Thursday, August 20, 2009

Jim Balsillie and Groucho Marx

Jim Balsillie and Groucho Marx

By Evan Weiner

August 20, 2009

11:30 AM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- The gloves have come off and now the battle between the man who wants a National Hockey League team in Hamilton, Ontario, Jim Balsillie, and the very league he is trying to enter has become rather personal. The NHL has accused Balsillie of concocting a "self-serving scheme" by "co-opting" Phoenix Coyotes owner Jerry Moyes to put the business into bankruptcy and somehow insider’s information about the Jerry Reinsdorf bid to buy the business and the Reinsdorf's group negotiations to get a better deal from the city of Glendale to use the municipally built arena for the hockey team was leaked to the conservative, government watchdog group, the Goldwater Institute.

If Balsillie wants to come across as saying the Glendale/Phoenix, Arizona is not a financially solvent hockey market that is fine. But if Balsillie is hiding behind the Goldwater Institute to unmask subsidies that Reinsdorf wants and Glendale is willing to give him to keep the arena occupied then there is something very disingenuous about the strategy. Balsillie’s company Research in Motion was heavily subsidized by the Canadian government in developing BlackBerry technology and Balsillie himself has demanded and received hundreds of millions of Canadian dollars to bring the Hamilton arena up to NHL standards should he get the franchise and move it to the Ontario city.

Balsillie wants to put a team in a city, Hamilton, that has one of the highest rates of unemployment in Canada according to Statistic Canada. The unemployment rate in Ontario in July according to Statistics Canada was 9.3 percent; Hamilton’s unemployment rate is 8.2 percent. Ontario has been crushed by the downsizing of General Motors and Chrysler.

The Goldwater Institute filed a lawsuit to become a party to the bankruptcy proceedings which are continuing. The bankruptcy judge has refused the conservative group's request to join the courtroom battle. Oddly enough the Goldwater Institute was not that critical of the construction of the Glendale football stadium that is home to the Arizona Cardinals in a February 2008 article published by the New York Times.

Balsillie and his lawyer Richard Rodier have fired back and in court papers have said that the NHL has accepted convicted criminals in their ranks to counter the NHL's contention that Balsillie was rejected from being an NHL because of the perception that Balsillie did not "good character and integrity."

Balsillie's lawyer in the court filing went after Reinsdorf because he sued the National Basketball Association in 1990 when the league decided that having Reinsdorf's Chicago Bulls games on United States superstation WGN as Bulls star Michael Jordan was hitting his peak on court was cannibalizing American national cable and broadcast TV rights -- Reinsdorf's team and the Atlanta Hawks games on superstation WTBS were a problem for the NBA in those days -- and New York Rangers owner James Dolan who was upset that the league, not his team, was controlling team websites.

Rodier also went after Bruce McNall, who owned the Los Angeles Kings and ultimately plead guilty to defrauding banks of $236 million, Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk for violations of Canada's Security Act and one time Nashville co-owner William "Boots" Del Biaggio III who last February pleaded guilty to security fraud in trying to get $100 million in loans by falsifying documents.

Rodier somehow missed John Spano, George Steinbrenner, Harold Ballard, William Cox, Dennis Kozlowski, Eddie DeBartolo, Paul Greenwood and Stephen Walsh in naming a few more sports owners miscreants.

If the co-CEO of Research in Motion, Balsillie, wants to make friends in the National Hockey League and sports, he is sure going about his business the wrong way. Whether people want to admit this or not about sports, whether it is the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the International Olympic Committee, the English Premier League or other sports organizations, it is a private club. Owners can say yes to someone or reject them without just cause.

Balsillie has become the anti-Groucho Marx. Julius Henry Marx, better known as Groucho once quipped "I refuse to join any club that would have me as a member." Groucho could not get into any Los Angeles area country clubs because of anti-Semitism in the 1930s. Balsillie cannot get into the NHL private club because of the way he has conducted himself in the past when trying to buy NHL properties in Pittsburgh and in Nashville.

It was the Nashville experience that soured the NHL as Balsillie purchased the franchise from Craig Leipold in June 2007 and immediately began selling tickets to Hamilton Predators games in 2008-09. Balsillie soon lost his chance to buy the Nashville team.

Here is a free history lesson for Balsillie that perhaps Rodier can use. Owners reject potential owners for various reasons or just reject them. In Major League Baseball history, there are plenty of examples of that and in fact, Major League Baseball enjoys an anti-trust exemption from a lawsuit filed by the owners of the Federal League's Baltimore Terrapins. Terrapins ownership was left out of the agreement when the American and National Leagues reached a deal to pay off the Federal League to go away in 1915.

The Terrapins owners sued and eventually the Supreme Court of the United States heard the case and ruled against the Baltimore club and added baseball was a sport not an interstate business in 1922. In the 1980s, Major League Baseball twice rejected a bid by Edward L. Gaylord to buy the Texas Rangers from Eddie Chiles.

The reason?

Gaylord owned a TV station in Dallas that was a "superstation" that was picked up by 400 or so cable systems in the United States southwest. Major League Baseball saw Gaylord's purchase of the Rangers as a threat to national television contracts. Ironically the Chicago White Sox’s Reinsdorf was one of the owners who said no Gaylord. Texas was eventually sold to a group that included the son of the sitting President of the United States, George Bush. The son was George W. Bush. Gaylord would eventually own a piece of the Rangers beginning in 1995.

Major League Baseball also turned down repeated attempts by Frank Morsani to put a team in Tampa, Florida. Eventually Morsani and Major League Baseball reached a settlement after Morsani filed suit against the baseball that shut him out.

The National Football League said no to John Bassett and his Memphis team along with the owners of the Birmingham franchise in the World Football League asked to be included in the NFL after the two year old WFL folded in 1975. A court agreed with the NFL.

The National Basketball Association said no to Bob Arum in 1994 after his group bought the financially troubled Minnesota Timberwolves and planned to move the franchise to New Orleans. In the end, the NBA found a local buyer and Arum walked away.

It is a private club; the owners can pick and choose their partners. Balsillie is not one of them and his actions have offended club members. But Balsillie is continuing his fight and the referee in this case, Judge Redfield T. Baum is letting the fight go on although Judge Baum has ruled that the NHL is a private club and one of the biggest creditors in the bankruptcy proceedings, the computer magnate Michael Dell has endorsed Reinsdorf’s bid.

Balsillie has won no friends in this fight except maybe the Goldwater Institute and Balsillie has been lucky that he has a bunch of lapdogs in the Toronto sports media who are on his side no matter what. But the fight will go on and now it is getting down and dirty.

Monday, August 17, 2009

IOC Likes American Money But Not Much Else About the States

IOC Likes American Money But Not Much Else About the States

By Evan Weiner

August 17, 2009

8:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) --There are quite a few American women athletes who should be fuming at the decision by International Olympic Committee’s Executive Board to keep softball out of the competition in 2016. The American women who play softball are quite good, maybe too good for Olympic competition although Australian women are very good as well and it should be noted that the last Gold Medal Olympic Softball team was from Japan, not the United Sates.

That Japanese team will be the defending Gold Medal winning squad until at least 2020 because softball will not be played in 2012 or 2016. The International Olympic Committee has added golf for the 2016 Games which means they could have Tiger Woods competing and that means extra eyeballs in front of whatever technology will be used in 2016, a TV, computer, cell and a variation of rugby will be played as well. “Rugby seven” features just seven players per side instead of 15 and the matches are shorter.

Golf is played globally and rugby is another widely played international sport but there are four major golf tournaments annually that eclipse the Olympics -- the Masters, the British Open, the US Open and the PGA Championships -- along with the Ryder Cup. International Olympic Committee President Jacques Rogge is a former rugby player on the Belgium National Rugby Union team. The addition of rugby to the competition means that the International Rugby Board will have to step up marketing incursions into the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India and China, along with the United States and Canada. Rogge and the IOC will give rugby an international platform which could bolster rugby’s profile.

Rugby is a minor sport in all of those countries.

Golf has big names, sponsors that don't worry about mass marketing but go after a specific demographic and there is the Tiger Woods factor. Although Rogge denied that bringing golf into the Olympic family has nothing to do with money, it is hard to believe he is telling the truth. That would not be the first time an International Olympic Committee leader would be stretching words.

The 2014 and 2016 Olympics American TV deal still needs to be negotiated and there is a good case that money and star power, golf and Tiger, triumphed over softball for that very reason. Seven years from now, Tiger Woods figures to still be a prominent player on the Tour, his name is gold to advertisers and frankly the IOC likes every nickel or pence that can scrounge up. It is usually nickels though as the IOC likes mintage or paper with dead presidents and other American movers and shakers portraits or busts.

The big TV money comes from the United States and in the past two decades that meant General Electric's NBC division. GE/NBC has given the IOC billions.

The IOC passed on negotiating a TV deal for 2014 this year because the business/advertising/marketing climate is not good, Tiger Woods is a leverage chip whether Rogge wants to admit it or not. GE will make a bid, Disney (ESPN) figures to also promise big dollars and perhaps Rupert Murdoch and FOX will want in, but Murdoch will need a cable TV network with more pop than the patchwork regional cable sports TV networks around the United States. FOX News Channel will not pre-empt programming for the Olympics although Murdoch does have a bunch of cable networks at his fingertips including FX.

The United States and the IOC are not good business partners. The IOC takes and takes and takes and cedes nothing. The reason that baseball is not in the Olympics competition has more to do with Major League Baseball not bowing to the IOC's demands of having "big name" pro stars in the Olympic competition and probably far less than steroids usage. Simply put, MLB owners and players don't look at the Olympics in the same way that Rogge and the IOC does.

The IOC thinks the Olympics are the end all of sports competition, the pinnacle, except for World Cup Football (soccer). Only a fool and there are a lot of fools that have led the IOC over the decades would believe the Olympics experience is more important than the World Cup and Olympic organizers take what they can get from FIFA in terms of players. Not every great active football player participates in the Olympics. An Olympic Gold in football pales when it is placed in competition with the World Cup. Countries have gone to war over the World Cup qualifying tournament (Honduras and El Salvador in 1969)

America seems to have no sway with the IOC despite being the biggest backer of the Games. There is one other aspect of the relationship between the IOC and the United States that is overlooked. In 2004, who made sure that the Athens Games and the participants in the Olympics were safe?

Not IOC security. Not Greek security.

The cost of defending Athens and Greece between July 2004 and October 5, 2004 when the Paralympics Games ended was estimated to be more than $1.5 billion. Much of that cost was picked up by the United States who at the time was fighting two wars, one in Iraq and the other in Afghanistan.
The Greeks planned to use American Patriot Missiles to shoot down planes or other possible airborne threats if they needed to do so. The United States, along with other countries, had plans to evacuate its athletes in the event of an attack. NATO and the United States supplied spy aircraft, there was a blimp hovering over Athens that was complete with sophisticated sensors. The Greek Air Force flew constant patrols.
Back in 2004, it seemed that intelligence agencies were so sure that some group (not necessarily Al-Qaeda) would attempt to attack the Games that training to stop terrorists has become an Olympic event. In 2002, there were more American boots on the ground in Utah than in Afghanistan.
With all due respect to Canadian military and Canadian law enforcement departments, the United States military and law enforcement officials will be in Vancouver later this fall and winter to help secure next February's Vancouver Winter Games. Vancouver is just quick drive up I-5 and British Columbia Highway 99 from Washington State and there is already a major tightening of the US-Canadian border. The Americans will also be present in the United Kingdom in 2012 when the Olympics stop is in London.
The United States Olympic Committee is involved in a battle with the International Olympic Committee over a proposed USOC channel which would show past Games featuring American achievements along with pre-Olympics events in various sports. The IOC is afraid if the USOC goes ahead with the channel, it would hurt the international delegates' standing with General Electric and NBC and dilute the value of the Games which garners in billions from GE/NBC. GE/NBC has the rights just to the Vancouver Games and the 2012 London event. Perhaps the IOC is worried about the USOC cannibalizing the 2014 or 2016 TV deal which is why Tiger Woods becomes so important.
Softball officials could try again in 2020 but Major League Baseball probably has the right idea in walking away from the Games. There really is nothing that can be gained, baseball has the World Baseball Classic and while it is not on the level of Football's World Cup, it is a cash cow for baseball and they do not have to share the revenues generated with the IOC, a group that seemingly has one hand in the pocket, grasping the wallet of a partner.
Softball is not a cash cow for the Olympics. Where would Rogge and the IOC be without American TV dollars and America's military? That thought is a nightmare but the IOC pushes Americans around regularly. The IOC will take American TV money, accept bribes, although that practice has publicly stopped, use American soldiers to protect Olympic venues but they don't want minor league and college level baseball players in their tournament nor do they want softball. You see neither brings in the currency and cash on the barrelhead is what they IOC is all about, particularly American greenbacks.
Softball players deserved better, they work hard and for virtually every softball player the Olympic competition is the pinnacle but they don't have Tiger Woods on their side and Rogge played rugby. If softball officials wanted to get back at Rogge and the IOC they should schedule their own tournament and keep all of the revenues. If softball is a money generator, the IOC will be back. Money generation, not competition, is the heart and soul and business of the Olympics.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Are Health Care Costs Causing Colleges to Drop Men's Sports Teams in the U. S.?

Are Health Care Costs Causing Colleges to Drop Men's Sports Teams in the U. S.?

By Evan Weiner
August 15, 2009
1:30 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- Here is a disclaimer, I have not been an investigative reporter in a long time and instead I have written a lot of columns, did seven years worth of radio commentary and been a "TV expert" based on a lot of research and using a lot of contacts. Being a "TV expert" I should add doesn't require a lot of gravitas as American cable TV news networks and American talk radio provide vivid examples of that on a daily basis. So, I am just presenting a conversation from March 2006 at the NFL Spring Owners Meeting in Orlando, Florida as a start off point for any journalist or perhaps the Women's Sports Foundation or public advocacy groups should someone want to really look into the validity of the claim.

Someone who was working on a NFL training camp related project for a team located not that far from that Orlando resort where the NFL barons were conducting business started discussing college sports and how college athletic directors, administrators, chancellors and presidents were using Title IX commitments to field women's sports teams as an excuse for dropping men's sports teams like wrestling because of equity issues instead of being truthful and giving the real reason men's sports were being dumped.

The person said the real reason men's teams were eliminated was to do out of control health insurance costs not that colleges had to offer a number of women's sports because of the President Richard Nixon signed Title IX legislation that was helped shaped by Alaska Senator Ted Stevens back in 1972. Both Nixon and Stevens were Republicans and Nixon was in favor of a universal health care plan back in 1974 before he was taken down by Watergate.

It would be rather interesting to hear from college athletic directors in the health care insurance debate currently taking place across America because it seems colleges have a huge stake in the debate if that guy who was discussing why a specific school was dropping men's programs was correct back in March 2006.

It doesn't appear that the Obama Administration is going to weaken the Nixon signed law although the Bush Administration did review Title IX and ultimately left the law intact. But colleges are cutting back on sports teams with the primary reason being revenue shortfalls however colleges were dropping various "minor" sports teams prior to the cratering of the economy.

In many ways, the Title IX legislation opened the door for women in sports and other fields, including medicine and the law, because Title IX bars sex discrimination in any educational program or activity that receives federal funding, including athletics.

Title IX has changed how college sports are played in the country. Before 1972, the U.S. General Accounting Office released a figure showing that 32,000 women had participated in college sports, and that figure grew to 163,000 by 1999.

Men no longer get 95 percent of the dollars earmarked for sports, and that has caused friction in the men's teams coaching fraternity. A good number of those coaches think Title IX has taken away their ability to get the best athletes for their teams because they can't spend scholarship money solely for men's teams. Perhaps it is more than just women's college sports that is causing problems, perhaps it is time to look at insurance premiums and see if male athletes are being frozen out not by women athletes but rather bean counters at insurance companies as insurance costs have skyrocketed.

Men's sports programs have been eliminated at schools.

But, oddly enough, Title IX was never meant to level out the college-sports playing field and give women sports opportunities. Title IX's original intent was to give women a fair chance at being accepted in a school and for women professors to get equal opportunity at advancing within the system.

Title IX has worked. By 1994, women received 38 percent of medical degrees earned in the United States, compared with 9 percent in 1972; 43 percent of law degrees, compared with 7 percent in 1972, and 44 percent of all doctoral degrees, up from 25 percent in 1977.

Title IX is too tied into sports. And that brings a more significant question that needs to be answered. Should colleges and universities be in the big-time sports business? College sports has become more than $5 billion-a-year industry, and schools are paying as much as $2 million a year for football coaches. Media companies are flooding some college conferences like the Southeast Conference with bucket loads of money.

The Title IX argument comes down to money and who should get it for sports. Are men more deserving of the money because they take part in traditional sporting events or are women equal partners?

The answer should be that women are equals.

It would be rather intriguing to see some enterprising reporter at whatever is left of America's newspapers to delve into whether colleges dropped men's sports programs because of Title IX or if Title IX is being used as a cover because health insurance is far too costly. If a reporter can't do the research, then a college sports business management program should. Someone needs to do the research and find out what is really occurring.

Title IX has created diversity in society and is not just a piece of sports legislation -- it is time someone sets the record straight. Is has the health insurance industry put some men's college sports teams in dry dock or is Title IX? The answer might be very surprising or astonishing

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A Foolish Club Member Gets the Ultimate Honor This Weekend

A Foolish Club Member Gets the Ultimate Honor This Weekend

By Evan Weiner

August 5, 2009

6:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson will enter the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio this weekend in a celebration of Wilson’s contribution to football and a tip of the hat to the American Football League. The AFL or AFL IV was an entity with a short history that featured a group of men who collectively changed football and in the process opened the door to many who were shut out of football, particularly athletes from black colleges and took social stands.

The AFL shut down the weekend following the assassination of U. S. President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963. The older National Football League did not. The league pulled an all-star game and a potential expansion franchise out of New Orleans in 1965 because of African-American players could not get cabs from the airport into the city nor could they eat at the same restaurants as their white teammates or stay in the same hotels despite passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Wilson and his fellow AFL owners read from a different playbook than the established NFL. Wilson’s team won the AFL championship in 1965 and 1966.

Wilson is an original member of the “Foolish Club” eight men with some means who challenged the football establishment, the National Football League although the NFL of 1959 when Texas native Lamar Hunt decided to form his new league was little more than a rag tag outfit. Hunt had previously applied for expansion franchises in Dallas, and had also tried to buy the Chicago Cardinals with the idea of moving them to Texas, but the NFL rejected both of his offers. After his attempts to create an NFL team failed, Hunt began to organize a rival league, the American Football League.

Wilson and Tennessee owner K. S. “Bud” Adams are the last two survivors of the “era of change” still active in football.

Hunt’s AFL was the fifth attempt by a group of owners to start a rival league; none were successful although the NFL did add the Cleveland Rams from the second AFL in 1937, that team moved to Los Angeles in 1946, and three teams from the All American Football Conference, the Baltimore Colts, Cleveland Browns and San Francisco 49ers in 1950.

NFL owners, with the league somewhat stable by the mid-1950s with 12 franchises of varying financial backing from the good, New York, Los Angeles, the Chicago Bears to the weak, Green Bay, Pittsburgh and the Chicago Cardinals with everyone else in between, thought about expansion and were interested in adding franchises in Houston, Dallas, Miami, Minneapolis, and Buffalo. However, there had to be a unanimous vote of all NFL owners to expand and two of them opposed expansion.

In 1959, Hunt lined up six owners for the new AFL. A number of the AFL IV owners including Adams had repeatedly petitioned the NFL for expansion teams or tried to purchase existing teams like the Chicago Cardinals. A future AFL owner, Boston’s William H. Sullivan, among the first to conceive of putting luxury boxes into a stadium in 1958, failed to bring an NFL team to the Hub.

Had Sullivan landed an NFL franchise and built his proposed stadium, it would have also housed the Boston Red Sox as he and Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey would have been partners which would have eliminated the need for Fenway Park.

The first meeting of AFL IV was held in Chicago on August 14, 1959, with Hunt representing his Dallas franchise; Bob Howsam, with a Denver franchise; Bud Adams, with a Houston franchise; Barron Hilton, with a Los Angeles franchise; Max Winter and Bill Boyer, with a Minneapolis franchise; and Harry Wismer, owner of the New York City franchise. Buffalo, owned by Ralph Wilson, became the seventh franchise in late October, and Boston, owned by William H. Sullivan, became the eighth team.

Buffalo last had an NFL team in 1929. A moderately successful AAFC team was not invited into the NFL following the 1949 season.

“I think there was an opportunity, the sport needed to grow. It had gone through a consolidation period and we had seen the 1958 great championship game between the Giants and Colts,” recalled Hunt. “There was great national interest in the game and there were a lot of cities frankly that were growing, and not all of them had great stadium facilities. But it was beginning to happen. The public was beginning to perceive that this game had a national appeal.”

In response to the threat of a rival league, some NFL owners tried to push forward a plan to expand by four teams, one of which would be in Dallas, but that plan was vetoed by one owner, George Marshall of the Redskins. Hunt talked with Chicago Bears owner George Halas about an expansion which would have included the six teams that he had lined up for his new league, but Halas informed him of the NFL wanted to limit expansion to four teams, and would not accept the offer.

The Minnesota owners, despite being members of the AFL, were also conducting negotiations with the NFL for an expansion franchise, and when that news leaked, the Metropolitan Stadium Commission of the Twin Cities withheld its approval of a stadium deal with AFL IV to see if it could get an NFL team instead. The AFL Minnesota owners pulled out. AFL IV assigned the franchise to Oakland.

In early 1960, the NFL changed its bylaws to require a 5/6th vote to approve league expansion, but retained its unanimous vote requirement for expanding into an existing team’s territory. A unanimous vote led to Clint Murchison being awarded a franchise to operate the Texas Rangers franchise in Dallas for the 1960 season, which later became the Dallas Cowboys. The Cardinals were also permitted to relocate to St. Louis for the 1960 season. Soon after, Minnesota was granted a franchise for the 1961 season.

Even though NFL owners were trying to throw Hunt a roadblock in his efforts to establish both the AFL and his Dallas franchise, the NFL did not go out of its way to make the Rangers (Cowboys) a very competitive team.

AFL IV both competed with and improved the NFL, expanding the presence of professional football. “The AFL jerked the game of pro football forward rapidly into an era where all of a sudden instead of there being 12 teams, in one year's time there were 21 teams,” recalled Hunt. “Before 1960, you had two West Coast cities in the NFL and the rest concentrated in the northeast. The AFL changed all of that. Suddenly you had pro football in cities that didn't have it before, Dallas, Denver, Houston and Buffalo…. There was a need for a second football league…. There was a need, a natural opening for it. The AFL was very fortuitous, it had perfect timing.”

This was the first rival league where television income played a critical role it its survival. Before it began play in November 1959, AFL IV approved a cooperative television plan whereby the league office negotiated the television contract and equally divided proceeds among member clubs. In 1960, AFL IV signed a network contract with ABC for $2 million per year for the first five years, which amounted to $250,000 per team per year, approximately 15% less than received per team in the NFL.

Part of the success of the league in attaining coverage was due to New York Titans owner Harry Wismer, who was also a noted sportscaster of the time. Wismer got AFL IV game coverage on the Associated Press and United Press International wires and helped the league land a contract with ABC.

At the time, the NFL was under a court-ordered injunction, as a result of United States v. NFL that prevented it from signing a league-wide contract with a network. After operating under local contracts for the 1960 and 1961 seasons, the NFL pooled its television rights and sold them to CBS following the passing of an act by Congress that exempted league-wide television agreements in sports from antitrust laws for $4.65 million annually for the league.

Television revenues were large enough to keep the AFL going, and the AFL was generally considered a well-financed league. Despite having a good team, Los Angeles played before just 8,000 fans when it played in the Western Division championship at the Los Angeles Coliseum. Moreover, the AFL lacked a major league presence that might have helped it to succeed. Houston played on a dirt field in a high school stadium, and the Boston Patriots played in different stadiums on Friday nights so the team would not compete with New York Giants telecasts in New England on Sunday afternoons.

Exposure was the key that allowed this fourth American Football League to survive. Wismer was the conduit between the AFL owners and the media decision makers.

"It was pretty good but not equal," according to Hunt.
"We certainly had good inroads and the media, interestingly, really wanted the AFL to succeed, a lot of them did.

"That's not always true; I think sometimes in a new league like Major League Soccer, I think the media is very ho-hum about it because they have plenty to cover.

"Harry was very important, a battler and fighter and helped make things happen that would not have happened otherwise."

The Oakland Senors became the Raiders and played its games in San Francisco at Kezar Stadium, Oakland owners thought about relocating the franchise to Vancouver but found a place to play in Oakland in 1962. Wilson loaned Oakland money to get the franchise through tough times. Denver was a laughing stock, Boston was constantly looking for a stadium after Sullivan’s proposed football-baseball park failed to materialize and the New York Titans weren't drawing people to the Polo Grounds. Los Angeles has playing before thousands upon thousands of empty seats despite having a good football team.

Hilton moved the Chargers to San Diego in 1961, Oakland restructured its ownership and Denver was sold. In 1962, the AFL decided against expanding after listening to presentations by Kansas City, New Orleans and Atlanta. But Hunt took the Kansas City offer in 1963 and moved his franchise from Dallas to western Missouri.

The biggest off field business move for the AFL happened on March 28, 1963 however. That was the day a five-man syndicate led by David (Sonny) Werblin purchased the bankrupted New York Titans for $1 million.

Wilson was one of the few guys with a solid franchise in Buffalo. A city that was not yet in decline when he got the franchise in 1959.

It was around 1962 that Wilson started talking to Baltimore Colts owner Carroll Rosenbloom about the possibility of merging the leagues but nothing would come of that meeting and the owners started to pay bigger salaries to unproven rookies fresh out of college.

NBC was awarded exclusive network broadcasting rights for the 1963 AFL Championship Game for $926,000, and later signed a five-year, $36 million television contract with the AFL IV to begin with the 1965 season.

The NBC contract gave the AFL the financial wherewithal to sign players to larger contracts and new Commissioner Al Davis began signing NFL stars like John Brodie and Roman Gabriel to AFL contracts.

In 1966, as a result of the escalating competition between the leagues, Halas decided he had had enough with the war with the AFL, and pushed for a merger to end it. Dallas Cowboys President Tex Schramm and Hunt had already devised a comprehensive plan before Halas came to them with the merger proposal. Neither Gabriel nor Brodie ever played in the AFL but they became rich because of Davis’ planned raid of the NFL.

The United States Congress approved the NFL-AFL merger when an anti-trust exemption was added as a rider to an anti-inflation tax bill. In October, 1966 President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the bill into law, thus creating a newly expanded NFL.

Under the merger agreement, the two leagues combined to form an expanded league with 24 teams, to be increased to 26 in 1968 and to 28 by 1970 or soon thereafter. (Soon after would be in 1974 when the league gave Seattle and Tampa franchises not because the NFL was wanted to honor the 1966 merger agreement but league owners jumped into those two cities to keep the World Football League from establishing teams in that new league)

All existing franchises would be retained, and no franchises would be transferred outside their metropolitan areas. Despite a proposal to move the Jets to Los Angeles, the Rams to San Diego, the Chargers to New Orleans and the Raiders to Portland or Seattle. While maintaining separate schedules through 1969, the leagues agreed to play an annual AFL-NFL World Championship Game beginning in January 1967, and to hold a combined draft, also beginning in 1967. Official regular-season play would start in 1970 when the two leagues would officially merge to form one league with two conferences. Pete Rozelle was named Commissioner of the expanded league.

“It was the right thing to do,” said Hunt. “It consolidated the sport. It assured the continuity of every team in both leagues. There were some teams that were pretty weak financially at that point. Some teams going out of business generally accompanied previous mergers in sports. We assured that every team would stay in business. We assured the addition of new teams in Cincinnati and New Orleans. It gave the public the Super Bowl. It also provided the teams and the league with a common draft, which provided for an equal dissemination of playing talent.”

Terms of the agreement included AFL payments to the NFL of $18 million (over 20 years), much of which went to the San Francisco 49ers ($8 million) and the New York Giants ($10 million), whose territories were being “invaded.” The AFL also agreed to pay the NFL the $7.5 million it received from the Cincinnati expansion fee.

Wilson has been in Buffalo for 50 years and the franchise will stay there until 2012. After the Bills lease runs out in Orchard Park at what will be a 40-year-old stadium is anybody’s guess. Wilson’s family will not be getting the team following his passing and Wilson opened the door to Toronto interests by “leasing: a home game in the Canada’s financial center. But that is a discussion for another time as an AFL original -- there are not many left from 1959 -- Wilson is getting his day in the Canton sun.

Wilson’s Pro Football Hall of Fame induction is also a rare acknowledgement by the Pro Football Hall of Fame of the American Football League impact on what was little more than a mom and pop entity five decades ago, professional football.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Murdoch, Giuliani, other Jock Sniffers and Steroids

Murdoch, Giuliani, other Jock Sniffers and Steroids

By Evan Weiner

August 1, 2009

6:00 PM EDT

(New York, N. Y.) -- Only a fool would conclude that Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig and Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr are responsible for apparent wide spread banned substance usage in baseball since United States President George Bush signed legislation in October 1990 which made steroids possession illegal. The list of enablers is long and among the people and institutes on that list are Rupert Murdoch, Goldman Sachs, Rudy Giuliani, the Walt Disney Company (ESPN), newspapers like the Arizona Republic, the Chicago Tribune and all the other elected officials, the jock sniffers and hero worshippers who genuflected at the thought of having or maintaining a Major League Baseball franchise in their city and paid hundreds of millions of public dollars for that right with relatively little return on the investment.

None of the enablers ever asked questions if Major League Baseball was on the up and up and whether any of the players were taking illegal performance enhancing substances. There was the possibility of money to be made.

The jock sniffers and genuflectors are still out there and include the billionaire mayor of New York City Michael Bloomberg who somehow found hundreds of millions of dollars of city money to help build the new Mets and Yankees privately-financed ballparks and the politicians in Miami who despite not really having money recently approved a public-private financial package for a stadium to house the Florida soon to be Miami Marlins.

No, it is far too easy to blame Bud Selig and Donald Fehr. Major League Baseball understood back in 1991 that the new federal ban of steroids was in place when then Commissioner Fay Vincent released a seven page memo which included the following. "The possession, sale or use of any illegal drug or controlled substance by Major League players or personnel is strictly prohibited ... This prohibition applies to all illegal drugs ... including steroids."

Apparently people like George W. Bush and Jose Canseco missed Vincent's memo. Canseco alleges that he turned people onto steroids in the Texas Rangers clubhouse after Oakland traded him to the Arlington, Texas based team that received publicly funding for a new stadium along with tax breaks on land ceased by eminent domain by Arlington officials at well below fair market value. The managing general partner of the team? George W. Bush.

Canseco was conducting business in the clubhouse of the son of the sitting President of the United States who had signed the legislation making steroid possession illegal.

Not everyone turned there back on what was going on in baseball. The Washington Post writer Thomas Boswell and the commentator Bob Costas were sounding alarms.

They were ignored.

It is funny how those perceived as tough like Murdoch, like Giuliani didn't bother to ask any questions about baseball's integrity. Murdoch, who has only one political ideology and that is to make money, is perhaps Major League Baseball's number one enabler.

Murdoch's over-the-air FOX entity, which technically is a syndicator not a TV network, threw billions at baseball through both the national over-the-air TV package and his various regional cable TV sports networks. Murdoch also bought the Los Angeles Dodgers with a plan to make the Dodgers Asia's team or at least the northwest Pacific Rim’s team.

There were no questions asked about steroid usage in baseball. Murdoch's tough guy FOX News Channel never posed a question during the network's infancy about what was and is illegal drug usage in baseball. By the way, the players if they were taking anabolic steroids broke United States laws, it wasn't cheating it was illegal activity. But Murdoch's law and order, no nonsense talking heads, never bothered to ask about an industry than has been helped out by government largess. Of course, the FOX News Channel lives off of a Reagan era Cable TV law that allows it to make money despite a dearth of viewers as cable TV socialism allows the network to get money off of virtually every basic expanded subscriber whether that subscriber ever views the channel. Ninety eight percent of the cable subscribers are paying for what two percent out of 100 percent watch.

The Clinton White House was an enabler too. No federal agency, whether it was the FBI, DEA or the justice department went after the players who were getting bigger and bigger and credited their physical improvement with a rigorous off season workout plan.

Baseball newspaper writers have repeatedly claimed they had suspicions but no proof that players were juiced and it would have not been responsible for them to write about their hunches. Of course that didn't stop Boswell from writing his thoughts in the Washington Post or Costas giving a lecture at Columbia University in New York talking about what he perceived. Baseball newspaper writers were cheerleaders for the game after the 1994-95 strike and it was in their collective best interest to push the game whether it was because being a baseball scribe was a plum position on a paper or looking to get a baseball job.

In many cases, reporting on steroids probably would not have been in the best interests of newspapers when the business was viable in the 1990s. Newspapers like the Chicago Tribune (Cubs), Arizona Republic (Diamondbacks), the McClatchy Company (Pirates), the New York Times/Boston Globe (Red Sox), New York Post (Dodgers) owned teams others had marketing relationships although the New York Times has been reporting on the issue, recently. Magazines like Sports Illustrated (Braves) came went to the reporting party too, but SI did report in 2002 that Ken Caminiti used steroids in 1996 when he won the National League's Most Valuable Players Award. This year, SI scored on Alex Rodriguez being outed for failing a 2003 baseball drug test.

Did the New York Times obtain confidential information such as David Ortiz and Manny Ramirez failing drug tests illegally and is someone with an axe to grind singing in dribs and drabs about the 2003 confidential drug tests in an effort to embarrass baseball? The New York Times has put its share of the Red Sox up for sale.

CNN in the 1990s was part of Turner Broadcasting and among the businesses Ted Turner owned was the Atlanta Braves. When news organizations own sports entities, it is extremely difficult to report negative news and sure there is the mantra of there is a wall between news reporting and other businesses and the news reporting has a free reign but that simply is not true. Not in a vertically integrated business.

Money talks.

Goldman Sachs has been a part of baseball for a while. The New York financial company helped broker deals when owners wanted to sell teams and had a partnership with George Steinbrenner when the Yankees owner started the Yankees cable TV network which is reportedly worth more than any other regional sports cable TV network in the U. S.

Sports in the United States have three basic tenets. Sports need government, cable TV and corporate money to make it go whether it is baseball, hockey, basketball or college. Football is a bit different in that over-the-air network TV money is still a major component of financing. Without government, there probably are no new stadiums or arenas because facility builders would lose a lot of money on the ventures. Without the 1984 cable TV act, without the 1986 tax reforms, sports monies would not have grown exponentially and abnormally.

Sports left behind the rank and file blue collar worker and their families and wanted corporate dollars and those corporate dollars for tickets meant companies could write off luxury box and club seat tickets as a business expense. Spinmasters sold the public on the need for new stadiums and richer people as customers because the well heeled would pay the freight for increased costs. Somehow the spinmasters convinced voters to agree to sales tax hikes, "sin" taxes with increases on alcohol, cigarettes, hikes in hotel and motel room taxes, sewer taxes, utility taxes, car rental taxes and other funding mechanisms to fund more and more expensive stadiums and arenas.

The public was asked to pay more taxes and it didn't matter from the money came from a Democrat or a Republican run town as politicians of all stripes including those who keep pushing for tax cuts rolled out the public green for sports, Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball included.

The enablers like the former prosecutor, law and order guy like Giuliani wanted new stadiums because those stadiums in New York for the Yankees on Manhattan's west side and for the Mets in Queens would be economic engines. Giuliani fawned all over the Yankees, threw lavish New York City parades for the 96, 98, 99 and 2000 Yankees World Series victories. How many players on those teams used banned substances? Maybe none, but all players are suspects now.

There is also a thread here; some of the enablers also seem to be in the middle of the global recession. Wall Street helped get sports deals brokered and bought tickets. The cable TV news networks also never seem to get around, FOX and CNN, never did seem to report on the economy other than to tout Wall Street numbers. Guess it is easier to celebrate accomplishments on a baseball diamond or chasing blue semen stained dresses than do real reporting.

So don't blame Selig or Fehr on the so-called baseball sportswriters called "steroids era" as there is plenty of blame that can be go around. People might as well blame Selig and Fehr for the economic meltdown too, that might be a stretch but the people that helped enrich baseball also were involved both directly and tan gently in the economy breakdown. The enablers never stopped to ask questions, they just poured money into the game whether it was through government (new stadiums and tax breaks), media (cable TV) or corporates who bought the big ticket items, the luxury boxes, club seats while dining in expensive stadium restaurants and taking what they could off as business expenses.

Money still flows into baseball and other sports. Presidents, CEO’s, newspaper barons, TV executives all get misty eyed when it comes to sports. Fans cannot get enough of sports which is why all is forgiven. And the jock sniffers love being around athletes.

At one time, the French-born historian Jacques Barzun observed that to understand Americans you must first understand baseball. Barzun was so correct; just connect the dots, even an Australian born, naturalized American citizen named Murdoch bought into Barzun’s notion.