Saturday, December 26, 2009

Major League Soccer's actions may provide a clue to the likelihood of a 2011 NFL lockout

By Evan Weiner

December 26, 2009

For those who follow the National Football League, here is a suggestion. Take a good, hard look at what could happen with Major League Soccer players in February because what the MLS owners, which include the New England Patriots’ Kraft family, the Kansas City Chiefs Hunt family, Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, could lockout their players around February 1.

At least that is the opinion of one of Allen’s employees, Seattle Sounders goalkeeper Kasey Keller.

Keller has outlined some of the sticking points between the two sides and it sounds a lot like any other management-players association dispute centering on free agency, guaranteed contracts and money. The players want a bigger share of the revenues and the owners want to keep as much of the revenues that are generated.

Major League Soccer is not the National Football League, but collective bargaining agreements end in the NFL and the National Basketball Association in 2011. The National Hockey League might also have a contract negotiation in 2011 if the owners or players decide to pull out of their present collective bargaining agreement a year early and Major League Baseball’s collective bargaining agreement is done in 2012.

If you take a close look at the money behind the MLS, you begin to see that the same people who are behind the NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB run the MLS. In 2004, the National Hockey League ownership group decided to play hardball with the players association and locked out the players in September of that year and shut down the league for a year.

Bettman is thought to be the father of the National Basketball Association’s salary cap that was implemented in 1984.

The NHL owners wanted cost containment and a salary cap. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman gave the owners exactly want they wanted. One of Bettman’s owners in 2004 was Phil Anschutz of the Los Angeles Kings. Anschutz is still the power behind Major League Soccer with ownership of the Los Angeles Galaxy and the Houston Dynamo. At one time, Anschutz owned six MLS teams, if Phil Anschutz wants to lock out the players; chances are good that the MLS will not be preparing for the 2010 season in February.

The NHL labor action of 2004-05 had a profound affect on other sports. The National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern, who had been Bettman’s NBA boss between 1984 and 1993, kept a close eye on the NHL negotiations and certainly had a lot of leverage in his negotiations with NBA players. Stern could always point to the NHL players and tell NBA players look we can do the same to you.

There was a quick agreement between the NBA owners and players in 2005 and Major League Baseball, whose interim commissioner Bud Selig in 1994 when the baseball players went on strike was emotional at a news conference when the baseball playoffs and World Series were about to go down the drain in saying he heard from a hockey owner, presumably Chicago’s Bill Wirtz, that the baseball owners needed to hang in and not cave into the players.

Whether people or fans want to believe this or not, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association and the National Hockey League are tied at the hip through overlapping ownership of not only teams (Texas Rangers-Dallas Stars Tom Hicks, the New York Knicks- Rangers Cablevision/Dolan Family, the Philadelphia Flyers and 76ers, Comcast, Chicago White Sox-Bulls, Jerry Reinsdorf. The Toronto Maple Leafs-Raptors-Toronto FC/MLS, Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to just name a few), there are overlapping ownership of regional cable TV networks as well (Reinsdorf, the Wirtz and the Chicago Cubs each have a piece of the Chicago regional network, the New York Yankees and the New Jersey Nets have an agreement with the YES Network, the Boston Red Sox group owns 80 percent of the New England Sports Network with the other 20 percent in the hands of the Boston Bruins group just to name a few).

The MLS has ties to the NHL (Anschutz, the Maple Leafs, St. Louis’ Dave Checketts, Colorado’s Kroenke Sports Enterprises), the NBA (Kroenke), Major League Baseball (Oakland’s Lewis Wolff, San Francisco’s William H. C. Chang) so this is not a minor league even though the MLS is not recognized as one of the top soccer leagues in the world. In fact, it is probably more of a minor league based on talent and the league has problems attracting major talent because of the salary cap.

The exception being Anschutz’s signing of David Beckham. But it is Anschutz’s league, he can write the rules if he so chooses.

The MLS is in a bit of a bind. Will American football fans notice if the league doesn’t operate in 2010 with the World Cup taking place? The World Cup supersedes the English Premiership and all the other more prominent leagues globally and people cheer for their home country. The World Cup qualifier in 1969 set off a four-day war between El Salvador and Honduras. Earlier this year,
Egypt and Algeria nearly had an international incident after reports that Algerian fans attacked Egyptian partisans after Algeria beat Egypt in a qualifier in Khartoum, Sudan that escalated into a rowdy protest by Egyptian partisans at the Algerian Embassy in Cairo that ended with 20 arrests, dozens of Egyptian police suffering injuries and 15 cars damaged.

There is not that sort of passion for football in the United States or Canada.

Of course the same thing was said about the National Hockey League in 2004 and 2005, did fans really miss the NHL? The truth is that owners don’t want fans, they want customers who don’t mind paying top dollar or loonie to attend games, corporations bought tickets then as an inducement for business and since the regional sports cable TV networks are owned by teams or people like Rupert Murdoch (who is heavily involved in funding Major League Baseball, the NFL and teams in both the NHL and NBA), there was no pressure from the regionals to settle the dispute.

To this date, no cable subscriber in the United States has been reimbursed for missed games from the 1994 NHL lockout or the 2004-05 lockout, nor has more been returned from the 1998-99 NBA lockout or the various Major League Baseball work stoppages.

The corporate ticket buyers along with marketing partners returned to the NHL. The MLS has major TV partners, major sponsors and is building a corporate base and has been successful in getting municipalities to fund new stadiums around North America. More than likely, any potential lockout will blow over but you won’t see the baseball-like diehards screaming they will never attend a game again because of greedy players.

It is still too early in the negotiating game to say there will be or will not be an MLS lockout. But owners like Kraft, Hunt and Allen (presuming his health problems will allow him to monitor the situation, Allen is a minority owner of the Sounders) could tip their collective hand in the National Football League's bargaining by backing a MLS lockout. The MLS might be an after thought to most of the remaining American newspapers sports editors and to American sports talk radio, but it is the rabbit in the race, the MLS will set the pace in what might be a very tumultuous few years in sports starting in February.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Did the 2004 Athens Olympics Contribute to the Greece Financial Meltdown?

Did the 2004 Athens Olympics contribute to the Greece financial meltdown?

By Evan Weiner

December 17, 2009

Is the International Olympic Committee to blame for the December decline in the Euro? It may not be that much of a stretch to blame the International Olympic Committee demands on Greece to make certain that the 2004 Athens Olympics opened on time with state of the art facilities which in turn cost Greece taxpayers’ billions upon billions of dollars.

Greece is still paying for the Olympics and the Olympics may have partially helped nudged Greece into a financial abyss that is causing trouble for Europe and the euro. Greece may not be able to borrow any more money to pay down the country’s debts, some of which can directly be traced to overspending on the 2004 Athens Olympics.

Greece has not exhibited much discipline in spending over the years. Greece won the 2004 Olympic bid in 1997 and the project was in immediate trouble. Construction of the facilities and infrastructure was slow and costs mounted. Costs soared and Greece was on the hook for the billions of euros or dollars or pounds or whatever other currency you could name.

Greece could be insolvent and join Iceland, Dubai and Ireland as major financial trouble spots which gives the European Union a major problem. The EU wants a concrete plan of action from Greece officials that will reduce government spending and debt. Some of that debt is 2004 Athens Olympics related. Greece is also reeling from decisions by various credit agencies to downgrade the country’s financial ratings.

There seems to be a spillover which is dragging down the Euro to new December lows. The European currency has fallen to about a $1.44 US as of December 17 and is about seven cents down in the month of December.

The 2004 Athens Olympics is not the only financial burden on the Greece’s government but it certainly has not helped the Greece’s bottom line. The International Olympic Committee promises the world to host cities and it usually ends up in a bad financial experience for host cities such as Montreal, Sydney, Athens, Turin and the same thing is happening right now in Vancouver, Canada who host of the 2010 Winter Olympics, and in London, England, the host of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

In the United States, General Electric’s NBCUniversal division could lose as much as $200 million (US) because advertiser revenues are not going into the Vancouver Olympics telecasts.

The Olympics experience has become a money pit. Most people going after the Olympics know that the International Olympic Committee is a scourge but cities still throw themselves at the IOC’s feet hoping to get chosen. The lure seems to be nothing more than let’s feel good about hosting the event and that we will get some positive publicity out of the event that might eventually draw tourists to the city.

Remember how the Republicans and Conservatives in the United States mocked President Barack Obama when Chicago did not receive the nod from the International Olympic Committee to host the 2016 Games after Obama went to Copenhagen, Denmark to speak before the IOC? Remember how American radio talk show hosts were gleeful that Obama failed to get the Games and how America failed.

Needless to say the politicians and the noise crowd were really ignorant of the whole Olympics process and how it really is a drag on countries and local and provincial governments. The noise and ignorance radio carnival barkers crowd, led by Rush Limbaugh, didn’t bother to do any homework and see how tax rates in Montreal and Quebec rose between 1976 and 2006 to pay off the 1976 Montreal summer games.

The Montreal Games ended up costing about one billion dollars US. But that was nothing compared to what happened in Athens. The radio know-it-alls failed to notice just how much money the 2004 Athens games cost. But the Obama is failed carried the day for the know-it-alls on crow on radio daily.

Did Greece spend 10 billion euros or more on the Games? The true answer may never be determined. Whatever was spent, Greece lost billions of euros on the two week sports event. By 2008, 21 of the 22 venues built for the 2004 Games were unused and were in various state of disrepair yet Greece taxpayers were paying for some sort of maintenance at the venues and that too was very costly. It seems that the Olympics did very little for Athens and Greece and that 10 billion euro expenditure was a waste and probably in some way has led to Greece’s financial meltdown.

Of course people will scoff at that notion but that money spent on the Olympic venues could have been used elsewhere. Tennessee Governor Phil Bredesen in 1997 as Nashville mayor admitted that a supermarket was worth far more than a stadium or an arena in terms of economic impact. But Bredesen wanted to change Nashville’s image and make it a major league town complete with a National Football League team that would play on Monday Night Football and show off the Nashville Skyline and either a National Basketball Association or a National Hockey League team.

Bredesen wanted Nashville to be known for something even though it was the “country music capital of the world” and Bob Dylan put out an album called “Nashville Skyline” in 1969. Nashville spent hundreds of millions of dollars for the right to be a “big league” town and has an NFL team, the Tennessee Titans and an NHL team, the Nashville Predators.

It is a much smaller comparison, building a stadium or an arena with taxpayers’ money when put up against an Olympics which requires 22 or so venues but Bredesen’s point is well worth examining.

A supermarket that is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week employs three full shifts plus weekend shifts and employs far more people than a stadium and/or an arena. The people who work in the supermarket live in the community and spend their paychecks at other businesses in that community. A stadium is used just a handful of times a year, a football stadium might operate only 10 days a year and employee a handful of part time employees. A team might have an office in the stadium, but the team does not employee as many people as a supermarket, Yes players get paid large sums of money and taxes are collected on the salaries but players don’t live in the community surrounding a stadium and don’t shop in the area. Wealthy athletes live in gated communities somewhere else.

A baseball stadium could be used 90 days a year but that still leaves about 275 days with no event. An arena might get 200 days of use but none of the sports venues are open virtually everyday of the year. Having 22 venues unused is not financially feasible yet that is what is happening with Olympic facilities after the circus leaves town.

Even if some of the 21 unused Greece facilities come back on line, it is highly unlikely that the Greek government can ever reclaim the public investment money on the buildings.

Athens did get a new airport and new transportation system out of the Olympics and walkways in the historical areas. However Greece would have built that infrastructure eventually but all has not been well with the construction.

Greece doesn’t even have a real handle on just how much was spent on the non Olympic venues in the “infrastructure” category. The Olympics cost is a drop in the bucket compared with the Greece debt which is about $300 billion euro but the Greek economy was faltering long before the global market collapsed in September 2008.

The 2004 Olympic experience certainly did not help. Yet even with all of the evidence, cities continue to go after the Olympics and there is a list of cities wanting the 2018 Winter Games as Annecy, France, Munich, Germany and PyeongChang, South Korea are bidding for the right to hold the competition. Italy wants the 2020 Summer Games and will decide whether Rome or Venice is the best city for the country’s bid next April.

Meanwhile, economists and sports business experts really need to examine what affect the 2004 Athens Games had on Greece’s debt and how those Olympics bills are dragging down the euro.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Tiger, Harvey Levin, Time Warner and Murdoch and American journalism

Tiger, Harvey Levin, Time Warner and Murdoch and American Journalism

By Evan Weiner

December 15, 2009

(New York, N. Y.) -- In all the stories about Tiger Woods, the one that doesn’t stand out is how much money charities will end up losing because people like Harvey Levin keep pushing the envelope and claim it is journalism. This much is known, Woods dropped out of his own charity tournament in late November and attendance was way off without the golfer at the Thousand Oaks, California course.

That meant a loss of money that would be given to charities and people who need help. That is not something Levin and his ilk give much thought to.

What happened with Tiger, the mistresses, his family is Tiger Woods’ business and he has to deal with his problems. The general public does not need to know what is going on. The public does not have a right to know even though Tiger Woods is a public figure. Woods is a golfer and a corporate pitchman, he is not a governor of a state who spent time with a hooker in Washington, DC, he is not a governor of a state who decided to take off to Argentina to be with his lover and disappeared for five days and not tell any state officials about not being around which is unconscionable for the leader of a state and should be an impeachable offense.

Woods is a golfer. That is what he does best.

The Woods story is taking a familiar route with the media being led by the nose by people like Levin and his benefactor Rupert Murdoch. Levin and Murdoch together in bed? Yes, you see Levin’s TMZ television show is picked up by Murdoch’s WNYW in New York and his stations in Chicago and Los Angeles. TMZ’s franchise TV show is distributed by Warner Brothers Domestic Television Distribution and the show is also partially produced by Warner Brothers Telepictures along with Levin. So two of the United States’ three cable TV news entities have an interest in TMZ and further the Woods story as Murdoch’s FOX and Time Warner’s CNN are giving the people what they want or are they?

And the media pile on includes spin doctors, public relations agents, the amateur and professional psychiatrists and others who are giving their professional advice to Tiger and how he can reclaim his pedestal. It seems like we have heard this story before with Alex Rodriguez the last sports icon to fall last spring. The Yankees won a World Series and Alex Rodriguez seems to be doing fine.

The Tiger Woods story doesn’t resonant in gyms or in the Eastchester, New York CVS store. Inquiring minds need to know, so I asked a woman who has worked at the store for a long time whether there has been a spike in sales of Murdoch’s New York Post, the National Enquirer, People, US, Star the Globe and all the other “entertainment” magazines and papers and the answer was a resounding no.

The National Enquirer is on the ropes financially; the New York Post has lost a chunk of circulation and is in the red. CNN and FOX would not be profitable without the Cable TV Act of 1984 which does not allow a la carte cable TV pricing.

Murdoch, the hero of the conservatives and moralists, really does pull the wool over his audiences’ eyes sort of like the Wizard of Oz behind the curtain. His audience never seems to notice that he hired the former New York Governor Eliot Spitzer’s hooker as a sex columnist for his New York Post, or that the Post has ads for escort services or that his WNYW TV station runs spots for escort services.

Levin is an interesting story. He nearly blew up the O. J. Simpson case as a reporter for KCBS in Los Angeles back in 1994 by showing a video with a wrong time code of the prosecutor Marcia Clark searching Simpson’s home before a search warrant was issued. Levin had to apologize for his mistake, but he has continued having a TV career despite his almost over-the-top miscue.

Levin is now the host of The People’s Court. AOL helped get off the ground. AOL was owned by Time Warner when that happened in 2005.

The court TV genre is popular but perhaps it is time for either the House or Senate’s Committee on Legislative Oversight start taking a serious look at Levin and others in the genre if a veteran TV booker who shares a first name with a one time gossip columnist and a last name with a baseball writer is correct. According to the booker, court shows look for people who are over the top who get easily excited and are interesting. Before the court shows are taped, there is a lot of alcohol available to drink and then it is show time. To get a plaintiff to sue a defendant on the show, the plaintiff is given a sales pitch by a producer which consists of what do you have to lose, you probably aren’t going to get your money anyway from this man or woman so come onto the show and you are guaranteed something.

There is a catch though. The plaintiff might win a judgment but the show’s budget has been stretched and that the plaintiff might not get the all of the money from the show’s producers because the show’s budget has been stretched.

If Congress could investigate TV game shows of the 1950s, they can look into Levin and others who engage in this type of genre. After all, Levin has no problem going after people like Tiger Woods or Mel Gibson or Britney Spears or Michael Richards (by the way, how did TMZ not run afoul of the do not tape performances announcement that accompanies all performances and put the Richards meltdown on a website without getting sued for copyright infringements?)

Woods is just the latest in a long line of people who were placed on a pedestal by the media and now the media is feasting over his rapid demise as an icon and idol. Golf writers, who sound a lot like baseball writers who were caught with their collective pants down by not writing about alleged steroid usage in the sport (although the Washington Post’s Thomas Boswell and sportscaster Bob Costas did write and talk about their suspicions) are now doing a mea culpa.

Leonard Shapiro in the Washington Post has expressed some sort of guilt by not following Tiger Woods into the bedroom. Shapiro in his column also fingers fellow writers for not following Woods on his sexual romps.

This is what the Murdochs, Levins, Time Warners have created. But the point is that people don’t care. No matter what the media barons say, it doesn’t sell newspapers, if scandal did, Murdoch would be rolling in dough with the New York Post and not blaming the Internet for the decline of newspaper readership. TMZ would be pulling a 46 percent share of the audience during its time slot and the National Enquirer would be flying off the shelves.

Back to the gym, there was a conversation between a senior woman and a man from one of the Caribbean islands. The woman said “look men like sex, Tiger Woods is a man, he is a powerful man and woman throw themselves at him whatever happened, it is his business.” The man in the other end of the conversation had an interesting point about the American media, how they like to build up people and then knock them down and that didn’t happen in his home country.

Back in the 1980s, the veteran New York sports columnist Dick Young used to write about “My America”. Young’s America in his mind cared about law and order so he expected that the Major League Baseball players who were linked to cocaine usage would get booed upon their return from court or a suspension or even jail time. None of that ever happened because people just want to be entertained.

In the 1980s and 1990s, grown men used to quiver in line when Mickey Mantle did baseball card autograph shows even though they knew about Mickey’s drinking and infidelity.

They loved the Mick.

Tiger Woods is an entertainer. No more, no less. He is not the Commander in Chief conducting two wars, nor is he trying to turn around a severe recession. He is not trying to find a cure for cancer. He is not a school teacher nor is he is member of the clergy. He is a golfer. That’s it.

But Levin and is ilk have hurt charities in their quest for an extra three viewers to make their presentations more valuable for advertisers and knock Woods from his media made throne. The Professional Golf Association donates a piece of the gate in every city that a tournament is played to local charities. Without Woods, charities are going to suffer. Tiger Woods drives the gate and that part of the story is going unreported by Murdoch, by Levin, by CNN. They just a reporting on how much money Tiger Woods could lose in endorsements.

It is a sad, sad commentary on what passes as the news industry in the United States. But as a one time WNEW-FM, New York disc jockey turned WABC-TV, New York political reporter named Pat Dobson once said on the air, the media just follows the New York Post’s lead.

It is that mentality that is sinking the journalism business rapidly.

One last thing, when Tiger Woods returns to the golf course, he will be welcomed back by the consumer just like those baseball fans who cheered the guys linked to cocaine in the 1980s.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Bad week for Toronto hockey writers

Bad week for Toronto hockey writers

By Evan Weiner

December 12, 2009

(New York, N. Y.) -- It has not been a good couple days for the Toronto sports media, rather the Toronto hockey fan sportswriters. National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman met with Quebec Premier Jean Charest and the Quebec premier is under the impression that Bettman would like to see a franchise in Quebec City.

Then came the story that Bettman would prefer expanding the league rather than relocating teams and on top of that there seems to be a group ready to buy the financially troubled Phoenix Coyotes willing to keep the team in Glendale, Arizona.
The stars are not aligning for the Toronto hockey scribes who were waving their red and white pom poms last summer and basically begging a United States bankruptcy judge to let Jim Balsillie pick up the Coyotes franchise and move the team to Hamilton, Ontario.

That didn’t happen as Judge Redfield Baum decided to let the NHL handle the sale of the Coyotes franchise. Balsillie, one of the BlackBerry founders, appealed to Canadian nationalism in his bid to buy the Coyotes and the Toronto hockey writers acted as if they were a Balsillie flack instead of journalists who researched sports league’s constitutions or previous denials of sports teams ownership transfers or relocation such as Major League baseball saying twice no to Edwin Gaylord in the 1980s in his attempt to but the Texas Rangers because he owned a “superstation” in Dallas and Gaylord’s Dallas TV station would air Rangers games nationally and devalue other baseball TV contracts.

That opened the door for George W. Bush to eventually join a group that would buy the Rangers in 1989. A little research would have helped Toronto hockey writers understand how leagues operate.

Now the Toronto writers are facing a dilemma. What if Quebec City really has the wherewithal to finance a new arena? In 1995, Quebec Nordiques owner Marcel Aubut and Bettman tried to persuade Quebec politicians to come up with public financing for a new arena to replace Le Colisee and failed. Aubut sold the team to Charlie Lyons and Ascent and the franchise ended up in Denver, Colorado.

The Toronto writers have been tearing apart Bettman for years about a perceived perception that Bettman has anti-Canadian stance and never include in their critiques of the “New York lawyer” or the “diminutive” commissioner helped prevent the Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington from selling his team to Houston sports owner Les Alexander who planned to take the team to Texas in 1998. Bettman also helped broker a deal to keep the Ottawa Senators in the Canadian capital, although technically the Senators home arena is in Kanata, which is west of Ottawa.

Bettman also fought to keep franchises in Pittsburgh, Nashville and Glendale, Arizona (Phoenix). He pushed for Edmonton and Calgary to get a share of the Alberta hockey lottery.

Under Bettman’s watch, Quebec City, Winnipeg and Hartford (three former World Hockey Association teams) have relocated. Quebec City to Denver in 1995, Winnipeg to Phoenix (now Glendale) in 1996 and Hartford to Raleigh, North Carolina in 1997. All three cities simply did not have state of the art 1990s hockey arenas. Connecticut Governor John Rowland, who ended up in prison, seemed smitten with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft snooping around Hartford looking for a stadium for his National Football League team and didn’t really play ball with Hartford Whalers owner Peter Karmanos.

Rowland not only lost a hockey team but probably Compuware jobs as Karmanos wanted to establish a Connecticut outpost for his computer company.

Rowland lost the Whalers and Kraft never really had any intention of moving his Patriots from the Boston metropolitan area and simply used Rowland as leverage to get a new stadium in Foxboro next to his old stadium. Kraft is further developing that property in Foxboro. He may be using United States government stimulus funding for his project.

The Toronto media, at least one of the hockey fans, er writers, Randy Sportak is urging the NHL to go into Toronto or Hamilton and while Quebec City or Winnipeg would be great additions to the league, Toronto deserves a second team. Sportak is also suggesting that the league move the New York Islanders or the Nashville Predators to southern Ontario.

Lazy journalism on Sportak’s part if he thinks the Islanders will move. Sportak probably has no idea how lucrative the Islanders cable TV deal with Cablevision’s Charles Dolan really is. The deal runs until 2031 and it behooves Dolan, the owner of Madison Square Garden, the National Basketball Association’s Knicks and the NHL’s Rangers and the MSG Network, to keep paying. You see Dolan needs the Islanders to stay in Uniondale or move to the proposed Brooklyn arena or the proposed building that could end up on Shea Stadium’s former site or in the junkyards at Willets Point adjacent to the US National Tennis Center to keep his cable TV franchises on Long island.

Here is how it works. Dolan can go before any town, village or city board on the island in both Nassau and Suffolk County when his cable TV systems franchise licensing agreement is up and say I have two things other cable operators don’t have. The Islanders and News 12. Dolan uses the same strategy in New Jersey with the Devils and News 12. Dolan is a major benefactor of New Jersey Devils hockey.
That is how sports operators. Islanders owner Charles Wang is hoping that he can develop the area around the Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale. If he cannot, you can be sure that New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who found funds for new baseball stadiums for the Yankees and Mets, will be chatting up Brooklyn and Queens with Wang.

No matter how lucrative the Toronto market might be, and this is no slight about Toronto, T. O. is not the Big Apple even if hockey is king in Toronto.
There is no suggestion at present that Nashville is ready to give up on the Predators.

If there is expansion, Quebec City and Winnipeg are on top of the charts for the NHL. In fact, the founder of the Russian-based Kontinental Hockey League Alexander Medvedev, the Deputy Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Russian Gazprom energy company, thinks that Quebec City is long overdue for an NHL team. An expansion of the league would mean a good deal of money for NHL owners. Even if the league sells the franchises for $150 million each, which is probably a low figure, two franchises would mean the NHL owners would split the $300 million 30 ways and give each owner $10 million.

It has not been a good week for the Toronto sports media. Quebec City wants an NHL team and Gary Bettman is listening, the NHL favors expansion over relocation, New Jersey Nets owner Bruce Ratner wants a hockey team in his proposed Brooklyn building, presumably the Islanders, and Ice Edge wants the Coyotes and has a plan to use Saskatoon, Saskatchewan as a second home for five games which should cause the Toronto writers to break out the pom poms again. But Saskatoon is not Southern Ontario nor is Quebec City and that is a problem for the Toronto scribes.

Bad week for Toronto hockey writers

Bad week for Toronto hockey writers

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Friday, December 11, 2009

The NFL, Congress, the BCS and the Bahamas

The NFL, Congress, the BCS and the Bahamas

By Evan Weiner

(Nassau, Bahamas) -- You can tell a lot about a sport’s popularity by going to a supermarket. I spent the day before Thanksgiving, a huge sports lead up day in America to three National Football League contests on the holiday along with a three-day menu of college football games, in Nassau, Bahamas. Strolling through a supermarket you can see how integrated a sports really is within a society by walking through the beer and snacks areas.

In Nassau, the Super Value supermarket near the beach near Sandals is far more of a gauge of what the locals think about the National Football League and college football than Paradise Island and the Atlantis resort. There is no real NFL interest despite Nassau’s close proximity to the United States on West Bay Street not far from Goodman Bay. There were no in-store promotions pushing the National Football League in the beer area or the snack aisle.

It was almost as if the NFL didn’t exist.

That probably is not news to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or his owners even though they would like to expand the league’s reach. The only North American sports league that has tried to do anything in Nassau was the National Basketball Association as the Miami Heat played a pre-season game in the city. There are basketball courts around Nassau. There were two NBA players from the Bahamas, Mychael Thompson and Rick Fox.

Nassau and the rest of the Bahamas have boxing and track and field along with a lot of yacht races but there is no football, the American version, but there is the international version of football, soccer, along with cricket and rugby. The Bahamas have golf, tennis and water sports but there is no real interest in football except when tourists bet on games. In the 1990s, the Bahamas government approved gambling on sports events as a way to keep the gambling money in the country as some of that money was being lost to riverboat style gambling.

The Bahamas, after all, became an independent country in 1973 and centuries of being under British rule and the country is a member of the British Commonwealth which means that American sports stayed on the mainland except for some baseball.
The National Football League is no big deal outside of North America. The NFL has the entire United States, a good chunk of Canada and parts of Mexico in its marketing footprint and that why the NFL is desperately trying to establish a foothold in London and the United Kingdom with the thought of marketing the brand in the Commonwealth nations.

But the NFL and college football have far more problems than expanding the global gridiron footprint. Walking on Goodman’s Bay beach the day before Thanksgiving, a holiday not celebrated in November in the Bahamas, is a world away from Washington and Goodell along with the college football industry have spent more time up on Capitol Hill recently than dealing with Dan Snyder’s Redskins or the University of Maryland’s football squad.

Congress wants to know more about head injuries and concussions and Congress wants to know about college football’s way of determining a national champion. Should politicians be involved in football?

The answer should be no but the game and business of football and Washington interests have been intertwined since President Theodore Roosevelt in October 1905 began to ask questions about the brutal nature of football. Columbia University dropped football because of the brutality and Harvard was ready to follow suit. Roosevelt liked football, his son played the game at Harvard, however the game bordered on savagery.

By December 1905, Roosevelt used the bully pulpit of the Oval Office and cleaned up football, a game which had a growing casualty rate.

Because of Roosevelt’s interference or influence and it according to historians was a bit of both, new rules were drawn up to make the game safer.

Thanks to federal legislation, big time college football factories have a tax exemption; pro football got a version of an anti-trust exemption in 1961 which allowed the established National Football League to group all 14 franchises as one and sell weekly games to a television network, just like the newly formed American Football League and Congress gave approval to the 1966 American Football League-National Football League merger which ended the competition for players between the 15 team NFL and the nine team AFL.

The merger not only combined the leagues but created the American Football League-National Football League World Championship Game which is now known as the Super Bowl.

That is why Congress has held hearings on head injuries and long time consequences for players who have had concussions and how college football determines a champion. Congress has not yet touched on football programs being dropped at Boston’s Northeastern University of Long Island’s Hofstra University. It has become far too expensive to run programs for those schools.

Perhaps Congress will look into the divide between the big time football programs and the schools who are opting out on a small level. Congress has had issues with the Bowl Championship Series in the past and Congress should be reviewing every aspect of college sports from tax exemptions to graduation rates to whether players should get a piece of the pie from the billions of dollars in TV revenues.
Congress wants a national football champion. A House panel wants a national champion which is sort of strange given that America is fighting two wars, there is a battle going on over health care. Municipalities are laying off people because of the consequences of a very severe recession and unemployment remains too, too high. But there is bipartisan support for a national college football championship game.

Congress is about a decade and a half late in holding hearings on head injuries. The former NHL power skating hockey coach Laura Stamm was talking about the issue in the mid-1990s and was doing research on injuries. Laura Stamm was just a voice in the wilderness in the mid-1990s.

Head injuries in sports is not a new topic, it is just getting far more scrutiny now. Theodore Roosevelt knew all about head injuries as President in 1905 when there was serious consideration given to banning football and on field deaths.
Congress has some leverage in making sure Goodell and his owners get the message that they better do something to clean up football. Congress has passed legislation that has greatly aided the NFL and made NFL owners a lot of money in bills ranging from the 1961 Sports Broadcast Act to the 1966 merger to the 1984 Cable TV Act to the revision of the tax code in 1986 which changed the funding methods of municipally funded stadiums. In 2007, Congress forced the NFL to put the undefeated New England Patriots-New York Giants game on over-the-air TV networks instead of the NFL Network when New England was 15-0 and going for an undefeated season. It seems inconceivable that Congress has that kind of power, but Congress does as the House of Representatives and the Senate are very active partners in sports.

But in Nassau, Bahamas, the beach is far, far away and the NFL is largely a TV and betting affair. There is no American football in Nassau. The NFL is a world away despite being less than an hour plane flight from Miami to Nassau. Before the NFL goes overseas in a quest to sell more logo-ed t-shirts and hats, Goodell better take care of his own home which was why he is obsessing with head injuries and might have to feel the wrath of the bully pulpit like college presidents did in 1905.

The NFL, Congress, the BCS and the Bahamas

The NFL, Congress, the BCS and the Bahamas

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Sunday, December 6, 2009

Tiger Woods and Broken Journalism

Tiger Woods and Broken Journalism

By Evan Weiner

The United States must not be conducting two wars or trying to get out of a severe recession or trying to figure out how to solve the health care crisis. You see two big name so-called journalists, Bob Schieffer of the CBS television network and the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd have decided to comment on the golfer Tiger Woods personal problems which means all is well with the world and America.

Schieffer on his CBS-TV Face the Nation public affairs program and Dowd in her New York Times column.

The fact that Schieffer, the one time CBS Evening News anchor, and Dowd are throwing on their two cents on Woods shows just how far journalism has sank. Schieffer, if he has to weigh in on Tiger Woods, should just go back to his Friday night dinners and discussion of fantasy baseball with his brother Tom, the former Texas Rangers President and Rangers Managing General Partner George W. Bush like they did in the 1990s and Dowd, well someone at the New York Times likes her. Hopefully for the columnist that like will still be on display in the future as later this week the New York Times plans lets go of a number of employees.

The Times is hemorrhaging money and has to lay off personal.

The times are a changing and the New York Times is not what it once was nor is CBS News, the home of Edward R. Murrow and Walter Cronkite. Murrow helped bring down Senator Joseph McCarthy on the See It Now show back on March 9, 1954 and Cronkite concluded the Vietnam War was not winnable on February 27, 1968 during a CBS news program which set into motion a series of events that might have had a heavy influence on President Lyndon B. Johnson’s decision not to seek re-election in 1968.

To be fair, both Murrow and Cronkite did preside over a lot of fluff programming as well with Murrow hosting People to People and Cronkite was an anchor at the 1960 Winter Olympics and did the narration of the Violent World of Sam Huff as part of the “The Twentieth Century” series on October 30, 1960.

There is a lot going on in the world. A global climate conference in Copenhagen, more troops will be headed to Afghanistan, unemployment at 10 percent, the on going health care debate and in the sports world, head injuries in football. All of that is significantly more important than whatever is going on between Woods and his wife.

The tearing down of an idol is nothing new in American journalism and now it is Tiger Woods turn to feel the wrath of the jock sniffers who report on sports. Somehow Tiger didn’t level with them, as if the reporters who follow golf deserve an explanation of his exploits. Of course Tiger has never palled around with sportswriters types anyway and now they can even the score since he is not their friend. Hell hath no fury like a sportswriter or sportswriters scorned.

There will be fewer reporters following Tiger Woods around in 2010 as the newspaper industry continues to bleed red ink and the radio/TV industry cuts back on news programming. The funny thing about the entire Tiger Woods coverage is that newspapers, radio and TV are giving the people what they want.


Of course if scandal really did sell, the National Enquirer would not be reeling. The New York Post would be selling millions of papers daily instead of seeing plunging circulation and the Gannett newspapers would not be laying off reporters, closing down printing presses and furloughing employees. The Gannett papers including USA Today, the New York suburban papers including the Journal News and others have ceased to be legitimate publications.

Newspaper executives and newspaper owners like Rupert Murdoch can scream all they want about how Google and the internet have inflicted a great deal of damage on their circulation and advertising but the truth is simple. Newspaper owners, publishers and managers sat snug while people like Craig Newmark came up with a better idea, Craig’s List, which took millions of dollars away from papers by charging far less for classified ads.

It is true advertisers are cutting back because of the economy yet marketers are willing to spend more on web advertising.

Tiger Woods is not going to sell any more newspapers or even more National Enquirers. But don’t tell that to various executives.

At one time, newspapers provided the backbone of publicist for sports. Notre Dame owes a great deal to the writers of the 1920s who sold the public on the mythology of George Gipp, the Four Horsemen and Knute Rockne. Newspapers made Babe Ruth and Red Grange household names in the 1920s and sports has embraced newspapers and sportswriters have gained a sense of entitlement which includes voting for various sports hall of fames and for individual players and manager or coaches awards which impacts on the earnings power of athletes, coaches and sports executives.

Today college students don’t read newspapers and young people get sports information from team websites, league websites, blogs, TV and radio. The golden age of the newspaper in America is gone and AARP members are the last generation that depends on newspapers for information. That is an undisputed fact.

Tiger Woods is a genuine 14 carat superstar with major ability in his field which is golf. Tiger doesn’t need sportswriters around because the truth of the matter is that he doesn’t say very much and his talent is always on display and people who follow Tiger don’t need a sportswriters’ analyst of his ability. They can listen to the former professional golfer who is part of a television network’s presentation of a golf tournament.

By the way, Tiger is not in trouble with the law. The case is closed and done with Tiger playing a small fine. But the media is not done with Tiger, the story they created about Tiger has come undone and it is payback time. Yet Tiger is not going to add to the media bottom line with scandal. It doesn’t work, if it did Confidential magazine would still be in circulation.

Tiger Woods never really sold newspapers but he did draw eyeballs to the TV screen whenever he played in a tournament. Woods sponsors are not fleeing and the Professional Golf Association’s media partners whether it is Summer Redstone’s CBS, General Electric’s NBC (soon to be merged with the Philadelphia-based Comcast, the multiple systems operator which owns the Golf Channel and Versus, which carries PGA shows), Disney’s ESPN and ABC in the US or the Disney-owner TSN in Canada along with RDS and CanWest north of the border and the numerous televisions partners globally can’t wait for Tiger to play in the tournaments they are showing. XM Satellite Radio, another financially struggling entity, is not dissolving its partnership with the PGA because of Tiger’s car accident or apparent National Enquirer fodder lifestyle.

Schieffer should keep his CBS Face the Nation program focused squarely addressing important American issues and Dowd, well she should go back to the Breck Girl (John Edwards) type columns on politics. Tiger will get more viewers for Redstone by playing golf; Tiger will not bring Redstone or Schieffer any new viewers. Dowd’s columns on Tiger will not help bring readers back to the New York Times.

As soon as Tiger is back on the golf course, all will be forgiven. Tiger is just another jock, another human being; although he is a superior golfer and he will make his money which is more than can be said for the New York Times or the National Enquirer.