Friday, November 20, 2009

Is Detroit Still a Major League Sports Town?

Is Detroit Still a Major League Sports Town?

By Evan Weiner

November 20, 2009

10:00 PM EST

Has Detroit ceased being a middle market franchise? There are three not so subtle clues that Detroit has slid into a small market city that has cropped up in just the last week. Mike Ilitch’s Detroit Tigers baseball franchise has a lot of money tied up in players and the rumors are that Ilitch is about ready to shave millions from his payroll and is looking to trade Curtis Granderson, a 28-year-old All-Star outfield, who has three years remaining on a five-year agreement with Ilitch that pays him more than six million dollars annually.

Granderson remains a member of the Detroit Tigers, but the 2009-10 hot stove league is far from over.

Granderson plays in a market that is going through more than just a bad recession. Detroit and the surrounding area lost been devastated by the retrenchment of the auto industry with both General Motors and Chrysler hanging on because of government bailouts from the United States and Canada. The only good news Ilitch has seen is that the American dollar has weakened while the Canadian dollar has flirted with par with the US greenback, which is a good development in the Detroit market as a good chunk of the metropolitan area is shared with Windsor and nearby Ontario cities. The bad part is that the automobile industry was a major part of the Windsor/Ontario economy as well.

Whether Granderson or Edwin Jackson is entirely up to Tigers management. But there is a question of just how much money that corporate Detroit can sink into two of Ilitch’s teams, the Tigers and the NHL Red Wings, William Ford’s Detroit Lions and the Auburn Hills-based Detroit Pistons.

The answer seems to be, not as much as the old days. In some aspects, it seems as if the Detroit Lions franchise has gone back 75 years. This Sunday’s home game against the Cleveland Browns will be blacked out in the Detroit metro region, an area that includes Toledo, Ohio, Lansing, Michigan and the Saginaw-Flint, Michigan market. Granted both the Lions and Browns are terrible football teams, both have won just one game and lost eight, but there would seem to be enough Cleveland Browns backers to make the relatively short trip up to Detroit.

This is the fourth time in six games that a Lions home contest has been blacked out in 2009. Detroit did sell out earlier this year against Pittsburgh and a lot of Steelers fans made the trip to Detroit but Ford’s team has had a lot of trouble selling 40,000 or more tickets per game. In 2008, as Detroit’s football team continued to lose and the auto companies were on the verge of failing, five of the Lions last six home games were not shown in the Detroit and secondary Detroit markets.

Of course, it cannot be said that a winning team in Detroit would do that much better considering the deteriorating economic conditions in Detroit and the surrounding area.

Detroit will be facing an old Thanksgiving Day rival this year on turkey day, the Green Bay Packers. More than likely, Detroit will fill up the stadium with help from Packers backers.

The Detroit Lions franchise was born in the Great Depression that started with the stock market crash in 1929 after the Portsmouth (Ohio) Spartans franchise was on the financial ropes in 1933. The owner of Detroit’s WJR radio, Gene Richards bought the Spartans and move the team to Detroit where the newly minted Lions franchise was looking to get people into Briggs Stadium.

Richards scheduled a Thanksgiving Day game in 1934 with the hopes that Thanksgiving Day parade goers in Detroit would wander over to the stadium and watch. There was significance to that game that is mostly lost today. The Chicago Bears-Detroit Lions contest was the first NFL game ever to be heard coast-to-coast and border-to-border in the United States. Detroit has hosted 69 Thanksgiving Day contests from 1934-38 and 1945-today. In 1939, United States President Franklin Roosevelt changed Thanksgiving and moved the holiday up a week to November 23 in an effort to spark Christmas sales and help the still struggling economy.

Political parties never change stripes and a silly battle ensued between Democrats and Republicans (this in the days prior to ersatz arguments on talk radio and cable TV news) and by 1940 there were states that “celebrated” the Democrats’ Thanksgiving a week earlier than the Republicans Thanksgiving. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia played each other in 1939 and 1940.

They were in the same state.

The municipally funded Pontiac Silverdome opened in 1975 with the Lions football team as the main tenant. The new facility cost $55.7 million. William Clay Ford’s Lions played football there from 1975-2001. The dome also played host to Detroit Pistons games from 1978-88. After Ford moved his Lions back to downtown Detroit, the then 27-year old football facility has virtually useless. The Jehovah’s Witnesses left the facility in 2004 after using it for years for an annual convention.

Between 2003 and 2006, the Pontiac Silverdome parking lot was the home for a Drive-In movie theater.

Two leagues that never got off the ground took a look at the facility. The World Hockey Association and the United States Football League. The reincarnation of the WHA was an ill-fated idea but there were plans to put a rink in the building in 2003 and the reincarnated USFL was looking to purchase the building and playing games there in 2010 along with hosting concerts,

The new USFL never got financial backing. On November 16, a Toronto-based company bought the old stadium for $583,000 at auction with the hope of placing a Major League Soccer team in the building.

The “new” USFL appears to be in the hands of another promoter with the hope of starting up in 2011 but that league will not be buying the old dome.

At least the building is still standing which is more than can be said for old stadiums in Seattle and Pittsburgh which were blown up after new facilities for major league sports teams were build with taxpayers money. Seattle (King County) and Pittsburgh (Allegheny County) taxpayers are still paying off the debt on the long departed Seattle Kingdome and Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium.

Some may suggest the cheap purchase price for the Silverdome is the result of a crashing Detroit real estate market and the weak economy. While that is a major factor, the real reason the price went so cheap is that once a stadium gets to a certain age, it becomes useless and has virtually no value because it lacks what sports owners want today, luxury boxes, club seats, wide alleyways for concessions, in-facility restaurants and shops.

What was state-of-the-art in 1975 is a dump in today’s sports marketplace.

Detroit was once a major market thanks to the auto companies a half century ago. Today, the city and the surrounding area are hurting economically and the population is shrinking. That has taken a toll on Detroit sports properties and raises the question, can Detroit remain a major sports town that can support big time pro and college sports or will Detroit become a city like Louisville, Kentucky, which was once major league town in a different century?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Why Brian Roberts Wants NBC

Why Brian Roberts Wants NBC

By Evan Weiner

November 17, 2009

11:30 AM EST

(New York, N. Y.) – Nearly five and a half years after failing to gain control of the Walt Disney Company, Brian Roberts’s Comcast Corporation’s cable TV multiple systems operation is on the verge of reeling in NBCUniversal and gaining control of NBC’s various properties including the NBC network, a number of NBC owned television stations along with cable TV outlets including Bravo, MSNBC, the USA Network and CNBC and a movie studio.

General Electric is ready to give up 51 percent of NBC and remain a minority partner. General Electric purchased NBC’s parent company, RCA in 1986. NBC does not fit in with General Electric’s core businesses. Roberts wants to make Comcast bigger and perhaps rewrite communications history.

In February 2004, Roberts made a $66 billion offer to take over Disney but the Disney board refused to play ball with the Philadelphia-based cable TV CEO. By 2004, Comcast had become the United States biggest cable TV multiple systems operator. Roberts went after the ABC TV network along with the Disney film studio, ESPN and other Disney-owned cable TV networks, the various ABC radio networks and theme parks.

In 2004, Roberts had a rather weak cable TV sports network, the Outdoor Life Network and a number of other cable entities including E! Entertainment Television, the Golf Channel and ownership in the National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers and the National Hockey League’s Philadelphia Flyers. What Roberts really wanted was ESPN, which was a cash cow for Disney in 2004 and continues to be a major source of funding for Disney to this day.

Disney rejected Roberts’s overtures and in April 2004, Roberts gave up on the bid.

Comcast is a major player in the video distribution industry whether it is through cable TV or broadband. Roberts is also a major player in the American sports industry and capturing NBC would substantially increase what presently is a large sports company.

Among Roberts’ holdings is Comcast Spectacor (the Flyers, 76ers, the company manages the teams’ arena along with skating rinks in the Philadelphia area and the company’s Global Spectrum manages more than 20 arenas and stadiums in the United States, Canada and Croatia including the new soccer stadium in the Philadelphia suburb of Chester, the Arizona Cardinals stadium in Glendale, and the Glens Falls Civic Center in Glens Falls, New York which houses the Flyers’ American Hockey League affiliate. Comcast also owes Ovations Food Services, a concessions company that provides food and drinks to various arenas and other facilities in the US and has a sports and events ticketing company.). Comcast also produces figure skating shows on NBC.

Roberts and Comcast have a number of regional sports networks including Comcast Sports Net in Chicago featuring the Blackhawks, Bulls, Cubs and White Sox; Philadelphia (Roberts’s 76ers and Flyers along with Phillies baseball and local college sports), CSN Washington (Capitals, Wizards and DC United games along with Washington Redskins programming), Roberts has a partnership with the San Francisco Giants and Rupert Murdoch’s FOX in San Francisco in the Comcast SportsNet Bay Area channel which features Giants, Golden State Warriors, San Jose Earthquakes and college sports. Another regional sports network, Comcast SportsNet California is fully owned by Roberts and has the Bay Area sports teams that are not on the Bay Area channel, the Oakland A’s, the San Jose Sharks, some Oakland Raiders and San Francisco 49ers programming along with the Sacramento Kings and Monarchs.

Roberts is also part of the jointly owned SportsNet New York with Time Warner Cable and the New York Mets, which features Mets games and programming, New York Jets programming and some college sports. Comcast also owns a sports network in the Pacific Northwest that revolves around Portland Trail Blazers and Vancouver Canucks games along with college sports and in New England, CSN New England has the rights to Boston Celtics games.

Additionally, Comcast has a piece of the MountainWest Sports Network which is a joint venture with the CBS College Sports Network and the Mountain West Conference and the entire programming consists of conference related games and shows. Comcast also has a piece of Major League Baseball’s MLB Network.

So just why does Roberts want NBCUniversal?

It would make Comcast an even bigger player in the cable/broadband world. Comcast would add USA, Bravo, CNBC and MSNBC to its assets and would get a piece of the broadband video streaming site Hulu.

Comcast and Roberts would get significant sports content as well. The 2010 and 2012 Olympics, the Sunday Night NFL package along with the NHL’s New Year’s Day game and the Stanley Cup playoffs. NBC also has the French Open and Wimbledon in tennis and a number of major golf tournaments including the US Open. That fits into Comcast’s sports strategy but more importantly, Roberts might be able to leverage his Versus network into a competition with ESPN for rights to the NFL, MLB, NBA to go along with his NHL agreement.

NBC’s deal with the National Football League ends in 2013. Most of NBC’s partnerships with sports leagues are revenue sharing ventures except the NFL and Olympics agreements. The International Olympic Committee has put off negotiating a new American TV rights deal until 2011 for the 2014 Sochi Games. Roberts could be at the table for those talks. It is not unknown if Roberts will keep NBCUniversal Sports and Olympics Chairman Dick Ebersol around. Ebersol walked away from agreements with the NFL in 1997, Major League Baseball in 2000, the National Basketball Association in 2002 and the Belmont Stakes in 2005 because rights fees had escalated to the point where networks began losing money on the properties.

Roberts funds a large number of sports teams and college sports conferences through his cable TV ventures. If Roberts gets NBC, will the network become a player for the NBA, MLB and perhaps the Bowl Championship Series or is network TV dead? That is a question that Roberts can only answer if he latches onto NBC?

Taking on ESPN will be a daunting task as the Disney Company is shifting into the broadband business with ESPN360 but an NBC deal might change the equation and allow Roberts to go after the 2014, 2016 and 2018 Olympics with the combinations of networks and a major broadband presence at hand should the Comcast take over of NBC be approved by Eric Holder’s Department of Justice and other regulatory agencies.

Comcast, if the deal goes through with NBC, would control a significant portion of programming. In 2004, Roberts failed to gain control of Disney through a hostile takeover. This time, it appears that Roberts will have an easier time in gaining control of a major United States media company but it will not be easy.

The French-owned company, Vivendi, has to sign off on the deal as it owns 20 percent of NBCUniversal, and there are the various reviews from the Justice Department and the Federal Communications Commission. There also could be private citizens who file objections. But General Electric wants to get rid of NBC, which makes life a lot easier for Roberts in his bid to make Comcast an even more omnipotent communications force.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Eighteen Regular Season NFL Games? Not So Fast

Eighteen Regular Season NFL Games? Not So Fast

By Evan Weiner

November 13, 2009

12:00 PM EST

(New York, N. Y.) – John Bogusz is not a name normally associated with the power structure of the National Football League, but John Bogusz is a major player in the NFL. You see John Bogusz is the head of sports sales for one of the NFL’s major financial partners, CBS, and at a Sports Business Journal sports business conference in New York, Bogusz didn’t seem particularly happy with the trial balloon that his partner, the NFL, floated a couple of years ago that the league might add two regular season games.

It is not known how Rupert Murdoch and his henchmen at FOX, another league partner, feels and neither Robert Iger at Disney, the parent company of ESPN nor Jeffrey Immelt have weighed in on the issue. DirecTV’s John Malone has also been silent. The NFL isn’t a real money maker for networks although it can be safely argued that Murdoch’s FOX syndication (technically FOX is not a network) was put on the map by the NFL in 1993 when Murdoch outbid CBS for the National Football Conference national over-the-air TV rights in the United States.

Murdoch may have overspent for the NFL in 1993 from a dollars and cents standpoint on what really is a TV entertainment series, he benefited greatly turning FOX from a ragtag network (syndication arm) with a few shows like The Simpsons and Married With Children into a legitimate entity and along the way he picked up more powerful stations in Detroit and Milwaukee which dumped CBS for FOX and Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers games.

TV networks use the NFL as a platform to promote other programming, CBS lost that platform in 1993 and the network fortunes plummeted. That is why a guy like John Bogusz should be taken seriously because TV is the NFL’s most important partner.

The NFL was a ragtag, pretty close to semi-pro league, in the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. The league didn’t stabilize until 1953 when the Baltimore-New York-Dallas franchise returned to Baltimore and even then there were questions about the future of a number of franchises including Green Bay (where fund raisers were held to keep the team going and to build a new stadium) and in Chicago, where the Cardinals could not compete with the Bears forcing the Bidwill family to look at alternative cities like Minneapolis and Buffalo before settling on St. Louis in 1960.

Television made the NFL. In 1950, baseball, boxing and horse racing were the most popular sports in the United States. By 1965, football became the favorite sport among American fans and it had all to do with television.

To that end, the Pro Football Hall of Fame is now reviewing names to put before a committee that selects Hall of Famers. There are numerous people who should be in the Canton, Ohio shrine who built football. People like William Paley, David Sarnoff, Rupert Murdoch, Bill MacPhail, Carl Lindemann, Roone Arledge and Leonard Goldstein. Paley founded CBS and it was Paley’s money that helped solidify the league in the early 1960s and propel the league from a mom and pop store operation to the multi-billion entity it is today.

Leonard Goldstein is not recognized as a football pioneer but he is. Goldstein’s small American Broadcasting Network cut a deal with the upstart American Football League in June 1960. It was a five-year agreement that was worth about $2,125,000, which was an enormous sum for an unproven sports entity in 1960. The eight AFL owners evenly divided the ABC cash and that deal would cause a world of concern in the National Football League which had 13 teams with 13 different TV contracts of various worth with the New York Giants, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Rams having the most valuable and Green Bay sitting at the bottom. (In 1960, CBS gave the Bidwill family $500,000 after they moved their Cardinals to St. Louis and freed Chicago from having Bears games blackout because the Cardinals were home as under the NFL blackout rules, no home game could be televised in Chicago when either team was home, CBS put together the Bears network. Some of the Bidwill’s “home” games were played in Minneapolis and Buffalo to get around the blackout in the 1950s. The $500,000 was to go to move portable stands from Comiskey Park in Chicago to St. Louis.)

Goldstein put the AFL on the map and that contract had a major implications. The AFL deal more than likely violated American antitrust laws as the league bundled the assets and sold it as one entity. In 1961, Rozelle and the NFL studied the AFL deal and decided that grouping the NFL’s then-14 teams into one package would be far better than having 14 separating networks. On September 30, 1961, Rozelle got the cover he needed to duplicate the AFL deal from President John F. Kennedy who signed into law the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961, which allowed Rozelle and the very established NFL to borrow a page from Lamar Hunt’s new AFL and sell the TV package to either CBS or NBC.

Paley (and McPhail) outbid Sarnoff (and Lindemann) for the 1962 and 1963 for $4.65 million. In 1964, Paley got the better of Sarnoff again and won the NFL rights for $28.2 million for the 1964 and 1965 season. The NFL was flush in money while Goldstein’s old deal dragged down the AFL.

But Sarnoff was not going to be beaten. NBC and Sonny Werblin had a long time relationship and now Werblin was getting a TV deal together for the AFL. Werblin owned the New York Jets. Sarnoff gave his old business partner Werblin a five-year, $36 million deal. Sarnoff’s endowment made the AFL, gave Werblin the kind of money he needed to sign the University of Alabama quarterback Joe Namath to the biggest contract ever given to a player by a football team and set off a series of events including the escalation of players salaries in bidding wars between the two leagues flushed with TV money that ended with the June 8, 1966 merger between the National Football League and the American Football League.

Football ceased being a game between June 1960 and January 1964. Football was a TV show that filled hours on Sunday morning and afternoon in the fall and winter, depending on the time zone. Advertising flocked to games because they could reach young men and middle-aged men, their target audience because they were watching football.

The NFL was CBS and Ford; the AFL was NBC and Chrysler. Even after the merger there were fierce rivalries between the teams, the networks and the sponsors although that died out as the NFL and AFL amalgamation took place over a four-year period.

But the American Football League-National Football League World Championship Game first played in 1967 did not catch on until 1969.

Namath, more than anybody, is responsible for the Super Bowl becoming a quasi holiday and now a National Special Security Event under the aegis of the US Department of Homeland Security. Namath and Muhammad Ali were at the vanguard of the evolving athlete, going from the aw shucks you know I have nothing to say mode like Joe DiMaggio to the brash, I will show you model. Namath had the white shoes, the mink coat, the fu Manchu moustache, what passed for long hair, a perceived perception so to speak built by sportswriters who were divided into NFL and AFL camps instead of sticking to journalism.

Namath was one of those hippies that ruined sports while the crew cut Johnny Unitas of the Baltimore Colts was old reliable.

Perceived perceptions are often wrong.

Sportswriters in NFL cities dismissed the AFL out of hand. Fortunately for football owners, players, coaches, general managers and fans, sportswriters didn’t run TV networks. Paley, Sarnoff and Goldstein did and they were much smarter than the average football writer like Sports Illustrated Tex Maule who was probably the worst offender of the journalistic role of being an impartial observer.

Namath was not the best player on the field in Super Bowl III when the Jets beat the Baltimore Colts but he guaranteed a Jets victory and the Jets did win and that victory would ultimately lead to ABC and Roone Arledge and the NFL agreeing to a pact, which created Monday Night Football in 1970. ABC’s Monday Night Football was not just a game presentation; it had to include an entertainment element to attract non-football fans.

It did.

Television has called many of the shots in football since Goldstein signed that initial contract with Lamar Hunt in 1960. Oddly enough football’s TV success came out of a failed concept, the Continental League, the Branch Rickey-led baseball business that started in 1958 with the hope of establishing a third major league by 1961. One of the Rickey business tenets was that all Continental League owners would share TV revenue equally. One of the owners of the proposed Denver Continental League team was Bob Howsam who also was part of the proposed Denver Broncos franchise of the AFL in 1959. Rickey’s concept ended up as part of the AFL and by 1961 was embraced by Rozelle and the NFL as “leaguethink” a concept that put the good of the league ahead of the individual team owner.

People like Goldstein, Sarnoff, Paley, McPhail, Arledge, Lindemann and yes-even Murdoch (all of whom should be put in the Canton Hall in that media category as they are far more important than any sportswriter) are responsible for the football industry so when a CBS sales guy talks, it is worth more than a casual listen. TV made the NFL and is a huge financial partner and TV may call the shots on the number of regular season games, after all it is THEIR dollars being spent.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

“Money, It’s Gotta Be the Shoes.”

“Money, It’s Gotta Be the Shoes.”

By Evan Weiner

November 5, 2009

4:00 PM EST

(New York, N. Y.) – American sportswriters can rejoice, the college basketball season has started and now American sports journalists like Seth Davis can get back to what they enjoy the most --- watching college basketball games --- without the little interruptions of the off season of 2009 like the troubles at the Binghamton University in central New York, Rick Pitino’s extortion problem with a waitress in Kentucky, and coach John Calipari jumping to Kentucky just before the NCAA invalidated his Memphis State 2008 NCAA tournament runner up finish because one of Calipari’s players -- Derrick Rose -- had his SAT invalidated by the NCAA. USC coach Tim Floyd’s resignation after the NCAA’s investigation of the recruitment of O. J. Mayo, some players backing out of their commitments to play at a school.

Davis wrote in August in his CNNSI column that college basketball needed some feel-good stories and that he was not feeling too good about the off-season.

Davis and his ilk don’t like it when outside business influences college basketball but college basketball is a business and in the college industry it is just second to college football complex in producing revenues for members of the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

The sports writing community still buys into the student athlete fairytale that sprang up in the 1920s despite all the evidence that suggests that college sports is made up of money partnerships between the colleges and TV networks, colleges and marketing partners, money that pours in from boosters, the building of new or renovation of arenas and stadiums complete with revenue producing club seats and luxury boxes and in-venue eateries with big prices on parking and heavy duty sales of school related merchandise.

The NCAA gets $545 million annually from CBS following the 2006 signing of a CBS-NCAA partnership that is worth $6 billion over an 11-year period. The NCAA also enjoys a federal gift -- tax-exempt status.

The feel good start to the season has already evaporated because Michael Jordan’s son decided to wear an Air Jordan brand basketball shoe instead of an adidas shoe in a game. The problem is that Marcus Jordan is a member of the University of Central Florida’s basketball team and that school had a five-year deal with adidas that requires all University of Central Florida athletes to use and wear adidas products.

Jordan wore his father’s shoe, which is manufactured by NIKE, in a game against St. Leo. adidas didn’t like that so the sneaker company terminated the deal with the school and cost the school money.

College sports is a business and this is where the sportswriters created college sports fantasy meets reality. Marcus Jordan has lived very comfortably because of his father’s deal with Phil Knight and NIKE. Sure Jordan has a multi-year contract with the school and let’s get right to the point, a college athletic scholarship is a multi-year deal that gives him the right to play sports at the school in exchange for a scholarship. Any athlete also gives up various rights to the school including his (or her) name on merchandise which the school or the school’s license holder sells to consumers with the athlete receiving nothing in return.

The whole issue of sponsorships and marketing partnerships between NCAA member schools and the NIKE, adidas and other companies like EA Sports is never really addressed with any sort of constant seriousness. The old saw is the players get a scholarship and they should be happy with that and the schools run deficits in having many athletic teams with the only money makers being football and basketball.

So the attitude is shut up with any criticism and let us run our business and be grateful you are covering a major event and don’t make waves. Sports journalists who follow college usually tow the line and enjoy the game. That is the beauty of sports; newspapers give free coverage along with magazines which helps market the product.

Television networks, regional and national cable TV networks have to pay for games or engage in a revenue sharing deal and then colleges allow some highlights from games as the non-rights holders (and even rights holders) are restricted to a certain amount of time. Still there is some free coverage at news conferences and after game interviews. But over-the-air TV is not capable of producing investigative reporting and most cable TV news reporting is either endless highlights with grade D talent trying to deliver funny lines or like in the news division, people on talk shows saying nothing while making a lot of noise. Radio is just carnival barking so real issues are never brought up except in a few cases. Partners like CBS and ESPN will not do true investigative reports into the industry.

The NCAA is making millions off of football players even when they aren’t playing in the video game genre. The NCAA cannot use a players name but in the video games there a major similarities between well known college players and the players portrayed in a game, so much so that Sam Keller filed a class action suit on behalf of himself and others because he feels EA Sports and the NCAA used his likeness in a video game and he did not receive compensation.

The NCAA claims it does not violate any players rights and the sports organization has by-laws that prohibit the commercial licensing of a player’s name picture of likeness. Of course if that were the case, CBS would not be able to promote the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament with video of players in commercials pushing the tournament. Nor could ESPN, various regional sports cable TV networks or other NCAA partners. But there is a Form 08-3a that a player must sign in order to receive a scholarship that allows the NCAA or a third party NCAA partner (like CBS) to use a players name in championships, activities, events and programs.

The student-athlete gives up marketing rights. His or her coach does not nor does the school. The player is getting a scholarship and that should be more than enough. The players should be grateful that a sneaker company is giving them a shoe.

The school’s coach gets endorsement money from the sneaker company, the athlete – the stars of the show – get nothing. Jordan is in a unique position, he has money unlike a good many college athletes in Division I who are barred from making more than a NCAA dictated set amount of money for the year.

The whole college sports industry never gets a close scrutiny from Davis and his colleagues and that also may stem from the newspaper industry’s cozy relationship with sports. Newspaper executives (and sportswriters) believe that sports coverage is a driving force in newspaper daily sales (although the industry continues to lose readership and newspaper circulations have fallen about 10 percent in the last year). There is major interest in sports though as television ratings are up but people are getting sports news, really team and game information, from sources other than newspapers.

Perhaps if newspapers began reporting, real reporting, on issues that might attract more interest. It might even sell newspapers.

Jordan’s shoe story will produce a predicable response of he should be more of a team player, his decision is costing his school money and what do you expect from a spoiled rich kid? NIKE more than David Stern’s NBA publicity machine defined the Michael Jordan business brand in his early days with the Chicago Bulls. Jordan’s son understands business.

There is money in the shoes.

College sports is a business.

Marcus Jordan understood that when he wore his father’s shoes. As Mars Blackmon once said in a NIKE-Jordan commercial, “Money, It’s Gotta Be the Shoes.”

Sunday, November 1, 2009

WADA’s Fahey: Agassi and the ATP Should be Accountable for Something That Happened in 1997

WADA’s Fahey: Agassi and the ATP Should be Accountable for Something That Happened in 1997

By Evan Weiner

November 1, 2009

8:30 PM EST

(New York, N. Y.) – Andre Agassi’s revelation that he used crystal meth in 1997 has attracted the attention of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), a group that was formed in 1999 in an effort to get rid of drugs in the sports world. It is not unusual for the head of WADA to run his mouth and John Fahey is certainly following in the tradition of the former head Dick Pound in barking.

In November 2005, Pound made a baseless accusation of doping in hockey. Pound estimated that a third of the players in the National Hockey League were taking enhancers. Only a handful of players have ever been suspended for drug usage

Of course there is nothing Fahey can do to Agassi but that doesn’t mean Fahey and WADA cannot complain. Agassi’s crystal meth usage took place 12 years ago and even though he tested positive for using a banned substance, a recreational drug as opposed to a performance-enhancing drug, the Association of Tennis Professionals bought his story that he drank something that was provided to him by his assistant Slim who “spiked” his drink.

Agassi was cleared of any wrong doing and resumed his career.

But WADA doesn’t want the story to end when Agassi’s autobiography hits the stands in this month. WADA would love to go after Agassi because WADA thinks it is a law enforcement agency. Pound, Fahey and others want to weed out the bad guys, the steroids, guys, the meth guys, the cocaine users and that is all well and good, but WADA is not a law enforcement group.

WADA also only has elite athletes in mind. The meth user on the street is of no concern to Fahey or Pound. They don’t sell tickets to athletic events or are compelling enough to fetch the IOC billions from American TV money and corporate sponsors. The drugged out entertainer, whether it is an actor, comedic or singer, is also of no concern to the group. They don’t sell tickets to athletic events or are compelling enough to fetch billions from American TV money and corporate sponsors.

Athletes are an elite group of people and that makes them different in the eyes of say WADA or the International Olympic Committee, a pair of non-government agencies who think they are in charge of enforcing some sort of justice in the elite athlete doping world. The International Olympics Committee President Jacques Rogge told Italian officials prior to the 2006 Turin Winter Games that the IOC, not Italian law enforcement officials should police the Olympic Village because the athletes were not really breaking laws by using banned substances rather they were cheating if they were taking illegal performance enhancing drugs and that the IOC should hand out punishment not Italian authorities for possessing illegal substances. Rogge and his minions felt that suspending an athlete for two years from competition was more meaningful than having a jail term.

It is the IOC’s view of the world. Cheating by an elite athlete is more of an offense than law breaking.

The IOC demands governments genuflect in front of them. Tony Blair, Vladimir Putin, Barack Obama and other world leaders have to come to IOC functions and be seen or risk not getting a chance at winning a sure money loser for taxpayers, the Olympics.

The International Olympic Committee created WADA and that group provided the agency with funding. But somehow this independent agency gained funding from countries around the world beginning in 2002.

In 2003, Pound started throwing barbs at United States George W. Bush and suggested that sporting events should not be held in America because United States pro leagues were not handing out stiff enough penalties to athletes caught using banned substances and also that the Bush Administration was rather slow in sending money to the anti-doping agency.

Eventually the United States and other countries mailed their checks with payments to Pound and his gang. The Bush Administration cut what American taxpayers gave to WADA by $200,000 reducing the commitment to $800,000.

Needless to say that did not please Pound.

Pound wanted to turn the United States into a sports “pariah.”

Of course had that happened, WADA and the Olympics movement would be out of business as the International Olympic Committee lives on the dime of the American broadcast network, General Electric’s NBCUniversal has endowed Rogge’s group with billions of dollars.

It is highly unlikely that Jeffrey Immelt, GE’s Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive Officer would have been handing Rogge money if Rogge reduced the United States into a pariah sports state.

The IOC also has not opened negotiations for the American TV rights for the 2014 Sochi and 2016 Rio games as of yet because of the American economic collapse. The IOC figures if it waits until 2010, they might be in a better negotiating climate but Rupert Murdoch has already ruled out that his American TV network FOX will bid on the Games, NBCUniversal may be sold, Disney and ESPN may go after the rights but will the huge sums of money be available? If the answer is no that, not Mark McGwire returning to baseball to be a hitting coach for the St. Louis Cardinals, will turn America into a sports “pariah.”

Strangely enough, WADA does concede it has no power even if Pound and Fahey make demands.

The WADA website points out that “Governments have many responsibilities in the fight against doping in sport. They also have powers that sport organizations do not have.

“For example, governments can facilitate doping controls and support national testing programs: encourage the establishment of ‘best practice’ in the labeling, marketing and distribution of productions that might contain prohibited substances, withhold financial support from those who engage in or support doping, take measures against the manufacturing and trafficking of doping substances: encourage the establishment of codes of conduct for professions relating to sport and anti-doping and fund anti-doping education and research.”

WADA though has a major limitation – “Many governments cannot be legally bound by a non-governmental document such as the World Anti-Doping Code (Code). Accordingly, governments prepared the Copenhagen Declaration on Anti-Doping in Sport, a political document through which they signalled their intention to formally recognize and implement the Code through an international treaty. The Copenhagen Declaration was finalized in 2003.”

WADA is not a law enforcement agency and cannot be a law enforcement agency or can it?

WADA tramples on human rights by demanding athletes be available seven days a week and giving the agency an hour so they can do a drug test. This has not sat well with Belgium’s Sporta, a sports union, which claims that WADA has violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human rights that includes “Everyone has the right to respect for his private and family life, his home and his correspondence” and “There shall be no interference by a public authority with the exercise of this right except such as is in accordance with the law and is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security, public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime, for the protection of health or morals, or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.”

Other groups that have opposed include the Board of Control for Cricket in India, the Fédération Internationale des Associations de Footballeurs Professionnels, a group of 42 football (soccer) players associations around the globe, the Australian Cricketers Association, the international football (soccer) governing body, Fédération Internationale de Football Association, the European governing body for football (soccer), Union of European Football Associations, and a panel of the European Union which said WADA’s “whereabouts” rule might violate privacy rules.

Rogge and his cronies suspect that every athlete is a possible drug user and that invasion of privacy is not big deal.

Elite athletes are treated differently. Privacy invasion is no big deal. Perhaps Madrid lost race to land the 2016 Olympics because they have gone soft on the war on drugs in sports. Any elite athlete living in Spain doesn’t have to be bothered by WADA’s troops that come knocking on the door between 11 PM and 8 AM looking for a urine sample and there is nothing WADA can do.

It is the law in Spain.

It is no surprise that WADA wants to go after Agassi and the Association of Tennis Professions even though the group has nothing to do with what happened in 1997. That is what WADA does best, perhaps it is time that countries take the matter of doping in their own hands and let law enforcement not a bunch of old jocks and jock sniffers handle criminal activities. After all, taking an illegal substance, whether it is a steroid (which is not illegally in every country in the world and that causes another ethical problem for the IOC/WADA) or crystal meth, should be handled by law enformance not Jacques Rogge or John Fahey.