the people who rent cars are not out of towners; rather they are people who live in the community. Most people who use restaurants are locals not tourists.

Seattle used the “tourism” taxes to fund a new baseball park and a football-soccer stadium and the package of taxes included a minor league baseball stadium in nearby Everett and an arena.

Cities and states also have paid for infrastructure such as road repairs, water and sewer lines, train platforms and other goodies as part of stadium packages, waived property taxes, created stadium zones where all the tax money collected inside that zone goes to the team owner. Cities and states are now giving land away to owners to build a stadium or an arena along with commercial properties, residential buildings in exchange for payment in lieu of taxes or tax incremental financing. Louisiana was giving the NFL’s New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson payments along with the NBA’s New Orleans Hornets owner George Shinn. Benson will have a new deal, which will give him the right to develop properties near the Superdome and decrease Louisiana’s annual $23 million dollar payment to his football business if the state legislature goes along with Governor Bobby Jindal’s deal.

Major League Baseball in 1990 demanded that all of the facilities used by the club’s minor league teams be brought up to certain standards by 1994 or those cities that did not go along with MLB’s wishes would lose teams. Most of the cities gave in and spent money to built or rebuilt parks. Cities like Elmira, New York said no and lost teams. The New York-Penn short season rookie league bares no resemblance in 2009 to the 1989 season except in name only.

The lure of the big leagues is a major reason why politicians will pay hundreds of millions of dollars and with debt payment close to a billion dollars in building stadiums and arenas. The politicians think that they will lose a competitive advantage without a major league sports team although during the 1997 National Hockey League expansion talks, representatives from the Hampton Roads, Virginia bid group did a study of the 1993 National Football League expansion into the Charlotte-area, with the team first playing in 1995, and found that no company listed having an NFL team in Charlotte as a reason to locate their business in the city.

Charlotte is the number 2 banking center in the United States but it is not because of football or basketball. Yet after George Shinn moved his NBA team from Charlotte to New Orleans after 2002, Mayor Pat McCoury said one of the reasons that he wanted a new arena built in the city to replace the one that opened in 1988 was that the city would get free publicity every time Charlotte’s basketball team’s highlights were shown on ESPN.

Conventions go to Las Vegas where there is no major league team; conventions go to Orlando where there is just an NBA team but that NBA is not pulling in tourists. Conventions go to New York because it is New York.

It is very hard to figure out just how much money elected officials have spent on stadium and just how much money the public is paying. The number is in the billions however. What was the return on those billions? The sports owners were able to charge more money for tickets, players demanded more money and received it but the economic engine, the economic stimulus from stadium and arena building never trickled down. The stadiums/arenas still employ part time, per diem help at minimum wage or below with no benefits. The conditions are the same for those people as they were at old facilities. People don’t travel en masse to see a game, so all of the predictions that “tourists” would pay for stadiums and arenas turned out not to be true. Taxpayers are on the hook for places that no longer exist.

All of the new sports facilities in Detroit didn’t help the Big 3 automakers, all of the new facilities in Cleveland didn’t remake that city and in fact Ohio voters said no to racetrack casinos in November 2006. Not all of the slot machines would have ended up in Ohio racetracks, two separate slot parlors would have opened in Cleveland in an attempt to get people to spend money in the city.

Building a stadium or an arena in a municipality with public funds is a failed policy but it continues. Miami, which was burned by building an arena that was abandoned by the two main tenants after just 11 years of use, is at it again and will construct a baseball stadium for MLB’s Florida Marlins using “tourist” money among the various revenues of funding. San Jose, California is beginning the process of finding a way to get Lewis Wolff’s Oakland A’s into the city. Santa Clara, California would like to get the San Francisco 49ers into the town. At least no one is using the term “economic engine” anymore in justifying public spending on stadiums and arenas. In fact, there is no justification anymore; it is just let’s build a facility.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Another bad week for Sports Another Bad Week for Sports

By Evan Weiner

May 10, 2009

8:30 EDT

(New York, N. Y.) – Just in case you are a sports fan and haven’t noticed, the North American sports world is once again reeling. The Manny Ramirez story is rather interesting not because he was suspended for 50 games, the real story is that a doctor gave him a prescription drug which was on Major League Baseball’s banned substance list.

Is it now the responsibility of the medical profession to familiarize itself with banned substances in baseball, football, hockey, basketball, soccer, and the Olympics? If so, then that takes time from patients with real needs so that they get up to date and make sense they can keep maybe 4,000 elite athletes legal to compete and that brings up the question of priorities and with the continued outing of athletes using banned substances, will the keepers of the sports ethics start going after physicians who should in the opinion of sports ethics people should know the rules.

It is too bad Ivan Pavlov isn’t doing condition reflex research today with his dogs because real humans could provide reliable results. The Ramirez suspension got the usual teeth gnashing from the guardians of the baseball and baseball Hall of Fame gate, the baseball scribes, the usual World Anti Doping Agency tripe about how this is a good step for baseball but not enough and there were the jokes as well from comedians and this from Dr. Harvey Schiller, who is lobbying for the return of Baseball to the 2016 Summer Olympics the following on Facebook. “A-Rod and Manny, thanks for working so hard to kill our Olympic Baseball efforts!”
Dr. Schiller is navigating through a difficult minefield as the International Olympic Committee led by President Jacques Rogge doesn’t want any part of baseball or softball in its little fiefdom.
Dr. Schiller was referring to Selena Robert’s new book on Alex Rodriguez which alleges that Rodriguez took steroids as far back as high school and that the International Olympic Committee has dropped baseball from the Olympic roster in 2012 partially due to what the IOC claimed is baseball’s lax drug testing policy although the real problem was that Major League Baseball wasn’t going to sent stars to play in the quadrennial tournament and the IOC demands stars in all sports today with the exception of football (soccer) which acquired a waiver. Even the IOC understands that the FIFA World Cup is bigger than the Olympics.
While baseball took it on the chin, specifically Ramirez’s Los Angeles Dodgers employers who have a “Mannywood” promotion going on for Los Angeles Dodgers customers, there are brush fires all over the place.
The National Hockey League is in court facing off against one of their own, Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes who declared bankruptcy on Tuesday just before the NHL tried to complete a deal with Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf to but the financially stricken team. The case will be heard before a bankruptcy judge on May 19 and it appears the case is simple. Moyes wants to sell his team to Canadian billionaire Jim Basillie who would move the Coyotes franchise to Hamilton. Moyes wants to break his lease with Glendale, Arizona for the use of the city’s arena and has figured out that bankruptcy is the best way to go about his business and recoup lost dollars. The NHL on the other hand will say that Moyes cannot just declare bankruptcy and the league has been paying the bills in Glendale.

One veteran attorney who has been through the battles in sports lawsuits isn’t sure the NHL’s contention that the league has the right to pick and choose owners and franchise location. “Bankruptcy courts do have the power to set many contracts aside. That may be true of the lease,” said the observer. “However, the local politicians will try to put pressure on the judge to find a buyer that will not move the team. The NHL will align with that clique. Given the losses however, it may be hard to find a local buyer that will come close to matching an offer based on a moved franchise.”
The NHL does not want to see the team go to Hamilton at this point. Phoenix and Denver were essential to the NHL in the mid-1990s as the league was looking to expand across the United States particularly as the two cities are in the Mountain Time zone in the winter months.
Cities across the United States that spent hundreds of millions of dollars building sports palaces for baseball, football, basketball, hockey and soccer teams must kept an eye on the proceedings in Glendale, Arizona. Cities like Indianapolis.

The NBA’s Indiana Pacers and the NFL’s Indianapolis Colts have modern facilities. The Colts new stadium opened last year and the Pacers in a reasonably new arena in the city. The Simon Brothers, who own the Pacers, decided that they could no longer afford to some $15 million annually in operational costs at the facility. The Simons gave Indianapolis an ultimatum, drop the $15 million request which the Simons could demand this year as part of the original lease at the facility or we will move, possibly to Kansas City. The Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board was running a deficit with both places and has decided to not pay grant money for arts and tourism and is looking to renegotiate labor contracts and selling off some assets to pay an anticipated $47 million budget gap. Additionally, the Indianapolis Capital Improvement Board wants people who use neither the football stadium nor the basketball arena to also dig deeper into their pockets and hike taxes on alcohol, hotel and motel rentals along with car rentals. Some Colts and Pacers fans that go to games will be asked to pay higher ticket taxes.

At one time, politicians across the United States were peddling the line that stadium and arena building would be economic engines and create jobs. It hasn’t worked out in many places and if Moyes is successful, it could open a Pandora’s box. Meanwhile it appears it is open season on the NHL. A Vancouver group allegedly is trying to buy the Atlanta Thrashers and move the team to Hamilton, New York Islanders owner Charles Wang regrets buying the franchise because he has not been able to get the Town of Hempstead’s approval to build the Lighthouse Project, which would be an arena village. Cablevision, the New York Rangers owner, is ready to spin off Madison Square Garden, the Rangers, the NBA Knicks, the WNBA Liberty, Radio City Music Hall, the Beacon Theater in New York and the Chicago Theater although there is a rumor that Cablevision scion and Garden Chairman James Dolan wants to buy the teams and buildings. Then there is Kontinental Hockey League President Alexander Medvedev, the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Executive Directors of the Russian energy company Gazprom and the Director-General of Gazprom’s export arm Gazprom Export who wants to buy an NHL team, sure up his financially ailing KHL and maybe form a pan-European league.
Five of Sweden’s Elite League franchises have told league officials they plan to bolt, possibly to join Medvedev’s league or form another major hockey league.

NHL relocation is easier than in baseball, football and basketball as Canada seems to be a willing market. Baseball, football and basketball don’t have an abundance of American cities looking to foot the bill to pay for an arena and team. Major League Baseball can still dictate relocation because of the 1922 antitrust exemption handed to the game by a sympathetic United States Supreme Court, which saw baseball as a game not a business. San Jose may want the Oakland A’s, but Oakland’s territory is on the eastern shores of the San Francisco Bay and even though voters twice said no to San Francisco Giants baseball parks in San Jose and Santa Clara, baseball has given the Giants franchise those territories. The antitrust exemption has also sealed off any attempt to put a third team in the New York City area.
What people do forget is that Hamilton city officials screwed up about two decades ago when the NHL announced expansion plans by constructing a building with virtually no luxury boxes and Winnipeg and Quebec City could not afford NHL prices anymore. In Phoenix, city officials acquiesce to then Phoenix Suns owner Jerry Coangelo’s request to build a basketball only building for this team and in doing so approved a design which destroyed other potential users of the building’s ability to maximize revenues in the arena. There were about 4,000 obstructed seats for hockey, arena football and other events. A dumb decision by Phoenix politicians back in the late 1980s may come back to haunt all of the sports leagues. Had that building been able to have normal seating for basketball and hockey, it is possible that the Coyotes franchise would have been in better fiscal shape. But Coangelo was king in Phoenix political circles and he got what he wanted, and there is an old saying, be careful what you wish for as it might come true.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Another sports columnist is wrong about the NHL, what else is new?

Evan Weiner
Go to Evan's Home Page
Business of Sports Examiner

Another sports columnist is wrong about the NHL, what else is new?

May 5, 10:14 PM

Four years ago, newspaper sports editors were in a joyous mode. There was no need to even think about the National Hockey League Stanley Cup playoffs. The league's 30 owners had locked out their players and as far as the sports editors were concerned, the NHL fell off a cliff and thankfully would never be seen again. Hockey in the United States was a dead sport and nothing would revive it. Of course the sports editors, most of whom have little understanding of the business of sports, were incorrect. There is global interest in hockey and hockey is a multinational business beyond the United States and Canada.Newspaper sports editors have never liked hockey and a good many sports editors showed their distain for the sport by assigning women and minorities to cover the games. It is no coincidence in the 1980s that the NHL was celebrating diversity among the press reporting on games. There were women assigned to games as reporters. But the truth of the matter and there should not be any sugarcoating this, the sports editors felt they were saddled with women writers in the sports department and needed to give them assignments somewhere and that somewhere was the NHL. Look at the bylines of the writers of baseball and football. Real “sportsmen” covered those games for newspapers, mostly white males. Basketball got a little better treatment than the NHL with more men assigned to cover games. Women did get some other assignments, horse racing, maybe some golf as well but it was the bottom of the barrel stuff that real sportswriters, men, would never cover. If the sports editors say anything different from those days and continuing into today, they are liars. Women covered the NHL because the NHL didn't matter to sports editors.Apparently the anti-hockey sentiment is still alive and well in Oklahoma City or "Big League City" as the Oklahoman, Oklahoma's Most Trusted News source put on display today (May 5). Oklahoman sports columnist Berry Tramel is still stuck in that old sportswriters rut. Tremel wrote that Oklahoma City's failure to get the Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut to move or sell his franchise to local interests and not getting an NHL expansion team in 1997 was "the best thing never to happen to Oklahoma City." He added, “Sometimes we should thank God for unanswered prayers.”

The Lord must have been busy when Oklahoma City’s hockey fans were asking for an NHL franchise.Tremel's logic seems to come right out of the sports editor playbook of the 1960s or 1970s or 1980s or 2005."Because we suffered one hockey disappointment after another, today we have the NBA. Because the Nordiques nor the Penguins nor expansion arrived, we have Kevin Durant and the Thunder. Nothing against the NHL. Better to have major-league hockey than major-league nothing. NHL teams are precious possessions to the towns in which they play.

“But the NBA is a bigger prize. Better game. Better profile. Better bang for your buck. The Stanley Cup playoffs are in their third week and drawing barely a blip on the national stage. When the Thunder makes the playoffs — April 2011 is the best bet — Oklahoma City will be a much higher plane."

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are a big international deal and that is where sports are headed. The most popular athlete in Washington isn't the Redskins starting quarterback. Alexander Ovechkin, who was born in Moscow, back in USSR days and grew up in the Soviet then Russian capital, is the guy in DC. Ovechkin also seems to have a pretty big fan in Lebron James, the NBA's most valuable player. Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals are playing the Pittsburgh Penguins, a team led by another pretty hot sports property, Sidney Crosby although the best player on Pittsburgh might be another Russian Evgeni Malkin.
The defending Stanley Cup champions, the Detroit Red Wings, have captured the Swedish sports market because of the number of Swedes on the team. In Canada, and if Tremel did the math, which he probably didn't, the NHL-NBA TV viewers if you throw Canada into the mix with the US, is nearly the same, Vancouver is still playing. The NHL held the annual outdoor game in Wrigley Field in Chicago and that created a big buzz, and Chicago's hockey team is good again and that has brought back Blackhawks supporters.

Tramel did everything that sports editors across the United States would like to do daily, trash the National Hockey League. What Tramel doesn't understand is that the NHL, NBA and Major League Baseball are umbilically tied through ownerships of teams, cable TV networks and sponsors. Tramel should be educated in the business of sports. Ralph Wilson's Buffalo Bills, a National Football League team, benefited from the 2007 New Year's Day NHL game between Pittsburgh and Buffalo. MLB teams have gone after the New Year's Day game, Sam Zell's Chicago Cubs got the 2008 Detroit Red Wings-Chicago Blackhawks game at Wrigley Field. Zell, who once was a Chicago White Sox minority owner under Jerry Reinsdorf, happens to be partners with Chicago Blackhawks owner Rocky Wirtz and Reinsdorf's White Sox and Bulls in a regional cable TV network. Reinsdorf and Wirtz are partners in the Chicago arena.

The 2009 New Year's Day game will take place in Fenway Park in Boston.

The business of sports includes leagues sharing information and players associations trading data.

Tramel ignored in his column just how much money Oklahoma City residents are really shelling out for the privilege to be a "big league" city. In order to attract Clay Bennett to move his Seattle SuperSonics to Oke City, the city had to spend millions upon millions of dollars to upgrade the city's five year old arena which Bennett thought would need to be replaced sometime in the next decade.

As far as newspapers, at one time the newspaper coverage was essential to sports and even though Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is suggesting that leagues subsidize newspapers so that sportswriters remain on the beat as newspapers fire people because they cannot generate advertising revenue at the same rate as prior years or just fold. The newspaper is no longer all that important as the nature of news content deliver changes from paper to electronic devices. Sports leagues and individual teams have websites that deliver news, sports talk radio stations said radio reporters on beats who can deliver news just as well as newspapers.

It is an evolving world.

American newspapers sports editors have given the NHL the short end of the stick forever and if they say no, they are not telling the truth. Just look at bylines. The NHL isn't going anywhere except for a continued expansion into Europe and that makes sense because there is great interest in the NHL in Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Latvia, Russia, Germany, Norway and Belarus and there is money to be made there.

Ovechkin is on a global stage as is Lebron James. Tramel should expand his viewpoint beyond Oklahoma City and by the way, Oklahoma City probably needs additional revenue sharing from NBA owners to hope to stay competitive once the team gets better players even with all that municipal money from Oklahoma City and Oklahoma.