Friday, July 30, 2010

There was a time when the Canadian Football League was a serious threat to the NFL

There was a time when the Canadian Football League was a serious threat to the NFL
FRIDAY, 30 JULY 2010 08:42
The New York Giants and Jets are opening up training camp in the next few days and all eyes will be on SUNY Cortland for Jets fans and SUNY Albany for Giants fans as the teams prepare for the 2010 season. But once upon a time, the National Football League and the Giants were considered a real alternative to the Canadian Football League.
The CFL paid better salaries.
In 1953, the NFL would set an attendance record and by 1954 most of the NFL teams had local TV contracts. No matter, the NFL was a step above semi-pro football and another league had set its sights on a war with the NFL.
The Canadian Football League.
The CFL signed the 1952 Heisman Trophy Winner Billy Vessels, along with Eddie LeBaron and Gene Brito. In 1955, LeBaron, Brito, Norb Heckler, Alex Webster and Tom Dublinski left the CFL for NFL teams after representatives from the two competing leagues failed to work out a no raiding treaty.
The CFL gave up on competing with the NFL by 1956, but Frank Tripucka who was the Saskatchewan Roughriders quarterback said people should not have dismissed the CFL as just another league somewhere north of the United States border. Tripucka was with the Dallas Texans franchise that played in Akron and practiced in Hershey, Pa.
"A lot of people think, even in those days, that the National Football League was the almighty league but it really wasn't," said Tripucka.
The National Football League in those days was haphazard.
"I'd come home here (to New Jersey, after the CFL season had ended) and I'd watch the Giants play at the Polo Grounds and you could walk up to the ticket window and buy yourself a ticket to anywhere in the place that you wanted. I am talking about 1952, 53, 55. The time the Giants turned it around was the time they moved from the Polo Grounds to the Yankee Stadium in 1956.
"They had the playoff game for the National Football championship against that Baltimore which was that Dallas franchise. I was their property, but I decided, I came home and I was going to call it quits.
"I was totally disenchanted with football, so I came back here to Bloomfield, New Jersey to call it quits and I get a call from Saskatchewan and the fellow says what would it take you to come up here and play? I'm making a big $12,000 at that time, so I hurrily say $25,000 and he says you got it. That was the year they opened up the Canadian League to eight Americans, prior to that they only had three Americans on each team.
"The instructions they had given us was that if you were coming to Canada, don't tell anybody. Because they were going to put an injunction against you, so what most of the players did was say they were going to retire and then they went to Canada and started practicing.
"By that time the Canadian courts wouldn't send you back so you could play the season. If the National Football League wanted to sue you, they would sue you after the season was finished. Most of them didn't bother you, so that's how we got away with it."
Tripuka recited the names of Kenny Carpenter, Mac Speedie, Neill Armstrong, Bud Grant, Frankie Albert, John Henry Johnson who jumped from the NFL to the CFL.
"These were the all the type of people who went up there, so you can see the National Football League in those days wasn't that almighty so to speak. We all went up there and it was great because we played 14 games, you got up there in July and you were home in November. Whereas in the National Football League you were in January when you got home and you were making double the money.
Tripucka started with the Chicago Cardinals and ended up in Dallas in his brief NFL career, but he knew one thing about the National Football League. Bert Bell might have been the Commissioner but George Halas was running the league in the early 1950s.
"He was the founder and he pretty much ran that league," said Tripucka of Halas' influence thirty years after the NFL got its start in a Canton auto dealership. "Many a time we used to kid on the field on sideline that a referee would reach into his pocket and first look over on the sideline to George Halas. If Halas didn't give him any sign, he'd throw the flag. If Halas shook his head no, he wouldn't throw the flag."
When the CFL stopped competing, the owners had another problem. In 1956, an early form of the National Football League Players Association formed and started pushing for a minimum salary of $5,000 and pension benefits.
Canadians playing in the CFL were working a fulltime job and playing football. The Americans were commanding big salaries and Tripucka said in many ways, the CFL of the 1950s resembled the NFL in the 1920s.
"We didn't have too," he said, "The funny thing about is this is why the native Canadians liked the Americans because they felt this was going to raise their salaries up. Because these poor kids were playing for $50 just like our semi-pros down here.
"You talk to some of these old-timers from the National Football League, when the league first started they were getting $100 a game, $50 a game. Well it was the same thing up in Canada. Of course when they brought the Americans in and raised those salaries then the Canadian kids started to get more money.
Tom Landry actually started his career with the New York Yankees of the AAFC in 1949 and moved to the NFL in 1950 when the Yankees folded with the AAFC. Landry and four others joined the New York Giants. Landry would stay there until 1955, and then coach the defense through 1959.
Landry actually was planning to get out of football because it was not a professional that paid much money and going into private business around the Dallas area at the end of the decade.
"Well I think the 1950s was an interesting era," said Landry. "In that nobody made any money. I signed for $6,000 when I started and a $500 bonus. We didn't make any money but I think we had a good time playing the game.
"We weren't concerned about the other guy who made more money than we did. We weren't worried about those things. We just went out to play football. I think that's what the guys really feel good about the fifties."
Despite becoming more and more popular in the 1950s, the NFL was a part time operation. Stan Jones was an offensive lineman with George Halas' Chicago Bears and would report to training camp in July and finish his season in December and look for another job. In fact, Halas wasn't even around in the off-season.
"We weren't a full time operation. A lot of people don't realize that. The football teams closed up after the last game of the year and packed everything away and George Halas wasn't a fulltime football man himself.
"He had a sporting goods business and all the other caches would go on their life's work," said Jones, a pro football Hall of Famer. "And everybody would get together next July and back to football. In the off-season, you couldn't find the Chicago Bears other than the ticket office which was in the Halas and May Sporting Goods Company. There wasn't anything at Wrigley Field because that was the Cub home ballpark. There wasn't any place where you could say this is where the Chicago Bears are."
Life at the Chicago Bears training camp in the 1950s wasn't too much different from the other 11 teams. None of the players were paid during the eight weeks of preparation. In fact, the players didn't even have their own equipment except for shoes.
"They used the old gym at St. Joseph's College and they got out all duffel bags out and dumped everything on the floor and you went down and found a pair of shoulder pads that fit. A pair of hip pads that fit. And if nobody else claimed them, they were yours," said Jones.
"Of course you had to bring your own shoes. What happened, a lot of guys would get cut and when they were about to leave, one of the older players would say I'll give you three dollars for your shoes. Then he would sell the shoes at $10 and make a hell of a profit. We had a bunch of older players who were trading shoes. They pick them up cheat from guys who got cut, they needed the money to go home and the guy coming in needed a new pair of shoes, the old guys gave them a deal."
But shoes weren't the only things available on the player's black market. Fans were a major commodity at the central Indiana school as there was no air conditioning.
"A guy would come in and she I'm dying in here," Jones continued. "I'd say, we will sell you a fan. You couldn't buy them at Montgomery Ward's because they would be sold out in a real hot summer.
So you'd have these fans. Guys would get cut and you'd say, hey I like your fan, I'll give you five dollars for it. The next guy coming in, you'd sell it for $10.
"You never got your first paycheck until after I made the team in September unless you got cut and then they would give you money to go home with. On the other hand, they took care of all your expenses and things like that. But if you wanted to go out and get a beer, it was on your own money."
While Jones was responsible for his shoes in Chicago, Steelers players didn't have that problem.
"I used to go to camp, actually since the time I was five years old, we did issue equipment. We didn't just throw it out for them," said Dan Rooney, the son of Steelers owner Art Rooney. "We used to get in some battles with them about different things. I will tell you a great aside, when the union, their first demand was a second pair of football shoes. As you know today when you go into the locker room they have 30. But there was the demand back in 1958.
"Jack Butler, who was a great player for us and had gone to the Pro Bowl and probably should be in the Hall of Fame, he wore the same shoes for three years because they were his luck shoes and he had taped them on. We said, hey you can't be doing that. We did give them one pair each year. We said use the new shoes. He thought they were good luck the shoes that he had. He wore them literarily out."
When the season ended in the 1950s, so did football as a main vocation. New York fans may have wildly cheered the New York Giants defensive lineman Andy Robustelli on six Sundays a season, but on the Monday after the final game, it was back to work in the civilian world. Robustelli was a great player for the Los Angeles Rams between 1951 and 1955, playing in the Pro Bowl twice. But Robustelli's fortune was to be made at his Connecticut businesses not on the playing field of the Los Angeles Coliseum and he requested a trade to the New York Giants because he simply couldn't afford to live in Los Angeles, spent eight weeks without being paid for training camp and then play a 12 week season 3,000 miles away. Without the trade, Robustelli would have retired.
"Each player the day that the season was over, you were free and you looked for a job. You wouldn't see each other until next year. I think, and with all respect to the modern ballplayer, I hope the modern ballplayer appreciates, not only the opportunity, is a stepping stone it's not the end of life," said Robustelli who became a successful businessman in Connecticut once his Giant days were through.
It was a different time, a different life for players who literally played for nothing and had few, if any benefits. There were no great business minds in the NFL of those days, the names that are saluted now, Halas, Rooney, Tim Mara, Bert Bell were actually second rate thinkers that had no vision for their product. It seems absurd to think that Saskatchewan could outbid NFL teams for talent but in the 1950s, the Green Bay Packers held fund raisers throughout Wisconsin and literally passed the hat so the team could operate season to season and in some cities, owners could not even give away NFL tickets. Today there are multi-billion dollar TV contracts, stadiums that cost more than a billion dollars in East Rutherford, N.J., and Arlington, Tx., thanks to two bills passed by Congress in the 1960s and signed by Presidents Kennedy and Johnson -- the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 and the 1966 AFL-NFL merger -- which made the league the cash cow it is today.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at
LAST UPDATED ( FRIDAY, 30 JULY 2010 08:42 )

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The business of college sports in 2010 is to find money

The business of college sports in 2010 is to find money
WEDNESDAY, 28 JULY 2010 07:10
The Pacific 10 – soon to be the Pacific 12 – college sports conference is a rather interesting study in the politics of sports business, There are a number of elements that have a striking resemble to professional sports in that the Pac 10 depends on government support, cable TV and corporate underwriting just like any other major pro sports league in the United States. The conference also has global ambitions, just like all other major sports leagues in the United States.
There is a question that needs to be asked about what appears to be an endless need for more and more money for big time college sports. Why are college presidents and chancellors hiring people like Larry Scott, the Commissioner of the Pac 10, and turning every stone they find to see if there is money underneath the rocks to fund sports programs?
The answer is rooted in the economy and shrinking revenues for public schools like Arizona, Arizona State (Arizona is selling off state office buildings in an effort to control costs), Cal and UCLA (both part of the University of California school system), Oregon and Oregon State, Washington and Washington State, all public schools and all members of the Pac 10. Two other PAC 10 schools, USC and Stanford are private institutions.
Two more universities will join the Pac 10 in the next two years. Utah joins the conference in 2011 and Colorado enters the fold in 2012, both are public schools and both schools will increase the Pac 10, or Pac 12's television footprint as the conference will be represented in two time zones, the Mountain and Pacific. That is an important move for television coverage and should bring the Pac 10 or Pac 12 a sizeable amount of additional TV income.
"Well, I think the answer is pretty straightforward in college sports, at least in the Pac 10," said Scott. "With the economy, state funding for higher education is shrinking and that is putting a lot more pressure on athletic departments. They have to be more entrepreneurial, more creative, more aggressive and conferences to generate more revenue because what is at stake if they don't, sports are going to get cut.
"Student athletes are going to lose opportunities, student athlete support programs are going to get dropped and schools will find it more and more difficult to stay competitive nationally in terms of facilities, in terms of coaches and so there is an awful lot at stake right now.
"It all starts with the soft economy, decreased state funding and universities and their stakeholders like faculty not willing to subsidize athletics. It all trickles down to less money from the government and that is forcing all kinds of cuts. Faculty going on furloughs, salary freezes, programs getting cut. There is tremendous financial pressure and that is the underlying story that often doesn't get told. People focus on, money, money, money but you got to dig a little deeper and you realize the focus on money and entrepreneurialism and creative and seat license is that if you don't come up with these inventive ways to generate more money, kids are going to lose opportunities."
Big-time college sports are not immune to the 2008 economic breakdown and hustling for a buck is now the job of people like Scott.
"There is a lot of discussion about it (the soft economy and state cutbacks), it is no secret, I don't know about other parts of the country," Scott said.
Larry Scott has been on the job for a little more than a year. He is a New York City native who played tennis at Harvard and left Cambridge with a B. A. in European history. Scott was former professional tennis player and served as Chairman and CEO of the Women's Tennis Association and as President and COO of ATP Properties, a division of the Association of Tennis Professionals. He is an unusual choice for a college conference commissioner in that he was not involved with college athletics. Perhaps because his background is not the college ranks, he is able to move in "non-traditional" directions. He has hired the Creative Artists Agency of Los Angeles to handle a lot of what Scott sees as the entertainment business. CAA is a high-powered agency whose clients include Oprah Winfrey, Steven Spielberg, Brad Pitt, George Clooney, Sandra Bullock, Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Will Smith, David Letterman and Derek Jeter.
"It is not unusual for a conference to hire media advisers," said Scott. "That was something we were looking to do but CAA will basically play three roles for us. One is they got a group of people who are very seasoned in terms of the media industry and they will do the kind of analysis, research and advisory work one would expect before what would will be a major TV negotiations we got coming up. As part of that, they are helping us building a business plan for a potential Pac 10 branded TV network. CAA keeps their finger on the pulse of what is happening in the industry and makes sense of it for us.
"Secondly, they played a critical role in us analyzing and evaluating expansion possibilities. So there was a lot of behind the scenes granular analysis and work about what their value would be if different scenarios – they played a critical function for us there.
"Thirdly, being in LA and in our territory and being the largest and most prolific entertainment agency in the world, they are very much going to help us with our new marketing and our promotional endeavors. We hope to steal a few pages from the worlds of entertainment and media in terms how best we promote our conference in its own unique way and being in LA, being on the west coast and being in the entertainment capital of the world, we thought they would be a great fit for our conference."
CAA has been brought in to get more money from TV both in the United States and possibly on the global stage. No college conference has really looked into expanding beyond the United States. The Pac 10 or Pac 12 may become the Pac 16 eventually and all of the colleges will be in the United States but the college sports teams will be traveling to other locales. Just how many will that be 12? 14? 16? Scott isn't sure.
"I know for our conference, we are done with that evaluation at the moment," said Scott. "My sense is that our conferences probably are for now. We are moving forward as the Pac 12 going forward and I expect that we are going to lock in long term media deals on that basis. Having said that, I think there was a lot of interest and excitement around our vision for a 16-team super conference. We figured out a way to get the economies of scale but still have the smallness of divisional structures that did not create an undue burden for schools and student athletes. So my sense, based on the excitement our concept generated and the reaction I got from people is that it is an idea whose time will come. I just can't say when."
Scott contended that the Pac 10 didn't rush into any conference expansion and wasn't pushed by the Big Ten's desires to increase the conference's geographical footprint for television purposes.
"For us, there wasn't the rush. I got hired in July of 2009 and as I assessed the Pac 10 situation, was we were going to start negotiations for a new broadcast deal in early 2011. We had about an 18-month runway to decide any significant changes we were going to make," Scott said. "We brought in a new (management) team; we branded the conference, new marketing initiatives. A part of that in my view, if we are going to expand we ought to do so before we going out and monetize our value to me it was kind of a common sense, logical business approach. I cannot really comment on other conferences and what the motivation was with them. But that is what it was for us. Now we are locked in and building plans around it. But we also are prepared if there is movement and interest in other scenarios going forward we will certainly be looking at that time."
There is only so much money that can be squeezed in the United States and at the Pac 10 schools, so Scott and CAA are looking elsewhere and might seek out pesos, yen and Yuan's.
"I think we got tremendous opportunity particularly in the Asian-Pacific region, maybe Latin America, The west coast is the gateway to the Pacific Rim. We get big Asian-American populations where we are and a lot of our schools are held up on an aspirational platform by the Asian-American communities and schools. I have spent a lot of my life marketing pro tennis internationally with a major focus on the Asia-Pacific region, China and particularly and I am convinced that we have – particularly with our Olympic sports – maybe football not as much interestingly. But you think of sports like basketball, golf and tennis and volleyball and swimming. I think we have a tremendous opportunity to play competitions over there and invite teams to come play at Pac 10s schools, to have information sharing, knowledge transfer and ultimately get some of our games broadcast in Asia and develop commercial opportunities around that. That would be great for Pac 10 athletics but it also would open up opportunities for our schools more broadly to tell their story.
"We are looking at the moment at golf, basketball, baseball but it could be a variety of sports but those are the sports that have expressed a real interest."
The Pac 10 has had very little exposure on the United States east coast. The schools are far away although UCLA was once the gold standard of college basketball and USC, tarnished or not by scandal, had a great run under Pete Carroll. The Pac 10 is in two major media markets, LA and San Francisco but there is a push for national recognition, which, of course, might mean more funding through cable TV dollars and marketing partners.
"Before we structure new media agreements, we were somewhat limited in what we can do," Scott explained. "I am looking for the conference to get more national exposure. We are very strong in our region. But we are looking for national exposure and there really are two things we are focused on there -- showing a little flexibility with our broadcast partners (Rupert Murdoch's FOX and Disney's ESPN) trying to get us windows to get us more national exposure. Secondly, marketing the conference more aggressively, being more proactive. Getting out here (New York) telling our story a little bit different. Doing things for the first time that have not been done before. Getting people to open their eyes and minds a little bit to the to the Pac 10 and just get more in the national narrative."
The rush to get more money has changed the playing field in college sports. The recent multi-billion dollar deal between Sumner Redstone's CBS and Turner Sports for the NCAA's March Madness Men's Basketball Tournament will fund a lot of sports programs but football is driving the conference realignments. There is a copious amount of money that conferences get from football, particularly cable TV if the conferences land packages on ESPN or form their own networks on basic-expanded where all cable subscribers pay for what a fraction of subscribers watch.
College sports used to be thought of as an amateur endeavor. Big time college football and basketball are professional businesses. The athletic director of a school runs a multi-million dollar business and depends on the same formula for success as pro leagues --government support, cable TV and corporate dollars. The difference between the pros and the colleges is that big-time college sports don't pay the athletes although they will argue that a scholarship is enough. Football and men's college basketball coaches get paid handsomely, in the multi-million dollar range. Colleges get big money deals from TV networks, boosters, alums, marketing partners and they all have a say in what happens in the industry. There is nothing amateur about big time college sports except maybe the players.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio and TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at

Trump’s ‘You’re Fired’ moment in football

Trump’s ‘You’re Fired’ moment in football
By Evan Weiner - The Daily Caller 10:18 AM 07/28/2010

Donald Trump will once again be presented on NBC this fall as the as an incredibly successful businessman and host of a so-called “reality” show, The Apprentice.
There is no such thing as “reality” on “reality TV” despite the publicity surrounding programs like Trumps’, however, since the show features a man who has been anything but successful with the failure of his football team and his casinos in Atlantic City, New Jersey, his airline and other ventures.
Trump probably doesn’t like to be reminded of this, but people who were connected with the United States Football League will tell you Trump, more than anyone else, was the leader in destroying the league which last played on July 14, 1985. While Trump wasn’t the only poor businessman in the endeavor; he just led the owners down the path to ruin.
On July 29, 1986, Trump’s football aspirations came to a crushing end. A Federal Court jury in New York couldn’t figure out the football business and handed him both a win and loss.
A quarter of a century later, The Donald is not a beloved football icon.
To this day, Trump is remembered as the pied piper who failed USFL people. Former USFL personnel are not impressed with The Apprentice, Trump’s golfing exploits, his boxing ventures, his character on wrestling or his licensing of his name to businesses.
He failed at a business that should have worked. Spring football in the United States should have been foolproof, as it came with a TV deal with ABC and a separate deal with the Getty Oil owned ESPN (Getty sold ESPN to ABC in 1984).
The United States Football League started at a swanky New York hotel on May 11, 1982 and died in New York in a court house in Foley Square about four years later. The league had franchises in Arizona, Birmingham, Boston, Chicago, Denver, Detroit, Los Angeles, New Jersey, Oakland, Philadelphia, Tampa Bay and Washington and had a two-year TV agreement with ABC and ESPN and a national radio contract with ABC.
Eleven days prior to the league’s first games, Heisman Trophy winner and underclassman Herschel Walker signed a deal with Walter Duncan’s New Jersey Generals. That signing would eventually change National Football League eligibility rules. Duncan would sell the franchise to Trump on September 22, 1983 after the first season was complete. The team cost Trump a reported six million dollars. Trump had originally sought a USFL team when Dixon was planning the league but had some financial problems and didn’t go through with purchase.
The USFL had strong franchises and as many weak ones, like the Boston Breakers. The Breakers encountered stadium problems and moved to New Orleans in 1984 and then to Portland in 1985. Like a good number of USFL teams, financial problems beset them.
Oddly enough, while the USFL was going through financial woes, another group of businessmen led by Californian Alex Bell decided 1984 would be a good year to start yet another spring football league.
The International Football League announced its official formation on July 1, 1983, at Donald Trump’s Grand Hyatt Hotel next to Grand Central Terminal. It is unknown whether the check cleared for the IFL banquet and meetings at Trump’s hotel.
The news conference was a big party that featured cheerleaders, lots of food and drink and IFL hats. It would be the only “official” function the league would hold.
The IFL’s twelve charter franchises included Chicago, Florida, Honolulu, Houston, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, Nebraska, New York, North Carolina (Charlotte), Ohio, San Jose, and Tennessee. The league would also play in the spring, like the USFL.
Yet, the IFL faded away by 1984.
Years later, another group of businessmen were poised to start a league in the 1990s called the Professional Spring Football League. Again there was a New York news conference to alert the world that a new league was coming. The league even brought in ex-Jets and ex-Generals coach Walt Michaels to head up a New York entry, but all that is left of the league are some baseball caps with the letters PSFL. Michaels decided not to discuss his years with Trump that day.
Following the first season, the USFL added six teams in Pittsburgh, Houston, San Diego, Jacksonville, San Antonio and Memphis. Trump purchased the Generals on September 22, 1983. Chicago and Arizona swapped franchises. San Diego never played a game and moved operations to Tulsa. Boston became the New Orleans Breakers.
The league continued to be beset with financial problems in 1984. Chicago and Pittsburgh folded. The Tulsa based Oklahoma Outlaws merged business operations with Arizona who had been Chicago in 1983; the Detroit based Michigan Panthers hooked up with the Oakland Invaders. Philadelphia moved to Baltimore to play home games but the Stars trained in Philadelphia. Washington relocated to Orlando, New Orleans ended up in Portland and the USFL took over the Los Angeles Express, who among other contracts gave Steve Young a $40 million contract.
The Express owner William Oldenberg spent wildly on players and lost $15 million. Oldenburg had major financial problems as well and left the team a financial ruin. The ABC deal required the league to have teams in New York (New Jersey), Los Angeles and Chicago. Chicago folded, the league kept Los Angeles going in 1985 because of the ABC deal and Trump, well Trump was talking about building a condominium stadium in the Flushing junk yards across the way from Shea Stadium in Queens, New York. Trump, to his credit, was the first to publicly talk about a plan that required customers to buy a seat license and then pay for a ticket. It is a concept that many NFL teams use today.
The spring league had plans to compete with the NFL in the fall of 1986. Led by Trump and Eddie Einhorn, who promised to take over the defunct Chicago franchise if the league abandoned the March to July schedule, the league started making moves.
The USFL filed an anti-trust suit against the National Football League, charging in part that the NFL monopolized the fall football television schedule. Trump somehow convinced his fellow owners that the league would thrive by going head to head with the NFL in the fall. Originally the USFL brought in famed attorney Roy Cohn to handle the case but settled on Harvey Myerson was their lead attorney. According to Carl Peterson, who ran the Philadelphia-Baltimore Stars franchise for Myles Tannenbaum, the NFL wanted to avoid a court case and offered to take two unnamed USFL franchises, presumably Baltimore and Oakland (to replace the departed Oakland Raiders and Baltimore Colts in the NFL) but USFL owners like Trump and Einhorn balked at the possibility and demanded that the NFL take at least four and possibly as many as six USFL teams and decided that an antitrust suit against the NFL was the way to proceed.
Baltimore had a USFL championship caliber team in the Stars and had an owner who probably would have made the cut in the NFL, Myles Tannenbaum. Oakland did not do well financially however the NFL spent a lot of money and time in court fighting Raiders owner Al Davis’ right to relocate his team from Oakland to Los Angeles which made the city a lead candidate for NFL inclusion. The NFL had passed on Birmingham and Memphis in 1976 after the World Football League folded and it was unlikely those two USFL cities were on the short list of towns the NFL wanted. Other USFL cities that might have piqued the NFL’s interest from the USFL could have been Jacksonville and Phoenix. The NFL had no desire to take Trump’s franchise.
There were other bad owners like the San Antonio Gunslingers Clinton Manges who had no money. The late Harry Usher, the USFL Commissioner who presided over the league in the Trump days. Manges once threw a pair of guns on the table at a USFL meeting in Teaneck, New Jersey for some reason and Usher politely asked Manges to put his toys away. Peterson remembers a meeting where Manges was being asked about lack of payments to players and Manges told Usher to line up with all the others who were suing him.
“We had a real good season with the Breakers in Boston,” recalled Dick Coury who made the cross continent trip between 1983-85 with his team in Boston, New Orleans and Portland. “It was three great experiences. It was different. In the National Football League, when you change cities, it means you got fired.
Coury admitted that the strain of financial uncertainty certainly played a role on his teams. The moves affected families, in terms of setting up homes, doing banking, and other day to day tasks. That affected the team that was 11-7 in 1983, 8-10 in 1984 and 6-12 in 1985.
“It was difficult and most of our players did go to all three cities,” he recalled. “When we moved, the team did house the coaches until the players got there. We moved in the off-season, so most of players just came into town and found apartments for the season. It was not easy, but our players took it well. It was trying for some of the families. We had to be ready to move, we didn’t unpack in any city, we just kept our clothes in a suitcase, in case we had to move we were ready to go.”
Coury had been with the Portland World Football League franchises in the 1974. The World Football League somehow lasted until 1975.
“In the World Football League, we had players mostly at the end of their career. I had players like Ben Davidson and Pete Beathard, who could still play but were on the downward side. In the USFL, we had some great players like Herschel Walker, Jim Kelly, Marcus DuPree.”
“Had we stayed in the spring, we would still be playing in the USFL,” he said.
But his former Breakers owner Randy Vataha said it was just not that simple. He remembered an owner’s dinner prior to the start of the league when Tampa Bay owner John Bassett was asked about how a league operated as Bassett was the only USFL owner with previous ownership experience with the WFL, and the World Hockey Association Toronto Toros/Birmingham Bulls.
“Bassett said, we will have 12 teams, six games a week. Six teams will win, six will lose and we need to understand that to be a successful league,” said Vataha.
“Our payrolls were about $1.5 million a year. The NFL was around $6-7 million. As teams started to lose, they went after NFL players and brought the average to $5 million.
“That was $42 million more than we had budgeted.”
To offset the 1983 losses, the league expanded to six cities and got some $36 from expansion monies to split between the 12 original teams. One of those new owners was Trump.
“Trump lobbied for one year to move to the fall, and so we suspended the league during the antitrust law suit and we would have started in the fall of 1986,” said Vataha.
Only July 29, 1986, a jury declared that the NFL was an illegal monopoly but they could not figure out what to pay the USFL in damages. They decided to give the USFL a dollar and hoped that the Judge Peter K. Leisure would adjust the figure. Apparently the jury did not understand Judge Leisure’s instructions on monetary damages.
Myerson and the league won the case, but were awarded just $3 in damages. Vataha said the real cause of the league’s demise was not NFL owners but USFL owners who didn’t pay attention to what Bassett said.
“No matter what you spend, there are six teams that win and six teams that lose every week. We could have been successful if we stayed a spring football league, had a budgetary restraint and didn’t compete with the NFL. But some of the owners decided they had to win and went out of business,” said Vataha.
“The salaries went up; we expanded too fast and decided to play in the fall. We went out of business.”
The end of the USFL meant Jim Kelly, Herschel Walker, more than 100 players would join the NFL player ranks. Three players would contribute to the Giants 1986 Super Bowl victory, offensive lineman Bart Oates, running back Maurice Carthon and punter Sean Landeta.
“I just kind of laughed a little bit after months and months of high profile courtroom proceedings ended up in a $3 outcome. I thought that was kind of funny,” said Landeta. “Other than that, I thought a lot of fun like that went down the drain.”
Donald Trump never owned another football team and within a few years of the demise of the USFL faced severe financial problems. Chances are pretty good Trump will never own an NFL team. The USFL should have said to Trump, “You’re Fired” back in 1984 or 1985. But Trump does have a TV show, and has proven what comedian Billy Crystal once said about him when he walked it a room at a 2008 golfing event. Crystal in his Howard Cosell voice announced, here he comes ladies and gentlemen: P. T. Barnum.
Barnum was the king of the side show as is Trump today.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio and TV commentator and speaker on “The Politics of Sports Business” and can be reached at

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Friday, July 23, 2010

Discarded NFL players are often forgotten in retirement

Discarded NFL players are often forgotten in retirement
FRIDAY, 23 JULY 2010 16:15

As National Football League training camps begin to open up around the country, (the New York Jets in Cortland, N.Y. on Aug. 1, the New York Giants in Albany, N.Y. also on Aug. 1 and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lehigh in Bethlehem, Pa. on Monday) some 2,560 players are getting ready for what has become an annual ritual — two a day sessions upon the broiling sun to prove they belong on the field. Eventually only 1,696 of them will make teams. A number of the 864 players who are "cut" might end up on practice squads where they make a minimum of $5,200 a week to hone their skills. Some of the players will be placed on injured reserve and will either return to the field or get cut when they are deemed healthy. Each team can keep as many as eight players on the payroll (practice squad) which means 256 players might get another shot at a roster spot when a team loses a player to an injury.
Football is a tough game. Americans have been sold on football's brutality since the October 31, 1960 CBS documentary called "The Violent World of Sam Huff" which was narrated by Walter Cronkite. Yes TV networks once did documentaries in a time when TV news did reporting, research and presented facts and not worried about being profitable. In the 1970s, Al Primo convinced TV executives that news could be turned into entertainment and news divisions could make really big money. Cable TV news would take Primo's idea to the next level and began to feature raving lunatics screaming about their viewpoint because it made for "good TV". Huff was a linebacker with the New York Giants and was the first NFL player ever to appear on the cover of Time magazine on November 30, 1959. Huff's job was to "hurt people" because football was a "man's game" according to the accompanying Time magazine column.
The Huff piece came about 10 months after the "greatest football game ever" when Johnny Unitas led the Baltimore Colts to an overtime win over the Giants in the NFL Championship Game, a game that captivated Americans and propelled the NFL from a "mom and pop" operation into the big time. Huff wasn't the best linebacker in the NFL but played for the "glamorous" New York Giants, a team that caught the fancy of Madison Avenue's advertising community and the TV networks which were headquartered in New York. Huff's Giants didn't win the 1958 championship, Baltimore did but Baltimore was led by a quiet crew cut quarterback named Unitas while the Giants had the handsome Frank Gifford and the tough as nails Huff.
Sam Huff became a successful businessman after his career. Unitas didn't. The quarterback who put the NFL on the map couldn't use his right hand as he got older because of a tendon injury he suffered in 1968. He has two knee replacements and heart bypass was denied disability. Unitas died in 2002 but the denial of disability to the quarterback who put the NFL on the map still draws the ire of former players in tough spots.
In 2007, Congresswoman Linda Sanchez, the chair of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Commercial and Administrative Law, held a hearing because she wanted to have "an open discussion on the fairness of the system to severely disabled retired players." It was the start of drawing attention to the plight of retired NFL players. Johnny Unitas' widow Sandra was in Washington watching the hearings.
Huff in his Time magazine interview in 1959 didn't say anything new. A Life magazine had a cover story on December 3, 1971 "Suicide Squad Football's most violent men." Suicide squads have been given a more genteel name — "Special Teams" — but that's where rookies have to first earn their stripes in the NFL. Special teams are the worst assignments on the team and punt returns can be especially dangerous.
Football has been wrestling with players been injured and maimed for more than a century. President Theodore Roosevelt in 1905 told college presidents to clean up the game or he would ban football because of the number of deaths and injuries associated with the game.
New rules were implemented but the game remained violent and more than a century later, it seems that not much has changed. Players are still one play away from ending their career and that leads to the question.
Do the young players and some of the veterans who are about to go to camp know what they are getting into? If you listen to Dave Pear (and other older retired players who suffered life changing injuries playing football), the answer is no. Pear played in the NFL for six years as a defensive tackle between 1975 and 1980 with the Baltimore Colts, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Oakland Raiders. He played in one Pro Bowl and was a member of the Raiders Super Bowl XV championship team in 1980-81. Despite all of that, Pear wished he never played football.
"They think they are but no they are not," said Pear who broke his neck during his career and is facing hip replacement surgery in the very near future. "I don't begrudge the active players one penny and I suggest to them save as much as you can because when they become 40, 45, 50, 55, if things don't change, they are going to need the money because the union won't support them."
Pear is uninsurable and depends on government support such as Medicare and social security disability for his medical needs. But he might be one of the lucky ones as he has his wife's support and seems willing to take on the NFL and the NFLPA in an effort to get access to his benefits. He is one of the few with George Visger, Brent Boyd, Conrad Dobler and Mike Ditka who are speaking out about what they feel is the NFL and the NFLPA's abandonment of broken down old players who are in need.
But a lot of former players are not talking, partly because they have been trained since junior high school to "suck it up" and "be a man" which is the football mentality. Most players who play college football have no skills when they leave college because they don't get an education as they are too busy playing football. Sunday's warriors have been beaten over their heads since they were small and are team players even in retirement.
Retired players face high rates of divorce, face bankruptcies and have to put up with the pain of serious injuries on a daily basis. Alzheimer's disease and memory-related diseases in former players between the ages of 30 and 49 are 19 percent higher than average in that population pool.
"Football players wear a mask," said Pear. "All people see is a number. We are just a number that is how football works. Nobody knows how many retired players there (in dire straits)."
The House of Representatives has been holding hearings and monitoring the head injuries situation around the NFL. In 2009, several House members did not think NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell or the league has done enough to care for players with head injuries — concussions — and that the league really has not made much of an effort investigating long time damage from concussions suffered by players who worked in the NFL as players.
Pear and other retirees have been after the league and the players association to do more and it wasn't until Congress stepped in and began hearings in 2007 that the league and the players association took notice.
The NFL and researches have been at odds over the sports head trauma and later cognitive degeneration. Researchers looking into the relationship between concussions and cognitive problems have seen a link while the NFL's medical committee on concussions has not. On December 3, 2009, the NFL changed the league's concussion policy telling teams that if a player shows any significant sign of concussion that player must be removed from a game or practice and cannot return to the field on the same day.
New NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith told the retirees that "the rift is over" between the old players and the union and that help for those in need is on the way. But Pear doesn't see any evidence that the rift is really over. "The NFL grosses about eight and a half billion dollars a year, so where is the dough? (Former Executive Director, the late Gene) Upshaw once said we could not receive a pension and disability. Now we have the Gene Upshaw Dire Need Fund, but nothing has changed. So (to today's players) save every penny because once they realize they need medical insurance and can't get it."
When the cheering stops for a good number NFL players, there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Because of the injuries, a good many players became medical liabilities and are uninsurable. The National Football League does not guarantee contracts and if you are a marginal player who was injured, as soon as a doctor pronounces you healthy, you could be cut and your contract just ends with some severance pay.
Players of Pear's era got no severance and there was no guaranteed money given as a bonus. The bonus money is the only payment that a player will get, all players are then on a week-to-week basis. Virtually all of the players are replaceable on the spot.
"I know there is no pot of gold," said Pear. "In football, you are only a number. When you are a professional football player, you think you are invincible but when you get hit in the head, you injure your brain and life becomes different. We want our disability, our pension and future medical benefits. We don't want charity"
The football culture is different than real life. Football players grow up in a paramilitary setting as one long time NFL owner once said. That may explain why the National Football League Players Association has never been as effective as the Major League Baseball Players Association or the National Basketball Players Association or the National Hockey League Players Association in delivering guaranteed contracts to their members. The NFLPA seemingly has been pushing salaries up throughout the last four decades and not worrying about aftercare for former members until recently when the league and the players association were hauled before Congress to talk about the plight of former players.
"What they have done is create a myth," said Pear. "They have misled these young men telling them to be tough and work through injuries. Major League Baseball, the NBA and the NHL guarantee disability, pensions and medical their career. They (the NFL and the NFLPA) have convinced up that we do not deserve it. They have not allowed us access to our benefits which is not right and that has hurt players and players' families."
The National Football league Players Association has not kept records detailing the difficulties former union members have had in their post-football lives. One of the problems is that most players last 3 1/2 years in the league and pensions for players with three years in the league is not much. But the 3 1/2 year average is deceiving. Running backs may last 2.2 years and not be eligible for a pension or benefits as an example. The NFL may be recognized as the National Football League, but people in the NFL know the initials NFL as Not For Long. A good number of players never make it to where they can apply for a pension or disability and by the time they get to the NFL, after surviving high school and college ball, they probably have had some injury baggage. There is a disability benefit plan but according to Pear, it is more lip service than reality.
Congress, for the most part, has left the NFL issue behind although the House could call the NFL and NFLPA before them at any time. Pear is of the opinion that Congress, a class action suit by former players and chipping away at the NFL's image are three areas where the retired players can make the most strides.
The class action suit demanding compensation for injuries would need a law firm with deep pockets willing to take on the NFL and would require players to step up and talk about their problems. It might be easier to find a law firm than getting macho tough guys to go public. There is still a stigma attached even in retirement for players who don't toe the company line. Congress can go after two of the league's antitrust exemptions, the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961 which allowed the NFL to package all of the league's teams (14 in 1961, 32 in 2010) and sell the league to over-the-air and cable TV networks as one entity and undo the 1966 American Football league and National football League merger. That is highly unlikely but the NFL can be vulnerable there. The NFL does a remarkable job selling the product — football — but can the NFL afford images of broken down old stars and grunts who are relatively young, in their 40s and 50s parading around with ailments suffered in games?
It is unlikely that NFL media partners, Sumner Redstone's CBS (or any of the Redstone's holdings including Showtime), General Electric's NBC, Disney's ESPN or Rupert Murdoch's FOX businesses (including Fox News Channel or the FOX Business Channel) would tackle the issue. Newspapers are not partners with the NFL but newspaper sports sections depend on the NFL to fill up space for content and hope that readers will pay attention to ads and some of the ads are football related wrapped around Thanksgiving, weekends and playoff games leading up to the Super Bowl. A reporter sniffing around might lose access to the NFL and most writers would rather give up their right arms than be denied NFL access. The NFL controls the narrative and while Time Warner (the cable TV programmer and channel stock side not the stock side that owns Time Warner Cable) no longer has an NFL TV contract and could do pieces on CNN (a news network that hardly covers news), Time Warner might not want to show the NFL in a bad light. Image or perceived perception is everything to the NFL.
Pear fits into the study of short term memory problems. "There is a problem, you don't know what it is, as a player you are taught to work through it, but as you get older....I wished I never played. I enjoyed playing football when I was not injured. I played with a broken neck for two years. It wasn't worth it."
The image of the NFL, the romance of training camp, the start of the season goes fully on display by Aug. 1. The question for the 2,560 players who are in training camps is simple? Do you know what you are getting into? It is a question that only they can answer and perhaps instead of worrying about how much money they can get in the ongoing collective bargaining agreement, the players should check off safety concerns for both active and retired players (even though retired players don't pay the salaries of NFLPA staff) as their top priority in the next CBA.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio and TV commentator and speaking on "The Politics of Sports Business." He can be reached at

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Forget Lebron — bigger NBA stories are on tap for the summer

Forget Lebron — bigger NBA stories are on tap for the summer
By Evan Weiner - TheDC 2:07 AM 07/22/2010
The National Basketball Association’s biggest public splash of the summer is the Miami franchise signings of Lebron James and Chris Bosh and getting Dwayne Wade to stay in South Florida and forming the nucleus of a “super” team.
That story is garnering a lot of attention globally, but underneath Heat owner Ted Arison’s opening the checkbook and getting three stars on his roster, there is a boat load of trouble brewing in NBA Commissioner David Stern’s world. The sale of the Golden State Warriors by Chris Cohan to a group led by Jacob Lacob for a reported $450 million is a silver lining because it means there are still people willing to put up big money for a franchise for Stern, but it is one of the few pieces of good news that the NBA bean counters will get in the next 12 months.
In Stern’s world, two immediate problems have cropped up. And in the somewhat distant future, there is a possibility that the owners will lockout the players on July 1, 2011 in an attempt to rein in salaries as part of a new collective bargaining agreement. Stern’s owners allegedly lost $400 million in their business last year.
In California, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has threatened to cut state employees hourly wages to the minimum wage of $7.25 because of California’s extreme budget crisis, and that is not good news for the Sacramento Kings ownership group looking for funding for a new arena in California’s state capital. A good many workers in Sacramento are state employees and might not be able to afford Kings games if they lose money or their jobs. How can the Maloof brothers, the Kings owners, ask for public funds when there is nothing but fiscal bad news coming out of the state house on a daily basis?
Schwarzenegger had a court’s backing to cut the salaries of some 200,000 state workers until a state budget is passed. Schwarzenegger’s leverage in the political process disappeared last Friday. The Sacramento area could have lost as much as $60 million a week in wages if Schwarzenegger went ahead with the plan. But Schwarzenegger’s idea has been blocked by Judge Patrick Marlette of Sacramento County Superior Court for the time being.
On Tuesday, the Sacramento City Council passed a resolution asking Schwarzenegger to reconsider his order as one in five Sacramento workers are state employees.
Schwarzenegger promised that the pay cuts will be rescinded when the state comes up with a budget. None of this can please NBA Commissioner David Stern who stepped into the Sacramento arena battle in December 2006.
On November 7, 2006, Sacramento voters flatly turned down Proposition Q 72-28 and Proposition R 80-20; both measures would have provided funding for a new arena.
Sacramento voters just did not want to fork over anything extra for a sports arena for the Maloofs, but that did not made Sacramento politicians and business leaders any less determined to build a new venue for an NBA team. Nearly four years later, there are still options on the table.
Stern hired John Moag, who helped negotiate the deal which brought Art Modell and his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore. Modell cut the deal with Maryland in the fall of 2005 and moved his NFL team to Baltimore for the 1996 season. Moag has been working at an arena proposal for years but hasn’t delivered one quite yet.
Sacramento politicians were prepared to give the Maloofs something no other California city would agree to in 2006. There was five hundred millions of dollar available for a sports facility. But the Maloof brothers didn’t really like the Sacramento deal as presented. Compared with New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago, Sacramento is a weak TV and corporate market, so the Maloofs needed every penny generated in the arena for their business and wanted no competing businesses near the building. The Maloofs wanted a parking lot, not a rebirth for a depressed economic area, by the rail yards. The parking lot would have been a revenue generator for the Maloofs, the city wanted to build on the parking lot in an effort to create businesses, jobs and a tax base.
The parking lot was a deal breaker as the Maloofs went to the sidelines during the 2006 arena campaign because business development was not good for them.
In Stern’s world — as in that of other big league sports commissioners — every team should be viewed as a three-legged stool. All three legs are needed or the stool falls over. In sports, the three all-important legs are big press and broadcast dollars, corporate support, and government. And if you can separate emotions and apply rationality to this issue, the Stern Theory makes a lot of sense.
Government: Without the support of a local mayor, city council, county officials, state government, governor, and federal government, you can’t operate a franchise. Local and state governments typically raise taxes to build arenas and stadiums or give land away for a sports owner to build on in exchange for payments (in lieu of taxes) and a promise that the arena or stadium will serve as an economic engine that will spark a local economy and create jobs.
There is a lot of local government support in Sacramento to build a new arena, an absolute necessity yet there are questions about where to put the building and how the construction will be funded.
Sports owners and sports leagues need government to give them total control of the revenues a municipally built facility generates, including on-site arena restaurants and stores and — a big revenue source — parking. Owners also need a government that will give them sweetheart leases and create special tax districts within the facility so that if a team owner contributes to the cost of the building, he/she can pocket some of the sales taxes collected and earmarked for government coffers.
Owners also don’t necessarily want to see development (such as restaurants and bars) outside their arena, because those establishments become competition for the dollar. The idea is to keep customers in the building, where they’ll spend on products and franchise-owned enterprises that their owners can cash in on.
For the Maloofs, a parking lot is more valuable than the potential for new businesses to pop up around the arena. It’s that simple: The brothers keep parking lot revenues and don’t have to compete with other businesses that might attract their customers.
Local Broadcasting: Comcast probably overpaid to land the Sacramento Kings cable TV rights so it could in turn launch a profitable San Francisco Bay Area regional sports network. Sports owners make billions from cable television, which Congress deregulated in the 1980s. Because of deregulation, everyone who has basic expanded cable pays for sports channels even if they never watch a regional sports network or tune in to national networks like ESPN and TNT. Hapless cable subscribers may pay anywhere between $7 and $12 a month for sports channels alone, and sports are the most costly part of the monthly cable bill. Congress refuses to address a la carte pricing, which would allow cable subscribers to choose which channels they want, in part because the financial toll could wipe out many cable TV networks and have serious impact on sports finances.
Corporate Support: Part three of the Stern trilogy. Someone has to pay for high-end seating like luxury boxes and club seats, and it’s not the everyday fan. In fact, owners don’t court fans; they want customers who can afford luxury suites and seats surrounding the basketball court or rink side seats at a hockey game. Corporate types buy seats and reap the tax write-off, whether they’ve gone to the games because they’re fans or just looking to be seen.
You can’t really blame the Maloofs for playing hardball in 2006. They were just following Stern’s three-legged sports business philosophy; Sacramento got a lesson in what it means to be a small market in the major leagues.
In Indianapolis, Herb Simon got another city bailout to help the “struggling” Indiana Pacers franchise. These two storylines are far more important to the financial health of the NBA than the Miami singings although the loss of Lebron James in Cleveland will return the northeastern Ohio city back into the NBA doldrums and that could add Cleveland owner Dan Gilbert to the list of financially hawks who might want to shut down the NBA next year when the collective bargaining agreement ends on June 30, 2011.
In a fiscal-conservative state, Indianapolis officials through the city’s Capital Improvement Board and Simon have adjusted a 1999 lease agreement and the city will give Simon $33.5 million over three seasons for expenditures to operate the city’s arena.
There will be a $10 million per year bailout to operate the arena along with $3.5 million for capital improvements between 2010 and 2013. The Capital Improvement Board, which is cash strapped, hopes to use funds from a one percent hike in the Indianapolis hotel tax to pay some of the $33.5 million they have committed.
Indianapolis has spent over a billion dollars on the arena and a new football stadium. Simon’s original lease gave him the ability to control the operations of the building, pay virtually no rent and keep all of the revenues from Pacers games and other events in the building. Despite the one-sided nature of the lease where Simon got virtually all of the revenues and the city got whatever was left, Simon has claimed his losses are staggering.
Simon’s Pacers will continue to play in the building for the next three years which ends Simon’s threat of moving the franchise for the time being. In 2013, Simon can move the team if his annual losses exceed $2 million. Should Simon find a greener pasture (Kansas City, Louisville, and Newark, New Jersey—the New Jersey Nets franchise does relocate to Brooklyn— he would have to give back a portion of the $30 million and pay money for breaking the 1999 lease that he signed with Indianapolis officials. Simon is free to leave without penalty in 2019.
Indianapolis is a small market and cannot compete with major markets on the same economic playing field and has given team owners the wherewithal with taxpayers dollars to be on an even playing field monetarily with New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and together big market cities.
Jim Irsay’s Indianapolis Colts National Football League franchise keeps rights to all football-related revenue in the almost new Indianapolis taxpayers funded stadium, as well as half the annual non- football revenue, up to $3.5 million. Irsay pays no rent to use the facility and has a lease until 2034. Irsay receives all revenues from a stadium name, signs and sponsorships in the stadium. The Capital Improvement Board picks up the tab for stadium maintenance and game-day expenses.
In the United States, local and state governments have been pouring millions of dollars into building sports facilities since Milwaukee funded County Stadium in 1950. Milwaukee pioneered giving away the store philosophy when the city finally got a Major League Baseball team. Lou Perini moved his Boston Braves to Wisconsin and got a gift, a stadium to use 77 times a year in 1953 (and beyond) in exchange for $1,000 in rent. Perini had some guilt about paying $1,000 in rent and keeping all the concession money so he gave Milwaukee $25,000 for rent after nearly 1.9 million people paid to see Braves baseball in Milwaukee in 1953. There is no real reason that municipalities spend billions on sports facilities other than it gives an area a sports identity and a meeting place where people to bond watching a game. But it sure seems rather expensive to prop up the sports business.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaking on “The Politics of Sports Business” and can be reached

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Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Next cable TV battle pits Time Warner against Disney

Next cable TV battle pits Time Warner against Disney
TUESDAY, 20 JULY 2010 14:46
You probably have heard or seen the new ad campaign warning Time Warner Cable TV customers that you better circle the wagons and switch to some alternative mode of TV delivery system soon or else. You see Time Warner and the Disney Corporation are engaging in a very public negotiation about the future of WABC, ESPN and other Disney products on that multiple systems operator's channel lineup. Disney wants more money for their product, Time Warner is "holding the line" to protect their customers from rate hike.
If the talks breakdown over money, there is a chance that Time Warner cable subscribers might be deprived of Regis and Kelly along with ESPN programming and other Disney cable networks on September 1. Disney will just stop providing Time Warner with programming.
If you think you have heard this before you are correct. Last winter, it was the Dolan family's Cablevision versus the Disney Company and at stake was the Academy Awards. The Dolans and the Disneys reached a carriage deal during the Academy Awards and suddenly Channel 7 in New York magically reappeared after the two sides agreed on a money package.
Time Warner, like Cablevision, is both a multiple systems operator and a cable TV programmer. Normally this would be a conflict of interest but seemingly there are no rules in the cable TV industry and ultimately the losers are cable TV consumers who have to pay more and more money for a product that is non-essential — cable TV. People could live without cable TV but both cable TV multiple system operators and cable TV programmers know that the majority of their consumers might complain but very few actually get rid of the product. So both sides seek sympathy while they line their pockets with cable fees that are never broken down in bills and don't allow much freedom of choice as there is a basic tier and an expanded basic tier and then other channels.
Time Warner collects billions of dollars from consumers for CNN, Headline News, the Cartoon Network and TNT along with other products. But Time Warner decided to launch a "Roll Over or Get Tough" website trying to make a case in informing consumers that Time Warner is on patrol and will remain ever vigilant against companies like Disney who want to raise the price of ESPN and other networks.
Time Warner claims that the multiple systems operating company keeps just six cents of every dollar collected for net income, 54 cents goes to operational costs and network operators like Time Warner (oops), Comcast, Disney, NBC Universal, FOX and CBS get 40 cents of every dollar for their programming.
On the website, Time Warner asks. "What do you suppose would happen if that $.40 (of the money that Time Warner collects from customers for programming) in the example above rose by 300%? Simple math would tell you that the price that Time Warner Cable pays for programming would rise from $.40 to $1.60 (oops, someone failed math at Time Warner U as 300 percent would be a $1.20)... and that would clearly impact the price you have to pay.
"But, in recent years, that's exactly what has happened. Some of those broadcast TV stations and cable networks have been demanding enormous price increases — as much as 300% more. And if we don't pay up? Then they threaten to pull the plug on the sports, entertainment and news that you rely on.
"This puts us in a tough position — roll over and raise your prices or get tough and risk losing the programming you love"
The cable operators and other delivery systems are now banding together to fight the programmers who want to pull their signals in contract disputes. Time Warner Cable, Cablevision, DirecTV and Verizon asked the Federal Communications Commission in March to consider requiring broadcasters to maintain their signals during disputes and to go to arbitration when the two sides cannot agree on the fees on retransmission consent.
This is a case of big boys fighting over money and the public is being used as a prop to justify Time Warner's position. Consumers are paying top dollar for Time Warner properties and are helping to pay Larry King more than six million dollars a year on CNN (CNN's on air "talent" doesn't come cheaply) and hundreds of millions of dollars to the National Basketball Association. (It is estimated that the NBA may be getting as much as $930 million a year from United States national TV rights which are owned by two cable networks — Time Warner's Turner Sports and Disney's ESPN). TBS also signed big contract entertainment deals for comedy and drama TV along with Conan O'Brien and George Lopez.
Last April, the National Collegiate Athletic Association-CBS and Time Warner signed an agreement that will give the over-the-air network, CBS, and the cable/broadband/wireless distributor Turner Broadcasting, the right to show the Division 1 Men's Basketball Championship between 2011 and 2024 on their delivery systems. The distributors, CBS and Turner Sports, will pay the NCAA members about $10.8 billion over the life of that contract. All the tournament games will be shown live across four national networks, beginning in 2010. CBS Sports and Turner Broadcasting will help out on the NCAA's corporate marketing program.
Just how will CBS and Turner Sports pay the actual bill? Sumner Redstone's CBS has to hope that there will not be a deep recession anytime in the next 14 years which will scare advertisers away from the TV, because over-the-air TV has just one revenue source to cover the bills — sponsorship or marketing partners — while Turner Broadcasting (Time Warner) has a dual revenue stream, user fees and advertising.
Most of the money needed to pay off the cable/satellite TV bill will come from consumers. Although Time Warner will never give exact figures as to how much they charge consumers for TNT, TBS or truTV, those numbers are believed to be a dollar a subscriber for TNT, fifty cents for TBS and about a dime for the ratings-challenged truTV, which used to be the ratings-challenged Court TV.
Time Warner is actually footing the bill; with CBS paying Time Warner back as much as $670 million a year. CBS will show the Final Four until 2015 and then the over-the-air network, CBS and the dual revenue cable company Time Warner, will alternate coverage on an annual basis.
In the fall of 2006, Major League Baseball signed a seven-year agreement with Turner Broadcasting System, which gave TBS the exclusive rights to the National League Championship Series in 2007, 2009, 2011 and 2013 and the American League Championship Series in 2008, 2010 and 2012. TBS also was given the rights to all regular season tie-breaker games, all Division Series games and the All-Star Game Selection Show. In 2008, TBS was allowed to carry Major League Baseball games on 26 Sunday afternoons. Time Warner (TBS) has a local deal with the Atlanta Braves and has a piece of the New York regional sports cable channel, SNY, along with the Mets ownership and another cable company Comcast. The deal with Major League Baseball is estimated to be worth between $300 and 420 million.
Who do you think is paying for the programming?
Ted Turner? Of course not. He is not even at Turner anymore. Overall consumers might be paying more for Time Warner news-sports and entertainment than Disney's ESPN.
Disney has spent billions for National Football League, National Basketball Association, Major League Baseball and college sports contracts. ESPN just gave what is believed to be a 12-year, $1.86 billion contract to the Atlantic Coast Conference for the rights to college football and basketball games held in the conference. ESPN and the ESPN channels have the highest carriage fees in the business at over $4 a month per subscriber. While the big boys fight, the consumer gets no say unless the consumer decides to get rid of cable TV.
The cable industry has all sorts of anti-consumer protection thanks to the 1984 Cable TV Act passed by both bodies of Congress and signed into law by President Ronald Reagan. Cable networks can be bundled by the multiple systems operator and consumers cannot pick and choose what channel they want to purchase. The last pro-choice attempt that Congress made to help consumers took place in 2004. Georgia House member (Republican) Nathan Deal's proposed legislation that went nowhere.
Representative Deal had a very unusual coalition of support for his bill. The Concerned Women for America, along with the Parents Television Council, the Consumers Union and the Consumer Federation of America, petitioned Congress, asking for pro-choice when it comes to cable-television options and threw its weight behind the Video Programming Choice and Decency Act of 2004, which would have given all cable subscribers the right to pick and choose what programming they want.
Time Warner may want to "Roll Over or Get Tough" but before they start complaining about The Disney Company (and there is a laundry list of problems associated with Disney), they ought to be a little more honest about their accusations. Time Warner is as much a culprit in rising cable TV costs as anyone in the business.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Business of Sports" and can be reached at

Monday, July 19, 2010

A potential sports financial fiasco in the making just north of the New Jersey-New York border

A potential sports financial fiasco in the making just north of the New Jersey-New York border
MONDAY, 19 JULY 2010 08:27
About eight miles north of the New Jersey-New York border after Chestnut Ridge Road in Montvale turns into Route 45 in New York State (near Exit 12 of the Palisades Parkway), there is supposed to be a baseball park built by June 6, 2011. The Town of Ramapo, (New York) Supervisor Christopher St. Lawrence has decided that his town needs an independent baseball league team in the financially challenged Can-Am League.
Ramapo needs something to distinguish itself from other New York City suburban communities in St. Lawrence's thinking and a money-losing stadium hosting a team in a shaky independent baseball league with baseball players who were stars in high school or college or older players who have been in the Major Leagues but have been injured or past their prime with virtually no chance to make it to "The Show" is just the thing.
The Cam-Am League has six (two from New Jersey) teams playing in 2010. St. Lawrence wants to see Ramapo included as the league's seventh team in 2011 and he has authorized the town to build a $25 million ($16.7 million for the stadium the rest for land acquisition), 3,500-seat park for an owner who wants to cast his lot in a league that doesn't seem to have too many fans. According to the Can-Am website, the league's attendance through July 17 should cause Town of Ramapo residents real concerns as they are the ones who will pay for St. Lawrence's dream.
The Quebec City-based Capitales have had the most customers so far this year with 69,735 tickets sold in 23 dates or about 3,031 a game. The Jersey Jackals, a team that plays games at Yogi Berra Stadium on the grounds of Montclair State University, have sold 46,779 people in 22 openings or an average of 2,126 a date. In Brockton, Massachusetts, near Boston, the Rox franchise is nearly on par with the Jackals in getting fannies in the seats. Brockton has attracted 49,162 people in 24 games or an average of 2,048. In Worcester, Massachusetts, the Tornadoes team has played 23 home games and has sold 43,111 tickets or 1,874 a game.
The Augusta, New Jersey-based Sussex Skyhawks have had a difficult time selling tickets since the team began in 2006. This year the team has played 22 home games and has drawn just 40,513 or an average of 1,841 an outing. The team's attendance has dropped every year since 2,006.
Pittsfield, Massachusetts's Colonials franchise has played 19 home games and is averaging 870 tickets sold per game. Colonials baseball has drawn 16,532 fans this year.
This is the grim financial picture of the league that St. Lawrence wants his taxpayers to invest in by building a stadium for prospective owners. As St. Lawrence was making his push to get a stadium funded and a prospective owner, the East Ramapo School District (which is part of the Town of Ramapo) was making plans to lay off workers and was closing a school, the Hillcrest School which is not far from where the stadium with a promise of a few minimum wage per diem jobs will be built.
St. Lawrence has not yet used the old bromide that the stadium will be an economic engine and a job creator. Can-Am League players don't get paid much money either. Independent baseball differs from minor league baseball in a significant way. Major League Baseball teams pick up the salaries for managers, coaches, players and trainers in the farm system which eliminates a significant payroll item for owners, in the independent leagues, owners pay for everything. There is a tight salary cap in the independent leagues.
The Can-Am League has a long list of defunct teams: Atlantic City, N.J., Elmira, N.Y. (Elmira lost an affiliated baseball team after Major League Baseball in 1990 took a look at minor league baseball parks and established new guidelines for affiliated teams that demanded minor league team owners or local municipalities spend hundreds of millions of dollars across the United States and Canada to upgrade existing minor league facilities or build new ones. Elmira's local officials said no and Elmira lost a New York Penn League team – Elmira was a Baltimore Orioles affiliate for years and one of the team's managers was Baseball Hall of Famer Earl Weaver – Elmira has been on the outside since the 1990 Major League-Minor League Baseball agreement.), New Hampshire (Nashua), New Haven, North Shore (Lynn, Ma.) and Ottawa, Ontario.
A 2005 team was support to play in Bangor, Maine. That franchise became a road team known as the Grays and folded with Elmira after the 2005 inaugural Can-Am season. The league had 10 teams in 2007 and has lost 40 percent of the league members since then.
But St. Lawrence is moving ahead and has signed a memorandum of understanding through the not for profit Ramapo Local Development Corporation and Bottom 9 Baseball, LLC. The document is not a binding legal paper but it lays out what is ahead for Ramapo taxpayers and the baseball team owners. RLDC and Bottom 9 Baseball have 18 months to finish a deal after the clock started on June 4, 2010. It is not as though Ramapo had many suitors at the town's doorstep for the new stadium. It is going to be a tough go for anyone to sellout a 3,500-seat baseball stadium in Ramapo and in the "secondary" markets of Rockland and Orange Counties in New York and Bergen County in New Jersey.
The contract between the town and the team will be for 20-years, which is quite a stretch considering the Can-Am League is just playing a sixth season after reorganizing following the failure of the Northeast League. The Northeast League began in 1995 and merged with the Northern League in 1998. The two groups split after the 2002 season.
The league has never enjoyed financial stability in 16-years of various incarnations.
The Ramapo-Bottom 9 Baseball deal could fall apart on August 15, 2010 if a number of conditions have not been met. Ramapo and RLDC have to find money to support the construction (with or without Ramapo taxpayers' approval) and have to get all the necessary land approvals. Lawsuits could delay or scuttle the project entirely. Bottom 9 Baseball also has to be in a league by October 8, 2010.
Assuming Bottom 9 Baseball gets into the Can-Am League (and pays a million dollars or so for that right) and is set to go and Ramapo or the RLDC gets the stadium funding together, the new facility will be built over the winter and will be ready to open on June 6, 2011. Bottom 9 Baseball will be throwing a million dollars or four percent of the estimated costs into the venue. The team will pay $175,000 a year in rent. It would take more than a century for Ramapo to get back the construction costs at that rate. The team threw a couple of bones to Ramapo. The municipality will get a dollar for each ticket sold (not including those seats in the stadium's 20 luxury boxes – the town will get some money from those seats and some money from the sale of the stadium's naming rights. What are the odds that a Ramapo Stadium can get any money for naming rights when the New York Giants/Jets Meadowlands Stadium, the Dallas Cowboys Stadium and the Golden State Warriors facility are still unnamed?)
The team will give Ramapo two dollars from each car parked in the stadium's lot for a game. The town will also get 10 percent of the concessions whether it is food, beverage or merchandise sold at the stadium. The team will keep signage rights in the building. Based on Can-Am League attendance figures, the Town of Ramapo will get somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000 a game if the town and team is lucky.
Revenues will come in at $500,000 and that is a big maybe from games in real world projections not Town of Ramapo hired economist projections.
Ramapo taxpayers better understand that this stadium will be a loss leader no matter what both sides say. Ramapo officials think the team will bring in $900,000 in stadium related revenues. The bad news, the revenues figure is grossly overstated, the good news for Ramapo is that at this point they are not being asked to pay the team's expenses like New Orleans and Indianapolis and Glendale, Arizona residents are doing for pro sports teams. The bad news is that Ramapo will have to find money somewhere to pay from the annual $1.3 million stadium debt. That money won't be coming from local college baseball teams (Rockland Community College, St. Thomas Aquinas College and Dominican College) or high school baseball or stadium concerts, as the seating capacity is too small for anything but small acts.
There is also a question of infrastructure (road repairs, sewer installation and other improvements) and other costs including police. Can the area also handle game day traffic, although that would seem to be a moot point considering the lack of attendance in the Can-Am league? (Cars used to back up on Route 59 for the old Rockland Drive In Movie and clog traffic for an hour back in the 1950s into the 1970s on rare occasions.)
Another question that should be answered: Who is paying RLDC's legal fees? St. Lawrence or the town?
There is also a clause about radio and TV and how Ramapo and the RLDC will get some advertising money from broadcasts and telecasts of the team. Many Major League Baseball teams, National Basketball Association, National Hockey League and National Football League teams have revenue sharing deals with local radio stations and a radio network. Ramapo has two radio stations.
There is a major radio problem, the stronger signal of the two Rockland radio stations (a 1,000 watt daytime) broadcasts in Polish and the other is a 500 watt station daytime that doesn't cover the entire county. Most games will be played at night when the station's signals are diminished under rules established by the Federal Communications Commission. The money that can be charged for a commercial on a small radio station for an independent baseball league team might amount to tip money at a local diner.
There is always Internet radio.
Unless some local access cable TV company wants to put some games on TV, there will be no TV. The affiliated Brooklyn Cyclones franchise in the Short Season A Ball, New York-Penn League is owned by the New York Mets and there are a couple games on TV on SNY and maybe a game here or there on WFAN. The Yankees' Staten Island affiliate in the New York Penn League is on the YES Network once in a while or a blue moon, whatever frequency is less.
The terms of the Ramapo-Bottom 9 Baseball agreement heavily favors the baseball team which is not surprising.
If the stadium is not done by June 6, 2011, Ramapo will pay Bottom 9 Baseball a penalty of $2,500 a day for every day the stadium is unusable or up to $175,000. If construction of the stadium starts and Bottom 9 Baseball cannot get into a league, Bottom 9 Baseball has to give Ramapo $675,000.

If the stadium isn't built and the RLDC and Bottom 9 Baseball have an agreement and the agreement is canceled out because there is no stadium by September 30, 2011, Ramapo taxpayers are on the hook for $500,000 as a penalty for Ramapo not living up to the contract.
Bottom 9 Baseball gets exclusive use of the stadium 85 days a year, which is the summer when an outdoor stadium in the northeastern part of the United States should be most utilized. Ramapo gets the stadium 280 days a year, mostly in the winter.
There is a high baseball team mortality rate in the Can-Am league. Chris St. Lawrence probably doesn't want to know all of this but Ramapo residents should. Independent baseball teams have had a tough time in New Jersey, and now the malady is spreading a bit north of the New Jersey border into Ramapo, New York.
Evan Weiner is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaking on "The Politics of Sports Business." He can be reached at
LAST UPDATED ( MONDAY, 19 JULY 2010 08:27 )

Friday, July 16, 2010

Islanders new arena may be the grand prize in Nassau County casino bid

Islanders new arena may be the grand prize in Nassau County casino bid

By Evan Weiner

July 16, 2010

(New York, N. Y.) -- On April 16 of this year, former Hempstead Town Supervisor and former United States Senator from New York Al D'Amato told this reporter that there would be a resolution to the stalemate between New York Islanders owner Charles Wang and present Hempstead Town Supervisor Kate Murray over the future of the Nassau Coliseum and the area around the nearly four decades old building.

On April 16, D'Amato didn't say exactly how the saga would end but it would end favorably. There would be something, whether it was a rebuilt arena or a new venue for Charles Wang and the New York Islanders of the National Hockey League.

A few days later came word from Nassau County Supervisor Edward Mangano that he thought that a casino could be built on the land that Wang wanted for a renovated Coliseum and what amounted to an arena-village plan on the 77 acres of property. The casino plan came seemingly out of nowhere but it really didn’t. Mangano announced the possibility of a casino arena and then D’Amato in his Long Island Herald newspaper a little while later took great pains to explain why a casino made more sense than Wang’s Lighthouse Project.

D’Amato has not been in the Senate since 1998, but Park Strategies, LLC has an office in Washington and the Park Strategies LLC business card lists Alfonse M. D’Amato as Managing Director. D’Amato also is the Chairman of the Board of Directors for Poker Players Alliance, a pro gaming group.

Murray never liked the Lighthouse Project plan even though Nassau County owned the land. (This would be a brilliant segue way in radio to change the subject to a how come the Hempstead Town Supervisor has the jurisdiction over county owned land but that is another issue for another day.)

Murray shot down Wang's proposal earlier this week but Mangano has again advanced the notion that the casino-arena plan is on the table.

There are many layers of analysis that should take place in examining the whole Nassau Coliseum issue including why Murray has been somewhat vague in her explanations as to why the Wang plan is unworkable.

No one knows if Wang and his partner Scott Rechler really have the $3.7 billion needed to fund the project and no one seems to know how the taxes will be collected from the property if it ever gets built.

Murray has been shielded from real media scrutiny because there is no media watchdog questioning her motives in Nassau County because the owner of Madison Square Garden, Charles Dolan (who is paying hundreds of millions of dollars to Wang for Islanders cable TV rights) owns the area's two largest news organizations, the cash strapped Newsday and the journalist deficient News12.

The Wang plan should be major news in an everyday way because local residents are impacted whatever the decision. People like Murray have a get out of jail card from local media in virtually every community in the United States as news coverage has degenerated from covering facts to shouting sound bites with little meaning.

Journalists have ceded the profession to people screaming on radio or cable TV like former sportscasters, drug addicts, gamblers, political operatives and other people who would not be welcomed in most living rooms who set political agendas. These people pontificate yet know almost nothing about issues but Don Imus has always issued this proviso, saying “we are only entertainers.”

Politicians’ exhibit sheer arrogance and lack humility these days because journalists do not relentlessly pressure them in asking questions and never force them on the spot. When a politician gets questioned, a political appointee whose job it is to protect the politician from saying anything stupid or truthful in a bad way generally gets in the way of a questioner. The appointee worked on a campaign either as a spokesperson or stuffed envelopes or drove political people around.

The appointee takes public funds to protect the politician from the public who elected him or her in the event the politician says something stupid. It sort of validates the longtime television journalist David Brinkley's thought that people should not gush all over politicians since they are lucky to have a job.

Murray's luck may have started running out though on April 16 when D'Amato who is ever the power broker let it be known that there would be a solution. The casino idea is now in play because D'Amato wants it to be in play. D'Amato's partner in the endeavor besides the Nassau County Supervisor seems to be the Shinnecock Nation which is a federally recognized tribe on Long Island. The Shinnecocks have talked about opening about building a casino somewhere in Suffolk County in the past with the Ilitch Family.

Would the Shinnecocks, if the tribe got the land and built the casino, pay taxes to Murray’s Town of Hempstead? Possibly not and that might be a political problem for Murray.

A strange coincidence here or maybe not so strange. The Ilitch family owns Major League Baseball's Detroit Tigers, the National Hockey League's Detroit Red Wings, the Motor City Casino in Detroit, Gateway Casino Resorts and other gaming interests. Mike Ilitch's wife Marian has divested herself of the sports teams so there is not a conflict of interest as sports organizations allegedly want to distance themselves from sports unless there is a need. (Cleveland Cavaliers owner Dan Gilbert has the licensee to run the new Cleveland casino which will open adjacent to the arena that houses his basketball team).

The new Pittsburgh arena, where the NHL's Penguins play, was funded by proceeds from a Pittsburgh-based casino.

Casinos and gambling have become the piggy bank for communities and municipalities that now depend on one armed bandits to bail them out of dire financial straits or as economic engines to drive jobs. The manufacturing base in the United States is a lot smaller as jobs went elsewhere and overseas but the gaming industry keeps growing and growing. Sports leagues claim they stay away from gaming but WNBA Commissioner David Stern has one WNBA owner, the Mohegan Sun Casino in Connecticut, and all sports have marketing relationships with casinos these days.

Wang owns a National Hockey League team and while there are no details emerging from a possible arena-casino plan, it is a proposal that could work in Wang's favor.

Former Islanders Public Relations Director Chris Botta broke the latest twist of the Wang-Murray stare down in his Islanders Point Blank blog. He boiled it down to three key areas that makes the plan attractive to Wang and keeps Murray's hands off of the redevelopment of county property that is in her jurisdiction.

1) By partnering with the Islanders on the arena and the Shinnecock tribe on the entertainment complex, Mangano would not need any approvals from the Town of Hempstead.

2) After a decade of settling for a “transformed” arena and not the real thing at the insistence of politicians, the Islanders would have the genuine state-of-the-art facility they need to keep up in the NHL. If the team is competitive, free agents would have no more excuses not to sign on. (A new training facility, plus limited retail and office space, would be part of any new arena and also would not need Town of Hempstead approval).

3) If the entertainment complex can be fully realized in scope and profit margins on the level of the best in the East like Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, the revenue needs of the Islanders could be addressed without the Lighthouse battle over residential units. The new casino would include a hotel and would not fall under Kate Murray’s zoning jurisdiction.

Wang had Murray's approval for a rebuilt arena but wanted more and he could not be blamed. Nassau County was willing to give a developer the land. Murray felt that Wang's mixed use proposal was too big and would take away from the suburban atmosphere of the area which includes Hofstra University, a parkway and some nearby shopping malls. Actually it is a snapshot of most of America come to think of it. Strip malls and a parkway near a commercial zone.

One former Islanders defenseman said in June he Wang should have settled for the rebuilt arena and that Wang was too greedy. Murray and her backers agreed to that phase of the plan. Murray cut back the project significantly and one of her political appointees (the envelope stuffers, the drivers who don't have to take public service exams and yet end up on the public dole for doing nothing except being part of a winning political campaign) didn't stop her from sounding stupid when she said "these were serious numbers that were scenically arrived at" in an interview with Dolan's paper.

Murray sounded more like a Lucky Strike commercial on the radio version of The Jack Benny Program of the 1940s than a smart politician (LSMFT, Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco, was the tagline after some scientist or doctor spoke of the benefits of smoking even though cigarette companies knew that smoking was doing harm) in that interview.

D'Amato has not gone away and the Shinnecock Casino Plan should not be dismissed when looking at the possible players that might line up behind Wang including D'Amato and Ilitch. D'Amato still runs things in the Republican Party in Nassau County and his vision for the Nassau Coliseum might be Kate Murray (and her envelope stuffers) worst nightmare.

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

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Being lucky made all the difference for George Steinbrenner

Being lucky made all the difference for George Steinbrenner

Wednesday, 14 July 2010 08:03




There is a lot of revisionist history that is being tossed around following the death of George Steinbrenner in terms of his building the Yankees into a global brand name. There was hard work, no doubt, and a lot of good people pitched in but George Steinbrenner never did want to buy the Yankees. He was from Cleveland and wanted the hometown Indians. The New York Yankees baseball team was his consolation prize when he and his group bought the team from CBS in 1973.

Steinbrenner had owned the American Basketball League's Cleveland Pipers in 1961. His team won the ABL title. Steinbrenner once tried to trade his whole team for Pittsburgh Rens star and future Hall of Famer Connie Hawkins. He wanted to move the Pipers into the National Basketball Association with his major signee Jerry Lucas in 1962 but had two problems. He didn't have the money on hand and his father would not advance him the cash needed to join the NBA and the American Basketball League claimed Steinbrenner had a deal with their league. Steinbrenner dropped out of the ABL and the ABL folded on New Year's Eve 1962. He nearly bought the Indians in 1972 but at the last moment Indians owner Vernon Stouffer backed out of the agreement.

The Steinbrenner Years have been well documented. But there is a question that should be asked. Was George Steinbrenner a good baseball owner/businessman or was he just very lucky? The answer is that he was very lucky.

He got baseball's most famous, but weakened, franchise for about $250,000 as part of a group who put up about $10 million for the New York Yankees. He was at the right place at the right time to cash in on cable TV and the Yankees brand name became bigger than baseball, which allowed him to make more marketing dollars.

Steinbrenner, by virtue of being in New York, had more money available to him except for the Los Angeles Dodgers in terms of how baseball revenue was raised in the period after 1973. His first big free agent singing was Catfish Hunter on New Year's Eve 1975 after Oakland A's owner Charles Finley made a mistake in sending out Hunter's 1975 contract. Steinbrenner missed out on the first class of free agents which consisted of two pitchers, Andy Messersmith and Dave McNally. He did sign Reggie Jackson in 1977 but the first championship teams were built the old fashion way through trades and players from the farm system.

Steinbrenner became bigger than the team over time. He was a lunatic who was compulsively driven to win. The guy from Cleveland became a symbol of New York which is odd because he didn't live in New York and was not part of the city's business community. He was in the middle of Tampa's business community. New York George was a commercial pitchman, a baseball owner, a Saturday Night Live host, the punch line of many jokes, a buffoonish character in Seinfeld, a twice suspended owner and finally an elder statesman.

He owned the Yankees, the New Jersey Nets (two years with him in ownership, the Nets played in the NBA Finals) and the Devils. He also put up money to make sure the Tampa Bay Lightning survived and became an NHL franchise. He was a big wheel in the Olympics movement. But the shipbuilder from Cleveland was a reluctant Yankee at first.

Steinbrenner spent a lot of money in the 1980s and had virtually nothing to show for it. The 1980s was the first decade since the 1910s that the New York Yankees did not win a World Series. The transformation of the Yankees into a dominant brand started in 1988 and this is where Steinbrenner got very lucky. Gulf and Western owned the Madison Square Garden Network, a cable TV station that had a lot of sports programming between October and May with New York Rangers hockey games and New York Knicks basketball but the channel virtually ran the soundtrack of crickets in the summer.

There was some talk in the cable TV industry that the MSG Network could be swallowed by Charles Dolan SportsChannel, an entity that had the cable rights to Mets and Yankees baseball along with New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils hockey and New Jersey Nets basketball. Gulf and Western made a strategic decision to save the network.

Go after Yankees baseball and go for broke with the biggest TV contract ever offered to an individual team in North American history.

The ploy worked. MSG got the Yankees and had sports programming 12 months a year and with the Yankees on board, multiple systems cable operators away from New York City and the suburbs added MSG. Also, New York City was finally wired for cable.

Martin Davis and Gulf and Western never get credit for beginning the transformation of Steinbrenner's Yankees into a behemoth. The Yankees-Gulf and Western 12-year-agreement for about a half a billion dollars shook up the economics of baseball. The huge divide between high end revenue teams — there was one the Yankees — and the rest of baseball would take a few years to develop. The new cable deal though did not mean Steinbrenner was opening the checkbook to all free agents.

Davis and Gulf and Western outbid the Tribune Company's WPIX, Channel 11 and Dolan's SportsChannel.

Steinbrenner was kicked out of baseball by Commissioner Fay Vincent in 1990 for paying Howard Spira to spy on Dave Winfield. While he was gone, Yankees brass decided to build a farm system and eventually that farm system would produce Derek Jeter, Andy Pettitte, Jorge Posada and Bernie Williams. Steinbrenner was back in the picture in 1993 after Vincent was fired by Steinbrenner's fellow owners. Those owners that led the campaign to get rid of Vincent included the Chicago White Sox Jerry Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn (Steinbrenner friends who George once called "the Abbott and Costello of Baseball) and "Buddy", Bud Selig, the owner of the Milwaukee Brewers. The Tribune Company's Stanton Cook who ran the Chicago Cubs was also a key player in Vincent's dismissal.

Cook's Channel 11 in New York was still carrying a number of Yankees games at the time as part of a secondary deal with MSG.

In 1998, Steinbrenner was tired of the rebuilt Yankee Stadium. The 22-year-old stadium version of the original park was not in the same league as new parks that were coming on line. Yankee Stadium had narrow corridors, few luxury boxes and lacked the other gadgets that other owners had like food courts and other revenue generators.

While Steinbrenner was grousing over his old, non revenue producing stadium, he had the huge TV deal and another multimillion dollar marketing agreement with Adidas America that was signed in 1997. The nine-year, $95 million contract drew the ire of his fellow owners and Steinbrenner sued his fellow owners to make sure they didn't interfere with the marketing deal. Major League Baseball had an exclusive deal with Russell Athletic to produce baseball uniforms. Adidas and Steinbrenner were partners until 2008. Adidas was replaced by Nike in 2009.

The Steinbrenner-Adidas deal echoed a deal that Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones signed with Pepsi in 1995 despite the fact that the NFL's official soft drink sponsor was Coca Cola.

The Steinbrenner-Jones connection should not have been dismissed as coincidence.

Steinbrenner's Yankees and Jones' Cowboys along with the Goldman Sachs Group and CIC Partners formed a food and retail company in 2008 called "Legends Hospitality Management LLC". The venture runs catering, concessions, merchandising and other management services at the new Yankees and Cowboys stadiums. Goldman Sachs was a minority partner in the regional sports cable network that the Yankees launched in 2002 after the Yankees-MSG deal ended. Steinbrenner finally got his new stadium in 2006. The new place opened in 2009 at a price tag of more than a billion dollars. It was a long slough for Steinbrenner who first pushed for a stadium in the 1980s.

New Jersey voters said no to a publicly funded stadium in 1985 but that didn't stop George from playing New Jersey versus New York for his affection. By 2001, New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani was carrying water for George and for the Mets Fred Wilpon in Queens.

New stadiums mean fresh revenue streams. Teams use new ballparks as an excuse to raise ticket prices and create high-priced club seats along with more luxury boxes. Wider concourses would allow more people to stand on concession lines and spend more money for beer, hot dogs, yearbooks and whatever else teams sell. It all brings in more revenue.

"There is a good chance that we will be able to work things out with the Mets and the Yankees," said the mayor, who has been a Yankee fan for life, in front of Yankee Stadium on opening day. "We are talking to them on a consistent basis and I have been in involved in some of the [talks]. I think there is a good chance we can work that out.

"The reality is, as I have said many times, both of them need new ballparks in order to be competitive. Maybe not this very year, but in order to be competitive over the next 10, 15, 20 years with their major competitors. Boston is getting a new ballpark; Baltimore has a new ballpark.

"Atlanta has a brand new ballpark. That's all going to enhance their revenues.

And if the Yankees and the Mets want to remain competitive with Baltimore, Boston or Atlanta, then that's something we just have to do."

Steinbrenner's Yankees always had money for free agents and Steinbrenner would pay for Reggie, Winfield, Dave Collins, Kenny Rogers and Alex Rodriguez. Whatever it took, the Yankees and Steinbrenner had the cash on hand which is a far different cry from 1962 and the Pipers.

In the game of sports business, George Steinbrenner, who was twice suspended from baseball, who fired people at his whims yet always took care of people in need, built a global brand in a sport that is played in North America, the Caribbean, the Pacific Rim, parts of South America and Australia. The New York Yankees compete with Manchester United (a former Yankees strategic partner) for world name recognition. Was it a master blueprint that made the Yankees and Steinbrenner brand names or was it just being in the right place at the right time?

There are a lot of what ifs. What would have happened if the Pipers continued to play? What if Stouffer said yes? What if Martin Davis and Gulf and Western didn't come up with the $500 million offer in 1988? Sometimes it is far better to be lucky than good.

Evan Weiner is an author, radio and TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business" and can be reached at evanjweiner@yahoo.comThis e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 14 July 2010 08:12 )