Monday, June 21, 2010

34 years after joining NBA, the Nets are still struggling

34 years after joining NBA, the Nets are still struggling
MONDAY, 21 JUNE 2010 08:14


On June 17th, 1976, New Jersey unknowingly got a National Basketball Association team. On that day, representatives from the National Basketball Association and the American Basketball Association signed off on a deal that saw four ABA teams, the Uniondale-based New York Nets, the Denver Nuggets, the Indiana Pacers and the San Antonio Spurs join the 18-team NBA. Two other ABA teams did not make the cut, the Spirits of St. Louis and the Kentucky Colonels.

The deal overwhelmed New York Nets owner Roy Boe who could not afford to $3.2 million entry into the NBA and then a $4.8 million additional charge that he would have to pay Madison Square Garden because he invaded the New York Knicks territory.
Ultimately Boe would move his team to New Jersey within a year.

In retrospect Boe should have taken the deal that the Silna Brothers of New Jersey were offering.

The Spirits of St. Louis and Kentucky were left out, but the Silna Brothers, who owned the St. Louis franchise, took TV monies and a $2.2 million a cash settlement for not applying to the NBA. The Spirits owners would get a share of whatever future NBA national TV contract was signed in perpetuity. The Kentucky owner John Y. Brown took a $3 million settlement. Brown used that money to purchase half of the NBA Buffalo Braves franchise. The rest of the ABA players were distributed throughout the league in a dispersal draft.

"I think they made a mistake," said Fritz Massmann, who stayed on with the Nets as the team's trainer and traveling secretary after the merger. "The ABA everybody worked together, every trainer could call each other and help each other out. We cooperated. We had one trainer who was in San Diego; they gave them 12 jocks and said that was enough for the year. We gave them extra jock straps; we tried to help everybody out. You got to help the people out if they were hurting. It was learning how to survive and we did.

"When they made the merger, we were at a trainer's meeting in Boston, they were supposed to take eight teams, at the end they took four. But I would have liked to have seen them take St. Louis and Louisville. It was exciting, it was something new every day. I loved the ABA."

Massmann was an ABA vet and had fond memories of the league, even the Island Garden days when the landlord Arnold "Whitey" Carlson would not open the doors of the building for Nets practices.

"I still call it the massacre," said Bob (Slick) Leonard who was coaching Indiana at the time. "The NBA didn't like us because we upped the ante for players and everything. We come in and they take away your draft choices, they don't give you any television rights, you pay $3.2 million in cash up front to get in. So it really was a massacre.

"But I look back at that and I say how good was the ABA when the merger came? It was really very good. Because the first year after the merger in the NBA All-Star Game we put 12 players on the roster."

The Nets ownership was not so fortunate and in a sense, the franchise has never recovered from the "merger" even though the team went to two NBA Finals in 2002 and 2003. Dr. J, Julius Erving, was the Nets best player and the ABA's best-known player.
Dr. J never played a game for the Nets in the NBA. The financially strapped Boe sold Erving's contract to the Philadelphia 76ers to make ends meet. A year later, the Nets were playing in a college gym in Piscataway. The NBA franchise was back in the state where it played in 1967-68: New Jersey.

Boe's other entity; the NHL's New York Islanders nearly sold their players to pay for the Nets entering the NBA. The ABA-NBA consolidation did Nets owner Roy Boe no favors. Boe was overextended and he had already pledged $4 million to the Garden in 1972 for invading the New York Rangers territory when he got an expansion franchise in Nassau County.

Boe had done the NHL a favor by accepting an NHL expansion franchise because it closed off a potentially solid market, Long Island, for the World Hockey Association. The new hockey league was established by the same people who put together the ABA.

Boe had helped the Garden, too, because the WHA's New York Raiders franchise rented the arena to use for WHA games in 1972-73 and 1973-74. But Boe found out that despite being part of the sports owners' fraternity that business trumped friendship and he happened to be in a market that required deep pockets, something that Islanders President and General Manager Bill Torrey said that Boe didn't have.

Boe had acquired Tiny Archibald from Kansas City after the 1976 season and started an ad campaign featuring Dr. J and Tiny. They never played together. Erving wanted an increase to $450,000 a season up from $400,000 and Boe held firm because a contract was a contract and Erving was under contract Boe didn't have the cash to give his best player a promised raise.

On October 20 1976, Boe sold Julius Erving to the Philadelphia 76ers for $3 million.

"I played with the Doctor in the summers and on All-Star games," said Archibald. "Sometimes you don't get to play with who you want to play with."
Archibald's stay with the cash-strapped Nets lasted one year. He would be traded to Boston and would eventually get to play with one of the greats: Larry Bird.
Rod Thorn was an assistant coach with the Nets, when Roy Boe sold Erving to Philadelphia. Thorn said he understood what had happened. Boe was facing a money crisis.

"He was a great guy, I worked for him when the Nets were on Long Island," said Thorn, now the Nets' president. "He was a great, great owner to work for. He gave you a job to do, he expected you to do it and he tried to give you all the means to get it done. I cannot say enough nice things about him.

"I was hired the same year Dr. J was, I was very fortunate to come in with him and I was also there when we sold Dr. J. Roy needed the money to come into the NBA and he had to sell Dr. J; he had no choice. It was terrible because Dr. J was such a great player and such a leader and had did so many things for our team and then to lose him and really not to replace him, I mean we replaced him with nothing.

"We lost one of the best players in the history of the game and got absolutely nothing other than money which is what Roy had to have to survive but we didn't get anything for it. It was a killer for our franchise."

ABA players made an immediate impact on the NBA. David Thompson was a first team All-Star while Erving, George McGinnis and George Gervin were second team All-Stars. Denver won the Midwest Division title and nine of the Top 20 scorers in the league were ABA refugees.

"I don't think it was very fair at all. But when you look back at it, we changed things a lot," said Leonard. "I felt at that particular time in 1977, that the NBA was hurting and really needed our players. Had our four teams been a little better negotiators, maybe we would have not been hit so hard."

ABA players stuck together through thick and thin. ABA owners didn't, however, with Denver and the Nets' Roy Boe jumping ship in 1975. But it was not until 1976 that Boe got his wish, an NBA franchise. Erving, who was the Vice President of the ABA Players Association, years later harbored some resentment to how the merger or absorption took place.

"It was more business in the NBA," said Erving of the difference between the two leagues. "I guess it was the transition, the expectations were greater, the platform was so much greater and generally when you have a vast platform, there are more good things about it, but then there are more negative things you have to deal with that we didn't have to deal with in the ABA. We were protected by the obscurity so our private lives where protected a little better."

For Dr. J, leaving his hometown New York Nets was strictly a business decision. Boe's Nets were in financial straits and he wanted more money.

"Coming off of the last ABA title, you are feeling no pain. I am 26 years old and individually speaking, anything I see anybody else do in basketball, I probably could do. But at 26, I still know there are a lot of things I don't know about," said Erving. "In going to Philadelphia, I sat down with (General Manager) Pat Williams after signing and he said, OK, I don't need you to come in and score 28 points a game. I don't need you to dominate; we have George McInnis here with Doug Collins, World Free, Mix, Bryant. We have a cast of characters, we need a piece that we didn't have the last year, we need more scoring but we need all-around play.

"There was a conversation about the role changing and I accepted that because it was a business move going to Philadelphia. I reached an impasse with the Nets, and it was either don't play at all or make a good deal and go somewhere else and sort of start all over. I was willing to do that. The transition physically was probably was not as difficult as it was emotionally and otherwise going from a team based in the suburbs to a city like Philadelphia which is a tough basketball city."

But Erving withdrew from the business of basketball. As the ABA's lead performer, he was center attraction, but he was aloof, somewhat, in the NBA.

"The thing I was saddened about was that all the players in the ABA didn't get a chance to play in the new league, the merged league," he said. "There were some pawns in the process and that saddened me greatly and had me stay away from the Players Association activities and even the Board of Governors activities because I thought those players got compromised and I didn't want to be a party to that. I had fought very hard as Vice President of the Players Association to get everybody in.
It was going to be all or nothing.

"Then the Nets and Nuggets applied for entrance into the NBA and that was the undoing of the ABA. It was really a sabotage. So that saddened me and that troubled me and I had my own form of protest for several years before eventually coming around. I didn't join the association in the NBA and I was vocal about that. I just signed a contract, played ball and minded my business."

"The best business aspects of the NBA were much better than the ABA in term of how it was run. I think there was a lot of innovation in the ABA and so many things have been adopted. Three officials was adopted and the three point line. They brightened up the ball a little bit. The NBA was that old brown ball league and it was dark. They lightened it up a little bit, they didn't go red, white and blue but they lightened it up."

Boe sold the team in 1978 to a group of New Jersey businessmen. The team would eventually move to the Meadowlands in 1981. Erving, while a huge name, was never the performer in the NBA that he was in the ABA. Erving gets his due but even after all these years, yet there is still a stigma about the ABA that lingers.

The NBA co-opted many ABA ideas after the merger ... or absorption ... or expansion that happened 34 years ago. Today's NBA owes a great deal of gratitude to the old ABA. But don't expect too many people to shower the ABA with praise. After all, the NBA did the best job the collective 18 owners could do to ruin the Nets franchise while lining the pockets of Irving Mitchell Felt's Madison Square Garden.

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

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Nets Basketball: First Newark, then Brooklyn ... and then the world

Nets Basketball: First Newark, then Brooklyn ... and then the world
WEDNESDAY, 16 JUNE 2010 22:31

So how do you push your way onto the world stage and become a global sports brand name like Manchester United, Michael Jordan and Tiger Woods? That is the question that Irina Pavlova will be attempting to answer in the upcoming months as she leads the campaign to make the New Jersey, soon-to-be Brooklyn Nets a player on the world stage.
The former majority leader of the United States House of Representatives Tip O'Neill joked that all politics is local and sports owners believed that all sports is local but that is no longer the case. Manchester United is better known as ManU and is a huge worldwide brand. ManU and other football (soccer) teams that have global name recognition but no National Basketball Association franchise is on that level.
New Nets owner Russia's Mikhail Prokhorov may be able to elevate the New Jersey, soon-to-be Brooklyn, Nets to that lofty perch but there is much work to be done locally whether it is in Newark or Brooklyn. Prokhorov's Nets franchise is scheduled to make a stop in Newark for two years before heading through either the Lincoln or Holland Tunnel and over either the Brooklyn or Manhattan Bridge or through the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel to the new Brooklyn arena.
So how do you make the Nets not only Moscow's team but Beijing's team?
"That's only the first step," said Pavlova, who is the President of Prokhorov's Onexim Sports and Entertainment, talking about her owner's purchase of the Nets. "We also have one of the two (NBA) Chinese players (Yi Jianlian) on our team that we are very excited about. I think really is no limit to how global the New Jersey Nets brand can become. I think Mikhail Prokhorov brings a new dimension to this team."

According to Nets President Rod Thorn, the Nets will be in China for pre-season games and will play two regular season games in London, England, which means the Nets franchise is about ready to enter the global stage. But again there is a matter of taking care of business at home.
"I think it is going to be a fluid process, it is not just three things we need to do get there," said Pavlova. "We have the move (from the Meadowlands to Newark), we have a very exciting summer ahead of us and I think we will look at it as more if you look at Michael Jordan or you look at Tiger Woods, there are both an international brand. I think our strategy is going to evolve around building the New Jersey Nets into something like that where the name transcends borders and cultures and countries."
The Nets franchise is moving. The Meadowlands is in the rear view mirror and there is a temporary stop in New Jersey before the migration across the Upper New York Bay to Brooklyn. Getting from point A (the Meadowlands) to Point C (Brooklyn) is not as easy as getting on Route 3 and hopping through the Lincoln Tunnel and turning to south to get to the Manhattan Bridge and then to the new Atlantic Yards building. How do you go from Point A to Point C?
"U-haul," laughed Pavlova. "Obviously it is a complicated process but it has been in the works for a while and we have a lot of support from a lot of our constituents. It is not easy but it is going to get done."
The Nets organization may have to go through three fan bases in the New York City area by the time the team is ready to become a player on the global stage. There is the fan base that was left behind at the Meadowlands, there will be an interim stop in Newark and then Brooklyn. NBA teams, along with those in all other sports, rely on a lot of corporate support. Will the corporate base that bought luxury boxes and club seats at the Meadowlands move to Newark and then will that money move to Brooklyn or will new corporate money be poured into the Nets and can the team induce the New Jersey corporate dollars to cross two tunnels or bridges to get to Brooklyn?
"We definitely hope our fans will follow us and that we gain new ones. We welcome everyone," she said.
The Brooklyn arena will be the fifth major venue in the New York area although it will be the newest one in 2012. There are plans to renovate the Charles Dolan-family owned Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, there are the two New Jersey buildings at the Meadowlands and Newark and the Nassau Coliseum out in Uniondale on the Island.
Chris Botta on his Islanders Point Blank website reported that the New York Mets ownership group, the Wilpon family (who are New York City real estate people), have brought in another real estate company – Jones, Lang and LaSalle – to kick the tires and explore the possibility of building an arena in Queens in the junkyards across the way from the Mets' new stadium.
Dolan's Newsday newspaper dismissed Botta's story but that property has been eyed by developers and once was mentioned by Donald Trump back in 1984 as a possible home for a new football stadium for his United States New Jersey Generals. Can six arenas in such a small area co-exist?
"To be honest with you, I am not following everything to same extent you mention, so I am not familiar with the Islanders situation," said Pavlova. "We broke ground in March (in Brooklyn), we are going ahead with it. So far everything is going smoothly and we are hope it will continue to go that way. We are planning to open in two years. So the season of 2012-23, we plan to be there."
How far into the building process is the Brooklyn arena?
"They're digging," said Pavlova.
The Nets basketball franchise has been around since 1967, first as the New Jersey Americans, Teaneck-based American Basketball Association squad then as the New York Nets between 1968 and 1977 in various buildings on Long Island and then back to New Jersey in 1977.
The team moved into the Meadowlands in 1981. Despite having Dr. J and winning two ABA titles in 1974 and 1976 and joining the NBA in 1976, the team has never captured the attention of the tri-state area like the Manhattan-based New York Knicks. Getting equal attention in New York has been a tough go for decades, so will it be easier to get global attention?
"I can't tell you exactly how it is going to go," said Pavlova. "Obviously we will have a marketing team that will work on that. It is not an overnight process but that's in the plan."
A Russian owner, a pre-season in China and regular season games in London could change the Nets perceived perception. People have a perceived perception of the Nets which is probably not deserved. New Jersey has had some NBA success but the Meadowlands and New Jersey have never been fairly compared to the Garden by the New York media even though Sumner Redstone once threatened to move his New York Rangers franchise to New Jersey and his Knicks to the Nets old Nassau Coliseum venue if he didn't get a break in property taxes and the electric bill at the Garden in the early 1980s. Redstone got both. Redstone had no problems with New Jersey for his hockey team but the New York media has never bought New Jersey or Long Island for that matter as the big time even though the National Football League Giants and Jets played across the street from the Meadowlands Arena and the Jets trained next to the Nassau Coliseum.
Again, it is all about perceived perception.
Rod Thorn, an NBA lifer who played in the league when teams were still moving from city to city back in the 1960s, would like to elevate the Nets franchise onto the global stage.
"I think that certainly is a lofty goal," said Thorn. "Something that we will obviously aspire to. We have a leg up by having an owner like Mikhail who is known all over the world and has owned sports teams before. That is something to really look forward to. I think our going to China has more to do with us having Yi right now than it does anything else and then we are also going to London in March to play regular season games. So, it is exciting, there are a lot of experiences that we are going to have here in the next couple of years and everybody is looking forward to it.
"Basketball is an international sport, teams play all over the world. So there is a base for basketball virtually anywhere. Pre-season for China. Two games in London."
Thorn started in the NBA in 1963 when the league barely had a TV contract, the NBA was not seen on national TV in the United States in 1961-62, and Chicago had just moved to Baltimore. Thorn was drafted by the Baltimore Bullets in 1963. Thorn also played for the St. Louis Hawks, a franchise that moved to Atlanta in 1968. The NBA of Thorn's youth only shares the initials NBA with today's league which is an international business.
"Not really," was Thorn's response when asked if he thought the NBA would grow into a global presence. "But during my time over there (with the NBA office between 1986-2000), the league really became more involved in international play with the McDonald's Open first (in 1987) and by participating in the Olympics and World Championships, so it happened while I was there, I didn't even think about things like that."
Now Thorn is running a team with an owner who plans to make the Nets brand a global presence along side of Manchester United and icons like Michael Jordan, Tiger Woods and Lebron James. It is all about getting the product in front of people whether it is in Moscow, Beijing or London. Prokhorov is planning to push the Nets onto the global stage which is so un-Nets-like.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Lawyers give love a bad name

Lawyers give love a bad name
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 06/15/10 at 6:41 PM

This is the kind of week in sports that lawyers love.
As the college sports map evolves, National Football League players question the legality of the NFL’s television deals with Disney Company (ESPN), General Electric (NBC), Sumner Redstone (CBS), Rupert Murdoch (FOX) and DirecTV, which promise that the 32 NFL teams will continue to get rights fees even if NFL owners lock out the players or if there are no games during the 2011 season.
And then there’s the case of the National Collegiate Athletic Association imposing sanctions on the University of Southern California’s athletic program.
The sports industry in the United States benefits from an extreme lack of public accountability. The people who cover sports – whether in print, digitally, on TV or on talk radio – have no idea how the business actually operates and, as a result, fail to report a large amount of standard, everyday business that would most likely upset fans were they to get wind of it.
But the U.S. is not alone to perpetrate this crime. The National Hockey League’s Phoenix Coyotes General Manager Don Maloney will tell you Canada is just as guilty.
Maloney, a Canadian who has lived most of his adult life in the New York City area, criticized the way the Canadian media covered his team’s bankruptcy and compelled fans to move the franchise back to the other side of the 49th parallel into Hamilton, Ontario and Winnipeg, Manitoba. And for all intents and purposes, Maloney’s criticism was justified. Toronto-based sportswriters acted more like welcome-wagon hosts than journalists in their effort to jockey the debt-ridden franchise to Hamilton. Most of the Canadian sports media wore its best red and white suit, complete with a red maple leaf lapel pin, when it wrote about the Phoenix franchise and deliberately chose to ignore the fact that the National Hockey League has the right to put a franchise where it desires. This basic business tenet was backed up by a Phoenix-based bankruptcy judge.
The Canadian media wants another team in the Toronto area. But as NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle once said as he stood on the witness stand during the 1986 United States Football League-National Football League antitrust suit, leagues are natural monopolies and the business does what it wants.
Meanwhile, hourly lawyer fees continue to pile up as the Coyotes franchise fate hangs in the balance. A group called Ice Edge Holdings is still trying to nail down a lease with the city of Glendale, Arizona, that would include the establishment of a new tax and bonding district around the city-owned arena and Westgate City Center. Naturally, Canadian sportswriters have derided the plan and Ice Edge Holdings’ alleged money problems, and have counseled Winnipeg residents to patiently await the Coyotes franchise’s return to the city.
Yet while Glendale politicians devise a way to keep the NHL Coyotes in town, big-time college athletic directors along with their presidents, chancellors and boards of trustees try to figure out how to squeeze more money into their sports programs. Football is the big money maker for college sports. But just how much money do programs need?
At Wisconsin University, Badgers sports is a $90 million a year business.
Basic math shows that 800 athletes each awarded $40,000 in scholarship money makes approximately $30 million, give or take a few million for “labor”. The CBS-Turner Sports deal is worth about $800 million a year to be split among numerous schools. But it’s not enough money to fund every school. Something has to be done.
College sports and schools need more and more money due to rising salaries, health insurance and travel costs.
And despite the revenue stream that comes to big time college programs – in the form of luxury boxes and club seats at the stadium, concession dollars, merchandise sales and marketing partners – the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow is being depleted through deals with and the creation of cable TV networks, such as the Big Ten’s partnership with FOX cable.
The Big Ten currently gives member schools an annual $22 million cut from cable TV revenues, but that could grow to a larger sum if the Big Ten Network reaches 60 million subscribers and charges two dollars per head. In order to reach the 60 million subscriber target however, the Big Ten needs a bigger geographic footprint than its Midwest-based business. The Big Ten has taken small steps in this direction by adding Nebraska (from the Big 12) and looking to add some schools in the east and south. The bigger the Big Ten geographic footprint, the more leverage the conference has in its ability to convince multiple cable system operators to add the network at $2 a month. Do the math: 60 million subscribers at $24 a year makes $1.5 billion, give or take a hundred million here and there to be divided among the schools.
That’s big money.
The pursuit of big money from cable TV is the reason why the Pac 10 conference hired Creative Artists Agency, a big time Hollywood representatives firm, to “advise” it on future expansion techniques. The Pac 10 didn’t miraculously fall in love with the thought of visiting the Colorado Rockies, nor did it develop a deep fondness for the song, “Deep in the Heart of Texas;” it saw revenue opportunities and went for them.
In the end, the promise of TV money from ESPN and FOX (coming from people with no stake in college football) kept the Big 12 going. The Big 12 lost Nebraska to the Big Ten and Colorado to the Pac 10 but kept Texas with the other nine schools.
A curious line from Big 12 Commissioner Don Beebe deserves some attention: according to a story at, Beebe said establishing “super” conferences could lead to “more governmental, legal and public scrutiny.”
Apparently the entire governing system of big time college sports wants to operate in a vacuum and wants to downplay things like schools being “tax exempt” entities when dealing with earnings for sports and possibly being forced to pay players for services.
Big time college sports programs presidents and chancellors have a single mantra now: find new revenue sources.
Cable TV is that source. Multiple system operators can make or break a conference. The Big Ten Network was a struggling entity until Comcast agreed to place the channel on the basic expanded tier on cable TV giant’s systems within the Big Ten footprint. Conversely, the NFL Network has never reached the heights league officials envisioned because the network has not been able to secure a basic expanded tier with Time Warner and Cablevision, among others.
The basic expanded tier is the ultimate goal for conferences that intend to bulk up by adding schools because simply said, that’s where the money is. The 1984 Cable TV Act, which was signed into law by President Ronald Reagan, not only ensured cable networks’ survival but made them thrive. The basic expanded tier allows multiple system operators to bundle channels they think consumers want and sell them as one group to customers. The basic expanded tier allowed CNN, the Weather Channel, ESPN and other financially struggling networks of the mid-1980s to grow even though the bundling was in clear violation of antitrust laws and all the tenets of free market theory.
The basic expanded tier lineup is decided by multiple system operators and does not allow the consumer to choose what he or she wants to buy. It drives down the price of each channel because 90 million or more subscribers pay for ESPN, CNN, FOX News, MSNBC or Comedy Central on a monthly basis. But the system also begs the question of whether it is fair for 100 percent of customers to pay for what maybe one or two percent watch. College football is popular among a subset of Americans that forms less than eight percent of the 95 million or so subscribers that form the cable universe.
The re-regulation versus a la carte issue came up before Congress in the spring of 2004. In the end, cable operators, sports franchises, and cable news networks scored a huge victory when Republican Rep. Nathan Deal of Georgia conceded that he did not have the support of fellow House and Senate members to introduce legislation calling for the re-regulation of cable television and giving cable customers the liberty to choose which channels they wanted to purchase.
As long as big time college sports make billions of dollars off of people who have no interest in the product, Congress will not change cable TV laws anytime soon.
The NFL gets a slice of cable and satellite TV money as part of the overall deal; and while it’s a significant share, a good amount of the NFL’s $4 billion licensing fee for TV comes from Redstone’s CBS, GE’s NBC and Murdoch’s FOX. Over-the-air networks pay for the NFL from mere advertisement while Disney’s ESPN and DirecTV get subscriber fees and advertising dollars. The National Football League Players Association is very mindful of how the NFL is funded and is concerned that CBS, NBC, ESPN, FOX and DirecTV seem to be willing to underwrite a lockout of the players in 2011 and line the pockets of the 31 franchise owners and the Green Bay with the usual nine figure license fees whether the league plays a game or not.
The NFLPA filed a claim before Special Master Stephen Burbank of the University of Pennsylvania on Wednesday, contending that the league took lower revenue from the five media partners in exchange for guaranteed money in the event of a lockout in 2011. The owners, in the players’ mind, have a war chest and can easily afford to lock out the players.
Some of that money is coming from cable TV subscribers who don’t care about football and have no idea that they are contributing to the owners’ war chest and an NFL lock-out.
In 1984, President Reagan and Congressional leaders had probably never even considered the possibility that the legislation would lead to a complete realignment of big time college sports and give the owners some money in a labor action. Cable TV subscribers are still waiting for refunds for missed games from the 1994-95 Major League Baseball players’ strike, the 1994-95 National Hockey League owners’ lock-out, the 1998-99 National Basketball Association owners’ lock-out and the 2004-05 National Hockey League owners’ lock-out which lasted an entire season.
No cable TV subscriber has ever filed a class action suit requesting a refund for missed games, probably because they have no idea how much they are paying for sports on ESPN, Versus, the NFL Network, the MLB Network (which is also owned by multiple system operators), the various cable TV regional sports that are owned by Murdoch’s FOX, Brian Roberts Comcast or teams such as the New York Knicks and Rangers (MSG Network), the New York Yankees and New Jersey Nets (YES) , the New York Mets (SNY), the Boston Red Sox and Boston Bruins (NESN), the Baltimore Orioles and Washington Nationals (MASN), the Cleveland Indians (Sports Time Ohio), the Colorado Avalanche and the Denver Nuggets (Altitude), the Big Ten Network and the Mountain West Network.
And if that isn’t enough, what happens if the Bowl Champions Series decides to strip the University of Southern California of the Trojans’ 2004 football championship? Will the NCAA face a lawsuit for defrauding ticket holders, cable TV and over-the-air TV networks along with marketing partners by admitting that USC cheated? Five years after the fact, the NCAA has declared that USC cheated which could mean that all games featuring USC’s football team between December 2004 and December 2005 were not legitimate contests. Does that mean that there is a chance that the college football record book would have an unusual line in the honor roll of national champions?
Although the Bowl Championship Series might vacate the USC championship, the Associated Press will not rescind the news organization’s 2004 college football champion (and why is a news organization handing out college football championships?). It’s the BCS’ right to do what it wants and the BCS may have a legal leg to stand on if the title is vacated thanks to a 3rd Circuit Court panel’s decision in May relating to the New England Patriots’ secretly videotaping their opponents’ signals.
New York Jets season ticket holder Carl Mayer, who is a lawyer, was seeking $185 million in damages for Jets fans in a civil case on the basis that the game’s outcome had been predetermined. Patriots coach Bill Belichick knew the Jets defensive signals due to his espionage. Mayer’s complaint centered on the New England-New York Jets season opening game in 2007. The Patriots won the game 38-14. The NFL fined Belichick and the Patriots for the team’s dishonesty and took away a first round draft pick in 2008. The whole issue was taken up by Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter who met with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell because of the enormity of the situation on the world stage.
Meyer’s case was thrown out by a three-judge panel in Philadelphia.
“We do not condone the conduct on the part of the Patriots and the team’s head coach, and we likewise refrain from assessing whether the NFL’s sanctions [and its alleged destruction of the videotapes themselves] were otherwise appropriate,” Senior Judge Robert E. Cowen wrote.
“At best, [Mayer] possessed nothing more than a contractual right to a seat from which to watch an NFL game between the Jets and the Patriots, and this right was clearly honored,” he added.
In other words, caveat emptor or let the buyer beware. You buy your tickets, so stop complaining.
It must be good to be a lawyer in sports these days: so many opportunities to make money on so many fronts. As George Young, the one time General Manager of the National Football League’s New York Giants, once said, “You show me a guy who says he is playing for the love of the game and I will show you a liar. It’s all about the money.”

Monday, June 14, 2010

Why WNBC and WPIX are ready to outsource their sportscasts to SNY

Why WNBC and WPIX are ready to outsource their sportscasts to SNY

MONDAY, 14 JUNE 2010 13:23


A recent story in the New York Post claimed the both WNBC TV and WPIX TV were talking with the New York Mets-Comcast-Time Warner owned Sports Net New York or SNY about having the two stations' sportscasts done by the New York regional sports cable TV network. The story is probably accurate even if it was printed in the New York Post for the following reasons.

Local TV news operations are being slashed throughout the country and New York is no exception. Sports is almost an afterthought on the various newscasts. The entire nature of the newscast should be closely examined. Just what is a local newscast? It can be boiled down to five words.

Murder, Mayhem, Sports, Entertainment and Weather.

Most local newscasts start off with some police story dealing with a murder or mayhem. A lot of newscasts spend many minutes either promoting or reviewing a program that was or will be seen on the same channel. The weatherman or weatherwoman is the house comedian, except he or she is not as funny as Soupy Sales.

Sports is relegated to about two minutes and consists mostly of Chris Berman or Keith Olbermann-types who try to either scream or tell jokes and one liners over videos of sports highlights. There is no real sports reporting by the "anchors." Just highlights narration. It was Olbermann who took one time Channel 11 sports reader Jerry Girard's one liners to another level. Girard is just a footnote in the evolution of sportscasts into jokefests.

News directors don't have much use for sports according to Matt Seyfred, a former Sports Director at WETM-TV, Elmira, New York who told a story about how his news director in Elmira felt about sports and how he expected Seyfried to broaden out his sportscasts in the early part of the 21st century.

"Research has indicated that roughly only 20 percent of local news viewers care about sports," said Seyfried who is a professor at SUNY Cortland Sports Media Department. "Eighty percent of our viewers don't care about sports — you need to appeal to those 80 percent--people like human interest stories."

Seyfried didn't agree with his news director about the 80 percent number. "Relative to weather, people care less about sports. Sports is a good balance to news, daily news is hard news tragic, negative, sports is about achievement."

Whether it is the largest media market in the United States, New York, or in Elmira, local sportscasters on over-the air TV stations are a dying breed.

The possible takeover of the two minutes sports slot on WNBC and WPIX newscasts parallels what was a seismologic shift in New York radio about a decade ago. WCBS radio dropped their sportscasters and outsourced the two hourly sportscasters, which lasted about two minutes, to Shadow Sports which also supplied WINS with newscasts.

Today, WFAN, whose parent company owns WCBS and WINS — New York's two all-news radio stations — along with other stations in the market, supplies WINS with one of the radio station's sports readers.

Both radio and TV have outsourced traffic reports for years to either Metro Source or Shadow Traffic, both entities are also owned by WFAN's parent company, CBS.
The average listener has no idea that WCBS and WINS outsources both sportscasts and traffic reports. It has been the radio model for years.

On television, Rupert Murdoch owns both WNYW (Channel 5) and WWOR (Channel 9) and both stations have the same news desks although there might be different faces on both stations newscasts. But Murdoch has not outsourced his sports desks. Traffic reports though on New York stations have been outsourced. In smaller cities around the country, TV stations have reached deals whereby the strong news operations in the market are doing newscasts for competing outlets which eliminates a major expense for the weaker station. In Philadelphia, NBC's WCAU, Channel 10 provides news for WPHL Channel 17. WPHL got rid of the station's news department in December 2005. In Elmira, WETM is part of a news operation that features two Binghamton, N.Y. stations, WIVT and WBGH.

Television newscasts are evolving.

In Channel 4's case, the possible deal between SNY and General Electric -- the owner of the license for WNBC — is understandable. One of SNY's owners, Comcast, is buying a sizeable chunk of NBC from GE and the cross pollination of the two companies could start with SNY providing sports coverage for WNBC. The station let go of sports reader Len Berman and his large salary and cutback on sports content during the 5 p.m. "newscast" and then replaced the newscast with something called LX New York.

The program features content featuring fashion, cooking, gossip, celebrities and general entertainment tales. The show seems more like the Kelly Bundy Show on Married With Children than a place where news is delivered and is targeted for suburban woman demographic. That demo is not a sports audience.

Should SNY and WNBC become partners what will happen to Mike Francesa's Sunday night show? Francesa's WFAN afternoon radio sports talk show is simulcast by SNY's cable TV sports competitor, the YES Network (which is owned in part by the New York Yankees). There is a subplot here, will SNY's management tell WNBC to boot Francesa off the air on Sunday nights or will SNY allow a person from a competitor to remain on Channel 4?

Francesa rules the roost at WFAN, so much so that the station's operations director Mark Chernoff cowers at the thought of getting Francesa upset. Chernoff is supposed to be the boss but Francesa's presence makes Chernoff tell prospective freelance employees at the radio station that they better not appear on Sirius XM's Mad Dog Radio because Francesa is obsessed with his former partner Christopher Russo and Russo's Mad Dog Radio and apparently there is resentment. Chernoff really doesn't want his freelancers and part timers to pick up any extra work on Mad Dog Radio for fear of incurring Francesa's wrath.

Chernoff isn't exactly dealing with Edward R. Murrow here with Francesa who is just a sports talkie, nothing more, nothing less although to Chernoff, Francesa seems to have come down from Mount Sinai. Will SNY feel the same about Francesa or just view him as a competitor?

The Channel 11 angle is a bit more cut and dried. Channel 11's owner, Sam Zell and his Tribune Company, is in bankruptcy. The station parted ways with veteran New York sports reader Sal Marciano a while ago and continues to make cuts to the news department. SNY's prime product, Mets baseball, shows up on Channel 11 every once in a while so the two entities have worked together. Channel 11's news like all other news has a tight two minute spot for sports and no one will notice if it is a WPIX employee or an SNY reader delivering highlights and scores.

If the radio model is an indication, the stations could trade commercials in exchange for the sportscasts. That is how traffic reports work on New York radio. The stations give up a number of spots in exchange for the traffic reports and don't have to pay the talent delivering the information.

Sports used to be an important part of over-the-air TV in New York. Both Channel 9 (WOR) and Channel 11 (WPIX) have long histories of doing baseball (the Giants, Dodgers, Yankees and Mets), basketball (Knicks and Nets), hockey (Rangers and Islanders) and college basketball. In the 1970s, sports began to migrate to cable TV and by the 1990s, a good many local over-the-air TV stations no longer had sports content. Cable TV gets revenues from two streams, subscriber dollars and advertising money. Over-the-air TV just gets subscriber dollars and that is not enough to justify going after sports rights fees. It was just a matter of time before over-the-air news operations began to ditch sports. In New York, both SNY and the Madison Square Garden Network have long form sports shows, in Southern New Jersey, Comcast's CSN is better equipped to cover sports than Channels 3, 6, 10, 17 (although Channel 17 news/sports/weather is really Channel 10) and 29. Phillies baseball is a major part of CSN. Not Channel 6 or 17 anymore although Channel 17 carries Phillies game on occasion, same holds true with the Flyers and 76ers as the Comcast owned teams are cable TV programming.

Over-the-air local television news is more and more operating on the cheap, WNBC and WPIX may replace their local sportscasters with cable TV sports readers, the questions are will anybody notice and will anybody care?

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

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Will the World Series of Boxing stem diminishing interest in the sport?

Will the World Series of Boxing stem diminishing interest in the sport?
WEDNESDAY, 09 JUNE 2010 15:57

Sometime this fall, probably in November, somewhere in some sports arena in Manhattan or perhaps Newark or maybe Uniondale and in 11 other locales worldwide there will be a sports experiment that bears close scrutiny. Boxing will become a team sports with four franchises in North America, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Mexico City, four franchises in Europe, Istanbul, Turkey: Milan, Italy; Moscow, Russia and Paris, France. There will be an Asian quartet, Astana, Kazakhstan, Baku, Azerbaijan, Beijing, China and Delhi, India.
Boxing, a sport that has seen better days in terms of popularity in the United States, needs to be rebranded. Long gone are the days of Joe Louis, Rocky Marciano, Muhammad Ali, Joe Frazier, George Foreman, Sugar Ray Robinson, Sugar Ray Leonard and even Mike Tyson. Boxers come and go now generally as afterthoughts in the sports world.
The North American teams will have home and home series, the European teams will have home and home series and the four Asian clubs will have home and home series. The three division winners will advance to the semi-finals and there will be one wild card team and the championship will be held in Macau, China. The 12 teams will be stocked by a draft, which will be held in London, UK, on June 28. The draftees will come from a pool of fighters who are registered with national boxing federations globally.
A 12-team structure with individual owners and a pool of athletes that are drafted onto a roster is standard fare for any new league. But this one is very different. No North American sports league has teams outside of America and Canada. There has never been an entity that has had North America, Europe and Asia component although tennis' Davis Cup and golf's Ryder Cup are one-off international events.
Other sports leagues globally will be paying attention to the experiment. The World Series of Boxing (WSB) came about because a number of people around the world and a sports management company think they can improve the sport according to Ivan Khodabakhsh, the Chief Operating Officer of the WSB.
The WSB came about as the result of a partnership between the International Boxing Association (AIBA) and International Management Group (IMG) that was created in November 2008. AIBA will own 75 percent of the venture while IMG has the other 25 percent. AIBA will supply the boxers and the boxing personnel which will include the equivalent of a general manager, a head coach and a training and medical staff, along with referees and judges. IMG will do all the marketing and international TV and broadband. WSB boxers will be top ranked amateurs who are about to turn pro, there will be no big names in the league, and those fighters will keep their 2012 Summer Olympics eligibility even though they have turned pro with the WSB. The boxers will come from all 195 AIBA members including USA Boxing.
The WSB will have the backing of the International Olympic Committee and will live under the rules of the IOC and will adopt the rules and regulations of the World Anti-Doping Agency.
Why is there a WSB?
"On the professional side, you can question their (World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, International Boxing Federation and World Boxing Organization)," said Khodabakhsh. "When AIBA President Dr. Ching-Kuo Wu took over (the AIBA), he initiated a number of reforms. The one thing the AIBA looked into is whether the AIBA can reform boxing."
Dr. Wu had doubts as to whether boxing could reform and decided there is a better way to promote the sport than going through Don King or Bob Arum, two of the major players in boxing promotion.
"The AIBA decided to start with the grass roots level and not duplicating (what King and Arum do) and create something and bring boxing into the 21st century," he said. "The idea was to create the World Series of Boxing. We did look at all issues, what is good about boxing and why other leagues are successes. So we will create individual boxing and team boxing. You need to have a season for the fan base and the followers, you can't have a one-off bout and disappear, we want to create a meaningful story to connect the bouts to each other."
Each team will have six matches and they will have five different divisions (Bantams-54kg), Light (61kg), Middle (73kg), Light Heavy (85kg) and Heavy (91kg). There will be 5 rounds of 3 minutes in the team competition and 7 rounds of 3 minutes in the Individual Championships. Match decisions will be based on points, Technical Knock-Outs, Knock-Outs and disqualifications - there will be no draws.
A new scoring display with electronic input is being studied in order to provide an open scoring system that will be based on the so-called 10-point "Must System" (10-9, 10-8, 10-7, to indicate the winner of each round and rank the second-placed boxer based on the level of their performance). Scores will be publicly displayed at the end of each round and at the conclusion of the bout. The scores will be given by three judges seated ringside.
The top two individual fighters in each weight class will fight for an individual championship after the season.
Because boxing is a dangerous sport, the health of fighters and the frequency of fighting is a concern that needs to be addressed.
"We have a detailed medical handbook," said Khodabakhsh. "We will have an anti-doping program, we will monitor the gloves. We are very well aware (the fighters) are assets to the franchise. We will have brain scans and bring structure to the sport."
The WSB is not going to be on the same level as Major League Baseball, the National Football league, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey league, the PGA or the tennis tour. The boxers will be young and not make much money whether it is in dollars, pesos, Euros, rupees, Yuan or rubles.
"They (King and Arum) will do what they do," said Khodabakhsh."We aren't getting their boxers, we are getting amateurs. The boxers will be in a healthy environment and will sign three-year deals.
"All of the boxers have registered with their federations and all have competed in international events. These boxers have developed skills in the highest levels of amateurs and are ready to turn professional."
Chuck Fairbanks, when he became the coach of the New Jersey Generals of the United States Football League in 1982 wryly laughed when he was asked if there were enough quality players available for the USFL. Fairbanks said what you need is the right ball, fat in the middle, square on top that bounces funny. In other words, Fairbanks said there were more important aspects to the sports business than performers.
Khodabakhsh acknowledges that the business side is extremely important. IMG is handling broadcast arrangements worldwide and as of yet there is no United States TV partner although that announcement could come very soon, perhaps by draft day. But there is a TV deal in China. That is the nature of the business, global. The league will be collecting money in various forms and pay taxes in various forms.
There will also be phased in expansion and it will not be in the United States.
"All the federations expect to be part of it," said Khodabakhsh.
Oceania, South America and Africa will be part of it. What is important is that we have a league with exciting boxing but this also has to be profitable. We have been struggling to regulate salaries and a salary cap. India's money is worth different from the United States and France. It will be about $25,000 a year not including prize money per boxer."
Khodabakhsh will be meeting with Madison Square Garden officials and with people in Chicago, Los Angeles and Anaheim in an effort to get arena commitments in the US. The season will start on the weekend of November 19-20 and end sometime in March or April with the team and individual champions taking place in May. Macau was chosen because it is a bigger tourist area than Las Vegas and gambling revenues have surpassed the Nevada gambling oasis.
The boxers have been vetted and will have their visas and will be able to go from country to country and will be involved in more than fisticuffs according to Khodabakhsh. They will participate in local and global marketing.
The WSB experiment will also be an interesting case study. Corporate dollars fund sports in North America and Mexico while there is a lot more government support in Asia. "In China and Kazakhstan, there is a high level of government as a source of income," said Khodabakhsh. "Government sponsorship is more important in Asia; there are commercial (corporate) partners in Europe and the US. Mexico is a mix."
Two United States formed leagues, the World Football League and the World Hockey Association had global aspirations. The World Football League barely lasted it's year because it did not have solid financial backing in 1974 and folded in 1975. Had the World Hockey Association not reached a deal with the National Hockey League in 1979 which brought Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec City and Winnipeg into the NHL, the World Hockey Association had plans to go to Europe in 1980. The National Football League tried a spring time minor league with a mixture of North American and European based franchises which ultimately failed. The league which had a few different names played in 1991 and 1992. The NFL suspended the league in 1993 and 1994 and brought it back as solely a European entity in 1995. The league ceased operations in 2007.
The WSB plans not to challenge King or Arum, but if the team boxing idea globally is successful, they could change a portion of boxing. A Delhi-Chicago final may not resonant in the United States but there are a lot of people in India and in Macau. That's the audience the WSB is trying to capture, not the Atlantic City or Las Vegas fighting crowd.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer on "The Politics of Sports Business." He can be reached at

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

The Local Race With Some Big Sports Implications

The Local Race With Some Big Sports Implications

By Evan Weiner

(New York, N. Y.) -- Californians go to the polls on Tuesday to vote on party nominations for Governor and other state positions along with a US Senate designation and other local posts. There is also another election in California which won't get very much attention except in Santa Clara and San Francisco and in this local election that is no national message, no mandate, no liberal message no conservative message.

Measure J simply asks do Santa Clara residents you want to pay for a football stadium or not?

Santa Clara residents will either end the 13-year saga of San Francisco 49ers ownership's quest for a new stadium for NFL games and more than likely a chance at hosting a Super Bowl by agreeing to provide partial funding of about $114 million although that figure could rise to well above $400 million (the Santa Clara Stadium Authority is supposed to pick up $330 million and another $67 million could come out of the Santa Clara general fund) to build a nearly one billion dollar facility or say no and force John and Jed York, the 49ers owners, to talk to San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom about a plan to build a stadium at a closed Navy shipyard (which is eligible for Superfund cleanup) at Hunter's Point. The Yorks could also turn to Oakland where local officials are trying to figure out what to do with Major League Baseball's A's and the NFL Raiders and maybe the NBA's Golden State Warriors.

Tuesday's election in Santa Clara is a big deal to citizens in Oakland and in San Francisco and maybe Los Angeles as well in terms of defining the direction of the 49ers and possibly the Raiders. A loss deals Santa Clara out and brings back San Francisco and Oakland into the picture and maybe even Los Angeles for nothing else than owner leverage for the Yorks.

This was all supposed to be settled back in 1997 when San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown and 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo agreed to a deal whereby San Francisco would kick in over $100 million to build a new $500 million football facility near Candlestick Park along with a retail space and movie theater/entertainment complex. On June 3, 1997, San Francisco voters said yes to DeBartolo's plan.

It was never built.

In 2001, the Yorks (who had taken control of the franchise after DeBartolo's legal troubles) began looking for a new stadium to replace the aging Candlestick Park (or whatever corporate naming rights partner had a deal with the 49ers and the city of San Francisco). By November 2006, the Yorks had enough of San Francisco politics and decided to pursue the Santa Clara option.

Candlestick Park became the 49ers home in 1971. The team had played at Kezar Park between 1946 and 1970. In 1960, the 49ers and the Oakland Raiders both used Kezar Park, a 59,000 seat bowl shaped stadium that opened in 1925.

California politicians and sports have a long, very productive but strained relationship. After the Yorks announced their intentions to build a Santa Clara stadium, State Senator Carole Migden, D-San Francisco, planned to introduce a bill that would have block cities or counties from using free land or other subsidies to attract a National Football League franchise from within a 100-mile radius.

Santa Clara is about 40 miles south of Candlestick Park.

Every Major League team, whether it is in baseball, football, basketball, hockey or soccer gets some sort of public assistance in California through various mechanisms.

Al Davis moved the Oakland Raiders to Los Angeles in 1982 and back to Oakland in 1995. Davis jumped at Los Angeles after negotiations with Oakland broke down with Los Angeles being an open territory after Carroll Rosenbloom moved his Rams to Anaheim after the 1979 season (the Rams were moved by Rosenbloom's widow Georgia Frontiere to St. Louis after the 1994 season). Donald Sterling moved his National Basketball Association team from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1985.

California has poached teams. Los Angeles enticed the Cleveland Rams ownership to move to the LA Coliseum in time for the 1946 season while San Francisco’s NFL team got started in the All-America Football Conference in 1946 and joined the older league after the 1949 season. The American Football League put a franchise in Oakland after the NFL co-opted the owners of the Minnesota AFL team to join the older league for the 1961 season because they needed an eighth team. San Diego took the Los Angeles Chargers after the 1960 season after Barron Hilton (Paris Hilton’s grandfather) lost money playing at the Coliseum.

Walter O'Malley moved the National League's most profitable team from Brooklyn to Los Angeles in 1957 in a land deal. Horace Stoneham left Manhattan for San Francisco at the same time in a deal that didn't work out all that well. The Giants franchise almost ended up in Toronto in 1976 and various owners spent decades looking for a suitable ballpark in the Bay Area including San Francisco, San Jose and Santa Clara. The Giants owners are now well entrenched in China Basin, not only in the ballpark but in properties they control near the stadium. The other Bay Area baseball team, the A's came to Oakland from Kansas City after 1967 (which sparked a chain reaction that included a hastily put together expansion in 1969 that included San Diego by four teams so that the American and National Leagues in baseball could keep their antitrust exemptions---San Diego almost lost the team to Washington in the off season of 1973 but McDonald’s owner Ray Kroc bought the franchise) and various A's owners from Charley Finley to Lew Wolff have found out that the Oakland ballpark is not a revenue producer. Finley sold the A’s to Marvin Davis in 1979 but the deal fell through after Davis announced the franchise was moving to Denver because the Oakland-Alameda Coliseum Authority would not allow the team to break the Coliseum lease.

Baseball's American League sold cowboy movie actor and crooner Gene Autry a franchise in 1960. The Los Angeles Angels played at LA's Wrigley Field in 1961 and at Walter O'Malley's Dodger Stadium from 1962 to 1965 before moving to an Anaheim built ballpark in 1966.

The Los Angeles Lakers came about after Bob Short decided Minneapolis was a dead NBA town and moved his team to LA in 1960 (Short also moved the Washington Senators to Texas in 1971 and is the only owner ever to move two franchises in two different sports). The Los Angeles Clippers franchise played in Buffalo from 1970 to 1978 and ended up in LA when Buffalo owner John Y. Brown traded his franchise to Boston with the Celtics owner Irv Levin taking over Brown's Braves and moving the team to San Diego. Levin sold the franchise to Donald Sterling in 1982. Sterling took the team to LA. The Sacramento Kings (a team still looking for an arena) came from Kansas City after the 1983-84 season.

The National Hockey League added Los Angeles and Oakland in 1967. Oakland moved to Cleveland in 1976 after an arena proposal in San Francisco fell through. The NHL returned to the Bay Area in 1991 with the San Jose Sharks playing in Daly City, not far from Candlestick Park, for two years while San Jose built an arena. The NHL added Anaheim as an expansion team in 1993. Major League Soccer has two teams in Carson, south of LA and in San Jose. San Jose is building a soccer stadium for Lew Wolff's San Jose Earthquakes.

California does a lot of sports business with politicians but there is still the California football problem, getting facilities built in the Bay Area, LA and San Diego has proven difficult. The last time California built new facilities designed to accommodate the NFL (or AFL) was in the mid 1960s in Oakland, Anaheim and San Diego.

In 2006, California Senator Dianne Feinstein was thinking of introducing a bill which would require local officials to approve if a sports team tries to leave town with the city's name still attached. The Democrat said she also was considering legislation that would require the National Football League to sign off before teams could relocate to other cities or states.

S. 249 The Football Fairness Act which introduced in 2007 and has led a quiet life since then.

The minute the clerks start counting the Santa Clara votes will begin a new era in South Bay sports. There will be no mandate after the vote. The proponents will say we won; we have the 49ers and possibly the Oakland Raiders at some point. The NFL would like to see the 49ers and Raiders share the facility in one sense. It cuts the financial exposure to the York family if they have a partner like Al Davis. Davis can get out of his lease in Oakland in 2013. The opponents will claim victory and will point out that they have been validated in their opposition to the project which would cost taxpayers money.

It is not very complicated.

The Yorks with a win go ahead with their plan and probably will have a stadium by 2013 or 2014 which dovetails with the end of the Davis-Oakland lease. But a loss puts them back years and could bring them back to review the Hunter's Point old Naval base plan or send them across the San Francisco Bay and talk with Oakland, a municipality who might have a two-team stadium solution, or maybe talk to Ed Roski in the City of Industry---which is east of Los Angeles---about Roski's stadium-village idea or to kick the tires by looking at a downtown Los Angeles stadium proposal near the arena that houses the Lakers, Clippers and Kings or maybe the LA Coliseum Commission, a “non-partisan” political group with tentacles in Sacramento, that holds all the cards in LA’s pursuit of a National Football League team

Oakland has an old stadium that cannot compete in this day and age with separate baseball and football facilities. Oakland is having a hard time holding onto the Lewis Wolff's A's but Wolff cannot move his American League baseball team to his preferred San Jose (not far from Santa Clara) site because the San Francisco Giants have territorial rights in both San Jose and Santa Clara (despite losing stadium votes in each municipality) and a deal to move to Fremont just outside the Santa Clara County/San Jose market never materialized.

Oakland also is the new home to NBA's Golden State Warriors who might be for sale. A number of years ago, so the story goes, NBA Commissioner David Stern felt the Sacramento Kings owners, the Maloof Brothers, would be perfect San Francisco owners and the thinking was somehow to get a franchise swap done where the Maloofs would gain control of the Warriors. That never happened nor did Willie Brown's plan to build an arena next to the Giants baseball park in China Basin in San Francisco.

Whatever happens on Tuesday in Santa Clara will have not have the impact on national political parties but it could trigger some significant moves in Northern California's sports landscape starting with the San Francisco 49ers.

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, June 7, 2010

Big Ten Conference expansion: College sports musical chairs game is about to begin

Big Ten Conference expansion: College sports musical chairs game is about to begin
MONDAY, 07 JUNE 2010 11:37

Barry Alvarez is the Chief Economic Officer of a business that brings in over $90 million annually in Madison, Wisconsin. Alvarez has admitted the business, which is part of a business that has 10 active partners in various endeavors and another "silent" partner in the Midwest, doesn't necessarily need to take in more partners but could be forced into an expansion of the business in order to maximize revenues.
Alvarez is the Athletic Director of the University of Wisconsin, a school that belongs to the Big Ten conference, and Alvarez is looking for more money to fund his athletic program. He is not alone, the other 10 active sports playing members of the Big Ten want more money and the way to get that is by increasing the cable TV network that the schools along with the University of Chicago co-own with FOX Cable TV.
If the Big Ten adds more schools, the conference probably will be able to add to the growing cable TV network and reach a goal of 60 million subscribers. If the Big Ten hits the 60 million number and gets two dollars a month from each one of those subscribers, that means that particular college sports conference will bring in $120 million a month or close to $1.5 billion a year from cable TV programming.
"You know what, there are some interesting things going on, interesting discussions, you know there is a possibility of major change," said Alvarez.
Interesting things? According to reports the Big 12 wants to know whether Missouri and Nebraska are jumping to the Big Ten by this Friday. The Pac 10, which hired the powerful Hollywood reps, Creative Artist Agency, is looking to expand beyond the Pacific states. A former NFL insider said on Friday that former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue is working extremely hard on plotting the future of the Big East, a conference which includes Rutgers.
Is Rutgers headed for the Big Ten? Is Rutgers going to stay in what remains of the Big East or will the school head to the Atlantic Coast Conference?
No one knows at this point. But changes are coming.
"I think there is a history of change," said Alvarez. "This isn't something new and you can go back and study the NC two A, study college athletics and see there has been expansion before. You have people (CAA, Tagliabue) to think outside the box and trying to make things better. Continue to tweak things. And I think this is just part of the process."
A couple of days ago, it was thought the Big Ten was the linchpin and other college conferences would react to whatever the conference was planning. But other conferences are also playing the change game and the Big Ten may not get first dibs on schools like Missouri, Nebraska, Texas, Syracuse, Pittsburgh or Rutgers.
"The Big Ten doesn't need to do it," said Alvarez of expansion. "I think our Commissioner (James Delany) is looking to continue to improve the Big Ten and make things better. He's a guy who thinks outside the box and so I think this is a natural progression.
"I feel comfortable in looking into the expansion. I think there are a lot of things that make sense and I have a lot of confidence in our commissioner and in our (the colleges and universities) presidents and they're the ones that make the ultimate decision."
The ideal fit in football and athletics for Wisconsin and the other Big Ten schools is Notre Dame. The school is a football factory and can easily be accepted into The Committee on Institutional Cooperation which is the Big Ten's academic component. The Big Ten has to not only weigh the football/basketball and other sports programs but academics as well and that might be a problem for some of the schools that might be courted by Delany.
"I am working on that scheduling right now," said Alvarez who would like to get Notre Dame to play in Madison as an independent. "I don't think there is any secret, all of us would love to have Notre Dame in our league, I think it is a natural. And so, whether it will happen or not, I don't know but I sure would like to see it. (Notre Dame) will have to sit back and take a look at what is going on nationally, if there is expansion and it affects a number of leagues and all of a sudden maybe you have four big leagues. You know four 16-team conferences, when the music stops, you better have a seat. I'm worrying about one conference. Big Ten
"I don't know how the Big East will be affected or if it will be affected. I don't know enough about the Big East."
The Big Ten Commissioner Delany will meet with the heads of Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State, Purdue and Wisconsin along with the University of Chicago and lay out various proposals. The conference could add one, three or five teams or sit at 11. Each school in the Big Ten is getting $22 million a year from the Big Ten Network and that could go depending on geography. Rutgers is in a Comcast state and more than likely, the Big Ten Network would pick up New Jersey subscribers from Comcast but it is unknown whether Charles Dolan's Cablevision or Time Warner would take the Big Ten Network in the New York area. But Delany may look to expand the TV network in the south, not the New York area and that could mean that Texas is the prize.
"That's what Jim will talk to the presidents about," said Alvarez of the Big Ten meeting. "I think he will give them information, they will discuss it and decide what direction they will go."
Alvarez was a football coach who is now really playing with the big boys. A football school like Wisconsin attracts big time TV contracts, sneaker deals, major marketing partners, well heeled alum, well heeled boosters, luxury box owners, club seat patrons and a whole host of other people who are both looking to make money off of a school and also make sure the school is producing winning teams in the big revenue generating sports such as football and basketball and in Alvarez's case, hockey.
"Basically I am running a $90 million company right now," said Alvarez. "We take no (Wisconsin) state funding, we are self-supporting, the engine that drives the train is football. We have 23 sports and 800 athletes and you have to pay the bills for the sports, coaches, etc. etc. It is important to find new money streams and ways to finance your programs. Football is the engine because of the TV money, 80-thousand seat stadium in our case but football generates the majority of the money. We profit share in our league and our TV contracts are second to none."
TV contracts second to none may be the most important words Alvarez uttered. The Pac10's deal with FOX is done after 2012 and suddenly far away schools from the Pacific coast like Texas, Texas A&M, Texas Tech, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Colorado or Baylor are attractive. Pac 10 teams receive an estimated $8-10 million from the present FOX deal; Southeast Conference deals get more than $17 million while Big East teams get about $7 million.
Big time college sports is all about money, there is literally a pot of gold available from the beast, cable and broadband TV, and that beast needs to be constantly fed. Boise State could be end up in the Mountain West Conference, a group of schools that in 2006 launched a TV network in the Rocky Mountains area. That cable network is partially owned by CBS and has programming on Versus. TV drove the last college conference realignment about seven years ago and it is the guiding force behind this one.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business:" and can be reached at

Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Belmont Stakes Is Now Just an Afterthought

The Belmont Stakes Is Now Just an Afterthought

By Evan Weiner

In 1950, baseball, boxing and horse racing were on top of the America's list of favorite sports. Thoroughbred racing was a huge deal back then with both jockeys and horses becoming household names. Eddie Arcaro and Johnny Longden were certified stars and so were the horses as there were six Triple Crown winners between 1935 and 1948. Arcaro was on the cover of Time magazine in May 1948.

Thoroughbred racing's popularity has been on a steep decline since the days of Arcaro and Longden and for the third time since 2000, Saturday’s Belmont Stakes lineup will not include the winners of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness. The combination of an erosion of thoroughbred racing's fan base and the lack of the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners in the Belmont field will further drive home that point.

There isn’t very much interest in the Belmont or in thoroughbred racing on a day to day basis anymore and the sports field is far more crowded than it was in 1950. Belmont just had to keep with baseball and golf and tennis. This year, the National Hockey League and the National Basketball Association championship finals are being played, there is baseball, golf, the French Open, a world championship boxing bout at Yankee Stadium that night and a build up to Soccer’s World Cup.

Even a crown jewel event like The Belmont cannot break through the logjam of sports events.

Thoroughbred racing has a long way to go before it captures the imagination of even the casual racing fan who just watches three races a year---the Kentucky Derby, the Preakness and the Belmont Stakes---and racing industry people aren't even certain that the fall of thoroughbred racing has hit rock bottom.

There are all sorts of reasons for the lack of interest in the ponies. The racetrack used to be the only place outside of Nevada where people could legally bet and that all changed in the 1960s with state sponsored gambling such as lotteries and the advent of Off Track Betting. The lure of betting in a local candy store brought in people who never went to the track and those who used to venture to the track. The track was embedded into the culture in the movies and on the TV shows.

Thoroughbred racing has an aging fan base and with casinos popping up everywhere there is no need to go to the track and that has not been lost on Charles Hayward, the President and CEO of the New York Racing Association (NYRA).

Hayward came pretty close to temporarily shutting down two of his tracks, Belmont and Saratoga, this summer and is only operating because of a New York State loan for about $15 million to cover expenses after New York's OTB stiffed NYRA. New York was once a major center of activity in the thoroughbred business, today there is a struggle to keep the sport relevant in the nation's biggest market.

"We since the start of the financial collapse in 2007, the industry has been sustaining declines in total wagering activity in the neighborhood of eight or nine percent. The horse population, the number of horses that have been sold at auction has been down fairly dramatically," said Hayward in the state of the union analysis of the industry. "I think we need to see a reduction in the number of live racing days, there is going to be a consolidation in ownership and in horse ownership.

"I think that we are transitioning in the way a lot of businesses are as a result of the changes in the economic climate. But I am still reasonably optimistic about quality races going forward."

The Preakness Stakes and the Belmont Stakes draw spectators. They are championship races but the day to day health of the industry is not good.

"Listen, the Triple Crown is a great thing," said Hayward. "The Kentucky Derby is the biggest race in the country and always will be. The Triple Crown is safe for the foreseeable future."

There have been stories in the past suggesting that the Preakness would be moved from the Pimlico track in Baltimore. For the time being, Maryland officials are certain that the race will remain in Baltimore.

Consolidation of the industry might help but horse racing has a lot of different fiefdoms and getting state regulators together with horse owners, track owners and other groups is going to be an onerous task.

"I think, unfortunately, there is no common ground," said Hayward whose own fiefdom is NYRA. "The biggest problem we have, which you alluded to, is that we are regulated on a state basis. That's everything from racing days to medications to horse ownership, credentialing horse owners. It is one of the big problems we have in the business. I think, unfortunately, there is not going to be a smooth, seamless transition. It will be one that will be done on somewhat a regional basis depending on the economics in that environment.

"It is not going to be pretty, it is going to have some dislocations, you are going to have some racetracks closing but I wish there was a common way for that to happen but unfortunately there isn't, so."

For those who want to create another Federal bureau and create a United States Sports Ministry many like similar posts in governments globally, Hayward is not an advocate of racing being included in a group that would be overseen by a cabinet level post.

"I think, the Feds have talked about that from time to time, I think on horse safety, track safety, medications, the industry really has stepped up and made some improvements," Hayward stated. "I think adding another layer of regulation would not be helpful and I think the industry has demonstrated that they can take care of some of these Federal concerns that have come forward.

"I think the big problem with our sport is unlike baseball, basketball where they have commissioners and they have leagues, we really, our content is only valuable from a wagering perspective. The media rights are not worth a whole lot. The sponsorships are not worth a whole lot. We cannot sell ARod jerseys for our jockeys. So I think we are always, unfortunately, going to be a decentralized business. And you know as nice as it would be to have a league, I just think, there have been some attempts at that, it is not going to happen."

The racing industry has been somewhat revitalized by the introduction of "Video Lottery Terminals" or VLTs. States have given casino licenses to dying racetracks which have kept racing alive. Hayward is waiting for New York to give him a licensing partner to keep his NYRA franchise alive. There are a number of states who have given the go ahead to convert tracks into casinos and it has been a boost to harness tracks in New York, West Virginia and in Delaware.

"Thoroughbred racing could last on its own if we had a proper OTB operation but we don't, we have six regional OTBs (in New York State), we have some other constraints placed on us so there is no question that in the near term for the capital expenditure monies we are going to receive and for the purse supplements, we are going to need that (the VLTs or slot machines)," said Hayward. "I don't think we are on our heels quite the way the harness industry was and there is no question that has really rejuvenated that business. But I think we are looking forward to very much that money and we are starting to make some plans on the facility improvement we would do."

Hayward also talked about an unspoken benefit for New York if the slots go into his track. He would be able to give bigger purses in races and that has an economic domino effect which has occurred in Pennsylvania and Delaware.

"One of the things, New York racing drives historically has been a really strong New York breeding program. Unfortunately in the last couple of years it has been in decline for exactly the reason that Pennsylvania has been growing. They have had the same kind of transformation of their racing business that we have seen in the harness racing business here (in New York). People who have come here and opened farms and remember this legislation (allowing VLTs in NYRA tracks) was passed and since that time there has been eight harness tracks that have opened and one thoroughbred track in Finger Lakes (in New York) and we haven't opened," said Hayward.

"A lot of people have invested in farms upstate that have really closed down and have moved in some cases back to Kentucky and in some cases to Pennsylvania. As of a couple years ago, we had 400 farms in the breeding business here which was about 17,000 jobs and $1.2 billion of economic activity and those numbers have been diminished by about 30 percent. So we are hoping, part of the reason is about 30 percent of our races are state bred races, it is a program that allows Kentucky stallions and other state stallions to breed to New York mares, have them come back here so the quality of the state breds is really terrific. They run for about 30 percent of our races and $25 million in purses. It is a big economic driver for the state particularly in the upstate area where most of the farms are.

There is far more to the fan enjoyment or betting on The Belmont Stakes or any horse race for that matter. The thoroughbred industry is receding rapidly and other than putting slot machines in race tracks there seems to be no other way to save the sport from oblivion. In the end other forms of gambling will either kill horse racing entirely or prop it up where it will be little more than a few times a year curiosity. The days of the superstar horse and superstar jockeys are over and horse industry people know it.

The Triple Crown seems to be a lost slice of Americana and belongs to another age.

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

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

How do you fix horse racing in New Jersey?

How do you fix horse racing industry in New Jersey?
Wednesday, 02 June 2010 15:35

Other states have turned to more gambling options at racetracks to bolster ailing sport
The 142nd running of the Belmont Stakes takes place on Saturday and for most people who have a casual interest in thoroughbred racing, that marks the end of the Triple Crown and racing season. There is no superstar horse to follow and the Kentucky Derby and Preakness winners are sitting this race out. The hardcore racing fan and bettor will follow the horses the rest of the year but that group is thinning out year after year and that is a major problem for a once popular industry. So how do you go about and fix what used to be one of the three most followed sports in the United States?

There seems to be just one answer.

Continue building casinos and putting slots or video lottery terminals (VLT) in racetracks. Pennsylvania has done just that, New York has put VLTs in all of the state's harness tracks and one thoroughbred track, Finger Lakes. Delaware has done the same thing. West Virginia is a racing hotbed, thanks to one-armed bandits. New York by August 15 will decide on which company should put a casino at the Big A, Aqueduct, in Queens.

That seems to put New Jersey in a box. New Jersey has slots and tables in Atlantic City but there are no VLTs, which has become the salvation of racetracks in West Virginia, New York, Pennsylvania and Delaware, at racetracks throughout the state. New Jersey politicians may be joining the VLT fray. State backed gambling is not going away and in fact, the state-sanction gaming industry is growing rapidly. The racetrack casinos are popular with people who live within a 20-25 mile radius of the track and a lot of people are making money off of local bettors who all of a sudden have VLTs in their backyard.

Horse racing needs casino revenues to exist but in many areas there would be no casinos without the horses.

Gambling has become a major component in municipal budgeting. Ironically it was the government rush to embrace Off Track Betting (and revenues) that helped to create an atmosphere in New York that has nearly killed the horse racing business.

"The racing business, you go back to the early 1970s, tracks were jammed with people because there was no other kinds of gambling and you couldn't go to an OTB. Once the OTB started in 1971, they built a hundred OTBs in a matter of three or four years and the attendance at the track plummeted," said Charles Hayward, the President and the Chief Operating Officer of the New York Racing Association (NYRA). "You are just never going to get that kind of dynamic back, unfortunately, and the attention and the knowledge and the fan base just eroded."

The erosion has deeply cut into the industry. Hayward's group just got a $15 million pledge from New York State so it could keep operating although they were entitled to $15 million. OTB, another government agency in financial distress in New York, simply has not delivered that cash to NYRA.

Hayward and NYRA may be able to open a slot area at the Big A within 12 months. The timetable seems to be August 1 for a group to get a casino license and by November 1, a contract will be signed and construction of a casino at the Queens racetrack will commence shortly thereafter. But had all the stars been in alignment in the past few years, Hayward would have opened his casino by now.

New York has not been able to grant a casino license for NYRA's tracks, the Big A, Belmont and Saratoga. Last March, the State Lottery Division would not grant a license to Governor David Patterson's preferred choice, the Aqueduct Entertainment Group. In October 2008, Delaware North was selected to be the casino licensee but the group was gone five months later because financial issues could not be resolved.

"I started here in November of 2004 and I have been asked that question and answered that question probably 40 times and all 40 times I have been wrong," said Hayward about having slots at one of his tracks. "So I have put a stop to speculating but I think there is a real significant development that appears to have changed everything.

"We selected MGM, that didn't work out (former New York Governor George) Pataki didn't support that, then the executives did two of their own processes, those didn't work out as we know. So what they (the state of New York) are doing now is what probably should have been done in the first instances. They have told the (New York) lottery to do a state RFP (request for proposal) bid process which has rules. They have started that process; they have solicited questions from all the bidders. We have been involved in helping answering that. All of the bids will be able to be judged one against the other which has not been the case in the past and I think the deadline they have set to name the bidder is early August, I think that is a little ambitious. They good news is that they are going to make a recommendation that will then be acted upon by the three political leaders (Patterson, the New York State Assembly and the New York State Senate).

"Given that there will be rankings, it will be very clearly documented, you just have a much higher sense of the level of professionalism and I think the recommendation is going to be hard for anybody to not agree with because it is going to be very transparent and very clear as to how they reach that agreement."

Of course this is New York State with a lame duck governor and a dysfunctional legislature.

"I am cautiously optimistic," said Hayward. "Although our past performances wouldn't maybe warrant that optimism."

NYRA lost money in 2009.

Delaware and Pennsylvania have a vibrant racing industry now, but it is being driven by casino dollars not the horses.

"There is no question that their (Philadelphia Park) purses have increased but they have done some things," said Hayward. "They have a hard cap percentage wise on their stakes races so that most of the money goes into their overnight racing program that takes care of the day in and day out owners and trainers. They don't have the kind of appetite to compete at the kind of stakes you will see, not only the Belmont Stakes which of course is a classic but we got five undercard races with either a grade one or grade two stakes. Day in, day out purses, the allowance, the overnight stakes, the purse levels have grown substantially they are still substantially less than Belmont and Saratoga but there is no question the racing situation has improved a lot in Pennsylvania."

With Pennsylvania and Delaware having slots and table games such as roulette and blackjack and New York already having gambling at harness tracks and apparently honing in on opening up a casino in Queens, New Jersey may be forced into some sort of retaliatory move.

The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority, which runs the Meadowlands and Monmouth Park racetracks, wants slot machines because the agency needs additional revenue. Monmouth Park has a shorter meet this year and is paying bigger purses but that is not going to make racing profitable in New Jersey. Atlantic City casinos subsidize the tracks to the tune of $30 million annually. The casino owners are rethinking that commitment.

"The New Jersey landscape is so hard to read," said Hayward. "Clearly, Atlantic City has a lot of stick. Monmouth is doing this program with enhanced purses, $20 of the $50 million they are giving out is coming from a casino subsidy. I think that is in return for not pursuing any gaming. They have gone from 140 dates to 50 dates this summer. The purses have gone up dramatically. They are not running any more thoroughbreds at the Meadowlands which they did before, they are going to run a weekend meet through the fall at Monmouth, which they tried in the past. So far, it looks like they have had some good success in terms of their handle and so forth. Whether they can sustain the purse level, that is a whole other question."

The Belmont is still a brand name but the thoroughbred horse racing industry is reeling. There is less interest in the ponies. It is not just in New York, it is not just in New Jersey. There is too much betting around whether it is playing a state lottery in a 7-11 or in New York, playing keno while waiting for a slice of pizza. NYRA and the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority are gambling that a one-armed bandit will save their industry.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and lecturer and can be reached at