Friday, April 30, 2010

Why isn’t Sonny Werblin in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?

Why isn’t Sonny Werblin in the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
FRIDAY, 30 APRIL 2010 13:42

A quick exchange with Joe Namath this week got me to thinking. Why isn't Namath's old boss David A. "Sonny as in Money" Werblin enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio? Werblin, the New Jersey guy, is pretty much a forgotten figure in the history of pro football even though both Werblin and Namath helped create the Super Bowl as a non-official national holiday in the United States.
Both the New York Giants and Jets are looking at draft picks and free agents and will have mini-camps this month at multi-million dollar training complexes in East Rutherford and Florham Park. The two teams have built a new stadium that cost over a billion dollars and will manage a real estate around the facility. Werblin's fingerprints 19 years after he died are all over the place within the businesses of the Jets, the Giants and the National Football League.
Sonny Werblin along with his partners Leon Hess, Townsend Martin, Donald Lillis and Philip Iselin bought the bankrupt American Football League New York Titans franchise in 1963, renamed the team the Jets, and changed pro football although the quintet didn't alter the history of the game the minute they bought the franchise. That would not happen for about a year and it was circumstance that brought Werblin to the forefront.
The National Football League or the initials NFL of the days prior to Werblin's arrival in pro football, and today have just one thing in common — the name or the initials. As the David Letterman frequent guest and Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive tackle Arthur J. Donovan (by way of the Grand Concourse in da Bronx) who played for the original Baltimore Colts in 1950, the New York Yankees in 1951, the Dallas Texans in 1952 and the Colts again from 1953-61 (the original Colts, the Yankees and Texans all folded) pointed out.
National Football League owners had a 12 team league in the 1950s and none of the 12 owners could figure out what to do with their business. Chicago's George Halas and Pittsburgh's Art Rooney along with Bert Bell have been glorified as football deities over the decades but the truth is that without Lamar Hunt the game might have strangled itself financially.
There was no forward thinking from Halas, Rooney, the Giants Tim Mara or NFL Commissioner Bert Bell in those days. They put a shingle up, "Football on Sunday" six times a year for six home games except in Chicago where there were two teams.
Hunt was unable to buy the Chicago Cardinals from the Bidwill family and move the team to Dallas. Bud Adams was unable to buy the Chicago Cardinals from the Bidwill family and move the team to Houston. Neither Hunt nor Adams could get an NFL expansion franchise in Dallas and Houston even though Halas and Rooney chaired an expansion committee starting in 1956. By 1959, Hunt decided he had enough and asked Adams if he wanted to join him in forming the fourth American Football League.
The AFL started play in 1960 and pushed the stodgy old football men into a different business plan, one they never wanted to explore. The AFL went to new cities and had a better TV plan. There were now two leagues and the older National Football League played follow the leader to the new league when it came to television. The AFL was able to sign a contract with the American Broadcasting Company, ABC, with each team sharing revenue equally. The AFL deal technically violated antitrust laws and was not originally a Hunt idea. Hunt borrowed a concept from Branch Rickey who was out of baseball and trying to form a third major league, the Continental Baseball League, and one of Rickey's ideas was for the 12-team Continental League owners to share national TV revenue equally.
Rickey's idea died but there are three living monuments to his league. The New York Mets, the Houston Colt 45s (now Astros) and the National Football League's "leaguethink" business plan.
The old line NFL owners didn't know what to do with TV as late as 1960 and NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle had to persuade Giants owner Jack Mara along with the Chicago Bears Halas and the Los Angeles Rams owner Daniel Reeves that sharing TV revenues instead of having teams have their own networks was economically better for the league. He did just that and got Congress to approve the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 which allowed the NFL to sell all 14 teams as one to a TV network.
In those days, it was just CBS and NBC.
Rozelle worked out a deal for the 1962 season which brought the 14 NFL owners more than $4 million that year and beyond. In late 1963 Rozelle pitted CBS against NBC in a battled for a long term TV agreement and this is where circumstances came into play. The NFL was in a battle with the AFL for players and control of football and a big money TV deal would give them cash to go after talented players coming out of college. Rozelle signed a big money deal with CBS and William Paley in 1964 and that deal infuriated NBC's David Sarnoff.
Sarnoff wanted revenge.
Sarnoff had worked with Lew Wasserman's MCA where Werblin was employed. MCA was placing TV shows on Sarnoff's network. Sarnoff and Werblin had a relationship and Werblin became the point guy between the AFL and NBC. Werblin knew TV and entertainment inside out and knew that football was more than just a game play, it was entertainment and it was TV programming. That was not something that was an easy sell to football men who in those days viewed football as a game. It was easy to understand the football owners mentality of the day. Football business operations were open between July and December. In the 1950s, if someone wanted to buy a Chicago Bears season ticket package in April, they would have to hunt down George Halas at his sporting goods store. Nobody protected team logos because no one was thinking of selling t-shirts, underwear and hats with team logos.
Werblin got the deal done with Sarnoff, which brought the AFL $7 million annually between 1965 and 1969. Sarnoff also advanced money to AFL teams so they could sign players out of college, which Sarnoff knew would enhance the AFL on NBC. With some of that money (and revenues Werblin and his fellow Jets owners suddenly got from larger crowds at the new Shea Stadium starting in 1964), Werblin signed Namath to a three-year $427,000 deal, the largest contract ever given to a player at that point.
Namath was going to be the face of the Jets and ultimately the face of the American Football League. The Werblin-Sarnoff connection changed football and for that alone, Werblin should be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Werblin changed the dynamics of pro football and eventually the two leagues merged with the formation of the Super Bowl as one of the after effects of the June 8, 1966 accord between the warring leagues.
Ironically, Werblin, Hess, Martin, Lillis and Iselin were not interested in joining the NFL because the merger agreement required them to pay the Giants $10 million for "invading" the New York territory. Werblin never did see the Jets win the Super Bowl as one of the team owners as he was bought out prior to the 1968 season, the year Namath led the Jets to a Super Bowl championship.
Namath's guarantee that the Jets would beat Baltimore in Super Bowl III was the foundation that built the Super Bowl franchise.
Werblin was permanently exiled from pro football but the story didn't end there. In 1971, the New Jersey guy Werblin was back but this time as a state employee and again Werblin changed the NFL. Werblin convinced Giants owner Wellington Mara to commit to move the Giants across the river to wetlands off of Route 3. The deal was inked in November 1972. Yankee Stadium was slated to be rebuilt and Mara's Giants played at the Yale Bowl in New Haven in 1974 and shared Shea Stadium with the Jets in 1975. Mara had a new stadium in 1976 and Giants revenues exploded.
Werblin left the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority in 1977. Hess moved his Jets to the Meadowlands in 1984.
Werblin's pro football career was rather short as an owner compared to those of Mara, Halas and Rooney, the NFL's Mount Rushmore, but he was far more a visionary than any of the faces on the NFL's Mount Rushmore. Halas last had a real idea in 1925 when he signed Red Grange and put him on tour with the Bears. Grange's appearance before more than 70,000 people at the Polo Grounds in a game against the Giants gave Tim Mara the money he needed to keep the Giants solvent and in business. Rooney was a grand old guy of the game but in the 1950s, his Pittsburgh Steelers franchise was the last stop for a player. If a player was cut by Pittsburgh, his football career probably was at an end. Ironically because of Werblin, Pittsburgh eventually was able to spend top dollars on players. Rooney was paid three million dollars to move the Steelers from the NFL to the American Football Conference prior to 1970. Rooney used that money to invest in players and scouting and won four Super Bowls.
Werblin is in the New Jersey Sports Hall of Fame, but there should be a bust of him in Canton. Without Werblin, Namath might have ended up in St. Louis or maybe the New York Giants. The Titans might have been sold to someone who knew football but not the TV business and the Super Bowl might have just been another championship game without the "wow" factor which Namath as the Jets quarterback, who was signed to a record contract by Werblin, gave the game. Without Werblin, the Giants might not be in New Jersey and Hess might have looked elsewhere for a stadium with clean bathrooms.
Werblin is more than a footnote in NFL history. He was a game changer.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator, and lecturer on the "Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached for speaking engagements at

Monday, April 26, 2010

Rutgers basketball does not live in the world of academia

Rutgers basketball does not live in the world of academia
MONDAY, 26 APRIL 2010 13:17
It was a rather interesting week in New Jersey educational circles. Voters said no in many locations to approving new school budgets and a subsequent tax hike yet at one of New Jersey's schools of higher education, Rutgers, it was business as usual. Rutgers got rid of head basketball coach Fred Hill after four losing seasons and gave Hill a rather hefty going away present in the vicinity of $850,000. Hill won just 47 games and lost 77. Rutgers was near the bottom of the Big East during his tenure and to make matters worse, Hill apparently started yelling at University of Pittsburgh baseball coaches during a Rutgers-Pittsburgh baseball game after the season. Hill's father coaches the Rutgers baseball team.
The Rutgers athletic director, Tim Pernetti, didn't particularly appreciate Hill's
"discussion" with the University of Pittsburgh's coaches and ordered Hill to stay away from the Rutgers-Pittsburgh baseball series. Hill didn't and Pernetti found a reason to get rid of his failing basketball coach. In a state that is billions of dollars in the hole, where education is suddenly a major budgetary item for both the Governor Chris Christie and voters, Rutgers found money to say goodbye to Hill.
This is the same university that may have to accept a merger with Thomas A. Edison State College under a budget plan proposed by Christie. This is a university that is pumping money into sports while there are budget cutbacks that will impact students at the school. College sports happens to be a part of the educational system although in the money making sports, football and basketball, the sports programs seem to trump the academics in many instances.
Big time college sports lives in a world separate from the ivy covered walls of academia although school presidents, chancellors, and board of trustees provide cover for the activities of athletic directors, coaches and manipulating television networks, sneaker companies, boosters, alums and even politicians who know that sports is a business in academia ... not an extracurricular activity.
The catch phrase "student-athlete" is sold to college sports fans but the truth is that most of the college scholarship recipients at big time college sports program are athletes first and if they have time and a want to get an education that is a plus.
The big-time college/university sports programs no longer want average fans and alums supporting them. They want customers who will spend money for premium seating and will buy junk from the concession stands and dine in stadium restaurants. Schools want well-heeled alum to support the program. Fans can watch on TV, they really are not welcomed in a stadium although there is the charade of "student-athlete" and amateurism with the college kids playing for the love of the game.
Rutgers wants to be a major player in big-time college sports. The state built a stadium with lots of gadgets for the football team and is paying Greg Schiano very handsomely, roughly $1.5 million annually through 2016. To be fair, the university doesn't pick up the entire bill - some of Schiano's money comes from TV, deals with a sneaker company and other marketing partners. The Rutgers football stadium is not just a place where football fans show up six times a year on Saturdays during the fall. The football team doesn't play all of their games on Saturday, to get additional exposure; Rutgers has played Thursday night home games during the school week to get on national TV on ESPN. Rutgers' football facility has been built with maximizing revenue in mind. Just take a look at how the stadium has been expanded over the past two years.
In 2008, club seating and lounge was added. Those seats are not cheap. In 2009, the South end zone was closed in adding 11,000 seats with a "state-of-the-art Hi-Definition scoreboard and sound system." The stadium had new concession areas (designed to get customers to spend more money) and facilities.
The next new money making area will be the 7,656-square-foot football recruiting lounge and welcome center which will be built on the mezzanine level in the new south end zone of the expanded Rutgers Stadium.
According to the Rutgers stadium website, "anticipated uses of the facility, which will seat more than 300, include: Year-round football recruiting functions. In-game entertaining of appropriate groups. High end athletics fundraising opportunities and events. Recruiting tours for all other sports on non-football recruiting days. High-end fundraising for senior level university officials and the Rutgers University Foundation."
This is serious business which seems to have very little to do with the educational side of the school.
Rutgers men's basketball team has a long way to go in matching the success of the women's team led by Vivian Stringer. The Rutgers women's team, which is one of the best programs in college sports, was slammed by a remark by radio personality Don Imus and his sidekicks in 2007 which caused CBS and MSNBC to fire Imus and elevated Stringer into a more prominent national role as the national media decided to probe into the Imus "comedy bit."
Schiano and Stringer are two of the best paid New Jersey state employees. The next men's basketball coach will join them at the top of the Garden State's employees earning list.
Rutgers now needs to replace Hill and probably will hire an experienced coach and that coach will have to more than likely break his ties with a college or university to take the Rutgers job. Big time college sports has an ethics problem. Schiano twice was approached by other schools while under contract to Rutgers but decided to stay although he did get a major extension and money upgrade from the school.
There is also something rather interesting about the Athletic Director Tim Pernetti. The Rutgers AD is not really an athletic guy. His background is television and to understand college sports, you need to understand how television has a great deal of leverage in college programs. After all, ESPN, CBS-Turner Sports, FOX and various regional sports channels are paying top dollar for college sports which really is TV programming not unlike American Idol or Glee or Dancing With the Stars or Oprah. College sports contests fill hours of programming needs.
Pernetti joined ABC Sports in 1994 and within two years, Pernetti was overseeing ABC Sports' relationship with various college conferences. In 2003, Pernetti left ABC for the new College Sports TV network and signed programming deals for the fledgling entity with numerous college programs. Pernetti joined Rutgers as the Director for Intercollegiate Athletics in April 2009.
Pernetti, the TV guy, understands the college sports industry. Rutgers is now a member of the Big East Conference but the New Brunswick university has the only big time college football program in the nation's most populated market, New York, and in the past other sports conferences have expressed an interest in adding Rutgers, not for the university's football and basketball programs, but for the market. Rutgers is an entree into the New York market. When college conferences go through the next phase of realignment to satisfy television and broadband needs, Rutgers can be a pivotal player.
New Jersey has an education problem, Rutgers has a men's college basketball problem that might have nothing to do with education and grade point averages and graduation statistics but has everything to do with wins and losses. Fred Hill is taking more than $800,000 of someone's money, whether it is state dollars, alums, boosters, sponsors, marketing partners or sneaker money or even TV money to go away. Hill would still be running the Rutgers program despite his shouting match at a baseball game had his record been 77 wins and 47 losses along with appearances in the NCAA Men's Championship Tournament.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics and Business of Sports" and can be reached at

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Sports and Arizona's Relationship is Going to Become Quite Complicated Soon

Sports and Arizona's Relationship is Going to Become Quite Complicated Soon

By Evan Weiner

April 24, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- Has Arizona once again risked losing the Super Bowl?

No, this is not about the Arizona Cardinals football team bowing to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the 2009 Super Bowl and returning to the “Big Game”. That is merely a game on the field. But off the field there is now a big question.

How will the sports world react now that the Arizona Governor Jan Brewer and the state's two legislative bodies have passed a tough immigration law? Could Arizona lose major sporting events like the Super Bowl? The National Football League is in the midst of the league's draft and probably will not get around to comment on the new Arizona law but given the very political nature of the league and how the league is very sensitive to the NFL's image, it is probably a good thing that Glendale, Arizona is not in the running for the 2014 Super Bowl.

The new Arizona law will go into effect sometime this summer assuming that there are no court orders to stop it.

The National Football League has a history of pulling a Super Bowl from Arizona and putting the political weight of the entity known as the NFL into a lobbying position. Arizona "celebrates" Martin Luther King Day as the result of direct intervention by the National Football League in terms of dangling a Super Bowl in front of voters. In 1987, newly elected Arizona Governor Evan Mecham's first act in his new job was to erase Martin Luther King Day from the Arizona calendar as an official state holiday. That decision set off a boycott of the state with entertainers like Stevie Wonder refusing to perform in any venue in Arizona.

Governor Mecham's reasoning was simple. The Arizona legislature in 1986 and Governor Bruce Babbitt, in Mecham's opinion, created the holiday illegally.

The National Football League, in an attempt to help the Phoenix Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill to sell more seats after he misread the Phoenix-area market following the move of his Cardinals from St. Louis to Tempe in 1988, awarded Tempe the January 31, 1993 Super Bowl. But Mecham's decision created a number of problems for the league, specifically the National Football League Players Association was not too keen on playing the NFL's showcase game in a state where a governor took away the holiday and the action was supported by Senator John McCain.

In 1989, the Arizona state legislature approved a law making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday but voters needed to approve the measure. In 1990, Arizonans went to the polls and rejected the making Martin Luther King Day a state holiday. Shortly after the voters said no, the NFL said no to Arizona and pulled the January 31, 1993 game from Tempe.

The Super Bowl allegedly pumps money into the local economy although in the Phoenix-area's case it is not as much as say putting the "Big Game" in Pontiac, Michigan or Detroit or Minneapolis since a good number of "snowbirds" vacation or spent winters in warmer climates like the Phoenix-area, South Florida or the Tampa, Florida area. What the Super Bowl does do is bring "high rollers" into town and the local community hopes that the "high rollers" such as corporate CEOs like a local area and will leave a piece of their business in the area and open up a local headquarters and create jobs.

That rarely happens but it is a selling point for the local group hoping to land a Super Bowl.

The National Football League after pulling the 1993 game went back to Arizona and laid the cards out on the table telling voters if they approved the holiday in a November 1992 vote, the NFL would award the next available Super Bowl to Tempe. Arizona voters approved the 1992 ballot initiative and five months later the NFL lived up to their part of the bargain and granted Tempe the January 28, 1996 game.

The next available Super Bowl is the 2014 game but Glendale and Arizona officials are not bidding for that event which is probably a good thing for everyone involved at this point. The NFL also holds a spring meeting once every four years or so at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix.

There is another real sports prize that could impacted by the new Arizona law. The Glendale, Arizona stadium, that is the home to the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and hosted the 2008 Super Bowl, is one of the 18 cities that has been proposed for use by USA Bid Committee in an effort to win the FIFA World Cup in either 2018 or 2022.

The FIFA World Cup is the biggest sports event on earth.

The new law will not play well with the FIFA delegates or some of the members of the USA Bid Committee which include Houston Dynamo and Los Angeles Galaxy owner Philip Anschutz, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, comedian and Seattle Sounders FC part-owner Drew Carey, former Goldman Sachs Vice Chairman (Asia) Carlos Cordeiro, U.S. Men’s National Team player Landon Donovan, Executive Director David Downs, U.S. Soccer CEO and General Secretary Dan Flynn, U.S. Soccer Foundation President Ed Foster-Simeon, Major League Soccer Commissioner Don Garber, U.S. Soccer President and USA Bid Committee Chairman Sunil Gulati, U.S. Women’s National Team former player Mia Hamm, Walt Disney Company President and CEO Robert Iger, former U.S. Secretary of State Dr. Henry Kissinger, New England Revolution and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Motion Picture Director Spike Lee, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, University of Miami President Donna Shalala, ESPN Executive Vice President for Content John Skipper, Univision CEO Joe Uva and Washington Post CEO and Publisher Katharine Weymouth.

The Glendale stadium hosted the highest attended soccer match in the state of Arizona on February 7, 2007 when 62,462 fans watched the U.S. National team defeat Mexico, 2-0. Will the new Arizona law put a halt to international football "friendlies" in Arizona featuring Mexican teams?

Major League Baseball might be keeping a close eye on the developments in Arizona. The Chicago Cubs and the Milwaukee Brewers are looking for improvements at spring training bases in Mesa and Maryvale for their teams. Naples, Florida officials have made an offer to Cubs ownership to relocate the team's spring training facilities from Mesa to Naples.

If the National Hockey League's Phoenix Coyotes remain in Glendale, the franchise's new owners could be to host the 2012 or 2013 NHL All-Star Game. Glendale was supposed to venue of the 2011 event but the club's bankruptcy filing and financial uncertainty forced the league to move the game to Raleigh, North Carolina.

The National Collegiate Athletic Association held a "March Madness" men's basketball tournament event in Glendale in 2009. Will the NCAA bypass Glendale because of the new law?

Then there is another issue. Will athletes speak up either in favor or against the new law? Athletes now tend to shut up on issues with the exception of a handful of performers like then Dallas Mavericks basketball player Steve Nash who spoke out against the Iraq War. Wayne Gretzky supported the Iraq War. Ironically Nash now plays in Phoenix and Gretzky coached in Glendale.

Arizona is a hub of sports activities. Glendale is the home of the NFL's Arizona Cardinals and the NHL's Phoenix Coyotes. The NBA Suns and Major League Baseball's Diamondbacks reside in downtown Phoenix. There is a NASCAR event along with golf and tennis events. Fifteen Major League Baseball teams hold spring training in the Phoenix area, there are major college football, basketball and baseball programs along with minor league baseball and hockey teams scattered throughout the state. The United Football League holds training camp in Casa Grande.

There is a belief that sports is the "toy store" of life and that it is just a game, an entertainment diversion. The truth is that the toy store yarn that is constantly spun is a lie. The NFL proved that in 1991 and 1992 in Arizona. There will be a sports reaction to the legislation signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer, it is just a matter of time before a powerful sports group reacts and it just might cost Arizona a big event if history is any indication.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and "Sports in Society." He can be reached at

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The NFL Draft: A Celebration of the Restraint of Trade

The NFL Draft: A Celebration of the Restraint of Trade
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 04/22/10 at 1:43 PM

(New York, N. Y.) -- Sometime after 7:00 EST on Thursday night, the celebration of something totally un-American, a restraint of trade, will start when the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams announce which player they want as the first pick in the annual NFL Draft.

Corporate America, everyday Americans and Sunday afternoon couch potatoes celebrate the NFL Draft. It is an off-season party for football fans. Once the season ends, the NFL’s worst team is “on the clock,” and a more than four-month long publicity blitz starts with the league’s worst team in the spotlight, as the talent evaluators from that franchise rate the best college talent ready to join the workforce.

It all culminates in the big party in New York, “The Draft,” a celebration of the stopping of the free market. But it’s all part of the sports package.

Normally, the best 225 college graduates can talk to a number of companies and businesses looking for their services and shop around for a job, but that is not the case for the most talented people coming out of college. The flip side is that the best 225 can look forward to making anywhere in a range of hundreds of thousands of dollars to millions annually during the life of the contract they sign. But the contracts are not guaranteed, and the freshly out-of-college players may end up with a really nice bonus, sometimes in the millions. But if they are cut or fired, they will have to look for another job in a relatively closed field with less than 1,900 positions, many of which have already been taken.

The odds of landing a full-time job in the NFL are slim for a good many of those whose names will be called on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, even if they are the top 225.

The NFL Draft is an accepted part of American life (as are the National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and National Hockey League drafts). But no one ever really questions the mechanism. In a few weeks, the non-football members of the class of 2010 will hit the streets looking for jobs. The graduates will be able to look for positions wherever they want, whether it is in Seattle, Washington or Dallas, Texas or Miami, Florida or down the northeast I-95 corridor from Foxboro, Massachusetts to East Rutherford, New Jersey to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Baltimore, Maryland and Washington, D. C.

They can apply for jobs and go for interviews and hope they get an opportunity and possibly leverage the offers. College football players have a slightly different entry into their profession. NFL teams begin scouting players as soon as they hit college campuses, although they know about the players from high school.

NFL personnel people watch them for at least three years (the NFL requires players to play college football for three years and be on a college campus; whether the individual goes to classes or not is immaterial, despite the presence of the Wonderlic test, which allegedly measures a players intelligence). The college football games are the SATs for NFL scouts. But there are other factors that go into deciding whether the individual coming out of college is good enough. The players go to what is called a scouting combine in Indianapolis in the final semester of their four or five year college career for interviews and to see what the player looks like in a t-shirt and shorts. The players also run a variety of sprints.

Then a team makes a decision and puts names on a list. Only 225 or so get drafted. The 230th-rated player has more bargaining power than the last few players taken in the draft. There are some really good players who aren’t drafted, and they can shop around their services and get more money than, say, the “Lowsman Trophy” winner, the last player taken in the grab bag. The NFL slots money for each pick, but the players in the upper echelon of the draft can negotiate a higher bonus, the money they can keep if there are fired.

Very few players can beat the system and play where they want. John Elway wanted no part of playing in Baltimore in 1983 and signed a contract with the New York Yankees to play baseball and used that as leverage to get his way and forced a trade to Denver. Bo Jackson decided to play baseball instead of signing with Tampa Bay in 1986. Jackson would eventually play football for the Los Angeles Raiders after the Major League Baseball season ended. Eli Manning didn’t want to play for the San Diego Chargers even though he was the NFL and the Chargers’ first pick in the 2004 draft and was immediately traded to the New York Giants.

There are just a few players who can work the system.

The “free-agents” or non-drafted players carry a stigma, though. They are “free-agents” and they have to work harder to get a permanent job. Just because a player is drafted, that doesn’t guarantee a permanent position.

The National Football League is what one-time NFL quarterback and the 1996 Republican Vice-President candidate Jack Kemp once called, “the gold standard” in the industry. There are other football businesses, the United Football League, the Canadian Football League and various indoor football leagues but, and this is meant with no disrespect, for football players getting out of college, that is like working at a fast food restaurant.

It is a job, but not the job they want. The UFL, CFL and other leagues might give some players a second opportunity,but NFL teams know within three to four weeks of the opening of training camp how many of the top 225 are legitimate employees. The NFL personnel guys make very few mistakes; the vetting process is pretty good. Most of the 225 won’t have a career that lasts more than three years.

The NFL Draft is a legally sanctioned restriction of the free market, as it is collectively bargained between the NFL owners and the National Football League Players Association. The draft is a celebration for football fans, Christmas in April, as each NFL team selects players that are gift-wrapped for the fans of each of the 32 teams and come with the promise of making the team perform better.

The actual draft in New York is a rather boring affair. The NFL jazzes up the proceedings with smoke and mirrors, literally, as there are video presentations and loud music while fans dress in their “Sunday” (most NFL games are played on Sunday) best complete with the colors of their favorite teams, uniforms and face paint. But the actual selection of players is a boring and tedious process with a lot of wasted time as NFL personnel directors, coaches and general managers’ fight with scouts in a “war-room” at the team’s headquarters scattered around the country. They call into league headquarters the name of the player they want.

On Thursday night, the heavily choreographed NFL Draft kicks off with a big “tailgate” party inside Radio City Music Hall on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. Of course, New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is not going to close off a major artery like Sixth Avenue, so the festivities have to take place inside. ESPN, with more people on camera than were available for either the Democratic or Republican Party national conventions, is capturing every nuance of the crowd as the talking heads assess the gravity of the situation. The NFL Network, also armed with an array of experts, provides another point of view although it is virtually the same as ESPN, just with different talking heads.

As the revelers revel, their thoughts will turn to the St. Louis Rams. Will Sam Bradford, the Oklahoma quarterback or will Nebraska defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh get the call? National Football League Commissioner will make his appearance; there will be a hush over the crowd. Bradford or Suh? Or will it be someone else?

It is high drama at the old building in midtown Manhattan.

Eventually the hometown Giants and Jets will get their chance. Giants fans booed the selection of quarterback Phil Simms in 1979. And then there’s the “J-E-T-S, Jets, Jets, Jets” chant that waffles through the building.

The three day affair leads to rookie mini-camp, which features the lower round picks and players looking to just get a chance to get onto the 80-man training camp roster as the top picks skip the sessions because they haven’t signed a contract. Then there will be the training camp “holdouts” with some rookies haggling for better signing bonus, and eventually the players gear up for a 16 game season.

But that takes place after the best three days of the off-season for the fans. The celebration of an illegal restraint of trade, made legal by two parties (the owners and players) with no relationship to the injured party (the incoming college grads, well not grads except they graduate the football system either after three, four or five years). Football celebrates a system that is really un-American — but no one really seems to care or notice.

After all, it’s only football.

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

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Major League Baseball's cable TV problem

Major League Baseball's cable TV problem

Tuesday, 20 April 2010 23:12


It is not very often that anything that comes out of talk radio is worth a follow up discussion but a rare nugget of information came out of the Colin Cowherd show on New York's WEPN on Monday morning.

Cowherd was in a discussion with ESPN baseball reporter Tim Kirkjian about the economics of Major League Baseball and how that the discrepancy between "haves" (the Yankees) and "have nots" (Kansas City, Baltimore, Cleveland) was widening. Kirkjian agreed with the host and said Major League Baseball is trying to increase revenue sharing between the "haves" and have nots" but Major League Baseball would never have a salary cap because of the players union.

But, Kirkjian assured Cowherd that the owners and players will address the issue during the negotiations for the next Collective Bargaining Agreement which will begin presumably sometime in 2011 as the existing players/owners accord ends in December 2011.

There are a number of owners, men who live and die in their "real" businesses as free market capitalists, who would like to see more revenue sharing or wealth redistribution from the big market teams (i.e. the Yankees) to the game's financially weaker franchises (the soon to be renamed Florida Marlins, Pittsburgh, Kansas City, Milwaukee and others) to level the financial playing field and allow teams like Cincinnati to bid on big ticket free agents.
The owners want more Major League Baseball socialism and that would start by forcing the Yankees franchise to pay an even larger percentage of "luxury" tax on the team's payroll than the Steinbrenner family does presently and those extra revenues would be sent to the most neediest in Major League Baseball.

Here is the rub with Major League Baseball financial parity plan. If baseball fans only were paying for a regional sports channel's bills like the YES Network or SNY, then Major League Baseball financial woes should be taken care of with baseball fans' money.

But, a lot of the dollars the Steinbrenner Yankees generate comes from people who have no interest in either the Yankees or Major League Baseball - about 95 percent of the subscribers - yet they have to pay for the channel anyway because of the 1984 Cable TV Act.

That leads to the following question.

Is it fair that cable money — which comes from non-interested subscribers from New Jersey, New York and Connecticut that should be going to the Yankees (and for that matter the Mets) and should stay in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut — ends up in the pocket of say the owners of the Florida Marlins, Kansas City Royals or the Baltimore Orioles?

The question of cable TV wealth distribution can be is easily answered.

In 1984, Congress passed the Cable TV Act, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan and assured the survival of ESPN, the Weather Channel, MTV, WTBS and CNN. Multiple System Operators (MSOs) were able to sign deals with cable networks and then bunch the networks together in a package and sell the package as one to cable subscribers.

Consumers had no say in what networks were thrown into the basic expanded tier but if they wanted a special channel, say CNN or CNN Headline News, they would also have to take ESPN, the Weather Channel and MTV. The legislation gave cable consumers three options. They could take the entire package, basic and basic expanded, just basic ... or quit cable.

ESPN would not be the business as it is today without federal government intervention. 
Major League Baseball teams were slowly moving games to cable TV in the 1970s and by the 1980s, all sorts of regional sports networks were popping up nationally.

The Boston Red Sox became a more than just a New England franchise because of exposure on WSBK, Channel 38. The Mets and Yankees were also up on the "bird" as both teams were seen beyond the New York area on WOR and WPIX. The Chicago Cubs became a national team when the Cubs ownership, the Tribune Company, went national with WGN and Ted Turner had his Atlanta Braves on WTBS.

Those teams started pocketing extra revenue and MSOs snapped up the stations has the games brought more subscribers.

(Major League Baseball denied the sale of the Texas Rangers from Eddie Chiles to Edwin Gaylord in 1986 and in 1988 because Gaylord planned to put Rangers games on KTVT, Channel 11 because there were too many games on national cable TV with the Braves, Mets, Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs. Eventually Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth worked with George W. Bush and put together an ownership group that would buy the Rangers in 1989. Major League Baseball has never figured out how to deal with television.)

It was George Steinbrenner who changed the game when he signed a 12-year deal worth nearly $500 million with Charles Dolan's Madison Square Garden Network in 1988. Dolan's network went from about 2.3 million to 7.5 million subscribers thanks to the Yankees deal and gave MSG a summer's worth of programming. Steinbrenner was able to use that money to spend on players and player development.

That cable TV deal put the Steinbrenner Yankees into a different economic class than the rest of Major League Baseball and MLB officials have spent the better part of two decades trying to devise a scheme that would somehow penalize first George Steinbrenner and his partners and now the Steinbrenner family for being in the right place at the right time and agreeing to the MSG deal.
Steinbrenner's Yankees lived up to the MSG agreement and then the team decided it would be so much better to own a network than have a rights deal with MSG. The result was the YES Network and virtually every cable TV subscriber in the tri-state area is paying for the YES Network whether they watch it or not because the YES Network made it to the basic expanded tier. There was one holdout for a while – Charles Dolan's Cablevision – but eventually YES was added to Dolan's MSOs.

Steinbrenner was just following a path blazed by Gulf and Western, an owner of Madison Square Garden back in the early 1970s. Gulf and Western established a hybrid sports and entertainment channel, the MSG Network in the formative days of cable TV networks.

Dolan started SportsChannel after the MSG Network debuted. There were other networks as well. In Philadelphia, there was PRISM, also a sports-entertainment hybrid and an entity that gave the Philadelphia Phillies some additional money in 1979 to sign Pete Rose. The Z-Channel in Los Angeles also played around with a sports-entertainment format.

The cable TV-sports teams nexus slowly took shape in the mid 1980s with virtually all of the teams in Major League Baseball, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball hooking up with small cable networks that planned to grown expediently. In some cases that happened and in other cases, the regional cable TV network struggled and was swallowed up by another entity.

Steinbrenner's Yankees just cashed checks in the heavily populated New York City area while the owners of the Montreal Expos failed. The Steinbrenners, the Wilpon Mets and Arte Moreno's Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim are raking in cable TV cash.

Philadelphia, Boston and Seattle are doing quite well and neither of the Chicago teams is hurting financially from their cable TV deals. Kansas City, Cincinnati and Milwaukee are not sharing in the wealth.

In the next collective bargaining negotiations, the "have nots" will go after the Yankees' TV money and for those who are unaware of just where their cable TV fees go, it might be worth checking with their local municipalities and find out if there are any clauses in the municipality-MSO contract that addresses the issue of whether local subscribers be distributed in other areas.

Cowherd and Kirkjian never did tackle the cable TV revenue issue. Nobody ever does, nobody ever thinks about it in Major League Baseball because they are entitled to that money under United States laws. The negotiators probably have no idea why they get the cable TV money they just know it is there.

Major League Baseball wants "parity" which really means socialism where are the teams are on an even financial playing field. The small market teams have been after Yankees TV money for two decades and the only legitimate argument those teams have is that they are half the TV show and that you cannot have a game which has only one team.

It is understandable that those teams want to share stadium revenues from attendance but there is something wrong when the owners of the lesser revenue markets want Yankees cable TV money when that money is coming from people who are totally unaware that they cable TV fees are being sent to owners in a different area under the guise of revenue sharing. That money should stay in the metropolitan area.

Evan Weiner is an author, columnist, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Is the Left Wing to Blame for Nassau County's Lighthouse Failure?

Is the Left Wing to Blame for Nassau County’s Lighthouse Failure?

By Evan Weiner

April 18, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- Are there too many left wingers involved in Charles Wang's bid to build the Lighthouse project which includes a renovation of the Nassau Coliseum for Hempstead Town Supervisor, the Republican, Kate Murray's liking? As implausible as that might seem and as ironic as that might seem as Wang's National Hockey League's New York islanders have a major problem at left wing, one very prominent Republican insider who has intimate knowledge of the Islanders-Nassau Coliseum lease for decades said there are too many left wingers involved in Wang's bid to gain approval from Murray and Hempstead to build the Lighthouse Project.

The “Political Wise Guy” does think that eventually Murray and Wang will come to some sort of resolution but the left wing problem is real. The political wise guy information came after a Quebec-based business knocked down a rumor that they were about ready to buy the Islanders and move the team to Quebec City on Friday.

As far as anyone can tell, Wang has not brought in the Republican's top left wing target, George Soros or There has never been affirmation that Wang and his developer Scott Rechler have the funds needed to complete the project or who are the financiers helping them. It is totally unclear how or why Murray and the Nassau County Republicans came up with the left wing excuse.

But the left wing issue should be part of the equation.

Perhaps Murray and the Nassau County GOP have looked at the supporters of the project which includes an awful lot of unions, academia, clergy and Democrats led by people like the Long Island Federation of Labor. Labor and education seem to be the mortal enemies of the both the local and national Republican Party these days. Wang looked like he has making headway with Nassau County, the entity that owns the land he is seeking when Thomas Suozzi was the County Executive. Suozzi, a Democrat, lost in an effort to win re-election to Republican Ed Mangano. Mangano has been almost Harpo Marx-like in his comments on rebuilding the Coliseum and the Lighthouse Project.

In the end, it is Hempstead that has to approve the plan, not Nassau County.

Neither Murray nor Mangano nor the GOP have ever used the "left wing" card until now but the Republicans in Nassau were not very happy when Suozzi changed the terms of the Islanders lease before he left office and gave Wang additional revenues out of the old white building that was located on old Army/Air Force base.

The highly influential Republican insider's should clearly put Murray on the spot. The local media should be all over Murray and ask a simple question. Is it true that Hempstead will not approve the Wang-Rechler plan because there are too many left wing elements surround the developers? The Lighthouse Project has dragged on for years now yet it remains at best a lukewarm news item for Long Island's major media outlets, the Charles Dolan-owned newspaper, Newsday, and the Charles Dolan-owned cable television outlet, News12.

(Disclaimer, I was a an Op Ed contributor for Newsday, along with the Baltimore Sun and Orlando Sentinel between 2001 and 2005 when the three papers were owned by the Tribune Company. Dolan's SportsChannel entity through his program director Michael Lardner turned down a television project I created in the late 1980s.)

Neither Newsday nor News12 are first rate news operations. Dolan purchased a newspaper that was laying off workers and cutting back coverage. The paper is a mere shell of what it was before the Tribune Company decided that it was not making enough profit and laid off reporters and other workers. News12 Westchester and News12 Connecticut specialize in police runs and don't do any in depth coverage of ongoing issues. Dolan's News12's subscribe to the murder, mayhem, sports, entertainment and weather theory of news and giving the people want they want. TV documentaries are not a part of the Dolan news game plan.

It is not likely that either of Dolan's news arms will go after Murray to find out if the Lighthouse Project is being held up by partisanship based on some evidence that two reporters the reassigned after complaints by Suffolk County Executive, the Democrat turned Republican Steve Levy who is running for Governor in New York as a Republican. If Newsday folded like a cheap suit when Levy balked at coverage, will the paper stand up to Murray?


But it is a job of a reporter to get to the bottom of a story and if the Political Wise Guy who was working on making the Nassau Coliseum profitable when the place was less than 10 years old without hesitation brings up the left wing issue, then there is a story worth pursuing.

By the way, Murray is a public worker and was hired by the people. She should be subjected to tough questioning if her boss decides he or she has questions of the Supervisor.

Politicians happen to work for people, people don't work for politicians. If it is true Murray is holding up the building process on political gamesmanship and not the merits of the case, she ought to be held accountable and that is where Dolan's media entities come in. Of course, there are many conflicts in the whole Dolan matter. Murray's Town of Hempstead has to renew Charles Dolan's Cablevision license to operate a cable company every number of years. Dolan has amassed a lot of power because he has relationships with virtually every municipality in Nassau and Suffolk County.

The Islanders franchise has never been about hockey. Hempstead or Uniondale where the Coliseum is actually located had some land and decided to develop an arena. The National Hockey League in 1971 was confronted with the news that a rival league, the World Hockey Association, was forming and the NHL decided to deny the new WHA a foothold in the New York City marketplace and "expanded" into Uniondale.

The Nassau Coliseum has always been a home for political patronage for Nassau GOP.
Nassau County Republicans awarded a no-bid concessions contract at the new arena to a prominent GOP contributor in 1972. The arena was a money-losing venture from the very start. The prominent GOP contributor was found in 1973 to have underpaid the county in concession revenues.

The GOP put their operatives in the Coliseum, gave them jobs and found themselves defending huge deficits at the new building.

The Coliseum was a dumping ground for political patrons.

Meanwhile the Nets and Islanders owner Roy Boe was underfunded and the basketball team was losing money. Ultimately Boe would agree to join the NBA with three other ABA teams in 1976 at a price of $3.2 million for the right to be an NBA team and then there was a $4.8 million charge for “invading” the New York Knicks territory. Boe could not afford the bills and sold his main draw Julius Erving to Philadelphia. Boe’s Nets would never recover from the merger and sale and Boe sold the team to New Jersey interests who moved the team to Piscataway, New Jersey in 1977. The Islanders nearly suffered the same fate in the late 1970s and were saved when a minority owner John O. Pickett stepped in.

Pickett’s team was aided by a huge cash infusion from the relatively new cable TV company, Charles Dolan’s Cablevision, and the team’s finances stabilized.
The Islanders franchise was a combination, GOP business and cable entity and Dolan was able to use the big money contract as a loss leader for his SportsChannel enterprise by pointing out to the various towns, villages and municipalities that enfranchised Cablevision in Nassau and Suffolk County that we had local programming nobody else did---the Islanders.

Dolan also hired political operatives---mostly Republicans—to help expand Cablevision on Long Island.

At the same time, the Coliseum was losing money. The Hempstead Town Supervisor, Alfonse D’Amato brokered a deal that gave Hyatt Management a five-year contract to run the Coliseum. The deal started in 1979 and D’Amato promised that the county would show a profit on the venue with Hyatt. D’Amato was wrong and the building lost money in 1979, 1980, 1981 and 1982. D’Amato was gone by 1981 as he was elected to the Senate. His successor Thomas Gulotta wanted Hyatt gone but Nassau County Executive Francis Purcell extended the Hyatt deal, the company was now called Spectator Management Group, through 2015.

By the mid-1990s, the Islanders franchise became part of a real estate package that piqued the interest of a New York City developer, Howard Millstein. Pickett sold the Islanders to Millstein and Steven Gluckstern in 1997 and the New York City developer planned to build a new arena on the property along with other structures. Millstein and County Executive Gulotta worked out a deal which fell apart at the last minute. Unofficially the word was the two sides could not agree on who was going to build the venue, Millstein wanted his people, Gulotta wanted his people.

Millstein tried to get out of the lease that gave the hockey team no share of parking and concession revenue. Millstein and Gluckstern sold the Islanders and the Dolan cable TV deal to Wang in 2000.

In 2007 Wang proposed the “Lighthouse Project” which would have rebuilt the Coliseum and developed the land surrounding the building. The project has been in political limbo since then and no one is talking right now.

But someone has talked, albeit off the record, a political wise guy in the know. Someone now has to talk to Murray and get her to deny that there are too many left wingers involved with the Wang-Rechler plan or if there is another motive in delaying, delay and delaying a decision on the Lighthouse Project.

There is something wrong when any political decision, whether it is made in Hempstead or Washington is caused by political partisanship rather than the merits of the issue. It is time someone asked Murray the question as to why the Lighthouse has been held up and whether it is because there are too many left wingers in the bid?

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator, columnist and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Talking Sports With Malaysia Prime Minister Najib

Talking Sports With Malaysia Prime Minister Najib

By Evan Weiner

April 17, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) --- When you talk about sports with Malaysia Prime Minister H. E. Najib Tun Razak, baseball and American football doesn't come up with conversation. There weren’t any basketball brackets to talk about either. Malaysians have different sports likes than North Americans. Najib has a large interest in sports as he was Malaysia's Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports and then the Minister of Youth and Sports. Malaysia is working with the Mobile, Alabama-based United States Sports Academy and T. J. Rosandich to position the country into a more visible role on the global sports stage.

Malaysia lost to New Zealand 2-1 last November in the qualifiers final for the 2010 (Field) Hockey Finals. Malaysia also failed to make the cut in 2006. Hockey is one of Malaysia's major sports. Malaysia also failed to qualify for the 2010 FIFA World Cup (in soccer). There is a 13-team Malaysia football (soccer) league. Formula 1 racing is a major interest for the government and for Malaysians. The Malaysian government is pouring a lot of money into Formula 1.

Upgrading Malaysia's sports program is a priority for Najib.

"We didn't qualify for the (FIFA) World Cup, so we will follow," said Najib. "We have a lot of soccer fans in Malaysia, in fact soccer is the most popular sport in Malaysia and the people are eagerly awaiting for the World Cup."

The FIFA World Cup is the world's most important sporting event, far eclipsing the Olympics. In 1969, a qualifier for the World Cup sparked a four day war between El Salvador and Honduras. The World Cup is a life and death experience.

In Malaysia, it is no different than most of the world. The World Cup takes on urgency even if Malaysia is on the sidelines. Malaysia has never qualified for World Cup play in the country's history. The national team has not done well in recent international matches.

"I guess we are realistic and our standards have not reached a level," said the Prime Minister. "But we are hoping that one day we will qualify."

This year's team lost a qualifier for the 2011 AFC Asian Cup to the United Arab Emirates in January and in three friendlies this year, the team won one, lost one and had a draw in another match.

Building a national football team that qualifies for the World Cup may take some time and require money. A bribery scandal in 1994 hurt the sport and it appears that Malaysians like watching European teams on TV. But there is more to Malaysia sports interest than World Cup.

"Football, badminton, hockey, golf and some of the other individual sports like archery, cycling, contact sports," said the Prime Minister."

Malaysia has a Ministry of Sports which falls with the policy of most countries in the world. The United States is one of the few countries without an "official" sports office. Funding for Malaysian sports comes from a variety of sources however it appears that the Malaysian government is the primary source of revenue for sports in the country.

The Ministry of Sports predates the 1963 formation of Malaysia.

The official history according to the Malaysian government explained the need to have an office overseeing sports. "The Ministry of Youth and Sports was incorporated in 1953 with the formation of the Culture Division under the Department of Public’s Welfare. The Culture Division was given the responsibility to handle all matters pertaining to Malaysia’s youth.
"Later in 1964, the Culture Division was transferred under the Ministry of Information. At the same time, a Youth Division was formed under the same Ministry to handle and encourage the growth of associations involving youth activities. A Sports Division was also formed under the Ministry of Information.
"The Ministry of Youth and Sports was only formed on May 15, 1964 in conjunction with the National Youth Day of that year. In 1972, the Culture Division was established and Ministry Youth and Sports was changed to Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports until 1987, when the Culture Division was transferred under Ministry of Culture, Arts and Tourism. With the transfer of the Ministry of Culture, the Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports reverted to its original name of Ministry Youth and Sports until today.
Ministry of Youth and Sports (MYS) was given the mandate to implement the policies of the Malaysian government, particularly in the areas of Youth and Sports development."

According to the official website of the Ministry of Tourism for Malaysia, "Malaysia is increasingly and actively promoting itself as an organiser and host to various world-class sports events and recreational activities with the aim of becoming a major sports tourism destination in the Asian-Pacific region."

Malaysia hosted the 1998 Commonwealth Games, Formula 1 Championship, the F1 Powerboat Championship and the La Tour de Langkawi. There are about 250 golf courses in the country. The plan is to build on those events.

"(Sports is funded) partly from the government, partly from sponsorship and partly from the general public," said Najib. "Every sport is considered high priority in a sense, if you are likely to win medals, then the level of support from the government is higher. If a sport is not doing too well then it is lesser. So we got three sources.

"One from the government, one from sponsorship and one from the general public."

Malaysia's annual budget puts millions of dollars aside money for sports. Najib is hoping the investment will pay off by making Malaysia a world sports destination.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and a lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business." He can be reached at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Could New Jersey end up with another NBA team after the Nets leave?

Could New Jersey end up with another NBA team after the Nets leave?

Thursday, 15 April 2010 12:39

An era in New Jersey sports history ended earlier this week when the New Jersey Nets National Basketball Association franchise played the team's final game in the East Rutherford building that once was named after New Jersey Governor Brendan Byrne. For the next two seasons the Nets will call Newark home and then it is onto Brooklyn — maybe.

Assuming all goes well with the arena that grows in Brooklyn, New Jersey will lose the Nets again. The original Nets franchise played in the American Basketball Association at the Teaneck Armory in the 1967-68 season and ended up on Long Island because the Armory was unavailable for a playoff game in March 1968. The team known as the New Jersey Americans never played a playoff game on the Island because the floor at the Commack Arena was unsuitable for a game and the team forfeited the game to Kentucky.

Basketball is a business; it may be called a sport but it is a business first and foremost.

Roy Boe ended up owning the old Americans, a team that transformed into the New York Nets, and was granted a National Hockey League expansion franchise in Uniondale. Boe never had the money to properly run the Nets and the expansion Islanders and things got worse for him after the National Basketball Association "expanded" and took in four American Basketball Association teams in 1976. Boe had to pay $3.2 million for the "privilege" of joining the NBA and on top of that gave the New York Knicks $4.8 million because the Nets "invaded" Knicks territory and Boe could not get access to NBA national television money (from CBS) for three years.

The business of basketball forced Boe to sell his best player and perhaps the sport's best player Julius Erving to Philadelphia for $3 million. The team left Uniondale after 1977 and Boe had to sell his franchise in 1978. Boe's financial problems nearly wiped out the Islanders as well.

New Jersey was the perfect place to start over for Boe and the Nets. A new arena was coming online and this building had some nifty new gadgets, luxury boxes and it sat a lot of people. People were used to going to the Meadowlands for New York Giants games and horse racing.

The new building was the lure for Boe just like the new building in Brooklyn was the target of Nets owner Bruce Ratner's affections although Ratner probably looked at the Nets' moving to Brooklyn as strictly part of a real estate deal.

The Nets' 35-year New Jersey run will end in 2012, if an arena grows in Brooklyn. But that does not necessarily mean that New Jersey cannot get another NBA team even though one-time New Jersey resident and NBA Commissioner David Stern about five years ago trashed New Jersey politicians saying "you blew it" when Nets owners could not get an arena built in Newark.

There is an arena in Newark now but more importantly there is also a regional sports cable TV network available that has limited winter programming that might want to spend big, big money to acquire some winter programming like a third team in the New York City area, namely Newark.

The NBA is not going to expand in the near future and the league could lockout the workforce, the players, in 2011. There are a good number of teams, including Bruce Ratner's Nets that allegedly are posting multimillion dollar losses that might be available for relocation following the 2011 labor negotiations if the owners cannot reduce spending.

Memphis could be one of those franchises.

With the absence of a new arena plan in Seattle, Newark just might be the best location for an owner looking to start anew. The city has a relatively new arena, there is the regional cable network, SNY, that has a lot of college basketball in the winter months but no local team as the Knicks are tied up with the Madison Square Garden Network and the Nets have a deal with the YES Network. There is also a corporate base that already attends NBA games in New Jersey that is unlikely to cross a tunnel and a bridge or a tunnel to get to Brooklyn. That corporate base will get used to going to Newark for NBA games and frankly, Devils owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek probably would work out a deal whereby an NBA team could do well financially in Newark as it is in Vanderbeek's best interests to fill as many dates as possible in his building.

Moving an existing franchise to Newark may not be a large problem as the NBA, unlike Major League Baseball, is subjected to antitrust laws. It would take moving heaven and earth to put a third Major League Baseball team in the New York City area whether it is in Northern New Jersey or Brooklyn because Major League Baseball is exempt from certain portions of the Sherman Antitrust Act. The Steinbrenner Yankees or the Wilpon Mets or both could say no to the idea and that would be it.

Major League Baseball is struggling to find a solution to the San Francisco Bay Area problem. The San Francisco Giants franchise has the territorial rights to San Jose and Santa Clara County, California even though those areas are much further away from the Giants home base in China Basin than Oakland, the city which houses the A's. Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff wants to move his team to San Jose but cannot because the Giants ownership group has the rights to the territory. Major League Baseball is looking for a solution. The solution will come when Wolff pays millions of dollars for "invading" Giants territory or if he wins an antitrust case against the Giants and Major League Baseball.

Wolff does not seem willing to sue Major League Baseball.

That is not the case in the NBA or at least seems not to be the case. San Diego Clippers owner Donald Sterling moved his team to Los Angeles in 1984 without permission from NBA owners. The NBA did block the move of the Minnesota Timberwolves to New Orleans in 1994. It was the last time a franchise shift was denied. Since then Vancouver moved to Memphis, Charlotte's George Shinn took his team to New Orleans and Seattle ended up in Oklahoma City.

This might all be moot if the anti-Brooklyn arena project people somehow stop the Brooklyn project. The arena was originally scheduled to open in 2009 and now the target date is sometime in 2012. Could the metropolitan area support three NBA teams? There is cable TV money available; the Brooklyn corporate money will be coming from New York City not New Jersey. The question becomes whether there are enough "customers" who are willing to spend big money for luxury boxes, corporate seats, in-arena restaurants and concessions. Owners want customers, not fans as fans tend not to be willing to spend a lot of money for tickets. Customers buying luxury boxes and club seats can write off 50 percent of the value of the ticket as a business expense. Fans don't count; they can watch the games at home on TV.

The NBA will have some changes after the next collective bargaining agreement is signed. Some smaller market team owners might decide to get out and sell their teams. That is what happened in Major League Baseball following the 1994-95 strike. Montreal was done and in the NHL, Quebec and Winnipeg lost teams after the 1994-95 lockout.

The NBA might advertise itself as a sport but it is really a business and in 2012 after the Nets are in Brooklyn, New Jersey might be a viable option for another financially failing NBA team.

Evan Weiner is a radio-TV commentator, an author, columnist and a lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Sports and taxes, a perfect marriage

Sports and taxes, a perfect marriage
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 04/15/10 at 1:21 PM

Today is T-Day — as in Federal Income Tax Day. The 1040s and their tax relatives have to be finished and sent to the Internal Revenue Service. But those aren’t exactly the only taxes that individuals will have to pay.
In the United States, there are all sorts of taxes that people pay that end up going to sports, and all of these “hidden” sports taxes are rarely noticed. The United States government has created tax breaks for corporations that buy big-ticket sports items, like club seats and luxury boxes, that allow a fifty percent write-off of the cost of the ticket.

The higher the cost of the ticket, the more corporate can write off, and that has a trickle-down effect on people who cannot write tickets off as a business expense. (Minnesota Twins fans have found out just what a new stadium means, as ticket prices are more than thirty percent more on average.)

The government has given big-time colleges and university sports programs a tax-exempt status, which means that college football factory schools that play, say, in the Rose Bowl do not have to pay taxes on their share of the revenue generated. Owners can depreciate players’ contracts like an individual taxpayer can depreciate a car.

Every day, it’s tax day for sports.

Some athletes even have to pay “the Michael Jordan tax.” In the 1990s, California lawmakers passed a bill that taxed athlete’s earnings for the days they spent playing in the state. There are similar taxes in New York and Philadelphia. Conversely, a good many athletes have moved to Florida or Nevada because they don’t have to pay state income tax there.

A myriad of taxes go to pay municipally built sports facilities. Every day, it is tax day as people pay restaurant, motel, hotel, car rental, sewer and water and other taxes to assist sports owners, whether it is in Florida, Arizona, Texas, Washington or Ohio.

In Pittsburgh, proceeds from slot machines help to pay for the new Penguins arena. In Minnesota, “racinos” slot machines at race tracks could end up financing a new Vikings football stadium. “Racinos” have saved the standard bred racing industry in Delaware, West Virginia and New York. The racetracks would be malls today without the casinos, but the casinos would not exist without the standard bred racing.
Americans love sports, even if they cannot any longer afford to pay high prices for games. But why aren’t sports teams held accountable for raising taxes to pay off the debt at municipally owned venues which, in many cases, has forced municipalities to cut services for the elderly, for education, and even for snow removal?

As Jim Bouton, the former Major League Baseball pitcher and author of the greatest book ever written about sports, Ball Four, once said, “Hey it’s our guys.” Americans love sports and their teams, and sports can do no wrong — even if the evidence suggests otherwise.

Politicians go after sports teams because they figure if their city is big league, then businesses that create good jobs will locate in their burg. The stadium and arena will be economic engines (that’s actually not quite true, since most stadium/arena jobs are not exactly permanent). Of course, there is no evidence that any of their assumptions true, but why let facts get in the way of a good yarn?
In 2003, financially strapped Pittsburgh elected officials, who had just opened a new baseball park and imploded the old Three Rivers Stadium even though there was still debt on the extinct building, were breathing a sigh of relief that an expected heavy snowfall fizzled out, and with good reason. They saved a million dollars for every inch of snow that did not fall. That was the cost of cleanup in 2003. They could not afford big snows because of cost.

In New York City, Mayor Michael Bloomberg plans to cut a large number of city workers because of a gaping budget deficit, yet Knicks fans, some of whom are facing the Bloomberg chopping block, are hoping that the Jim Dolan family-owned Madison Square Garden business can lure Lebron James with a contact offer of, say, $14 million a year. That would roughly be equal to the Garden’s property tax value, if the Dolan’s were paying property tax on the building.

Because one of the Garden’s previous owners, Sumner Redstone and Gulf and Western, somehow convinced New York politicians that the Knicks and the National Hockey League Rangers were no longer financially viable in Manhattan and had to move, New York City and New York State waived collecting property taxes on a piece of valuable Manhattan real estate between Seventh and Eighth Avenue and 31st and 33rd Streets.
Most major markets, mid-size markets and a good number of smaller markets around the country are subsidizing sports enterprises. Louisiana politicians in 2002 decided to hand New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson some $186 million over a nine year period as thanks for not moving his football from the Crescent City. Benson will get two more stipends, each for about $23 million, in July 2010 and in July 2011. Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal and Benson recently renegotiated a new deal that cuts the amount of the stipend and caps the handout at $6 million a year under a new lease arrangement, but Benson gets a building near the stadium which he will renovate and then rent out to the state, which will move offices into that building. Benson will also build an entertainment center around the Superdome, which officials think will be an economic engine.

The state will continue paying Benson, but the rules have changed a bit. Benson will become a major real estate developer, thanks to the new deal, and he stands to make a great deal of money. If the money does not materialize, he will get a state handout.

In Glendale, local officials are trying to keep the Phoenix (soon to be called the Glendale or Arizona) Coyotes in the city-built arena. Glendale has approved a lease agreement with a potential Coyotes owner, Chicago White Sox and Bulls front man Jerry Reinsdorf. Reinsdorf’s group is expecting vast subsidies from a financially challenged Glendale, and Glendale seems to be willing to work out deals that would make sure that the National Hockey League team would get generous revenue streams to keep the team in the arena. The Goldwater Institute is looking into blocking the Glendale-Reinsdorf deal.

In nearby Mesa, officials are trying to reach a deal that would keep the Chicago Cubs in the city for spring training after the team’s lease expires in a couple of years. A proposal to charge an additional tax on the sale of tickets at “Cactus League” or spring training games in Arizona was met with stiff resistance from the other teams that train in the Phoenix area. But Arizona politicians are looking for other tax schemes to keep the Cubs in Mesa, including tax increment financing.
In Maryvale, Arizona, local elected officials know the Milwaukee Brewers deal with the city to use the city’s facility for spring training is done in two years, and city officials know that they will have to come up with a financial plan to keep the team in Maryvale or the franchise will be gone, possibly to Phoenix, where the Oakland A’s facility needs an upgrade. Phoenix is broke, though, and the Arizona Sports and Tourism Authority is facing an economic shortfall of $10 million.

The federal government is the backbone of sports in the United States. Because of a loophole in the Tax Act of 1986, municipalities can only use eight percent of the revenues generated inside of a publicly funded facility to pay down the hundreds of millions of dollars worth of debt. Other deals that have been cut with sports owners include hikes in water taxes, sewer taxes, car rental taxes, hotel and motel taxes and restaurant taxes to build new or renovate old facilities. There was even a “sin tax” in Cleveland to build a new baseball park, with some of the funding coming from a sales tax hike on cigarettes and alcohol.

You name it; politicians will tax it for sports facilities.

Cable television provides yet another revenue stream. Because of the Cable Television Act of 1984, many people are totally unaware that they are supporting sports through cable fees. The legislation signed by President Ronald Reagan created something of a socialist cable television apparatus, in which everyone who buys into the basic expanded tier of television also pays for all the channels on the tier and supplements sports networks like ESPN – whether they watch the channel or not.

That legislation has enabled ESPN (and others) to become financially successful without worrying about advertising support. In turn, ESPN, TNT, Versus and regional sports cable networks are paying billions of dollars in sports fees to various leagues and teams, with just a fraction of their 95 million subscribers actually watching the product.

It’s one of many ways that the government is aiding sports. It is not quite taxation without representation — in fact, it’s not even quite taxation — but the mechanisms allow sports owners to generate revenues that go to pay athletes, managers, and coaches and allow college programs to pay millions of dollars for football and basketball coaches.

This week is tax week, but it is always tax day in the United States for sports. Without taxes, big time sports in the America would have been downsized a long, long time ago.

Evan Weiner is an author, columnist, lecturer and radio/TV commentator on the “Politics of Sports Business.”

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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

UFL Downsizes to Smaller Markets

UFL Downsizes to Smaller Markets

By Evan Weiner

April 13, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) --- The United Football League might have once had lofty goals to provide a rival to the National Football League but reality has set in. The UFL is at best an independent minor league that grooms a few players for spots on NFL rosters. The league will add a fifth team with Omaha joining Hartford, Sacramento, Las Vegas and Orlando. None of those cities are major markets and if the league is to survive, it is probably better for the organizers and owners to be in those cities rather than New York and San Francisco, two metropolitan areas that apparently had very little interest in the UFL in 2009.

Hartford, Las Vegas, Omaha, Orlando and Sacramento are not going to get the league a major TV contract. In 2009, Versus and Mark Cuban's HDNet were the league's TV partners. A league needs a TV partner in the United States to succeed

In the late 1950s, television became an integral part of sports.

The National Football League became engrained in the American culture on December 28, 1958 when Johnny Unitas lead the Baltimore Colts downfield in overtime to beat the New York Giants. That game changed pro football and led to the formation of the American Football League. National Basketball Association owners also took notice of that game and the power of TV according to Bailey Howell who was a rookie with the Detroit Pistons in 1959.

“It was a period of transition because shortly after that they started adding teams,” said Howell of the NBA in 1959. “They added Chicago and teams were moving out of the small markets to the big market areas, Minneapolis moved to LA, Philadelphia moved to San Francisco and Syracuse moved down to Philadelphia so they were targeting the bigger markets and hopefully the TV revenue that would result from it.”

Major League Baseball was entrenched in the American psyche although most of Major League Baseball was played east of the Mississippi River until the late 1950s with Kansas City the most western outpost until 1957. The NBA and National Hockey went all of the map in search of markets to fill in the national footprint gap that TV demanded.

The American Basketball Association and the World Hockey Association never did get network TV deals. The World Football League had Eddie Einhorn's ad hoc network in 1974 but was a miserable failure because WFL owners did not have money. The United States Football League overspent for players in 1983 and did have significant TV deals with ABC and ESPN. The league made two gigantic mistakes after the first season. USFL owners accepted Donald Trump's money and reputation as a media darling after he purchased the New Jersey generals from Walter Duncan and the league expanded by six teams to cover the financial losses generated by the 12 owners in 1983.

Trump spent and somehow persuaded league owners to switch to a fall schedule which was strategy the killed the league. The USFL did win an antitrust suit against the NFL but the jury awarded Trump and his associates a dollar which was triple in an antirust case.

Other leagues have come and gone since the Trump-led debacle.

The United Football League originally was supposed to launch in 2008 but economic concerns long before the economic crash of September 2008 scrubbed the 2008 plan.

The UFL, at this time last year, was looking at Monterey, Mexico and Los Angeles as expansion sites for 2010. The league also was looking at six to eight to 10 teams and figured on losing $24 million in the first year of operation playing a six week schedule and a championship game. That was before the first kickoff last October.

That business model has changed. Hartford has a stadium and a business community that claimed it was eager for a "big league" team. But a one game trial run in the city last year was met with indifference. Sacramento had a Canadian Football League between 1993 and 1994 but there wasn't much fan support and the team moved to San Antonio.

Las Vegas is still in the league but there was a general indifference to the league champions in the Nevada city in 2009. Orlando, a team owned by the Tampa Bay Rays, is also back but the franchise received a blow when city officials scaled down Citrus Bowl renovations because there is not enough funding to go around for the new Orlando Magic arena and other projects that were part of the new arena plan.

Omaha is an interesting choice. It may be far enough off the beaten path from University of Nebraska football that it might not be totally swallowed up by the Cornhuskers. Omaha has a minor league baseball team, but there is no other professional sports team in the city with the departure of an American Hockey League team in 2007. Omaha did serve as a home for the NBA's Kansas City Kings between 1972 and 1975.

The UFL has a tight salary structure and will not compete with the NFL for players. The league served a useful purpose in 2009 as players got some game experience under the tutorage of veteran NFL coaches like Dennis Green, Jim Fassel, Ted Cottrell and Jim Haslett. Cottrell is gone, replaced by another long time NFL coach Chris Palmer in Hartford.

The UFL will probably add another team soon, but it will not be in a major market. The league has made a decision to go where they might have a chance to succeed. There is no point in competing in New York, Los Angeles (even without an NFL franchise), Chicago and other top ten markets.

At one time, the UFL might have had teams in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, the top three markets along with Detroit so that they could capture automakers marketing dollars. Those days are gone. The UFL is now in secondary markets and that might not even be enough to keep the enterprise going in the long term even with strict budgets.

Evan Weiner is a radio-TV commentator, author, lecturer on the "Politics of Sports Business and can be reached at

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Minnesota and Glendale Lawmakers Inch Closer to New Sports Deals

Minnesota and Glendale Lawmakers Inch Closer to New Sports Deals

By Evan Weiner

April 8, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- Local governments and sports teams have a partnership; there is no getting around that. In cash-strapped states like Arizona and Minnesota, elected officials are trying to figure out the best way to go in keeping local franchises put. Glendale, Arizona has a relatively new, publicly financed, arena that houses a bankrupt National Hockey League franchise, the Phoenix Coyotes.

Now Glendale is weighing two proposals from Coyotes suitors who would purchase the team and keep the franchise in Glendale.

In the St. Paul, Minnesota statehouses, it appears that lawmakers are warming up to some sort of deal to build the National Football League's Minnesota Vikings a new facility so that Vikings owner Zygi Wilf can utilize revenue streams that an unavailable from the Minneapolis-based Metrodome, to help fund the team.

Government support for athletic facilities stretches out over six decades with Oakland officials back in 1944 thinking of using public money to build a stadium. The real breakthrough in government support of professional sports franchises came in 1950 when Milwaukee elected officials decided to build a new stadium with public funding that they hoped would attract a Major League Baseball team and keep the Green Bay Packers playing a portion of the team's NFL schedule in town. The gambit paid off as Milwaukee officials enticed Boston Braves owner Lou Perini to move his Braves in March 1953 just a few weeks prior to the season. The stadium was enough of a lure to keep the Green Bay Packers.

Perini made a ton of money in Milwaukee and it got Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley to worry that Brooklyn would not be able to compete with Milwaukee financially. O’Malley would eventually take an offer from Los Angeles and move his team from Brooklyn even though O’Malley’s Dodgers led the National League in revenue in 1957, the final year O’Malley had a team in Brooklyn.

Perini's move started sports free agency long before an arbitrator gave Dave McNally and Andy Messersmith free agency in baseball in 1975. Owners decided to play city against city in an effort to get the best stadium or arena deal available, and the 1986 Tax Act poured gasoline on smoldering flames as the new law restricted the amount of revenue generated inside an athletic facility that went off to pay the public debt on a municipally funded stadium to just eight cents on every dollar.

Major League Baseball expanded to Denver, Miami, Phoenix and St. Petersburg and moved the Montreal Expos to Washington. Virtually every team in Major League Baseball got a new or renovated facility with the exception of Oakland.

Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff is looking to move his team with San Jose the object of his affection after flirting with Fremont, California near San Jose.

The National Football League got a publicly financed stadium in Jacksonville and expanded into that city while Jerry Richardson built a privately funded facility in Charlotte using personal seat licenses to fund the stadium.

Richardson's stadium created another monster. People had to buy a seat license and then buy a ticket to use the seat.

Wilf is one of the last of the NFL owners who has not taken advantage of government money to build a "factory" for his business. Wilf may have state legislators and Minnesota Governor Tim Pawlenty over a barrel in his quest for a new facility. The state has spent hundreds of millions of dollars in the past few years for a new baseball stadium for the Twins and a new facility for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers using various taxes to fund the venues. Wilf's Metrodome deal with the state is up after the 2011 season and there is a possibility that Wilf could use the possible construction of a new stadium east of Los Angeles as leverage in his battle to get a new Vikings stadium somewhere in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area.

Wilf is not the only NFL owner looking for public funding. The York family, the owners of the San Francisco 49ers, is hoping that Santa Clara, California voters will look favorably at them and give them a new stadium in a June vote. Should that fail, look for both Oakland and San Francisco to start wooing the Yorks again and might ask Al Davis to join the Yorks and put his Oakland Raiders in a new stadium. The Buffalo Bills/New York State lease in Orchard Park is up after the 2012 season.

Wilf, the Yorks, Al Davis and possibly Wayne Weaver in Jacksonville have limited options though. Weaver’s Jaguars franchise is struggling to sell seats at Jacksonville’s stadium and there is no stadium available in LA equipped to handle the NFL's needs at this point. Ralph Wilson has sold a number of Bills home games to Toronto through the 2012 season. Toronto does not have a "suitable" NFL facility but there is a lot of money on Bay Street and the NFL knows that.

Meanwhile there seems to be action in Glendale regarding the sale of the Coyotes. Glendale has memoranda of understanding with two groups vying to but the bankrupt franchise, Ice Edge Holdings and the group led by Chicago White Sox and Bulls owner Jerry Reinsdorf. Although the National Hockey League has the final say on the future owner of the Coyotes, Glendale apparently feels uncomfortable that the city can go ahead with an agreement. Whatever the final deal is, Glendale will have to make major concessions to keep the team skating in the arena. Glendale plans to hold a public hearing on the matter on April 13.

Many cities, counties and state governments have used a variety of mechanisms to attract and keep sports teams including payment in lieu of taxes instead of full property tax payment or tax incremental funding or creating special tax districts around a facility whereby an owner keeps all of the taxes that would normally flow into municipal coffers. Cities, counties and states have assumed the responsibility of paying off the entire cost of a stadium and in one case, New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson was given a cash payment in exchanging for keeping his Saints in the New Orleans Superdome. In July, Benson will get a $23 million check from Louisiana as a thank you for sticking around as part of a $186 million bailout between 2002 and 2010. Benson and the state crafted a new deal that substantially reduces Louisiana's annual payment but Benson gets to own an office building near the Superdome that will house state government offices and create an entertainment zone around the Superdome in exchange. Benson will get Louisiana money but not a straight handout starting in 2011.

New arenas do not mean success however. Memphis and Charlotte are prime examples of financial failures in the NBA despite new surroundings and the Phoenix Coyotes have a poor financial legacy.

But sports leagues are monopolies and city, county and state officials like being branded “Big League.” It takes a long time for a city to replace a team in most circumstances with Cleveland being a lone exception. The NFL got a municipally funded stadium agreement with Cleveland Mayor Michael White not long after Browns owner announced that he was taking his team to Baltimore for the 1996 season in the fall of 1995. Cleveland threatened to sue the NFL and by February 1996 a plan was worked out and the NFL "expanded" into Cleveland in 1999. Cities that lose teams seemingly are punished and eventually work their way back in but that is a long and expensive process which is why Glendale officials and lawmakers in Minnesota are looking to resolve their situations and keep the teams. It is cheaper to keep them now than going after replacement teams in the future.

Evan Weiner is an author, lecturer and radio-TV journalist on the "Politics of Sports Business."

Monday, April 5, 2010

St. John’s Spends Millions on a Basketball Coach While New York City Catholic Schools Close Due to Money Problems

St. John’s Spends Millions on a Basketball Coach While New York City Catholic Schools Close Due to Money Problems

By Evan Weiner

April 5, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- Last Wednesday, the New York Daily News celebrated the St. John’s University hiring of a new basketball coach not only with stories splashed inside the sports section but with banner headlines on both the front and back page of Mort Zuckerman’s tabloid. The front-page headline was about the new coach’s wife, the actress Mary Ann Jarou. Apparently according to the world of Zuckerman, Mary Ann Jarou will be a big enough star that she will be able to be St. John’s secret weapon in recruiting. Rupert Murdoch’s New York Post also had a big headline on the back page of the paper.

The St. John’s coaching situation had been very troublesome for both tabloids and the two New York sports talk radio stations. The school, which is a private Catholic university, just didn’t have a good basketball team and that caused concern. More concern than the announcement that by the Archdiocese of New York that two Catholic schools in the city could shut their doors at the end of the school year. Tuitions hikes at colleges along with student fees seem to be going up at New York State schools while the schools continue to cut back which is not atypical across the country as politicians slash educational budgets to make up for the economic downturn but educational woes don’t seem to resonant as much as college basketball.

The New York media wants college basketball in the city to be relevant again and has thrown down the gauntlet. They demanded that the bigwigs at the two Catholic schools hire top of the shelf coaches and make college basketball an event like it was back in the 1930s and 1940s or in the 1980s at St. John’s. They want a wreck of an old building, the new Madison Square Garden on top of what is left of the old time gorgeous Penn Station, to come alive like the defunct Madison Square Garden (on Eighth Avenue between 49th and 50th Streets) where college basketball made a mark decades ago.

To be fair, St. John’s has nothing to do with the Archdiocese of New York and the what has become annual closing of Catholic schools in the city, yet the St. John’s signing of Lavin to a multiyear, multimillion dollar contract to coach about 40 basketball games a year and be the top paid St. John’s employee seem to validate lines about education and sports that were blurted out by Groucho Marx as Professor Qunicy Adams Wagstaff in the 1932 movie Horse Feathers, written by the satirist S. J. Perlman along with Will B. Johnstone, Bert Kalmar, Harry Ruby and Arthur Sheekman. Wagstaff is Huxley College’s new president and has to build a football team knowing that Huxley has not won a game since 1888. Wagstaff’s son Frank, who has attended Huxley for 12 years, suggests that dad should go out and recruit two top professional players to aid the school, not unlike all the advice that the tabloids and sports talk radio yakkers were giving to the St. John’s administration. In this case, the tabloids and yakkers suggested that it was time to get serious and pay millions to a coach so that the Johnnie’s would re-emerge as a top basketball playing school.

You can almost fill in the blanks and substitute St. John’s for Huxley in one of Wagstaff’s complaints. And I say to you that this college is a failure. We are neglecting football (basketball) for education.”

At a faculty meeting Wagstaff tells the assembled multitude that Huxley cannot afford having both a football team and a college and one will have to go.

“Tomorrow we start tearing down the college,” Wagstaff announced. The professors speaking all at once ask, “Where will the students sleep?” Wagstaff replies. “Where they always sleep. In the classrooms.”

Wagstaff, of course, does not recruit the top players around and instead ends up with Baravelli (the iceman/bootlegger) and Pinky (the dog catcher). St. John’s apparently missed out on their top choice or a St. John’s booster’s first choice, Florida’s Billy Donovan and the school’s fallback guy in Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt. But the school did land Lavin who has not coached since he was let go by UCLA in 2003.

At least the school did not poach another school’s under contract coach which, of course, is a common practice in college basketball.

Lavin’s salary will be paid from a variety of sources including the school, sneaker company, boosters and television. Lavin will also have to be a bit shady if a line in a New York Times sports story is correct.

An Amateur Athletic Union coach in New York told the Times that whoever coaches St. John’s better “bend the rules or something” to be successful.

Bend the rules or something could mean boosters paying players, altering school transcripts or having other people take tests for potential recruits. Coaches sign up with sneaker companies who go after junior high school players and put them through various camps and somehow those players end up at the sneaker-sponsored school. It is not clear what sneaker company will own Lavin yet but one of them will and Lavin’s players will wear that sneaker company’s product. That is how it is in big time college sports or else. Michael Jordan’s son Marcus wore NIKE shoes while playing for the University of Central Florida which was an adidas school. Jordan was more loyal to his father and NIKE and adidas dropped the $3 million, six-year sponsorship of the Central Florida basketball program. The sneaker industry has a great say in college basketball. College basketball is a much different entity than the show CBS presents during March Madness.

That also comes as no shock to anyone who has ever come near college basketball. Kentucky’s John Calipari is one of the few coaches to guide two teams to the NCAA tournament as a number one seed and is the only coach to have a Final Four vacated at two schools, the University of Massachusetts and the University of Memphis. Despite the blots on his resume, Calipari is all aces when it comes to turning programs into winners.

Calipari can jump from school to school and break his contract like many others in the college basketball coaching industry. The players, the stars of the show who don’t even make minimum wage for the toiling, cannot do the same. If a player wants to transfer, that player would have to sit out a year and lose a year of playing eligibility. Coaches can make millions; the players have a salary cap on what they can make from outside work. The get a scholarship, true, but the players raise money for schools (which have a federal tax exempt status) and if a player is lucky and wants to work hard enough, they can get an education out of the deal.

Sportswriters moan when a star leaves school to turn pro after a year. That is the only leverage a student-athlete has. The ability to turn pro.

Lavin’s track record indicates that he might be successful at St. John’s and success translates into more money in terms of moving ahead in the NCAA tournament. The majority of college sports programs are money losers but that could be changing with conferences realigning for cable TV network purposes (and money), some conferences have formed cable TV networks which increases exposure and puts more money into the coffers and the National Collegiate Athletic Association is thinking about expanding the Men’s College Basketball Tournament from 65 to 96 teams. The increase in the number of teams involved has nothing to do with aesthetics and everything to do with trying to squeeze out more television money from someone, whether it is Sumner Redstone’s CBS, the soon-to-be Comcast owned NBCUniversal or Disney’s ESPN-ABC.

The thought of money flowing into a school is driving school presidents and chancellors at the big time sports schools in a frenzy to sign up big names to multimillion-dollar pacts. Seton Hall just poached Iona to sign Kevin Willard as coach. Seton Hall is the major leagues, a Big East team, Iona is not. Schools like Iona are training grounds for coaches looking to move up in the college basketball industry.

Coaches routinely break contracts and apparently that is fine with people who are supposed to be academic leaders like college and university presidents and chancellors and people on the board of trustees. Sometime you wonder whether these leaders respond to educational needs or the phalanx of people like boosters, television networks, marketing partners, luxury suite and club seat owners.

St. John’s has a big name coach with actress wife who might be a recruiting tool and that pleases sportswriters, the professional radio sports talkers, St. John’s alums, boosters, marketing partners and the guys who bet games. The private Catholic university is spending millions on a coach and his staff in order to win some basketball games while other Catholic K-12 schools are closing as enrollments drop and money becomes scarce.

No wonder college basketball’s defining moment every year is known as March Madness.

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