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.

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