Monday, March 29, 2010

A three-league solution for the MLB

A three-league solution for the MLB
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 03/29/10 at 1:20 AM

The Major League Baseball season will be opening up shortly, and for baseball backers who follow the Pittsburgh Pirates or the Kansas City Royals, it figures to be yet another long season.

It’s been many years since Kansas City and Pittsburgh boosters have had something to cheer about in October, but at one time in the 1970s and 1980s, Kansas City had playoff teams and Pittsburgh had contenders in the early 1990s.

Pittsburgh lost Barry Bonds because the franchise simply did not have the money to keep him. Bonds ended up signing with the San Francisco Giants after the 1992 season when he received a six-year, $43.75 million offer from the Bay Area team. Kansas City’s failures stem more from not developing good players after the team’s championship run ended in 1985, although Kansas City still had some good teams into the 1990s because then-owner Ewing Kauffman opened his checkbook. After Kauffman died in 1993, the baseball team’s fortunes sunk with him.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig, who himself was the owner of a struggling baseball team until he heard a higher call and took over as the owners’ top man, decided to ask some of the best minds in his industry to come up with plans to level the playing field.

The problem seems to be that the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox can just sign really good players to contracts that look more like telephone numbers, or they can bid for big-time Japanese players. New York and Boston have spent a lot of money and have been great teams; Boston has two championships in the past ten years; Philadelphia, is the best team (in theory) in the National League.

But the big money signings ruining the competitive balance argument has some flaws. Fred Wilpon’s New York Mets baseball club was awful in 2009 despite having a huge payroll, and Peter Angelos’ Baltimore Orioles won nothing in the past despite Angelos writing big checks to players.

Money is not the root of all evil in baseball, even if you believe the Red Sox CEO and President Larry Lucchino that the New York Yankees franchise is the “evil empire”.

Lucchino should not have spoken so quickly about his business partner. One of the Boston Red Sox’s properties is the Fenway Sports Group, and one of FSG’s clients is Dunkin’ Donuts. Guess which ad agency arranged a deal that featured Yankees pitcher Jaba Chamberlain in a Dunkin Donuts promotion?

Major League Baseball cannot split up the Yankees-Red Sox or there might be a whole new “Curse of the Bambino” on the industry.The Red Sox-Yankees rivalry is good for New York and Boston, for FOX, Turner Sports and ESPN. It is not good for people outside the northeast I-95 corridor, and that is something Selig wants to address.

Major League Baseball has had bad teams and bad franchises in the game since the start of the professional era in 1869. For some reason, neither the National nor the American League moved franchises around from 1903 to 1953. Team owners built their own stadiums.

The paradigm changed in March 1953, when Boston Braves owner Lou Perini moved his team to Milwaukee. Perini got a sweetheart deal from Milwaukee elected officials, who in 1950 decided to build a municipally funded baseball-football field to attract a Major League Baseball team and keep a portion of the Green Bay Packers home schedule in Milwaukee. Perini paid $1,000 in rent and got to keep concessions money, which got Walter O’Malley thinking about the future of his Brooklyn Dodgers. O’Malley felt the financially strong Dodgers franchise was going to fall behind Milwaukee, of all places, if he did not get a new stadium in Brooklyn.

O’Malley tested the waters in Jersey City, and his Dodgers played a handful of games west of the Hudson River hoping to get New York’s Mayor Robert Wagner and Robert Moses to listen to his plight. O’Malley took a deal in Los Angeles in 1957.

Financially struggling franchises followed Perini’s lead. O’Malley’s New York rival, Horace Stoneham, took his Giants to San Francisco in 1957 after taking a long look at Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Following the Tax Act of 1986, Major League Baseball found Fool’s Gold. The 1986 federal tax reform had a loophole that put a ceiling on how much revenue generated inside a municipally funded stadium or arena at eight percent, which meant owners could negotiate sweetheart contracts and pay players. New stadiums quickly came online and added revenues into the pockets of the owners but there was a problem.

It was a temporary fix for small market teams. The big boys would also get shiny new stadiums to increase revenue and baseball’s revenue sharing policies were not good to struggling owners in the 1990s. Cable TV became prominent and teams like the Yankees an Red Sox ended up owning the regional network cable TV stations that gave them even more money.

The big market owners who had astute decision-makers could pay top dollar for talent became dominant. Small market teams with limited money for payroll or signing young talent could succeed on occasion, but the success would be short lived. Once a player got to his sixth year, he could leave. Many did.

Exhibit A is the Florida Marlins franchise. Champions one year, rebuilding the next because the team could not afford to pay high prices for established talent.

One of the ideas floating around has teams shifting divisions. If Cleveland builds a good enough team to win the American League Central and get to the World Series (and that happened in 1997), Cleveland could stay in that division.

But if Cleveland is rotten and ownership is looking for extra home games against the Yankees, ownership can apply to switch divisions or trade places with, say, Toronto or Baltimore or Tampa Bay. Any one of those teams could pursue a switch if ownership feels that their team might be good enough to win the Central.

Central teams can move east or west, but movements are limited to just a two hour switch in time zones, which might be a problem for Detroit if Mike Ilitch wants to move his Tigers into the American League or National League West. Detroit, despite being a Central team, is on the eastern time zone clock.

Perhaps it is time for Major League Baseball to split into three leagues, the American League, National League and the Continental League with eight teams in the American League, eight in the National League and the other 14 in the Continental League. “Turn back the clock day” has been a good Major League promotion, so this one could be a good idea. In fact, it almost came to pass in 1960.

The Continental League of Professional Baseball Clubs was a brainchild of long time Baseball executive Branch Rickey. The man who signed Jackie Robinson to a contract with Brooklyn in 1946 and developed the farm system wanted to build a third major league after the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated to California after the 1957 season. The plan in 1961 was for the Continental League to open the season with eight teams, Atlanta, Buffalo, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Denver, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, New York and Toronto. The league would eventually claim Major League status while building baseball squads. The league folded in August 1960 after baseball’s National League decided to expand into New York and Houston.

The American League would house eight financially viable markets that have major government support (publicly supported stadiums or stadiums that give owners land and substantial tax breaks and incentives) along with big cable TV dollars and large corporate support. The AL would have the Yankees and Red Sox along with the Chicago White Sox and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim as permanent members, sort of like the United Nations’ security council. Those four teams would stay in the AL unless they finish next to last or last.

Seattle has been profitable lately and would qualify for the league; Baltimore has a great TV deal and a sweetheart lease at Camden Yards, so it’s possible that Baltimore could be franchise number 6. Toronto with a huge market, Rogers Communications funding the enterprise and with Bay Street, the Canadian version of Wall Street, nearby should be franchise seven. Number eight is a toss-up between Detroit and Cleveland, with possibly the Texas Rangers because of the Dallas-Fort Worth or the Minnesota Twins, representing Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Six teams would be banished to the Continental League. Kansas City, Oakland, Tampa Bay are keepers. Cleveland or Detroit or Minnesota or Texas would be the fourth, fifth or sixth franchises.

Retaining a position in the American League would require that a team finishes better than sixth with the last two teams in the standings dropping to the Continental League and two former American League teams joining the league by qualifying for the CL playoffs. The 14-team CL would be split into two divisions, the American Conference and the National Conference.

The National League would also house eight financially viable markets with the same set of qualifications stemming from government backing, cable TV support and corporate financing. The NL would have the New York Mets, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and the Chicago Cubs as permanent members. St. Louis would be the fifth team; San Francisco would the sixth club. It is extremely hard to find the seventh and eighth teams to fill out the league although cases could be made for Washington and perhaps Denver.

The National Conference of the Continental League could include Arizona, Cincinnati, Colorado, Florida, Milwaukee, Pittsburgh, San Diego and Washington. The same rules would apply; the two top finishers in the National Conference would replace the two bottom feeders in the National League.

The result would be better baseball. Even though all 30 teams would get the same amount of national and international TV monies, the Continental League teams would be competing against similar sized markets and there would be incentive to win for the owners, the chance to return to the American and National League and a chance to play in the World Series. For the eight teams in the American and National League, being banished to the Continental League would be embarrassing so there is more incentive to win to stay in the big market leagues because only American and National league teams can play in the World Series.

There would be a Continental League championship and that would give fans in cities like Kansas City and Pittsburgh some hope for their baseball teams. The Continental League idea is just an idea and perhaps as valid of teams trading divisions.

Selig wants changes but baseball history suggests there will be always bad teams with financial problems. It’s just the way it is.

Evan Weiner is a radio-TV commentator, author and a lecturer on “The Politics of Sports Business.”

Saturday, March 27, 2010

WADA’s Tired Demands of Major League Baseball Again

WADA’s Tired Demands of Major League Baseball Again

By Evan Weiner

March 27, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- From the this is boring file, John Fahey, the President of the World Anti-Doping Agency, is demanding that Major League Baseball and the Major League Baseball Players Association knuckle under to him and his merry band of urine collectors and apparently now blood test takers and get serious about cleansing the sport of "cheaters." Fahey wants Major League Baseball to start taking blood samples in addition to urine samples of individual players to see if they are using human growth hormone.

Apparently Fahey thinks that players should just give blood and is presuming that all the players are using HGH until proven otherwise. There is a presumption of guilt by the WADA guys and they are absolutely correct in their approach.

Just ask them.

Fahey and his group, who trample over individual rights in their quest to clean sports, say there is a valid blood test for HGH because a British rugby player tested, Terry Newton, positive after giving blood. The odd thing about Fahey blasting Major League Baseball is that International Olympic Committee delegates have exiled the sport to Elba; well maybe not Elba as Major League Baseball has moved on and started a global competition, the World Baseball Classic.

The Newton case was the first time a player in any athletic endeavor tested positive for HGH but a major question remains. Is the test reliable? At this point, WADA officials say yes but WADA is an arm of the International Olympic Committee, an organization that has been assailed by the former Majority Leader of the United States Senate George Mitchell for being corrupt. The same George Mitchell who issued the drug report on Major League Baseball.

Fahey is following in the footsteps of his predecessor Dick Pound, the Montreal lawyer, who was also on a cheater crusade. Apparently the Pounds and Faheys of the world and you can throw in the President of the International Olympic Committee, Jacques Rogge, want to rid the sports world of cheaters even though those cheaters are using illegal substances that could end up in arrests and maybe a conviction here or there.

Rogge tried to make that case to Italian authorities prior to the 2006 Turin Olympics.

WADA acts as if it is a sovereign state and one of the WADA rules is that all athletes be ready for a drug test when WADA wants to administer a drug test at any time or any place. A human rights violation is not troubling to the Pounds and Faheys of the world. Or Rogge either as he apparently looked the other way in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Summer Olympics about China’s human rights record.

Some athletic organizations have fought back against the 24/7 rule and the tactics seems more in line with the Geneva Convention treaties that govern the treatment of war prisoners than sports. The Belgium sports union, Sporta, challenged WADA's edict under Article 8 of the European Convention of Human Rights that allows for privacy and the right to be free from unlawful searches. The International Federation of Professional Footballers is not very happy with WADA either.

The country of France doesn't seem too impressed with WADA either. A plan to increase taxes on television sports fees that would go to help fund WADA according to the magazine Cycleworld has been scrapped. French football team owners didn't think that they should be taxed to support anti-doping efforts.

WADA is not a state nor is the International Olympic Committee although the IOC for some inexplicable reason has the same United Nations observer rights as the Vatican, which is a sovereign state. WADA works with the cover of governments globally.

That is the most troubling part of the Rogge-Pound and now Fahey squawking. Governments have given these people legitimacy. The World Anti-Doping Agency gets funding from governments globally. WADA just cares about sports. It would be refreshing to see a Fahey, a former Australian Finance Minister, Rogge or Pound speak out on the drug problems on the US-Mexican border or the other drug problems in the world including poppy production in Afghanistan but they don’t utter a word. They just go after athletes. Of course Rogge and his IOC delegation (Pound was an IOC delegate) and Fahey make their livelihoods through international sports events with funding from American TV networks and American corporations paying a great deal of the freight.

Major League Baseball has been in the IOC/WADA cross hairs for a long time. The international sports organization was stung by Major League Baseball's refusal to interrupt the regular season and send MLB's best players to a meaningless two-week baseball tournament. The IOC will never officially admit a vendetta against Major League Baseball, that is too petty even for the IOC, but IOC delegates think they have gotten even with Baseball Commissioner Bid Selig and the former Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association Donald Fehr by throwing the game out of the Olympics starting with the London Games in 2012 and continuing with the Rio 2016 Summer Olympics. In an unrelated matter, the IOC delegates also dismissed softball from the Olympic sports roster beginning in 2012 but the thought is that the IOC by dropping women’s softball is somehow hurting Major League Baseball.

The unofficial thinking is that the IOC was punishing baseball for not toeing the line for not sending players to their Olympics and also not adopting the WADA rules by more than 130 governments and numerous sports organizations globally.

Fahey and his ilk cannot be too happy that the United States and Canadian law enforcement officials are investigating Dr. Anthony Galea who is at the center of a drug smuggling case involving human growth hormones. Dr. Galea has some big named clients including Golf's Tiger Woods and New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez. The Fahey/Rogge view of HGH is slightly different than that of real governments. It is illegal to possess the stuff unless administered by a physician. The Fahey/Rogge doctrine is more in the lines of the use of HGH is cheating and that a simple suspension of a couple of years is better than jail time.

Since steroids and HGH possession is illegal in the United States without a doctor's consent, law enforcement officials, whether it is the Federal Bureau of Investigation or the Drug Enforcement Administration, should be the lead investigators not some bunch of people like Fahey, Rogge and Pound who think they have some quasi-governmental authority.

At the end of the day, if the big money behind sports wanted to clean up the industry and that is a big if, there are very simple steps that can be taken. Turn off the money faucet that keeps big time sports going in the United States. Family values corporations like Disney (ESPN) or another guy who peddles high morals, Rupert Murdoch (FOX), could just stop buying television rights to Major League Baseball and other sports, corporations could say no to buying big ticket items like club seats and luxury boxes, municipalities would make teams pay property taxes and cut far better leases with teams. But that doesn't happen.

Which begs the question. Is Fahey truly interested in assuring the integrity of a sports event or is he, Rogge and all the other sports moralists that are pushing evasive drug testing by taking blood and trampling on athletes' rights just to appease some fans who scream on talk radio, although most don't care about athletes using performance enhancing drugs, and protect their high paying jobs and global status by jumping up and down and yelling about the need for Major League Baseball players giving blood because it is some sort of privilege to be an athlete?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

How Racinos Have Saved the Standardbred Horse Racing Business

How Racinos Have Saved the Standardbred Horse Racing Business

By Evan Weiner

March 24, 2010

(Dover, DE) -- The Minnesota State Legislature has apparently not shut the door to the idea of having “racinos” throughout the state after lawmakers left the idea for dead nearly two weeks ago. The Minnesota House of Agriculture, Rural Economics and Veterans Affairs Finance Committee has given approval to keep the discussion going about putting slots into two of the state’s racetracks.

The revenues that could be raised at the tracks could go to various projects including the funding of a new football stadium for the Minnesota Vikings.

Whether the panel’s recommendation has any legs is debatable at this point. But Minnesota is looking at the “racino” plan again, which is a bit more than New York State is doing at the moment.

Last Sunday, people connected to the thoroughbred racing industry in New York demonstrated in support of putting a “racino” at Aqueduct and Belmont with the thought that by putting video lottery terminals or slot machines in those two tracks along with one in Saratoga would save not only the meets at those three tracks but it would also save all of the ancillary businesses that go with racing including horse farms, breeding, training, and taking care of horses.

Thoroughbred racing in New York State is dying.

The only reason that standardbred racing survives in New York at Yonkers Raceway, Monticello, Batavia Downs, Buffalo Raceway, Finger Lakes Racetrack, Saratoga Gaming and Raceway, Tioga Downs, Vernon Downs is because of the video lottery terminals (VLT) or slot machines.

In 2007, Tim Rooney, who owns Yonkers Raceway, said without the “machines” as he called the VLT or slots, Yonkers Raceway would be a shopping mall.

The Vice President of Horse Racing, Charles Lockhart, at Dover Downs in Dover, DE. said that his Delaware racetrack, which features 133 days of standardbred racing between mid-October and mid-April probably, would be a shopping center too without the slots.

Dover Downs will become a full betting center sometime in the late spring when table games are added to the slots and football betting. The Dover Downs’ ownership group is hoping to increase sports gambling at the facility’s sports bar with additional professional sports betting and is waiting for a court date to explain why there should be more than just parlay betting on NFL games at the facility.

Dover Downs, like just about every other track in the United States was in a steep decline by the 1970s. At one time as late as 1950, horse racing was mentioned in the same breath as boxing and baseball in popularity in the United States. But a number of factors pushed both standardbred and thoroughbred racing into the abyss including the emergence of state sponsored lotteries, Off Track Betting (OTB), and American Indian casinos. The ease with which one could now place a bet had a significant impact on horse racing.
"The first thing was OTB came in," Rooney said in 2007. "And OTB took 30-some percent of the business from us and they were giving them the product in the neighborhoods. There was always a certain element of people who didn't care about the sport — they cared about the gambling aspect of it…then we started televising our racing into the parlors, so it made it easier for them to stay in the city than [come] out here [to Yonkers], so our attendance went down even further. Then you add the other types of gambling: Atlantic City came in, the lottery came in.
"People want to win that $200 million prize. I think the Indian casinos up in Connecticut and having Atlantic City open, it took a lot of business off of the racing industry," Rooney added. "It's a faster game and you don't have to get that racing form, and handicap what the speed rating was, if it was a muddy track, and what jockey or driver switches there are. It's a little more complicated than getting on one of these machines, putting $50 in it, and just pressing buttons."

Lockhart's racetrack is inside the Dover Downs Speedway, which is behind the Dover Downs resort. The track has no horses based at the facility but the horses that do compete stay at nearby farms and are brought to the track on race day. It is rather unlikely there would have been racing or even standard bred horse farms in Delaware without the gaming.

The slots revenues have kept horsemen in Delaware as some of the proceeds from the slots go to the daily purses. Delaware's purses have picked up which means a better caliber horse races in the state and more incentive for horsemen from states other then Delaware to set up shop.

New York has the Belmont Stakes, which may be the only racing day that gets people out to the Elmont, New York facility. The state, because of the slots and soon video table games, still has a standardbred horse racing industry but the entire thoroughbred industry is in deep trouble. Dover Downs is adding tables in June. The standardbred racetracks in New York cannot add tables unless two different state legislatures in consecutive years give the go ahead for tables and the New York governor signs it into law.

Given just how dysfunctional the governor's office and the legislature have become in Albany, it may take years before that type of legislation is even considered by lawmakers. But the video tables are coming to the racinos.

It is a long and arduous process from a proposal to have slots in a racetrack until a state legislature passes a bill that gets a governor's signature or voters say yes in a referendum. In Delaware, Lockhart said the first effort to put slots in the state's three racetracks began in 1988 and the legislation authorizing slots at the tracks did not come to pass until 1994. Dover Downs’ casino opened on December 29, 1995.

The horse racing community is multifaceted according to Lockhart and to those in the New York thoroughbred industry who protested that New York Governor David Patterson and the state legislature still does not have a partner for a potential casino at Aqueduct.

"In Aqueduct," said Lockhart, "there are the horses and the blacksmiths, vets, and a lot goes into a race, a meet, not just the jockey. We don't have a barn area (at Dover Downs) but most of the people (who race) are from the area. It is a big agriculture business. (Dover Downs) employs 1,000 people and is the largest taxpayer in the city. Any place the slots go, it stimulates the agribusiness of horse racing.

"There is no question Dover Downs would have been out of business in 1995 (without the slots). Harrington Park canceled its meet in 1994 and was saved."

NASCAR first held an event in Dover in 1969.

The NASCAR events would still be in business with or without the horse racing/slots business. The Dover Downs story is not very much different than standardbred tracks in New York and in West Virginia and other states. Betting in Delaware is restricted to the three tracks, Delaware Park, Dover Downs and Harrington.

There is some irony here for horsemen and the others connected to the racing business. State sponsored gambling, which includes lottery games, helped destroy the thoroughbred and standardbred business yet the racing industry is getting helped out by state sponsored "racinos" but as Rooney pointed out in 2007, "from a horseman's standpoint, it doesn't make any difference what the source of income is. If the source of income is going up in leaps and bounds, and the breeding programs are going up in leaps and bounds, it's revitalizing the breeding industry, the people in the farms, the people buying horses and racing horses."

That is the message New York's thoroughbred community is sending out.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

New York Giants get first home Meadowlands game, so what?

New York Giants Get First Home Meadowlands game, So What?

By Evan Weiner

March 16, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- The owner of the East Rutherford, New Jersey-based New York Jets is unhappy that his team will not host the first “regular” season National Football League game at the new Meadowlands Stadium. Robert Wood Johnson IV, better known as Woody, unloaded on the way the National Football League handled the coin toss which decided the team that would get the first game honor without any representatives from Johnson’s Jets or the stadium’s other tenant and half owner, the Mara-Tisch families’ owned New York Giants. The Mara-Tisch Giants “won” the toss and got the first regular season game on Sunday, September 12th while Johnson’s Jets get the first Monday night game at the place on the following day.

Both teams are scheduled to play pre-season games in the new building including one against each other. The Mara-Tisch Giants practice outside the facility. The stadium opens April 10th with a college lacrosse tournament, there is a three day music festival at the end of April, the first “football” game will be a match between Mexico and Ecuador on May 7, Bon Jovi is performing for three nights there in May followed by the Eagles, not the ones from Philadelphia, in June and U2 is in for a July concert. NFL pre-season games come four months into the stadium’s existence.

The stadium, built for football, is featuring other events which should help pay some of the bills at the place. The stadium is also available for weddings and bar mitzvahs.

Johnson put up half the cash for the new place and the surrounding real estate which will be turned into a New York-area football hall of fame and other businesses, the Mara-Tisch families put up the other 50 percent with the state of New Jersey kicking in hundreds of millions of dollars for infrastructure and East Rutherford gets only a slice of what should be a multimillion check for property taxes through a mechanism called “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” or PILOT.

Johnson released a statement which condemned the league and probably the one-time Jets employee, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell.

“An NFL coin toss has a few fundamental elements that are missing here, most notably the presence of the teams involved,” said Johnson. “That's how it's always done in the League, whether it’s determining the order of the draft or deciding who’s going to kick off the game. When the issue of which team would be hosting the first regular season game could not be resolved on the merits, I suggested a coin toss as the fairest way to resolve this issue. The League rejected that idea. Then, I was told on Friday that a coin toss had taken place at the League office and that the Jets had lost. We rejected a process in which neither team was present. The League departed from our time-honored tradition and declined the opportunity to set the matter straight with a transparent process. “

And with that Mara-Tisch get to “open” the stadium and Johnson gets what New York Rangers forward Sean Avery might call “sloppy seconds”

Perhaps the National Football League was the wrong party to hold the coin flip. The truth of the matter is that the coin flip should have been held in the Trenton office of the Governor of the State of New Jersey, and Governor Chris Christie should have conducted the flip. Governor Christie was not in office in 2005 when the Mara/Tisch-Johnson stadium/real estate deal was signed and when New Jersey committed hundreds of millions of dollars to the project and signed off on giving East Rutherford a slice of the property tax assessment on the land. New Jersey is a partner in the stadium venture and should have been included in the process.

There will be all sorts of conspiracy theories about even whether there was a coin flip but the Maras have seemingly gotten their way virtually every time in the New York area since the one time bookie and bootlegger Tim Mara invested $500 to get an NFL franchise in 1925 for Manhattan. Mara’s Giants franchise was a financial disaster throughout the 1925 season and the team was saved from financial ruin by George Halas quite by accident. The Chicago Bears owner Halas signed Red Grange right after Grange’s college football season with Illinois was done and immediately went on tour with the “Galloping Ghost.”

One of the stops was the Polo Grounds in Manhattan with the Giants hosting the Bears and New Yorkers came to see not the Giants, but the legendary Grange. That game paid the bills and established Mara’s team, at least for the 1926 season. But the Grange game also caused Mara some problems.

Grange and his agent C. C. (Cash and Carry) Pyle applied to get an NFL franchise for Yankee Stadium for the 1926 season based on the Polo Grounds game. The NFL, protecting Mara’s franchise, said no. Grange and Pyle started the first American Football League in 1926. The league folded after just one season but the NFL took Grange and the Yankees franchise in 1927 to replace the Brooklyn Lions. Grange was injured in 1927 and his team folded after the 1928 season.

The New York territory has been in the Mara family since 1925 and as Bill Parcells said in 1991 when he quit as Giants coach, “it is the flagship franchise of the league.” Parcells spoke an awful lot of truth with that statement although there is little evidence that the Mara family was all that influential in the league and that whatever influence the Mara family may have had stemmed from being in the biggest city in America and their ability to withstand challenges from other owners trying to make it in New York in football.

The Mara family outlasted the Staten Island Stapletons (1929-32), the Newark Tornadoes (1930), the Brooklyn Dodgers (1930-43), and the Brooklyn Tigers (1944). In 1945, Dan Topping’s Dodgers merged forces with the Boston Yanks. Topping owned Major League Baseball’s New York Yankees owner was part owner of the Yanks-Dodgers combination. Topping decided to move his portion of the Tigers from Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field to Yankee Stadium, but Tim Mara refused to allow Topping to invade his territory as the Polo Grounds as across the Harlem River from Yankee Stadium. Topping took holdings out of the NFL and joined the rival All American Football Conference in 1946 playing as the Brooklyn Dodgers and eventually as the second New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium. That team folded when the National Football League absorbed three AAFC teams, Baltimore, Cleveland and San Francisco in 1950.

That was not the last time Mara had to face competition from another Yankee Stadium-based team. The Boston Yanks moved to New York and the Polo Grounds in 1949 and the owners, the singer Kate Smith and her agent Ted Collins renamed the team the New York Bulldogs. In 1950, Collins and Smith moved across the river to Yankee Stadium and called the team the New York Yankees. That NFL franchise folded after 1951 and ended up in Dallas.

The Mara family would not have any New York City rivals between 1952 and 1959. In 1960, the fourth American Football League put a team in the Polo Grounds, Mara moved to Topping’s Yankee Stadium in 1956 from the Polo Grounds. Harry Wismer’s New York Titans franchise was a financial shipwreck but the AFL was able to get new owners for the team in 1963 with a group led by David (Sonny) Werblin.

Sonny Werblin gave the Mara family a lot of trouble. Werblin was well connected in show business and worked for a company that provided programming for David Sarnoff’s National Broadcasting Company. Sarnoff’s NBC lost the bid to gain control over NFL television rights in 1964 to William Paley’s Columbia Broadcasting System. Sarnoff decided to get even through Werblin and discussed how NBC would fund the AFL giving the league a multimillion dollar, multiyear TV deal.

NBC landed the AFL beginning with the 1965 season which gave AFL owners more money to compete for players after their college careers were done. That raised salaries and old line NFL owners and AFL owners needed to solve their money problem. Ironically it was Mara’s Giants that poured fuel on the AFL-NFL rivalry by signing Buffalo kicker Pete Gogolak. It was the first time the NFL went after an AFL star and the AFL’s new commissioner, Al Davis, took notice and as a league, the AFL went after the NFL’s two of the top quarterbacks, Roman Gabriel and John Brodie.

Werblin understood football was entertainment, something old line NFL owners like Mara’s son Jack and Wellington did not. Werblin used some of NBC’s money and a new home field, Shea Stadium, to land players like Joe Namath. Werblin, who believed in the star system, had his star, Namath and his new home field, Shea Stadium and his Jets became a credible rival to the Mara family’s Giants.

The two leagues, the NFL and AFL, merged on June 8, 1966. Apparently neither the NFL nor the Maras wanted a second New York team and one of the merger plans on the table was to move Werblin’s Jets out of New York so that the Maras would continue to have an NFL monopoly in New York. The league also wanted to maintain the San Francisco 49ers one team market in the Bay Area. Werblin’s Jets would have been relocated to Los Angeles, LA Rams owner Daniel Reeves would have taken his team south to San Diego, Barron Hilton would have moved his Chargers from San Diego to fill a hole in New Orleans, the two leagues needed support from Louisiana Senator Russell Long and House member Hale Boggs to pass the merger through Congress, and the Oakland Raiders would exit the Bay Area and end up in the Pacific Northwest in either Seattle or Portland.

That plan died in a House of Representatives merger hearings when NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle assured Brooklyn Congressman Emanuel Cellar, who has a very large place in NFL history despite never having played, coached or being an owner in the NFL, that all 24 teams, 15 NFL teams and nine AFL teams would not be relocated. Werblin and his partners, including Leon Hess, would pay Wellington and Jack Mara $10 million for invading the Giants New York territory and the Raiders ownership provide eight million dollars to the 49ers ownership to share the Bay Area marketplace.

Neither Werblin nor the Raiders ownership wanted a merger.

Wellington Mara became enough of an NFL visionary by 1971 that he accepted New Jersey’s new stadium offer which was presented to him by, of all people, Werblin who left the Jets partnership in 1968. Werblin headed up the New Jersey Sports Authority. Mara’s Giants moved into Giants Stadium in 1976 and played the venue’s first NFL regular season game on October 10th of that year losing to Dallas. Werblin’s former team, the Jets, moved into the Meadowlands in 1984. In 2005, Wellington Mara and Woody Johnson agreed to fund a new Meadowlands Stadium.

The Mara-Tisch guys beat Johnson this time around but the Giants and Jets franchises have been linked for decades and at the end of the day, Woody will get over not hosting the first NFL game in the new place, there is too much money at stake for him to continue having a fit and besides, the Mara-Tisch-Johnson troika will be bidding for a huge prize, the 2014 Super Bowl and NFL policy lately has been to reward owners who get municipal funding or build their own stadiums with a Super Bowl.

Monday, March 15, 2010

It was 39 Years Ago This Month When Ali and Frazier First Met

It was 39 Years Ago This Month When Ali and Frazier First Met

By Evan Weiner

March 9, 2010

The late Don Dunphy was the voice of boxing for more than 40 years doing all sorts of fights on radio and TV. He was the blow-by-blow announcer for what may have been boxing’s biggest night ever, March 8, 1971 when Muhammad Ali took on Joe Frazier at Madison Square Garden in New York in “The Fight of the Century.”

Dunphy, years later, did not think the Ali-Frazier fight was “The Fight of the Century” and in fact it probably was not even in the top 5 fights he ever called on radio and TV. But the long time boxing announcer felt that it probably was the most spectacular boxing event ever held.

The Ali-Frazier contest had one of the most massive publicity campaigns ever surrounding a fight. Ali was the villain to some while Frazier was a hero and it all had to do with the Vietnam War. Ali refused to be inducted into the military in 1967 because he objected to the war while Frazier might have served if asked. Ali lost his boxing license and the ability to fight because of his legal problems in refusing to serve and while he was away from the ring Frazier was dismantling his opponents.

Ali had won all of his 31 fights prior to the Frazier bout. Smokin’ Joe Frazier was victorious in all 26 of his fights. Both fighters were guaranteed a big payday as each man was given $2.5 million, a record purse, for just showing up.

Ali and Frazier were not the only two in attendance that night. It was more than a fight; it was a gala for celebrities as the biggest names in show biz flocked to the Garden. Burt Lancaster was the analyst with Dunphy on the closed circuit presentation of the fight which was shown in movie theaters across the United States even though the actor had never done any sports or boxing commentary in his life.

Woody Allen, who was getting his acting and movie career into the fast lane, was there. Diana Ross, without the Supremes as she had just separated from the group. and Dustin Hoffman were watching. The world was watching as well.

“I did an awful lot of fights, some were more important than others and some were better fights than others. But if you make me pick one, I have to pick the first Ali-Frazier fight in 1971 at the Garden,” said Dunphy. “Not the greatest fight of all time. A good fight but not great. But it was the most memorable evening that I ever remember.

“I think it was the greatest sports event of all time up to that time anyway. Bigger than the World Series, bigger than the Super Bowl or what. I just think that night….we had two undefeated champions, both of them great fighters Ali and Frazier and that to me stands out.”

Dunphy had a seat to history and probably had the biggest audience listening to him in his career but in many ways, the Ali-Frazier fight to him was just another bout.

“I always said to myself, I am not going to see any punches that I haven’t seen before and that was my attitude from the beginning,” said the long time boxing announcer. “The first big fight I ever did was Joe Louis and Billy Conn in 1941, 30 years earlier but I said to myself, keep calm you are not going to see anything you never saw before and that has always been my attitude. It doesn’t matter, if you are broadcasting to one or nobody or several million, it is the same show.

“I always recall up in the ring after the Ali-Frazier fight, I went up to get an interview with Joe Frazier, who had won the fight, and I went to one of the commissioners who had been in the ring and I said what do you think? He said, off-the-record. I said, off-the-record, there are 250 million people watching, you can’t be off the record.

“That was about the audience for that fight.”

Dunphy quickly came up with better fights than Ali-Frazier on March 8, 1971.

“It was a real good fight, no I had seen better,” he said. “(Tony) Zale-(Rocky) Graziano was better, the third Ali-Frazier fight was better than that one, the Thrilla in Manila, the (Carmen) Basillio-(Sugar Ray) Robinson, Robinson-(Jake) LaMotta; they were all from the fight standpoint but to me that was no evening that could touch that one for glamour.

“Everybody was at the Garden. Frank Sinatra got in because he was taking pictures for Life magazine. Oh it was a wonderful night.”

The fight itself took a lot out of both Ali and Frazier. Ali won the early rounds and began to fade in the middle. Frazier knocked down Ali in both the 11th and 15th rounds and won a unanimous decision. Ali went to the hospital after the bout to get x-rays on his jaw and Frazier spent some time in the hospital a month after the bout. But Frazier was the undisputed World Heavyweight Champion.

Ali-Frazier would meet again in 1974 and in 1975. The public clamor in 1974 was not as rabid as in 1971 but the fights were highly anticipated. Things had changed though for both men. Frazier was no longer the champions having lost to George Foreman in 1973 and for this fight, the build up started in an ABC-TV studio when the two reviewed the 1971 bout and Ali started talking and Frazier took exception and the two men came to blow, not unlike professional wrestling scripted tactics. After all, Ali watched Gorgeous George and Freddie Blassie as a kid and liked their bad guy wrestling persona. Ali won the rematch at the Garden in 12 rounds.

The Thrilla in Manila was another brutal fight; Ali was the champion having disposed of Foreman in Zaire in 1974 and won a 14 round fight after Frazier’s trainer Eddie Futch threw in the towel. It was the final fight between Ali and Frazier and ended Frazier’s relationship with Futch. Frazier fought Foreman again in 1976 and lost. It was the end of the road for Frazier. Ali won a few more bouts and lost to Leon Spinks in February 1978. He regained a title, the WBA version, by beating Spinks in October of that year. He retired in June 1979 but attempted an ill-fated comeback against former sparring partner and now champions Larry Holmes in October 1980 and lost. Ali’s final fight was in 1981 against Trevor Berbick and ended in a loss.

Frazier attempted a brief comeback in 1981, fighting to a draw with Jumbo Cummings. The era was over; both Ali and Frazier were shadows of their former selves. Neither would fight again.

Evan Weiner is a radio-TV commentator, columnist, and lecturer on “The Business and Politics of Sports.” He can be reach at

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Note to world leaders: The IOC isn’t a sovereign state

Note to world leaders: The IOC isn’t a sovereign state
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 03/13/10 at 5:18 PM

If the President of Brazil, Luiz InĂ¡cio Lula da Silva, is seriously thinking about running for the post of UN Secretary General, he probably can count on the support of the International Olympic Committee.

After all, Lula, like a lot of other world leaders — including United States President Barack Obama — traveled to Denmark last October to plead before the IOC delegates that Rio was the best place on earth to host the Olympic Games.

The International Olympic Committee liked Lula’s pitch and gave Rio de Janiero the 2016 event. Lula can count on the IOC’s backing should he go in that direction; after all, the IOC is part of the United Nations and has a seat at the table. Obama went home and faced a barrage of criticism because he could not convince IOC delegates that Chicago was the best place to hold the athletic summit.

Most of the people who criticized Obama have no clue how the International Olympic Committee operates. Brazil was going to get the 2016 Games. Chicago was never a contender.

The International Olympic Committee is a global entity like no other that operates like a sovereign state and demands world leaders to treat the sporting group as a superpower with a political mandate. World leaders acquiesce to the group, falling all over themselves in an effort to please them. That is why Obama was in Copenhagen last October 2 pushing Chicago for the Games, and that is why Lula was there as well as political heavyweights from Japan (Toyko) and Spain (Madrid).

On March 15, the application bids files for the 2018 Winter Games are due, and three cities will battle it out. Annecy, France, Munich, Germany and PyeongChang, South Korea are in the hunt. In June, the IOC will have a short list of contenders and will announce the winner on July 6, 2011 for those Games. Perhaps an American TV contract will be in place by then. For all of the pomp and circumstances of the IOC, the group is nothing without American TV dollars, which is why there is no American TV deal in place yet for the 2014 Sochi, Russia and the 2016 Rio Games. The American TV networks will not commit billions yet with a soft advertising market.

But the IOC is so arrogant that the Canadian delegate Richard Pound virtually demanded Obama show up before IOC delegates in Denmark to genuflect before the group.

Local politicians have created slush funds or have raised taxes to pay down the debt incurred by building huge sports complexes for a two week sporting orgy that has left financial messes behind. American television network executives have filled IOC coffers with billions of dollars, and American corporations have thrown billions to put their logo next to the Olympic rings. Canada changed laws protecting Olympic sponsorship during the lead up to the 2010 Vancouver Games.

The Olympic aura is just too strong for political and business leaders who are attracted to the five interlocking rings like a magnet.

The International Olympic Committee spited women softball players globally by dropping the sport because the Americans women were too good and the IOC could not get Major League Baseball to shut down the season, like the National Hockey League does, and send baseball’s very best players to the Olympics.

The IOC leaned on the United States Congress to make Major League Baseball change drug policies that were collectively bargained to suit Olympics needs. The IOC didn’t care if baseball players were taking banned substances and some of those banned substances were legal in a number of players home countries like the Dominican Republic and Mexico; the IOC was bigger than Major League Baseball and flexed the group’s collective muscle.

There seems to be just one organization that intimidates the IOC: FIFA, the governing body of football (soccer). Football’s World Cup is a much bigger event than any Olympics, and the IOC knows that. FIFA calls the shots in football, not the IOC.

The International Olympic Committee now holds the same United Nations status as the Holy See or the Vatican. The United Nations is supposed have have sovereign states, and while Vatican City is a sovereign state that has diplomatic relations with other countries, the Vatican is a non-member permanent observer state, a status it gained on April 6, 1964.

The Holy See can attend United General Assembly sessions as well as the United Nations Security Council meetings and the United Nations economic and Social Council. The Holy See is allowed to speak before the General Assembly but cannot co-sponsor UN drafts or resolutions. The Vatican can also vote on international treaties. Popes have been invited to speak before the General Assembly, so it would not be a shock to see Rogge address the UN in a formal setting when the group opens the 2010 session next fall.

Since October 19, 2009, the International Olympic Committee has had virtually the same rights as the Holy See at the United Nations, as incredible as that might seem. Apparently the IOC is not allowed to vote on treaties, but as far as the United Nations is concerned, the IOC is a sovereign state. No wonder the IOC can demand that Lula, Obama and world leaders like then British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Russian President Vladimir Putin come before them and make them beg to host an Olympics as Blair did in 2005 and Putin in 2007. The IOC thinks it is more powerful than world leaders, and world leaders allow it.

The IOC is some sort of artificial royalty that now has United Nations status, just like the Holy See except the Holy See has an embassy in New York and the IOC has yet to open one up.

The International Olympic Committee is supposed to run the Summer and Winter Olympics along with the Paralympic Games. It is a sports body, that is all it is yet diplomats have give IOC President Jacques Rogge and his cohorts a seat at the table.

The IOC, which has never been shy in demanding host countries build Olympic cities for its Games, almost immediately swung into action before the General Assembly as it got Canada to introduce the “Olympic Truce Resolution” asking UN members to promote peace during the 2010 Vancouver Games and the 2010 Vancouver Paralympics along with the Youth Olympic Games, which will be held in Singapore in August.

When John Lennon sung Give Peace a Chance in 1969, it was thought he lost his mind. Yet when the IOC presented the proposal before the General Assembly, it was adopted because the IOC presented it.

There is a partnership now between a private sports organization which acts like a government. Rogge in 2006 suggested to Italian authorities to let the IOC handle illegal drug possession in the Olympic Village in Turin because the possession of illegal, performance enhancing drugs (some of which are legal in parts of the world) should be an IOC matter and the IOC, not the Italian drug enforcement officials, should hand out punishments.

Perhaps the United Nations ought to convene the General Assembly and grill Rogge about the real value of the Olympics and how Australia, Greece, apparently Canada and in the future, England and Russia were fleeced by the group to the tune of billions of dollars. But that is not going to happen, the IOC is not going to have to answer any of those questions from their new diplomatic friends and there will never be any sanctions against the IOC because the IOC is not a sovereign state.

Yet somehow, the IOC has a seat in the world body in Manhattan.

Apparently the IOC and IOC delegates have been reformed and the days of corruption and bribery have been forgotten along with the IOC turning a blind eye to human rights violations in China in the lead up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

The private organization, which has the same status as Vatican City, has been praised by diplomats because of the IOC’s contributions to the UN Millennium Development Goals in peace-building, education, gender equity, environment and the fight against HIV/AIDS. But the IOC did not come down on Canada for failing to include legally blind cross-country skier Brian McKeever on the country’s cross country skiing team. McKeever was passed over despite qualifying for the team and was on the alternate list. After all, Canada wanted medal winners on the podium and got some, including the Gold Medal in men’s ice hockey but leaving McKeever off the team despite qualifying by winning a 50-kilometer race is inexcusable for an organization who has UN “Special Observer” status in part for allegedly living up to the UN Millennium Goals.

So much for the IOC equity policies.

The Paralympics event is underway in Vancouver with far less flash than the recently concluded Winter Olympics.

The IOC runs roughshod over governments with the promise of the Olympics and world leaders respond by giving the sports governing body unprecedented respect, so much so that the IOC is part of the United Nations as a permanent observer.

The IOC is a private sports organization; it is not a sovereign state like Vatican City. Yet diplomats treat Rogge, his associates and the group like royalty.

Evan Weiner is a radio/TV commentator, author and lecturer on “The Politics of Sports Business.”

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

March Madness is Really Madness

March Madness really is madness
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 03/09/10 at 12:40 AM

It is nearly March Madness time and if there ever was a sports tournament appropriately named madness, it is the Men’s College Basketball Tournament. Somehow people have been conned into believing that the 65-team event is a seminal moment in sports and that the excitement of the games transcends sports.

But a closer look at the tournament reveals something else. It is not just a sports event, it is a business, a huge business that is nothing more than a television series funded by CBS and that the people behind the tournament are guided far more by money than an athletic event. How else do you explain the constant stories for the past three months that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) members are thinking about expanding the tournament from the present 65 teams to 96 and with an expansion of the tournament would come more television money from some source, whether it is Sumner Redstone’s CBS or from merger of Comcast and NBC (which will include the Versus network), or Disney’s ESPN-ABC or Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp/FOX.

The expansion of the tournament to 96 teams talk coincides with an escape clause in the 11-year, $6 billion agreement between Redstone and the college basketball governing body. CBS will pay the NCAA more than two billion dollars over the final three years of the contract in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

Money talks in college basketball where everyone seems to be making money but the game’s performers—-the players. CBS is doing rather well selling advertisements for this year’s March Madness matches, the big name coaches seem to be doing rather well financially and the successful coaches at midsize schools will be showing off their wares and possibly get a chance to move up to a school looking to turn around a mediocre or losing program and make a pile of cash from various sources including the school, the school’s cable TV partner, a sneaker company who outfits the coach with clothing attire, the school with uniforms and sneakers and from boosters along with marketing and advertising partners.

Coaches can break contracts and move on while the players….well the players could transfer to another school and have to sit out a season. The players get a scholarship but catch players at the right time away from the team environment that might tell you it is almost impossible to be a student and a player at the same time because of the commitment that the coach requires from that player because of practices, travel and the actual game.

Sure the players have tutors available but graduation rates among college basketball players as a whole are terrible and the NCAA can deride studies showing poor graduation rates but even the colleges know they are shortchanging the players. A player is a slave to the scholarship and the games come first.

College and university presidents and chancellors will look the other way when coaches commit violations in an effort to build a tournament team.

CBS will have the pom poms waiving and with the sports writing community extolling the virtue of some coach and the greatness of college sports. The people buying tickets in the arena will ignore the business aspect of college sports. Journalists become Sgt. Hans Schultz, the guard who watched over Stalag 13 in the old television show Hogan’s Heroes. Schultz reported to Colonel Klink and when asked about the prisoner’s activities, he would tell Klink, “I know nothing.”

The NCAA requires cities to bid for each round of the tournament and that means that the college body is getting big money guarantees from someone in those cities and the Final Four is now played in domed football stadiums with huge seating capacities and tickets are very expensive. The performers—the players—may be amateurs and not getting compensated but there is nothing amateur about the Men’s Basketball Tournament. There are coaches making millions, there are advertisers paying millions for marketing partnerships and big rollers buying club seats and luxury boxes.
This is the big leagues even though the performers who are the real stars of the show are not getting a check.

But all of the major league trappings are not enough for the NCAA. Getting bigger seems to be the formula needed to get more cash into the coffers.

The NCAA is looking for more TV money which is why the body is thinking of expanding the field for the championship. NCAA negotiators know that CBS, which does not have a cable TV sports partner, cannot pay them as much as Disney’s ESPN or possibly the Comcast-NBC (Versus and possibly USA, CNBC and MSNBC set up) entity. The negotiators know the Disney (ESPN) has given the Bowl Championship Series a four year, $495 million for five games a year. CBS might turn to Turner Sports as a cable partner. Murdoch has some regional cable sports networks but would need a real partner to land the tourney.

Disney’s ESPN can spend wildly on sports fee because of the Cable TV Act of 1984 which allowed the bundling of then-dying cable TV networks like ESPN, CNN, The Weather Channel to be bundled and sold as one to cable TV subscribers on a basic-expanded tier which means 100 percent of those buying the basic expanded tier are paying for an entity that a fraction of the cable TV universe are using, ESPN. The legislation, signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, allows cable networks who manage to land on the basic-expanded tier (multiple system operators (MSO), not consumers, decide what ends up on the basic-expanded tier which is why the National Football League has been fighting with operators like Time Warner and Cablevision for a spot on that vaunted tier, the MSOs have decided the NFL Network is not worth the price that NFL has attached to the network. ESPN is charging subscribers more than $4 a month for the network. ESPN can get high prices despite mediocre ratings because there is a perception that men between 18 and 34 watch a lot of sports and 18-34 year old males are a hard to reach advertising demographic and that advertisers can reach them en masse during a televised sports event.).

ESPN can outspend over the air network rivals because it gets a month fee from more than 95 million subscribers along with advertising dollars.

The various conferences are also chasing more TV dollars. Why else is the Pacific 10 considering expanding with the conference TV contracts with Disney’s ESPN, the Fox Sports Network and Versus ending in two years? The Pac 10 may also want to start a cable TV network like the Big Ten, the Mountain West or the Southeast Conference.
In pursuit of more TV money, the Atlantic Coast Conference raided the Big East in 2003 and took Boston College, Miami and Virginia Tech to make the ACC more attractive for a TV network and advertisers. The Big East filled the holes by taking three colleges, Louisville, Cincinnati and South Florida from Conference USA. Other conferences poached other conferences and things have calmed down since 2003 although the Big Ten took a run at Rutgers and may go after the University of Pittsburgh. The state of Connecticut sued the ACC for poaching the Big East and weakening the college sports conference. Eventually the two conferences settled.
Money talks in college sports.

March Madness captivates the sporting public for three weeks and has caused some problems in the workplace on the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament with people at work watching games on the internet instead of doing their job. That is how wrapped up people have become in the tourney. Meanwhile CBS never delves into questions that academia poses privately about the pursuit of a basketball tournament which includes why teams are traveling far away from their campuses to play games which seem to also coincide during the midterm time period.

CBS, the NCAA money partner, never brings up the question of whether players are really student-athletes or if they are merely fund raisers for a program. There is also another component worth pursuing. Are the most talented freshmen who know they are leaving for the NBA following the college tourney attending class during the second semester of the school year?

College routinely holds hearings on the college sports industry, after all the colleges do have a antitrust TV exemptions thanks to the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 and enjoy tax exempt status, but those hearings seem to center around the unfairness of the Bowl Championship Series which prompted Texas Republican Joe Barton to introduce legislation in January 2009, the College Football Playoff Act of 2009 (HR 309).

Barton’s bill was aimed at the BCS’ championship game. HR 309’s language was simple. “To prohibit, as an unfair and deceptive act or practice, the promotion, marketing, and advertising of any post-season NCAA Division I football game as a national championship game unless such game is the culmination of a fair and equitable playoff system.”

The bill went nowhere as did President Barack Obama’s call for a college football championship contest.

The Madness starts soon, and because of the chance of scooping up more money, the Madness will get even bigger in the future and everyone will make a buck except the stars of the show—the players.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

In Ramapo, NY, a $25 Million Present for Independent Baseball

In Ramapo, NY, a $25 Million Present for Independent Baseball

By Evan Weiner

March 8, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- Congratulations to Town Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence in the New York City suburb of Ramapo, New York. Supervisor St. Lawrence has landed an independent league baseball team in the Can-Am League. All Supervisor St. Lawrence needs to do is commit $25 million over 30 years to build a 3,500-seat baseball park in Ramapo Woods and hope to find an owner for the venture.

If that happens, Ramapo will join a league that is more of a floating crap game than a stable organized entity. The league will start the 2010 season with six teams, Brockton, MA. Little Falls, NJ, Pittsfield, MA, Quebec City, QC, Augusta, NJ and Worcester, MA. The Worcester team played in Nashua, NH in 2009.

The CanAm League had eight teams in 2008, but Ottawa and Atlantic City folded after the season. This is a league with a long history of instability in the five years it has existed as teams in Elmira, NY, New Haven, CT., and Lynn, MA have also failed. The CanAm League has twice featured traveling teams called the Aces and the Grays. The Grays traveling squad was supposed to have played in Bangor, ME but the owners pulled out and the league took over to keep an even amount of teams. Unlike minor league baseball affiliated teams, the owners of independent baseball leagues have to pay the salaries of the rostered players, managers, coaches and athletic trainers which means money is extremely tight and sometimes runs out.

It is also a league with a salary cap and players live with host families. The CanAm League has had some players go onto Major League Baseball organizations with eight CanAm League players having their contracts sold to Major League organizations in 2009 and there are a number of CanAm League players in Major League Baseball spring training camps.

It is in this environment that Christopher St. Lawrence is wagering about $25 million so that his town can be a player in independent baseball.

St. Lawrence is jubilant about bring the first independent league baseball team to his town. He believes that the Ramapo Woods Stadium will break even and that the town will be able to pay off the debt on the money that is needed to build the facility.

The rose color glasses were still on when St. Lawrence talked about the economic impact of the team and the stadium in Ramapo. The reality is St. Lawrence is willing to buy a bill of goods but he doesn’t think so and that is the problem. The Ramapo stadium is rather small potatoes to use a Donald Trumpism when compared to the new football stadium in Indianapolis which is costing the city a lot of money that Indianapolis doesn’t have. Indianapolis budgeted a certain amount of funds for the upkeep of the new facility and figured wrong.

St. Lawrence ought to be more familiar with federal law when it comes to stadium and revenues when it comes back to paying down the debt. Only eight cents out of every dollar generated inside a facility built with public funding goes back to the public unless a very specific lease arrangement is worked out. Given the history of the CanAm League with just Brockton and Little Falls still in the league as this incarnation of the CanAm League begins season number six, it is very likely that the lease St. Lawrence signs with any owner will be a sweetheart deal.

If St. Lawrence is lucky, the team owner will use the franchise as a tax write off or as a toy and doesn’t care about losing dollars and will keep the team funded.

There are some other issues surrounding the stadium building that need to be called into question. There will be construction jobs, those are not permanent and those workers are not going to be paid any more money on this project that say building a factory. St. Lawrence also claims there will be 25 permanent jobs and about 75 part time jobs created because of the stadium and franchise.

St. Lawrence’s $25 million investment will create some job all right. Those 25 permanent positions if connected to the baseball team will be minimum wage positions, which probably will not have benefits and will be entry-level positions at best. The part time jobs will be parking lot vendors, concession workers and will be per diem positions. The New York Times did a story in 2009 about a Columbia University sports management student who swept floors in the Sussex team clubhouse. That will be more typical of the type of employment available with the Ramapo team and at the stadium. St. Lawrence would be better off funding a supermarket, which typically has four or five different shifts with full time workers, workers who live in the community and circulate their money in a community. That is a far better economic plan than building a stadium although there is an intrinsic value to having a team in the community of community pride, feeling good when the local guys win.

Those stadium-related jobs would not be economic engines.

St. Lawrence’s stadium will need more business than just an independent league baseball team which has the doors open for business just some 50 times in a 365 day calendar year. There are 315 other days where there is no business, so there is a suggestion that minor college programs, Rockland Community College, St. Thomas Aquinas and Dominican can use the facility along with some local amateur baseball programs. That is all fine and good but when you spend $25 million in a tough economic environment, you better have other planned usage of the facility year round.

St. Lawrence apparently thinks local cable TV and local radio will carry Ramapo games, which will bring money and interest into the team. There are community access station and there could be an Internet presence but there will be no regional cable TV network and there are three in the area, Madison Square Garden, the Yankee-Nets YES Network and the Mets-Time Warner-Comcast SNY but St. Lawrence should not hold his breath waiting for a cable deal from any of those three entities and the two radio stations in the area present unique challenges. One station has a Polish talk and cultural format; the other has a terrible signal and has just 83 watts of power at night.

The Ramapo stadium will have all of the requisites required in sports today, 25 luxury suites and fan “amenities” in a setting in the woods with the mountains in the background. It is not really about baseball no matter what St. Lawrence and his allies are selling. It is about ambience, about well to do customers buying luxury boxes or selling naming rights to a stadium even for independent league games. It is about being a player in pro sports.

Twenty-five million dollars is not a high price these days for a stadium but a small municipality like Ramapo can ill afford the price tag when the entire economic picture is fully painted. New York State is going to cut back funding to all municipalities in the state and somewhere, somehow, taxes will be going up in Ramapo or services will be cut back. But Ramapo has the $25 million and St. Lawrence wants independent baseball and that is what Ramapo might get in 2011.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Jim Bunning was a union organizer when it suited his needs

Jim Bunning was a union organizer when it suited his needs

By Evan Weiner

March 3, 2010

(Cortland, N. Y.) -- Kentucky Republican Jim Bunning certainly caused a lot of political discussion after he decided to hold up Senate passage of an unemployment benefits bills. Bunning’s holdout ended on Tuesday and the Senate passed the bill but the story about Jim Bunning should not end with the image of an old man holding up financial help for those who were fired and cannot find employment.

If there was an honest effort by the news media and specifically the American three cable TV networks, the hypocrisy of Senator Bunning’s actions were have been pointed out. Bunning has a record of being pro-labor, pro-employee. In fact Jim Bunning was a major union advocate in a previous professional life.

You see, Jim Bunning help build the strongest workers association in America and reaped the benefits in terms of a solid pension long after he was done was a Major League Baseball pitcher. Jim Bunning brought Marvin Miller into the world of baseball and help set Miller up as the Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association primarily because Bunning was looking after his own hide after his right arm gave out.

Marvin Miller came to baseball industry almost by accident. Robin Roberts, Harvey Kueen and Jim Bunning were looking for an Executive Director of the Major League Baseball Players Association when Roberts decided to call George Taylor, an economics professor at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Roberts read that Taylor was a mediator who was called into the White House when a labor situation arose and needed to be discussed and felt it was worth his time to invest a call into Taylor.

That was in 1965. Ironically, Roberts never met Taylor face to face, but it was Roberts and Taylor who changed the game of baseball.

"We were talking about getting an Executive Director and we had thought about different guys but none of them really rung a bell with me," said Roberts. "So I asked a professor at the Wharton School and I called him on the phone and told him what we wanted and he said he'd call me back. He was going to a labor meeting out in California.

"He called me and said he had two guys in mind. Lane Kirkland and Marvin Marvin. He said I haven't talked to either one of them, but I will call you when I do."

True to his word, Taylor called back Roberts and delivered mixed news.

"Lane Kirkland isn't interested, but Marvin might be, he'd like to talk about it," said Roberts.

Through George Taylor, Robin Roberts got his man. Marvin Miller, an economist and negotiator from the Steelworkers Union.

"When I called George Taylor, I told him who I was and he said, I know who you are, I follow baseball. That's how Marvin Miller was initially contacted. For Marvin to have be chosen and everything, he had to go through all the clubs. He did that all on his own.

"But I was probably his biggest backer because I knew the importance of having him and I was basically concerned about the television contract because that was the player's pension money. Also, the licensing thing that was staring to blossom.

"And Marvin didn't really understand the licensing business, but he was smart enough to get somebody to help him and set it up right."

The introduction of Marvin Miller on the baseball scene was not well received by the owners, but interestingly enough, players had some questions about bringing in someone to head their union who might have a difficult relationship with the owners.

"I got out of baseball, Marvin was fully accredited in 1966, maybe 1967 but I got out of baseball nobody would sign me. I went to work in 1967. Jim Bunning was on the original committee that were talking about these directors. Jim, Harvey Kueen and I met with Marvin in Cleveland with our initial contact.

"But Jim Bunning called me, I was in the investment business in Philadelphia and said we are having a meeting in New York and some of the guys are after your boy.

"I said well what do you want me to do Jim? He said would you come and attend the meeting, now I was out of baseball. So I rode the train over in the morning on a Saturday. The meeting was going to be at the Biltmore Hotel, so I went in and sat in the back.”

Jim Bunning was a union activist and pushed hard for a strong executive director and that cannot be expunged from his record. Serious journalists can easily get information about Bunning’s union activities if they so desired.

"There was some conversation. I think there were a couple of clubs that were convincing their players that Marvin wasn't going to be good for them. I was listening to the discussion and I was sitting next to Milt Pappas who had been a teammate with Baltimore and I asked Milt to introduce me to the group. He said Robin would like to talk to you."

It was Roberts speech that convinced the players to stick with Robin and Roberts pitch was simple. The pension and the licensing monies were too great and the players needed someone they could trust to manage the monies.

"I explained how the pension idea and the licensing thing were two big things for the ball players," Roberts said. "There was no way this was going to interfere with anything as far as club owners were concerned, you can still have a relationship individually. What happened, a lot of guys had a good relationship with their club owners and they thought this was wrong because they were making nice money, but they were on friendly terms with club owners.

"A lot of club owners were that way. If a guy played well for them, they treated them nice.

"After I got up and spoke and I left and I went back to the train station to go back to Philly. Davey Johnson was Baltimore's rep. He had come running into the train station, I had known him and I had played with Baltimore. He said, well that meeting is over, you ended that meeting.

"Evidently that was the only time there was an attempt by some players to get rid of Marvin. After that, he was in charge the rest of the way.
His influence on baseball was fantastic."

Roberts thought baseball was made up of three parts, the owners, players and commissioner with the commissioner having the absolute last say on all baseball matters. He admitted that he was rather naive in that thinking.

"I assumed the Commissioner was in charge and in fact when we picked the six guys in meetings about the Executive Director, I sent the list to William Eckert, who was the Commissioner and I said we are talking about hiring an executive director and here are the six guys being considered. If there is anybody on this list that you don't think we should be involved with, you let me know. That's how much I much I was involved with thinking the Commissioner ran baseball. The reason was because Happy Chandler in 1950, the only World Series I was ever involved in and the first big TV contract, he turned it all over to the pension plan.

"That was the commissioner and he got fired later on and may have been one of the reasons. He took all of the money and put it in and solidified it. It was on shaky grounds. They (the owners) were paying money out of their gate receipts and some of them weren't doing it. Happy Chandler took that money and that's when I assumed the Commissioner was in charge. That might have been the last Commissioner that may have been in charge.

"They never had anybody between the players and the owners," Roberts continued. "When you are a seasonal business like that and start missing games that just turned me off completely. I felt bad that they weren't able to resolve that. But Marvin played the Commissioner, he was able to convince the players and rightfully so that the Commissioner represented the owners. He wasn't an unbiased judge.

"Because of the way the ownership was set up, it became obvious that it was true. Marvin was from the union side of things and he never anticipated working with a Commissioner who was overall for both sides. I was naive enough to think you have an owners group and a players group and if by February 1, it's not resolved then the Commissioner comes in and resolves it. Then you can start Spring Training and you can play."

Roberts thought when he brought Miller to the players, there would be three sides in a dispute. The players, the owners and the finally a commissioner would act as an independent agent and had the ability to rule as an arbitrator in a dispute between the two sides.

Roberts does have some regrets that bringing Marvin Miller into the game
did not produce a mechanism that had the Commissioner acting in something of an impartial way in dealing with labor issues.

Miller had replaced Judge Robert C. Cannon who had been the Players Association advisor and legal counsel for six years. On March 5, 1966, the 48 year old Miller was nominated to become the Executive Director of the association. By July 1, Miller was in a two year position at a $50,000 a year salary with an additional $20,000 in expenses. The Players Association annual budget was $150,000. Cannon had been re-elected to a new six year term on the Circuit Court bench in Milwaukee adding to the Players Association dilemma.

"We had a guy named Judge Cannon, who was the legal advisor for the players group," said Roberts. "The Judge was originally voted that job and I had backed Marvin. There were two things we originally agreed to, a five year contract at $50,000 a year and an office in New York. But Judge Cannon was a Judge in Milwaukee and the vote was taken. Marvin got about seven and the Judge got about 13, I said to Bob Friend, who was a big Judge Cannon guy at the time.

"After this meeting when we elected Judge Cannon, it was ironic, I said after the meeting, Bob the moment you find out the Judge isn't going to follow through about what he said about moving the office, and Bob went out to dinner with the Judge that night. It was a Saturday. Sunday morning he had called me, Bob said how'd you know that.

"We agreed that the office was going to be in New York, well (Judge Cannon) said I can't move my office. Bob said to me, what are we going to do? I said let's start over and we had another meeting and Cannon wasn't considered.

"I called Eckert and told him I wanted him to attend because we were voting again on it. He didn't come but sent Lee MacPhail as his representative, that's when the players officially voted Marvin."

Miller immediately got to work and convinced the players that they were naive in their dealings with the owners.

"We were," said Roberts. "I knew it was a difficult thing for ballplayers to have that responsibility. But once they got there, Marvin got them involved too. He made them feel like they were really a part of it."

The Players Association had been around since 1953, but it achieved very little in terms of benefits to the players other to make sure that TV monies went into the pension plan.

Miller had two problems immediately. Financing the Players Association
office and more importantly, funding the pension plan. The players approved a voluntary dues check off to fund the office and Miller eventually struck an agreement with the owners through April, 1969 that $4,100,000 of the National Broadcasting Company's licensing fee for the Game of the Week, All-Star Game and World Series in 1967 and 1968 would go to the pension plan.

Once Roberts left, the players did rally behind Miller's lead and significant gains were made.

"Actually, the central issue that Marvin went after was always the pension plan,” said Jim Kaat. “Nowadays, you would not think that but the pension plan in the 1960s was much more important to the players than salary. Because in those days, if you projected to when you were 55 or 60 years old and you could draw $30,000 a year in a pension plan...a lot of players weren't making that much money in salaries.

"That's how he kept everyone together. If you talk to Marvin, he will reiterate that. It was a big issue."

Kaat came up to the major leagues with the Washington Senators in 1959 and was with the Twins when Miller entered the picture in 1966.

In 1966, the players were tied to their teams because of the reserve clause, the maximum salary was about $100,000 and that was doled out to the Mickey Mantle-, Willie Mays-type players. There was no salary arbitration, and there was no free agency.

The owners controlled the game and the players had little say in their careers.

Today, the players have free agency as well as arbitration, and the rise in salaries has been astronomical. But in 1966, getting all of those benefits seemed as likely as man reaching the moon by the end of the sixties.

"It was a combination of getting organized as a players association with all the television revenue that came into the game," said Kaat. "It gave the players an awful lot of strength. The owners didn't have a lot of foresight in what this was going to be."

The players got financial guarantees and fought with the owners on numerous occasions. Jim Bunning had a lot to do with getting significant pensions for players and getting players the right to shop around their services. The Bunning of 1966 was pro employee, pro union. As the ol’ Professor and Hall of Fame manager Casey Stengel who watched Bunning throw a Father’s Day 1964 perfect game against his New York Mets at Shea Stadium once said, “You can look it up.”

Monday, March 1, 2010

Countdown to the Real Kickoff – the NFL Lockout in 2011

Countdown to the Real Kickoff – the NFL Lockout in 2011
By Evan Weiner-The Daily Caller 03/01/10 at 11:56 AM
The National Football League is entering a new phase of the 2010 season, the player recruitment campaign will start on March 5 and there are new rules for this endeavor because the owners have decided to blow up the old collective bargaining agreement, a document that kept both owners and players relatively happy.
The March 5 recruiting season is a prelude to something bigger — a 2011 owners lockout.
The owners and players had a horrible partnership from the 1956 through 1993, and there were various players’ strikes. There was a brief, hardly noticed 1968 walkout by the players which got the players $1.5 million into the pension plan but kept minimum salaries at $9,000 for a rookie, $10,000 for a veteran and $50 per pre-season game for National Football League players. The combined National Football League and American Football League Players Associations struck again briefly in 1970 and the players got some improvements in salaries, pensions and other areas.
In 1974, there was another brief strike but there was no new collective bargaining agreement until 1977. The NFLPA struck in 1982 and 1987 and the 1987 labor dispute lasted until 1993 as the players took their grievances to the National Labor Relations Board and federal court and eventually negotiated a deal before Judge David Doty of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota imposed a settlement on them.
Former NFL player Dave Meggysey joked that neither side, the owner or players, wanted Justice Doty to tell them what the new collective bargaining agreement should be and the judge kept around a big yellow envelope with his settlement inside but for all Meggysey knew, it could have been the latest issue of Playboy inside of Doty’s envelope.
The players and owners settled with the players getting 58 percent of league generated revenues, a $195 million litigation settlement for bills and free agency.
The free agency was a trade off. The owners will keep a salary cap and the players would become free agents after four years of work instead of six seasons. The final year of the collective bargaining agreement, if either side pulled out of the pact, would see players free agency start at six years while the owners would cede the salary cap. That clause kept labor piece between 1993 and 2009 because neither side wanted to give up a significant piece of leverage as the most players never even get to four years service and the owners could control players costs.
The owners blew up the contract in May 2008 and that has forced both the players and owners to use a different road map to construct teams for 2010 and beyond.
No one knows what will happen in 2011 when the collective bargaining agreement runs out but if there is a lockout or a strike and it is more than likely the owners will lockout the players once the CBA is through after Super Bowl XLV next February, what happens to the incident bystanders? The television networks, the marketing partners, the municipalities that put up money for stadiums and practice facilities, the corporate and fan partnerships for those who put up money for personal seat licenses and the non-football follower who is probably unaware that if they have a cable TV or satellite TV subscription that some of their money will be going to support the owners in a lockout.
The players and owners will eventually resolve their dispute although it may take a while. There is an usual circumstance here, the owners are not on the same page as large revenue producing teams don’t want to share all of their in-market revenue with the Buffalo, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Jacksonville and others. There may be a total of 15 franchises that don’t have the financial machines of Washington, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, New England and the two New York teams and want to keep revenue sharing strong. However, the money making machines in Washington, Dallas, Philadelphia, Houston, New England and in the New York area have huge bills that Ralph Wilson in Buffalo doesn’t have.
Dallas’ Jerry Jones has not sold naming rights to his new Cowboys Stadium in Arlington, Texas, Houston’s Robert McNair paid over $700 million for his franchise in 1999, Bob Kraft built the stadium for his New England Patriots in Foxboro, the combined Jets-Giants East Rutherford, New Jersey franchise has some public funding behind it in that New Jersey picked up infrastructure costs and the combined Jets-Giants entity is not fully paying property taxes to East Rutherford and is instead using payments in lieu of taxes to throw some money East Rutherford’s way.
So there are bills that need to be paid that Wilson or Cincinnati’s Mike Brown do on have. Wilson paid $25,000 to buy the Buffalo franchise in 1959 from American Football League founder Lamar Hunt. Brown’s family paid about $7.5 million to get a Cincinnati franchise in the American Football League back in 1967. Neither Wilson’s market nor Brown’s market can generate revenues like the big cities and that is a problem for old line NFL owners who perfected as sports socialism or as the former Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell, a proud Republican, once said, 32 Republicans who love socialism. For the record, not every NFL owner is a Republican.
It is unclear if the players have a war chest to last if there is a labor action, but the owners certainly do. And this is where the public gets involved. The owners will get their television rights fees from Sumner Redstone’s CBS ($622.5 million annually), from Rupert Murdoch’s FOX ($732 million annually), from General Electric’s NBC, from Disney’s ESPN along with John Malone’s DirecTV. Redstone, Murdoch and Jeffrey Immelt from General Electric ($600 million annually for Sunday night games) have guaranteed the NFL will get money whether there is a season, a truncated schedule or a full schedule for 2011. CBS, NBC and FOX are over-the-air networks, free TV but ESPN and DirecTV are subscriber supported and that is a problem for non football fans.
Will ESPN refund subscribers money for missed games? Will DirecTV also provide a refund for those who buy the NFL Sunday Ticket? Based on various labor actions in 1994 and 1995 with the Major League Baseball strike and the National Hockey League lockout, the 1998-99 National Basketball Association lockout and the 204-05 National Hockey League lockout, the answer is no.
Not one cable system operator or regional or national sports cable TV network returned one nickel to one subscriber despite not showing the product that subscribers were suppose to receive.
Fans always claim there is nothing they can do about sports labor actions. Little do they realize that they are being used in a labor action. Their money along with the other 93 percent who never watch ESPN or regional sports cable TV networks is going into an owners fund. DirecTV is paying over $700 million a year for the rights for NFL Sunday Ticket. ESPN gives the NFL $1.1 billion deal annually for Monday Night Football. A great percentage of ESPN’s money comes from 95 million subscribers, not advertisers, who have to take the channel whether they like sports or not because ESPN is part of a basic expanded tier and Congress refuses to even consider changing cable TV laws that would allow customers to opt out of taking ESPN or CNN or MSNBC or FOX News Channel or the Home and Garden Network or others who get basic expanded carriage from Comcast, Time Warner, Cablevision and the rest of the cable multiple system operators.
Will the NFL Network give rebates if there are no games?
There are so many other questions that will arise. How the league will deal with marketing partners if there is a lockout or strike and will the league push the NFL shield logo as a substitute for players and speaking of that, will the NFL use replacement players as the league did back in 1987 in an attempt to keep the game going and lure players across the picket line?
Will municipalities get paid after putting up enormous amounts of money to build new facilities or will owners try like Chris Cohan did in Oakland during the 1998-99 NBA lockout to not pay rent? Cohan eventually had to pay Oakland for the dates not used at the Oakland Coliseum Arena because the NBA initiated the lockout.
What happens to people who pay for personal seat licenses and tickets? Do they get refunds if there are no games or does the money that would go for refunds get applied to future games in say the 2012 or 2013 season?
A couple of other questions that also will rise. There is a theory that the 1994-95 Major League Baseball strike finished off the Montreal Expos as a franchise and that the Quebec Nordiques and Winnipeg Jets were irrevocably harmed by the 1994-95 NHL lockout and settlement. Will the Jacksonville Jaguars survive an NFL work stoppage and what happens in Orchard Park with the Buffalo Bills when Wilson’s lease with the various municipal entities in western New York State runs out after the 2012 season?
Finally, will Congress step in and attempt to force a settlement if there is a labor dispute. New York In October 2006, New York Senator Charles Schumer decided to “help” NFL owners break their logjam over how to redistribute revenues so comparatively smaller market teams — like Wilson’s Bills and Brown’s Bengals — have a chance to keep up with the big boys; among them Washington’s Snyder, Dallas’s Jones, Philadelphia’s Jeffrey Lurie, Houston’s McNair, and New England’s Kraft. Schumer was hoping the weight of his office, along with his effort to gather the bipartisan support of colleagues from several states that NFL teams call home, would pressure NFL owners into coming up with a revenue-sharing formula that satisfies owners from both the high and low-revenue end.
The Democrat Schumer and his fellow Senators — including Senator John McCain, a Republican of Arizona, and others from Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Missouri, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington, and Wisconsin tried to put the heat on the league’s owners to get on the same page.
They failed.
In the absolute extreme, the Senate could attempt to undo the 1966 AFL–NFL merger which combined the leagues by 1970 (retaining the name of the latter). Or they could unravel the 1961 Sports Broadcasting Act, which made legal a team’s sale of television and broadcasting rights packages to the networks. Both measures helped fuel the NFL’s popularity and owner profitability; a move to disrupt them would be the equivalent of throwing a Hail Mary pass with seconds left on the clock.
The new NFL player recruitment season starts next Monday but the real Super Bowl for the NFL owners, players, fans, non-fans and others connected with the NFL is still a year away.
Evan Weiner is a columnist, radio-TV commentator, author and lecturer on “the politics and business of sports.”