Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Opening Day: Baseball season is here
WEDNESDAY, 30 MARCH 2011 12:29

It's late March and means it is the start of the Major League Baseball season. It appears the "National Pastime" enters the 2011 season in pretty good shape. The owners and players are not even talking about the end of the industry's collective bargaining agreement in December unlike the more than two year lead up to the National Football League owners lockout or the potential National Basketball Association owners lockout that could happen on July 1.
The baseball part of the sports industry does have some significant problems. The Fred Wilpon-Saul Katz owned New York Mets may be suffering from some serious financial problems. Wilpon and Katz are caught up in the Bernard Madoff financial ponzi scheme and have been trading barbs with the lawyer in charge of getting back some of the funds that the victims lost in the Madoff episode. Wilpon and Katz are fighting with Irving Picard (no relation to the fictional Arthur Picard for was auditioning for the role of Adolph Hitler in Springtime for Hitler in Mel Brooks' The Producers, Picard was the lead tenor for the Albuquerque Opera Company for two seasons) with the dialogue between the three men seemingly coming out of The Producers in some ways.
Picard wants Wilpon and Katz's money and that could be causing some major problems for the Mets. Wilpon and Katz are offering a minority share of the Mets to any interested and well heeled investor or investors.
There won't be a “Springtime for Mets Fans" this season.
Eventually the Wilpon-Katz financial situation will be resolved although baseball people are greasing the skids for a Wilpon-Katz exit. People like Frank Robinson who asserted that the Mets situation is worse than the departed Montreal Expos when he managed the club which was owned by Major League Baseball and Tim McCarver.
While Bialystock-Bloom, rather Wilpon and Katz work out their financial problems off-Broadway in Queens, the messy McCourt divorce is still impacting the Los Angeles Dodgers. There is nothing Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig can do until the McCourt divorce is finalized and once that happens there will be a direction to resolve the Dodgers ownership problem.
The Mets and Dodgers problems are temporary though. There are other areas that need to be addressed and some of the difficulties are beyond the control of Bud Selig and Major League Baseball.
Oakland A's owner Lew Wolff is still looking for a new ballpark after not being able to build a "baseball park village" on land near the Oakland Coliseum. Wolff also was not successful in getting a "baseball park-village" constructed down the I-880 south of Oakland in Fremont. Wolff has been asking Selig the same question that Burt Bacharach and Hal David through Dionne Warwick thought about in 1968 (coincidentally the year Charles Finley took his A's from Kansas City to Oakland).
"Do you know the way to San Jose?"
The answer from Selig seems to be I am not sure. Selig appointed a committee to study the issue more than a year ago because the San Francisco Giants ownership claims the San Jose territory as the team's own. There are some flaws in that thinking, Oakland is closer to San Francisco than San Jose. San Jose area residents twice rejected Giants ownership in stadium referendums.
The Giants reluctance to allow Wolff to move is buttressed in part by the 1922 Supreme Court ruling that gave the National League of Baseball an antitrust exemption because baseball was a game not an interstate business.
The 1922 SCOTUS decision has kept a third team out of the New York City area and has shut out New Jersey in the running to get a Major League Baseball team. There is no way the Steinbrenner family of Wilpon and Katz would ever allow a third team in the area and it is possible the Philadelphia Phillies franchise would also object to a New Jersey team.
California is broke and it may be difficult to get state aid as Governor Jerry Brown wants to get rid of redevelopment agencies funding. That could put a crimp in Wolff's plan to find a way to San Jose.
Another west coast problem, this time the Florida west coast, is the ongoing want for Tampa Bay Rays franchise owner Stuart Sternberg's want for a new stadium, preferably in Tampa not St. Petersburg. Major League Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth in the late 1980s told St. Petersburg not to build a stadium. The stadium was built anyway and MLB eventually awarded the city a team in 1995. St. Petersburg signed a 30-year lease with then Devil Rays owner Vince Naimoli starting with the 1998 season and ending in 2027. Sternberg is stuck with the lease.
St. Petersburg elected officials will not let Sternberg out of the lease, at least not at the moment.
There was a rumor around that Major League Baseball would simply contract the Tampa Bay and Oakland franchises with Sternberg taking over the Mets from Wilpon and Katz and Wolff would end up with the Dodgers franchise. The lease in St. Petersburg runs through 2027 and Wolff is committed to Oakland through 2013. The Major League Baseball Players Association will not let 50 jobs go without a fight and then there is Congress. It is unlikely Congress would leave what is left of the 1922 SCOUS ruling if MLB decides to knock off two teams.
New Jersey has a cable TV contract that is available that would blow out Tampa or the San Francisco Bay Area. Cities like Las Vegas and Portland might go after a team and San Jose is in the mix.
But the Mets, Dodgers, A's and Rays may be minor problems for Selig, the former owner of the Milwaukee Brewers, and the Barons of Baseball. Newly elected Republican governors in Wisconsin, Ohio and Florida could have a devastating impact on the bottom line with draconian cuts to public workers and ill-advised policy decisions that have chased business away from those states.
Elections have consequences and in Milwaukee, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio and NBA Bucks owner (Wisconsin Senator) Herb Kohl must be thinking about how much of a hit their businesses will take because the Republican candidate and now Wisconsin Governor elect Scott Walker didn't like a federal funded high speed train project that would have connected Madison with Milwaukee. This decision took place before Walker was Governor and before the February 14th changes in the working conditions for public employees and the explosion and backlash against Walker and Wisconsin Republicans over the ending of collective bargaining for public sector employees.
Why did Walker kill the high speed rail? It was a waste of money.
Funny Republican President Dwight D. Eisenhower during his two terms between 1953 and 1961 understood the value of infrastructure and built the highway system in the country. The Eisenhower built infrastructure is crumbling from neglect and politicians are killing infrastructure projects that are badly needed because the projects are too costly.
At least that is the reason given -- a waste of money.
Draw your own conclusions depending on what side of the aisle or if you are a member of the red or blue team.
Walker apparently isn't a big fan of mass transit based on his eight-year record as Milwaukee County Executive and called the $810 million project a waste of money. Outgoing Democratic Governor Jim Doyle ordered a stop to the project prior to leaving office which Walker approved. But here is the problem that Walker faces and here is where the Milwaukee business community should be up in arms along with voters. The end of the project will eventually cost Milwaukee construction jobs and ended the Spanish company Talgo's deal with the city to build a Wisconsin headquarters in the city in a shuttered warehouse in a depressed section of town where the trains would be assembled.
The Madison to Milwaukee or Milwaukee to Madison high speed trains would have started operating in 2013. Walker had run on a platform that would create jobs. His decision could ultimately cost Wisconsin 4,000 or so jobs and for sports teams, that means a loss of potential customers in a small market. Walker wants the money for road improvements but the feds want the rail line and the feds were willing to pick up most of the maintenance costs on the rail line.
That is not good for Attanasio's business nor is it good for Kohl's fiscally ailing franchise. Selig has said nothing.
Walker also lost another major business because of the political climate in Wisconsin.
Invenergy, a Chicago company, plan to build a large wind power project south of Green Bay went by the boards in the middle of March. Walker proposed a bill that would clamp down on wind power and that was the deal breaker. Again, Walker has chased jobs away. That is not good news for MLB or the NBA. Walker apparently has taken down the "Open for Business" sign not only in Wisconsin but globally. In Spain, one company knows Walker's state is not welcoming their business and all the publicity surrounding Walker and the state Republicans has not made a favorable impression.
In Sternberg's backyard, Governor Rick Scott nixed a high speed rail between Tampa and Orlando. Scott gave up $2.4 billion in federal funding and cost the region 30,000 jobs. The western part of the high speed rail region, near Orlando, was profiled on the CBS show "60 Minutes" and CBS reported that the child poverty level is reaching near 25 percent in that area. In this climate Scott nixed job creation and seems to be at war with teachers. He, like a lot of other political leaders, is on a crusade to cut education and reduce teaching jobs along with other public sector jobs. But there seems to be a major, major flaw in the theory. The more you lay off people, the less tax revenue you raise and you still have to take care of these people in some manner. Scott is a highly unpopular governor and has people in his party, the Republicans, irate with his high speed rail decision.
It cost Florida jobs.
These people spend money in their community, use local stores and those local stores will have less revenues coming in and there will be less taxes available to government to pay for needed services.
It's economy 101.

The decisions by Walker in Wisconsin, Scott in Florida, and Governor Rick Snyder in Michigan will impact Major League Baseball for years. Detroit has lost 25 percent of its population in the last 10 years. Snyder has taken a page from Walker and Scott governing his state. Take money away from the working class and you have less discretionary income for baseball teams. Take away health benefits from fired workers and they will not go to doctors and dentists, people who have money to buy higher priced tickets. Ask your doctor or dentist how business is and they will tell you it is down because people don't have health benefits after losing their jobs.
Major League Baseball has found out that too.
Business was down too slightly in spring training as 12 of the 15 Arizona based spring training clubs including the "team" that allegedly is the strongest followed team in Arizona, the Chicago Cubs, lost customers. In Florida, the attendance for the 15 MLB clubs based in the state dropped by about one percent. MLB attendance has dropped since 2007 (79.5 million customers to 73 million in 2010) but in some cases new stadiums which opened had fewer seats and more luxury boxes (Yankees) but corporate buying has fallen off since the crash of 2008. It remains to be seen how the 2011 numbers will be although within the first month of the season, there should be an indicator on how the season will shape up financially.
The sport is in great shape away from the park with big money TV deals with the over-the-air Rupert Murdoch FOX entity and all sorts of local cable deals (the YES Network is a cash cow locally, SNY does rather well and Comcast has no complaints about the deal the cable behemoth has with the Philadelphia Phillies. The Boston Red Sox still own the majority of the New England Sports Network and is making a ton of money. Marketing partners have not fled baseball and franchise values are still high with the New York Yankees leading the way. Baseball's biggest problems are not the Wilpon-Katz Mets or the McCourts Dodgers.
It's the economy stupid.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Attention Drew Brees, Sam Huff has a few questions for you
TUESDAY, 29 MARCH 2011 08:40

You get the feeling from Sam Huff that he would not mind suiting up for one more game, maybe at the old Yankee Stadium as a New York Giants linebacker or at the old D. C. Stadium in Washington performing the same duties for the Redskins and lining up against New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
Huff, who was there at the beginning of the National Football league Players Association in 1956, represents a good many players of his era like Charlie Sumner and Pat Matson among others has no use for Brees. The New Orleans Saints quarterback, according to the old players, apparently thinks it is not the responsibility of the National Football Players Association to look after the players who literally built the industry in the 1950s (and before), 1960s and 1970s.
His statement made in 2010 still resonates among former players such as Huff, Matson and Sumner.
“There’s some guys out there that have made bad business decisions,” Brees said. “They took their pensions early because they never went out and got a job. They've had a couple divorces and they're making payments to this place and that place. And that’s why they don’t have money. And they’re coming to us to basically say, ‘Please make up for my bad judgment.’ In that case, that’s not our fault as players.”
Brees apparently did not know – or he just parroted NFLPA talking points. According to Eugene (Mercury) Morris, the Miami Dolphins running back in the 1970s, Brees' comment was just a repeat statement that was made three years earlier.
“The statements by Drew Brees on retired players came from ''talking points'' from Doug Ell," Morris said of the labor lawyer who works with the NFLPA. "Those same comments appear in the Congressional Record from the June 26th 2007 hearing called ''An Uneven Playing Field?''
Brees, who is one of the plaintiffs in a lawsuit that was filed on March 11 in an attempt to end the NFL owners’ lockout, may have missed another history lesson that is sure to come up in a Minneapolis courtroom in the case in two weeks. After the failed 1987 NFLPA strike (when the association could not hold the membership together and many stars including Lawrence Taylor, Joe Montana and Howie Long crossed the “picket line” along with ordinary players), the association decertified in order to file a lawsuit against the NFL.
The National Football League Players Association, after disbanding in 1989, said it would never again represent the players. Four years later, the NFLPA, with the same leadership in place, reorganized and represented the players again.
Brees and the players will have a difficult time explaining the NFLPA’s actions in 1989 and 1993. The NFL filed an unfair labor practice charge against the NFLPA in February and claimed the NFLPA was not negotiating in good faith in the then on-going talks aimed at reaching a new collective bargaining agreement. The heart of the argument is the 1989 association decertification, which led to the Freeman McNeil antitrust lawsuit against the league.
The NFL owners have maintained that the players planned to use the decertification card in the 2011 talks as leverage. The NFLPA has dismissed the NFL owners concern.
Sam Huff played between 1956 and 1969 when players -- with the exception of Joe Namath -- were not highly paid. Whatever gains players made by selling their services to completing leagues (the old and established NFL and the new AFL -- the fifth attempt by NFL rival promoters to successful stage a league) when they finished college irritated the owners.
In fact, former National Football League Commissioner Pete Rozelle went before Congress in 1966 begging for Congressional permission to violate antitrust laws so that the American Football league and National Football League could merge because a bidding war for players was becoming too costly for both leagues. Rozelle got the merger with some old fashioned horse-trading. He got key yes votes from Senator Russell Long and Congressman Hale Boggs (both of Louisiana) in exchange for an expansion franchise in New Orleans.
The merger brought an end to the bidding war for talent and suppressed salaries. It probably stripped collective bargaining rights away from the players in both leagues. The NFLPA opposed the merger but the union’s complaints fell on deaf ears in Congress.
“Getting $500 a year (raise) was a big deal from (Giants owner) Wellington (Mara),’’ Huff said. “When I was drafted I went with Wellington to the Ed Sullivan show. He offered me $5.000 (in 1956) and that was so much money, more than my dad ever made in the coal mines (of West Virginia). I told Mr. Mara I can't sign and let me check with my coach Art Lewis. He had played in the NFL. I called Coach Lewis and said here I am in New York and (the Giants) offered me a contract for $5,000. Pappy -- we called him Pappy -- said sign before he changes his mind.”
Sam Huff was the face of the New York Giants and maybe the NFL during his playing days. He was on the cover of a November 1959 issue of Time magazine (the first ever NFL player on that magazine's cover) and the star of the CBS News documentary (yes at one time network news was a crown jewel of CBS and NBC and the networks did do documentaries) "The Violent World of Sam Huff (narrated by Walter Cronkite) in 1960.
Huff helped popularize the NFL and has this advice for Brees.
“Drew Brees should keep his mouth shut," Huff said from West Virginia on Thursday. “We (he and his Giants teammates from the 1950s and 1960s) would put a target on his back. I don't understand all this crap. We formed it (the NFLPA). Kyle Rote (the Giants end), he did it and put it all together.”
Despite being the face of the Giants and the NFL, Huff's final salary with the Giants in 1963 was $19,000. He made more money in Washington, his first contract with the Redskins was for $30,000 in 1964. But Huff didn't become rich from playing football and his second career with Marriott along with being part of the Washington Redskins radio broadcasts made him secure.

Back in Huff's day, pro football was seen as a stepping-stone to another career. No one really thought football was a lifelong profession and no one gave a second thought to the post career problems that players developed from playing in "The Violent World of Sam Huff."
No one has a number because a lot of former players just don't out and talk about their problems. There does seem to be a post-career record of multiple operations for knee, hip and shoulder replacements, depression, spousal abuse, finance problems, homelessness, drug addiction, dementia, thoughts of suicide and suicide. Vested veterans get some post-career health benefits but only for five years. Players from Huff's era get meager pensions and if they didn't get a second job after their career (or are unable to work because of injuries), they ended up on the public dole before the age of 65 on social security insurance and Medicare. The cost to the taxpayers may be in the billions caring for discarded players.
The players from the 1950s just wanted better playing conditions but the owners never took the players very seriously. Huff was out of the NFL when the players struck in 1968. The NFLPA has always had a difficult time in keeping the association's membership together. That is a far cry from what football is all about according to Huff.
“It is about teamwork, teammates working together if you go on strike. (Gene) Upshaw could have been a great leader but when he became the power (Executive Director in 1983) he took away everybody's vote. It became all about money. I know what unions are; my father was in the United Mine Workers. The NFLPA is just an organization. (Current NFLPA head DeMaurice) Smith says it is one locker room (for the present and past players). De Smith never played football; neither did (NFL Commissioner) Roger Goodell. It is a mess.
“De Smith said all the right things (about taking care of the old players) but he hasn't followed through. The worst thing is (the former players) didn't make much money but they made the game. Gene Upshaw changed all of it. He was a turncoat. It is all about money.”
In 1974, the NFLPA's slogan was Freedom Now, as the association pushed for free agency. In 1982, it was "Money Now" as the players pushed for free agency and more money. There seemed to be no long-term plan for the players for good pensions and long-term health care.
Huff wondered how two guys with no football experience (Goodell and Smith) without people around them with football experience could "make up the rules if you never played."

Players who may have suffered long-term injuries from playing in the NFL (or three different versions of the American Football League or the All America Football Conference) from the 1920s to the 1960s never surfaced. To this day, according to one former player, no one in the NFL or NFLPA knows exactly how many players performed in the NFL. The NFL finally admitted in 2010 that concussions might cause long-term health issues for players and their families, although the NFL and the NFLPA won't confirm that concussions from football injuries cause brain trauma.
“It's all about money. (Giants quarterback) Eli Manning got $100 million,” said Huff.
“We have to take care of them (former players). We made the game what it is. It is war without guns. But I played high school, college football, was the rookie of the year and at the end it didn't make a difference.”
Huff's world, violent as it was on the football field, was much simpler. He dealt with Wellington Mara on his contract. There were no agents. Agents have not helped according to Huff. They fall into the money now category.
The owners and players will face off in a Minneapolis courtroom in April. It seems NFL owners and players have spent the better part of a half of a century in court. This squabble will ultimately be settled at the negotiating table after the court case and a possible National Labor Relations Board hearing. But don't look for Huff and his peers to be sitting at the peace table and signing onto an accord after a ceasefire has been declared.
Huff doesn't have a seat at the table, which is probably why he would like to suit up one more time in the “Violent World of Sam Huff.”
“If anyone is overpaid, it's Brees,” said Huff. “Why did he open his mouth?”
Huff said that if Brees went against his Giants teams of the 1950s and 1960s, the only thing Brees would say is “did someone get the license plate of that truck?”
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle

Monday, March 28, 2011

A Tale of Three Cities

By Evan Weiner

March 28, 2011

(Dover, DE) -- This is the story of three cities and their approach to sports spending. In a town that was once known as the punch line for a Jack Benny radio skit and then the home of Disneyland, Anaheim has decided that it is a worthwhile expenditure to get $75 million in bonds to seduce the Maloof brothers and entice them to move their National Basketball Association franchise to the burg. The Maloofs would eventually be required to pay back the money which presumably is a loan.

Anaheim city officials plan to discuss the proposal on Tuesday. While Anaheim is apparently showing the money to the Maloofs. The expenditure will go to making improvements at the city owned arena and more than likely NBA relocation fees or perhaps going to pay off the money owed to Sacramento when the city loaned other Kings owners some dough. The Maloofs inherited that deal.

Anaheim is a much richer market than Sacramento and more importantly for the Maloofs, the market has a major opening for a winter sports team on one of Rupert Murdoch's LA regional sports cable TV networks. Murdoch is losing Jerry Buss's Los Angeles Lakers in 2012 as Buss will team with Time Warner and form two Lakers networks, one in English and one in Spanish. Murdoch has been known to overpay for sports properties and the Maloofs might be in for a financial windfall thanks to Buss's decision to start two channels and leaving Murdoch.

Meanwhile Sacramento has no money to build a new arena and at this point when Sacramento officials are talking about cutting school programs including basketball out of the budget, having an NBA team in the city in a state of the art building can be considered gauche.

While Anaheim decides and Sacramento dithers, a few hundred miles east of Anaheim, Glendale, Arizona officials have decided that they want their National Hockey League franchise to remain in the municipally funded city-owned arena. In a complex deal, Glendale plans to sell municipal bonds to help make sure the franchise stays. But a self appointed civic group named the Goldwater Institute wants to be the de facto government of the city and has threatened to sue Glendale if they sell bonds to make sure the team stays. Goldwater's threat of a lawsuit against Glendale has stalled sale of municipal bonds that will raise a $100 million that will go to Matthew Hulsizer so he can buy the financially troubled franchise. The money will be used to purchase the team from the NHL.

The NHL wants to go ahead with the sale but Goldwater, the self appointed watchdog, has mucked up the process and the group's interference has played havoc with the bond market. If Glendale does succeed in selling the bonds and there is a court case, the Goldwater Institute, the so-called fiscally responsible group watching the people's interest will cost a lot of people a lot of money in higher interest and court cases.

The Goldwater Institute has a slight problem. One of their board members, Randy Kendrick, is the wife of Major League Baseball's Arizona Diamondbacks owner Ken Kendrick. The Phoenix-based baseball team has been heavily subsidized by taxpayers as the team plays in a municipally funded major league stadium (complete with a swimming pool) and a new spring training facility.

The Goldwater Institute has been fine with the hundreds of millions of dollars spent for the baseball team and other Major League Baseball teams for the construction of spring training bases in the Valley of the Sun metropolitan area. What is ironic about the Goldwater Institute is this. It is one of those self important think tanks that would like to set policy and shrink government spending yet organizations like the Goldwater Institute and people like Grover Norquist (the president of Americans for Tax Reform) is that they live off the government as gadflies. Reduce government and people like Norquist lose their livelihoods and cable TV news networks and news-talk radio shows will lose guests.

Norquist and his ilk have not tried to stop Anaheim. Meanwhile how did Sacramento and Glendale get in these positions?

Sacramento owners have had a long history of flirtation with Anaheim.

For years various Kings ownership groups have sought public funding to replace the privately funded Arco Arena, which opened in 1988, and build a new arena for the city's NBA franchise. Mayor Kevin Johnson, city elected officials and business leaders have about three weeks to accomplish the nearly impossible. Get funding for a new arena and do it in an economically stressed climate in California. It probably won’t happen.

A little background is necessary.

In 1996, the Kings owner at the time, Jim Thomas, proposed building both a Major League Baseball stadium and an NBA arena in the city, but by January 1997, the idea fell apart and Thomas began threatening to sell the team because the franchise was losing money. Sacramento city leaders, fearing that Thomas might move the team to Anaheim or some other city, loaned him $82 million to help ease his financial burden.

Thomas sold the franchise to the Maloof brothers in 1998.

In 2001, Sacramento's mayor, Heather Fargo, put together a task force to study whether Sacramento should green light an arena and entertainment center in the city's downtown area and, by November 2002, there was some sort of commitment to the plan. But the Maloof brothers pulled out of the proposed venture within a year, partly because they didn't want to get stuck with a debt service bill. When the issue was revisited in 2004, the Maloofs were unhappy that a city councilman offered a resolution that would cap spending at $175 million for the city and $175 million for the Maloofs.

Apparently a salary cap on NBA players' payroll is fine for the brothers, but a municipal spending cap for an arena is unacceptable.

In 2006, there was another arena proposal on the table and Sacramento officials appeared to have deliberately used language that made it unclear what voters are being asked to approve. The two-part referendum called for a quarter of a cent general tax hike for 15 years and then asked whether voters would like to see the estimated $1.2 billion in proceeds go to building an arena and other community projects.

Why didn't Sacramento politicians mention that the tax increase in question is in fact a sales tax hike?

The answer seemed to be that the arena referendum had to be worded in such a way because it was never going to get the two-thirds approval needed under California law to pass a sales tax increase. Officials need just a simple majority, a 50.1% plurality, to win a general tax hike.

The politics of sports is at its best extremely messy, and politicians generally go to great lengths to keep stadium and arena building proposals off the ballot. In 2006, Sacramento city officials seemed to have reached a new high — or low, depending on one's viewpoint — in making sure they do right by the Maloof brothers and the NBA. They were determined to build an arena despite the language in Proposition 218, which calls for a two-thirds majority on specific tax increases like arena and stadium projects.

If you looked at the details of the proposed lease between Sacramento and the Maloof brothers, it was clear that the Maloofs would be walking away with a windfall, but that's how the government–sports franchise partnership works and you can't fault the Maloofs in this deal. Sacramento was so desperate to hold on to its only major league team that it was willing to give away the store if voters say yes.

The city, through the general tax, would have put up at least $470 million for the arena and parking. Sacramento officials thought it would have cost as much as $542 million for both, and there also would have been a cost of between $35 and $51 million to pay off the debt service on the loans that will be taken out for the construction. The city would own the building, but all of the revenue generated for all events held inside the building would go to the Maloof brothers. Not only that: The siblings would keep all the money earned from selling the naming rights to the city owned arena.

The Maloofs would pay off Thomas' old loan, which they inherited after they purchased the team. Additionally, they would pay $4 million in annual rent, an amount that could easily come in 2006 from naming rights. The brothers would also have had to kick in $20 million for arena repairs. It was a sweet deal for the Maloofs and a rotten one for Sacramento.

The Maloof-Sacramento "agreement" fell apart because the Maloofs did not want an "arena-village" sprouting up around the arena and wanted lots and lots of parking.

The Maloofs and the city began fighting over development surrounding the arena, the city wanted commercial and residential building to ring the new facility to spur downtown development but the Maloofs, who would get just about every nickel of revenue inside the building, wanted the land for an 8,000 space parking lot. The Maloofs wanted the big parking lot because they would keep all of the money generated from the lot. The Maloofs wanted the same parking deal they have now at the old arena.

That might not seem like a deal breaker until you do the math. Assuming the Maloofs fill the lot and charge $10 a car, that would mean $80,000 a night multiplied by 41 and you get more than $3 million annually from parking alone just from Kings events. The Maloofs would also get parking money from non-Kings events at the building, so the parking lot issue has become significant and a deal breaker.

The two questions on the November 2006 ballot were sounded defeated but there is never surrender in the "arena-game." Stern took over the negotiations in 2007 and nothing happened. The NBA recently walked away from the bargaining table leaving the Maloofs to look elsewhere.

The entire sports industry in the Phoenix area should be studied by urban planners and historians because no city or region has been dumber than Phoenix area politicians in the past quarter century.

Had the Phoenix city council been smart, which they were not, they would have approved a multi-purpose arena back in the late 1980s that would have accommodated the NBA's Phoenix Suns and an NHL team. Instead lawmakers approved a $90 million expenditure that was designed to appease Suns owner Jerry Colangelo. The arena was built in such a way that the building was only good for basketball and not hockey or Arena Football or indoor soccer and that severely limited the potential revenues that could be generated in the place. Making sure they further satisfied Colangelo, the terms of the lease between the city and the NBA team required that the franchise pay the bulk of lease payments in years 36-40 of the 40-year lease agreement. The real rent is supposed to kick in around 2028 but given the lifespan of facilities (the Miami Arena was viable for about 11 years, the Charlotte Coliseum for about 13), it is doubtful that the team will even be playing in the arena in 2028 or 2029.

The arena opened in 1992.

In 2003, the city kicked in another $17 million to modernize the place when a second Valley of the Sun indoor athletic facility opened in Glendale, which is west of downtown Phoenix.

After taking care of Colangelo, Phoenix planners decided that a new downtown could be built with the arena and a baseball park as anchors so Phoenix politicians went about the task of getting a referendum in front of the public asking for support to build a ballpark for a Major League baseball team.

Over in Tempe, Phoenix/Arizona Cardinals owner Bill Bidwill, who came to the Valley of the Sun with his St. Louis Cardinals football team in 1988, wasn't too happy with his stadium in Tempe. Bidwill started to shop around looking for an Arizona community that wanted his team and was willing to build a stadium that the public would fund and put most of the stadium revenues in Bidwill's pocket. It took 12 years for Bidwill to find the right partner — Glendale — as votes in 2000 said yes to putting up $300 million of the estimated $465 million dollars needed to build a stadium. The money would come from a rise in the hotel/motel tax and car rentals (that is a mechanism designed to placate the locals, out of towners will pay, you won't, however most of the money on the car rental side comes from locals who rent cars more than visitors), Bidwill would recoup the $165 million through stadium naming rights and through a loophole in the 1986 Federal Tax Act which limits the money a municipality can take from stadium generator revenues to eight cents on a dollar.

Mesa said no to Bidwill in 1999.

Colangelo spearheaded the baseball stadium drive. He wanted a Major League Baseball team and went back to Phoenix-area politicians to make his pitch. They listened again.

In 1994, the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors (despite huge budget deficits and cutbacks in the funding of services) said yes to Colangelo and gave the go ahead for a quarter-cent increase in the county sales tax to pay for a part of the stadium's cost. There was a string attached, the approval had to come by March 31, 1995 which meant Major League Baseball had to either relocate a team to Phoenix (unlikely as there was nowhere to play in Phoenix) or expand. MLB awarded Phoenix and St. Petersburg teams beginning in 1998 when the Phoenix stadium would be completed.

The Maricopa sales tax hike was a problem.

Maricopa County residents were not allowed to vote on the issue of funding a baseball stadium with general sales tax revenue. In August 1997, Maricopa County Supervisor Mary Rose Wilcox was shot by Larry Naman after leaving a county board meeting. The shooter testified in court that Wilcox's support for the tax justified the attack. In May 1998, Naman was found guilty of attempted first-degree murder.

Colangelo had his stadium whether Maricopa County residents liked it or not. Colangelo's stadium was supposed to have cost $279 million but the ballpark actually price tag was over $350 million and Colangelo's group had to make up the difference. Colangelo's group paid $130 million for the expansion team, there was the cost overruns and a high payroll and throw in the fact that Major League Baseball didn't give Arizona and Tampa Bay full revenue sharing between 1998 and 2002, and that nearly caused the team to declare bankruptcy by 2004.

While Colangelo was looking for a baseball team, he also wanted a National Hockey League team to take up dates in the city's new arena. In 1994, Colangelo told this reporter that Phoenix was a perfect spot for the NHL. The NHL needed to fill the Mountain Time zone for TV purposes and Phoenix and Denver were in the mix for NHL franchises.

Colangelo, who was not a hockey guy, was spot on. Denver investors bought the Quebec Nordiques in 1995 and moved the team to the Colorado city and Richard Burke put together a group that included Steven Gluckstern and bought the Winnipeg Jets. Burke and Gluckstern moved the team to Colangelo's building in 1996 and that is when trouble started.

The building approved by Phoenix politicians in 1988 had more than 3,000 view-obstructed seats or about 25 percent of the house. No NHL team can survive in a flawed arena even if the building was just four years old. Burke bought out Gluckstern in 1998 after Gluckstern teamed up with Howard Milstein to buy the New York islanders (in a real estate deal).

In 1999, Burke was hoping to move the team to Scottsdale. Bidwill had struck out in his bid to win voter approval for a $1.8 billion football stadium-village on May 18 of that year but Burke had won a preliminary vote on that date for a new arena with the help of Steve Ellman.

Burke got his arena project approved by Scottsdale voters in November 1999 but the arena was never built. Ellman bought the Coyotes in 2001 after the Scottsdale deal fell through. Ellman worked out an arena-land developing deal with Glendale officials in 2001 and moved his Coyotes to a new arena in 2003. Glendale paid $180 million for the building, Ellman did some developing but the real estate deal turned bad and the NHL now owns the team. Glendale could be kicking in as much as $25 million to keep the team going in 2010-11

Glendale worked with a group called Ice Edge Holdings to keep the team in the arena and create a tax district around the building to help stabilize the Coyotes bleak financial picture. That fell through but another suitor came to the rescue, Chicago businessman Matthew Hulsizer.

Meanwhile Glendale has another problem. The Arizona Stadium and Tourism Authority (AZSTA) is broke. That is the group that has raised funds for the Cardinals Glendale stadium and various Major League Spring Training ballparks that ring the Valley of the Sun. Hotel/motel and car rental taxes (which is 3.25 percent) from tourists that fund the authority are flat.

Arizona public officials decided in the 1990s to become a sports destination. Spring Training would be a big money maker for Arizona as baseball fans would flock to see their favorite teams in March of every year. The authority took in $34 million last year and has $37 million in expenses, $16 million of which goes to the Cardinals football stadium. Surprise (Kansas City and Texas), Scottsdale (San Francisco) and Tempe (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim) will be getting less money to pay the bills at three spring training facilities. Youth sports will take a million dollar or so hit.

All of this is a product of Proposition 302 that was approved by Maricopa County residents 10 years ago.

The Maricopa County Stadium District and the Arizona Stadium and Tourism Authority are responsible for stadiums around Phoenix. The stadium district was formed in 1991 to make sure Phoenix area-based spring training teams were not lured by Las Vegas.

How expensive is spring training?

The Los Angeles Dodgers now share a new $110 million stadium in Glendale with the Chicago White Sox, who moved from Tucson. Glendale is providing $54 million in financing for the stadium.

Scottsdale and the stadium authorities put together a $23 million package to refurbish Scottsdale Stadium to make the San Francisco Giants ownership happy. About $13.3 million is from the AZSTA funds, $6.67 million from the Maricopa Stadium District, and $3.1 million from the city.

Arizona officials contend that the 2010 spring training slate had an economic impact of $348 million yet there is a deficit.

All of the maneuvering has left an impression. The baseball landscape has changed with all 15 Major League Baseball teams that train in Arizona located around Phoenix. Tucson has lost three teams (the White Sox, Colorado Rockies and the Diamondbacks). The arena in Phoenix has to fight Glendale for non basketball events. Glendale, not Phoenix or Tempe has the Super Bowl and while Phoenix gets a piece of the event buck, it is Glendale that gets sports spending money from those crown jewel events. The downtown envisioned with the arena and stadium as the pillars of a new downtown Phoenix has not materialized.

The question of whether it was worth spending billions in a state that is broke is never addressed by politicians. Arizona is selling off state buildings to plug a financial gap which in part was caused by poor sports decisions on every level.

They could have said no to Colangelo. They could have said no to Bidwill. They could have said no to the NHL. They could have said no to Major League Baseball. Don't blame the owners for asking for money, they could have asked for whatever they wanted.

There was an awful lot of economic miscalculation when it came to sports planning in Arizona and the battle is far from over. Mesa would like to hold onto the Chicago Cubs, the franchise that allegedly is the economic engine of the Cactus League, and the Milwaukee Brewers ownership could be looking to exit Maryvale. The Goldwater Institute seems to not have any problem with the All-American game of baseball despite all of the money being spent on the sport in Arizona. This is the tale of three cities and all should be figured out in a couple of weeks. The Maloofs will either stay in Sacrament o or leave for Anaheim and the city of Glendale will either sell the bonds or lose the main tenant in the city build arena. Sports business is pretty simple until politicians gets involved and make financial guarantees.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble 's, kobo's literati or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Sports owners are entitled to lion’s share of stadium revenues – and here’s why
THURSDAY, 24 MARCH 2011 06:39
Washington Post sports columnist Sally Jenkins asked a question in a column written after the NFL lockout started on March 11. It was a simple query that the writer could not answer. "Where is it written that (NFL) owners are entitled to the lion’s share of revenues from structures we help build and support?"
There was no answer in the piece – although if Jenkins did some research (all she would have to do is go back almost 25 years) and read her own newspaper, which covers the politics of Washington, D. C., she would have found it.
It actually is written and the document with Ronald Reagan's signature sits somewhere in Washington.
The answer is the 1986 Tax Reform Act, signed into law by President Reagan, which says only eight cents of every dollar generated in a facility goes off to pay down the debt. That is the starting point for leases. Before the change in the federal tax code in 1986, municipalities got more money from stadium- or arena-generated revenue and used that money to pay down the debt.
The Tax Reform Act of 1986 opened a loophole in the tax laws and gave owners ammunition in their battles with cities and states to get new or renovated stadiums with the opportunity to cash in on newly found revenue streams like luxury boxes and club seats.
The owners pitted city versus city. In the NFL, Art Modell took his Cleveland Browns to Baltimore (and got a loan from the state to help him out financially as part of the deal), Bud Adams moved his Houston Oilers to Nashville, Al Davis returned his Raiders to Oakland after failing to get a new stadium in Inglewood and left the Los Angeles Coliseum. Georgia Frontiere went home to St. Louis with her Rams leaving Anaheim behind. Robert Kraft played ball with Connecticut Gov. John Rowland and thought about going to Hartford but stayed in Foxboro with his New England Patriots working out a deal, although he put up money for his stadium.
Houston outbid Los Angeles for the NFL’s 32nd team, an expansion franchise in 1999 thanks to a new stadium. The Glazier family stayed in Tampa after considering a Baltimore bid. Cleveland built a new stadium after Modell left. Pittsburgh voters said no to a new stadium but elected officials decided to construct one anyway. Cincinnati paid for a new stadium. Indianapolis found money for Jim Irsay who might have moved his Colts elsewhere. Jacksonville built a new stadium for an NFL expansion team. Oakland renovated the Coliseum for Davis. Kansas City-area voters put up funding to renovate the Chiefs’ home field. Denver OK’d a new stadium while San Diego upgraded the city’s stadium for the Chargers and the Super Bowl.
Arlington, Texas raised the city’s sales tax again for a stadium, this time for Jerry Jones’ Dallas Cowboys; Philadelphia built Jeffrey Lurie a new Eagles park. Dan Snyder may want a new Redskins facility in Washington replacing his Landover, Maryland structure. Chicago rebuilt Soldier Field, Detroit put up money for William Clay Ford’s Lions. Green Bay got a renovation job at Lambeau Field which included funding from a 0.5 percent sales tax hike in 2000. Seattle replaced the Kingdome with a baseball stadium (which was approved by the state legislature after voters said no) and a football facility.
More than $310 million went into the construction of a Glendale, Arizona stadium for Bill Bidwill’s Cardinals. Louisiana rebuilt the Superdome after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the state is spending millions on yet another renovation at the building. Arthur Blank wants to replace the soon-to-be 19-year-old municipally funded Georgia Dome with a new stadium for his Atlanta Falcons.
In some cases, NFL owners like Jones, Bidwill, Ford and others threw some money into the projects. In some cases, NFL owners double dipped selling personal seat licenses and then asking those who bought the licenses to pay for tickets for a game to pay off owners’ debt.
The 1986 law gave municipalities a federal tax exemption on bonds to build new stadiums. The results are stunning. In 2011, 29 of the NFL's 32 teams have new stadiums or renovated facilities with enhanced revenue streams stemming from the 1986 legislative action. Only San Francisco and Minneapolis have not upgraded facilities for NFL owners.
Sports-team owners started putting pressure on municipalities shortly after Congress sent the completed bill to Reagan for his approval. The frenzy then started as the Chicago White Sox ownership threatened to move to a publicly funded stadium in St. Petersburg, had the Illinois General Assembly not given approval for building a new ballpark on Chicago's South Side.
Baseball expanded to taxpayer-funded stadiums in Denver, St. Petersburg and Phoenix. Most cities built new ballparks for their Major League teams. The Cubs, Red Sox, Dodgers, and A’s still play in old facilities but Chicago, Boston and Los Angeles have renovated their ballparks. Spring training is different, too, with little cities being forced to build state-of-the-art complexes in a bid to keep teams from leaving for better offers in other areas of Florida or Arizona.
In 1990, Major League Baseball and Minor League Baseball signed a new agreement that mandated cities and states across the country to either build new facilities or renovate existing parks by 1994, or Major League owners could pull out of those cities. It's no coincidence that independent minor league teams sprung up, using cities that Major League Baseball deserted as the basis for their business ventures.

The National Hockey League decided to expand the league's United States "footprint" in 1990 claiming that the league needed to expand for television purposes. With the help of municipal governments leagues did expand and owners got a slice of expansion money. The new venues also raised the value of franchises.
The United States government, along with state and city governments, is partners with sports, whether it is on the professional or college level. National Basketball Association Commissioner David Stern freely admits that government is a sports partner.
According to Stern, there are three elements needed for sports teams to succeed: Government, cable TV and corporate support. Government has funded stadiums and arenas, provided tax breaks and incentives to build facilities and through the Cable TV Act of 1984 and the Tax Act of 1986 provided more revenues for sports owners. Without the Cable TV Act of 1984, ESPN might have folded; the tax act capped revenues that were generated inside a facility to pay off the debt of a publicly funded stadium or an arena at eight cents on a dollar. Neither New York Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan nor Pennsylvania Senator Arlen Specter could close the loophole that exists to this day.
Arizona Senator and one-time Republican Presidential candidate John McCain wanted to end the stadium and arena building process that has taken place since the 1986 tax reforms that were passed by Congress, called for the elimination of the tax exemption for bonds for stadiums and arenas. McCain has said little about the legislation since his Presidential run.
The 1986 law that capped revenues at a municipally built facility for sports franchise had a significant consequence. There was no way to pay off the debt with just eight cents being collected from every dollar spent in a stadium or an arena so other taxes were used to make up the difference.
There was a "sin tax" in Cleveland with an extra levy put on cigarettes, cigars and alcohol. Many areas raised sales tax while others hit local residents with "tourist" taxes from tax hikes on motel, hotel, restaurant and car rentals bills. There was also a water tax, some owners were able to negotiate deals for rent and agreed to a formula called payment in lieu of taxes (PILOT) and didn't have to pay full property taxes on stadiums they controlled that were municipally financed. The sports facilities, proponents argue from both sides of the political aisle. If that wasn't enough, team owners received cash from states to help out with some bills.
The worst deal that was signed was between Louisiana Governor Mike Foster and New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson. Louisiana gave Benson $186.5 million in checks as a thank you for keeping the team in New Orleans between 2002 and 2010. The city of San Diego was buying unsold San Diego Chargers tickets as part of a lease arrangement in the late 1990s.
New York State is heavily invested in Ralph Wilson's Buffalo Bills by virtue of a 1998 lease agreement between Wilson and Erie County that called for $63.25 million worth of improvements at the Orchard Park facility. The Empire State Development Corporation gives $3 million a year to Orchard Park for stadium maintenance.
In the summer of 2010, the giveaways kept coming despite belt tightening around the country. Jacksonville politicians gave up the city's right to collect 25 percent of the revenue for naming rights of the city owned football stadium to the National Football League's Jaguars or about $4 million through 2014.
NFL owners fear the municipal gravy train may be heading to the station and one of the disputes in the 2011 lockout centers around stadium costs and that the players should be kicking in money to help build stadiums. The reason why there has been no work on the new Santa Clara, Calif., stadium that will eventually house the San Francisco 49ers franchise is that the NFL doesn't want any funding to go into the construction until there is a new agreement between the owners and players. Minnesota and San Diego are seeking new stadiums. Two Los Angeles groups are planning to build new stadiums with the operative word being "planning."
As the new stadiums that came into existence in the 1990s, Rupert Murdoch’s struggling FOX television syndication company which is misidentified as a network threw an enormous amount of money at NFL owners and wrested the rights to NFC games from CBS. That deal helped establish FOX as a TV power and caused NBC and Disney to ante up billions for the right to televise NFL games.
The NFL was swimming in money and a lot of it, more than 57 percent, ended up in the players’ pocket.
"Where is it written that (NFL) owners are entitled to the lion’s share of revenues from structures we help build and support?"
It was written in Congress and signed into law in the Oval Office in 1986. Ronald Reagan's signature opened the floodgates for the owners to get their hands on revenue streams in new facilities at bargain basement prices as taxpayers’ dollars were used to build stadiums and arenas. The Gipper's greatest football role wasn't in the movies but at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. in 1986.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Matson to players and owners: Help retired NFL players

By Evan Weiner

March 23, 2011

(New York, N. Y.) -- Pat Matson has a very clear interest in the National Football League owners-National Football League Players Association or correctly the former National Football League Players Association as the players have decertified as a "union." Matson was a player in both the American Football League with Denver and Cincinnati and when the American Football League-National Football League completed their merger in 1970, Matson moved to the NFL with Cincinnati.

Matson was the Cincinnati Bengals player representative in the brief 1974 NFL strike. Matson is one of the players who have been left behind by the very players association and Matson once was a players representative and walked a picket line in 1974.

Matson is facing his 32nd operation from injuries sustained during his ten year career between 1966 and 1975 with Denver, Cincinnati and Green Bay. He needs his ankle fixed. He has had knee replacements and hip replacements. In 1975 when he was a member of the Green Bay Packers he had a trifecta---elbow, knee and ankle. Matson laughed that procedure made it tough for him to go to the backroom. Matson's first surgery came after he tore up his knee at the University of Oregon.

Matson seems to be fine mentally even after having four of five concussions during his career. He said he walks a little funny though. He admits he is fortunate despite the surgeries as he played 10 years and had a business career after football. He probably should be getting more than $1.064 a month in pension but that is considerably more than many who played for roughly the same amount of time during the same time period that Matson was employed in the AFL and NFL.

Matson is not a big fan of the late Gene Upshaw, the former Executive Director of the National Football League Players Association and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.

Last year Brees seemed to dismiss complaints by former players who were looking for more benefits from the NFL.

“There’s some guys out there that have made bad business decisions,” Brees said. “They took their pensions early because they never went out and got a job. They've had a couple divorces and they’re making payments to this place and that place. And that’s why they don’t have money. And they’re coming to us to basically say, ‘Please make up for my bad judgment.’ In that case, that’s not our fault as players.”

Brees sounded an awful lot like Upshaw who once said that his association couldn't take care of everyone.

Brees should have spoken to someone like Matson who did get a job after his career. In fact Matson had a job during his playing days. After his career Matson worked for Roger Penske and was able to get health insurance even though just about every player who leaves the game has a pre-existing condition which makes it extremely difficult for former players to get health coverage. Players who have been in the NFL since 1993 and become vested veterans have health benefits for five years following their careers. In Matson's day they was no post career safety net. The five years is probably not enough for present day players as their bodies seem to give out in six or seven years after a career and they need constant medical care.

Brees seems to be totally out of touch with working conditions of past players (pre-1993ers) and that is pretty sad as Brees has his name on the antitrust lawsuit that the former players association planned in the event of a lockout in an effort to torpedo the NFL's labor scheme.

The football culture is suck it up and be a man. You tear a knee up, put some tape on it and play.

Matson doesn't have too much regard for either the owners or the players association in this battle.

"The owners only care about getting all of the money," Matson said of the 2011 lockout. "I don't know what (Brees) is talking about or helping the pre-1993 players. Rookies are making $50 million. (We) got no payment for training camp; they furnished your meals and put you up. We got 50 bucks for an exhibition game (six in 1968) and Paul Brown used to have three-a-days (practices) in heat and humidity that was terrible. I never gave it a second thought to have an off season job, we always had jobs in the off season."

The football culture seems to not have evolved very much since the days when the NFL was a part time occupation for both owners and players. In the 1950s, Chicago Bears owner George Halas ran the football operations from July until December and was a sporting goods store owner in Chicago the rest of the year. Football was just a stepping stone to another career but the players from the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and later have found out that football whether they like it or not is a lifelong profession as they suffer with football related ailments that include depression, mood swings, brain trauma, neck, shoulder, elbow, hip, knee and ankle injuries. There are also family issues and documented bankruptcies and business failures.

Thoughts of suicide and actually suicides haunt former players.

There apparently is no real count of how many players who never qualified for NFL post career benefits available who are on the government dole before the age of 65 with social security disability or Medicare. There is no way of knowing how many high school, college, Arena Football Leaguers, USFLers, World Football League players who are also being cared for by the United States government although taxpayers may be on the hook for billions to provide care from football injuries.

Matson tried to sue the NFL/NFLPA for addition benefits in 1998 and failed. He blames both sides for the problems that retired and discarded players have and are facing.

"Upshaw had his good old boys network with (Harold) Henderson (NFL Executive Vice President for Labor Relations and Chairman of the National Football League Management Council Executive Committee). They denied everybody's claims (for disability). They wished you would go away and die. The NFL is boot hill. If you ignore it long enough. Upshaw was paying $150-200,000 for yes men and got a $6 million a year salary. We (the former players) are walking dead and can't do anything.

In 1969, Matson broke his tibia as a member of the Bengals against Denver. He told the Bengals trainer that he was hurt but no one wanted to tell Bengals coach Paul Brown that Matson was hurt.

"(The trainer) was scared of Paul," said Matson. "He said you're okay. If you can walk, you play, not like an NBA player if his toe hurts, he is out for two weeks. After the game I told my wife as I walked up the steps at Nippert Stadium. Four days later they X-rayed it."

The Bengals franchise moved to Riverfront Stadium in 1970 and the players had to contend with an Astroturf surface.

"It was pretty damaging. The (baseball's) Reds didn't like it. It was like an asphalt surface," he said.

Matson played just six games in 1969 but he was a valuable member of Paul Brown Bengals and had the respect of his teammates. He was the team's player representative. In 1974, the NFLPA went on strike which forced the cancellation of the annual College All-Stars versus NFL Champion Charity Game in Chicago. There was a 44 day strike that year but the NFLPA could not keep the membership on the same page.

The players' mantra in 1974 was "No Freedom, No Football" which was a shot at the owners who were not giving players a right to sell their services after they played out their contract. If a player decided to sign with another team, the "Rozelle Rule" named after NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle kicked in. The commissioner would review the signing and figure out what "compensation" was owed to a team who lost a free agent to another team. The players struck on July 1. NFLPA Executive Director Ed Garvey and his membership could not get the owners do not agree on even a single demand. The players association called off the strike on August 10 and decided to sue the NFL. In 1975, members of the New York Jets and the New England Patriots struck on the final weekend of the pre-season in an effort to get the talks moving. Eventually the NFL was found guilty of violating federal labor and antitrust laws.

In 1977 after the NFL owners were found guilty of violating federal labor and antitrust laws, the owners and players came up with a new collective bargaining agreement. The players did received improved benefits, an impartial arbitration of all grievances were implemented, there were some changes in the waiver system and option clauses and some free- agent restrictions were ended.

Interestingly enough, according to Matson, the NFLPA also sort better disability, insurance along with widow's and health benefits in 1974. Matson said Paul Brown told him. "You tried to ruin the NFL but you are going to stay," after he picketed in front of the Wilmington College in Wilmington, Ohio.

"(There is) a lot of wear and tear on the human anatomy," said Matson of playing football and he played two of the toughest positions physically---the offensive line and on the wedge on special teams.

If you were hit in the head and were knocked out, the trainer would come out and see if a player was okay.

"If you could see two out of three fingers," said Matson of an on-field check up, "you went back in. I was in the middle of the wedge. Nobody cares about a wedge. I was at the point of attack in the wedge."

In Matson's day, defensive linemen were allowed to slap the heads of offensive players to gain an advantage.

"Deacon Jones, Tom Jackson, he was really good at it. I studied the Oakland Raiders who were really good at that," he said. "Today they are wrestling with each other."

Matson does wonder about the icons of the 1990s, a guy like Steve Young or a guy like Troy Aikman. Both suffered a number of concussions during their days as quarterbacks although Aikman has said that a back problem not concussions ultimately led him to retirement.

Matson is hoping the NFLPA will look after the old players as part of the collective bargaining process which will eventually resume once the court proceedings wind down, but he doesn't hold much hope. Matson is 66 years old and qualifies for social security and Medicare. His body is a wreck and he needs some work on his shoulders as well as his ankles. The NFLPA failed him and his peers by not collectively bargained a post career benefit package with the owners.

Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble 's, kobo's literati or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Gene Atkins: A discarded and disabled former football player forgotten in the NFL lockout
THURSDAY, 17 MARCH 2011 08:11

As the National Football League hired lawyers and attorneys from the decertified National Football League Players Association game-planned for an April court date in Minneapolis where they will argue over what went wrong in their collective bargaining talks and why there is no new Collective Bargaining Agreement in place, Gene Atkins will go about his daily struggle at his Texas home.
The 46-year-old Atkins has some better days than others but struggles with his concentration and focus and his constant headaches and pain. Doctors said he has permanent brain damage from playing football. Atkins was once of the most intimidating players on the New Orleans Saints, a safety who hit hard and wanted to put fear in offensive players.
But that was a long time ago. Atkins last played for the Miami Dolphins in 1996 and then retired. His life soon unraveled. There was a domestic dispute involving his wife, an arrest, business failures, depression, constant headaches and by 2000, the thoughts of suicide. Atkins’ post-career problems seem to follow a pattern, a rather disturbing set of circumstances that is not all that unusual among ex-NFL players. He is living off the United States safety net of Social Security and Medicare despite his young age like other former NFL players, a safety net that might cost taxpayers a billion dollars for discarded, disabled players.
Atkins was a contemporary of two other big hitters, Philadelphia's Andre Waters and Chicago's Dave Duerson. Waters committed suicide on Nov. 20, 2006. Duerson killed himself in February. The Duerson suicide hit Atkins hard. But Atkins admitted he could have beaten both of them to the gun if not for his children.
Gene Atkins’ friend and lawyer Jeffrey Dahl is trying to get Atkins some financial help in dealing with his day-to-day existence. By 2005, Atkins turned to the NFL for assistance and got the cold shoulder. In 2006, Atkins appealed and got some help but not much from the NFL. Just how did Gene Atkins go from one of the hardest hitting and smartest players on the field to where he is today? The answer might come from the 1993 New Orleans Saints media guide.
Atkins is described in the club produced book the following way -- possessing good speed, has gained a reputation for aggressiveness and the big hit -- Atkins was taught to be an intimidating force at his position and played that way.
"The NFL told me my biggest asset was my memory," Atkins said on Monday talking about his playing career, which lasted 10 years from 1987 to 1996 with New Orleans and Miami. "Dom Capers (the New Orleans defensive backfield coach) had a very complicated defense. It was like a chess game. I learned it in two years and mastered it in four years."
Atkins admitted that he didn't remember the question this reporter asked. He doesn’t have very much of a short-term memory. In 2008, a Seattle doctor confirmed what the layman would know after talking to Atkins. But Atkins does remember the football culture and how all he wanted to do was become a vested NFL veteran and get some post career benefits.
"I mastered that defense, grades of 90 percent to 80 percent in 100 to 80 plays and maybe one or two errors," he said.
But while Atkins was playing he used his head in tackling and that probably was his undoing but in football you play hurt and if you ever complain, your career is on the line. It is part of the football culture that starts on the Pop Warner level and carries through junior high, high school, college and the pros, whether it is the NFL, the Canadian Football League, the United Football League or indoor football.
"Man suck it up. If you can walk, you can play," said Atkins of the football mentality.
"Maybe over 20 concussions, sometimes I couldn't see and I would tell (Saints defensive back) Brett Maxie or (linebacker) Sam Mills cover until I get my vision back. The trainer would come out and never report a concussion.
"I had one listed concussion. You are just dizzy, can you see this? If you went to the sidelines you were a wimp. The peer pressure."
Atkins was in his own words "a gladiator."
Atkins wanted to be known as the roughest and toughest on the field.
"Everything was about intimidation," he said. "Put fear in the offensive guy. Tough, rough and rugged. There was no hitting with the shoulder. If I played today, like that guy in Pittsburgh (James Harrison), they’d probably fine me my whole paycheck."
Atkins was a seventh round draft choice, the last round of the grab bag, in 1987, and faced long odds making the club. He graduated from Florida A&M with a degree in physical education. Rookies not only have to play a position but have to be special teams’ players.
He had to prove he belonged.
Atkins' rookie season was also the last NFL strike season. All Gene Atkins wanted to do was make the team and the collective bargaining agreement -- something that might have helped him down the road -- was the last thing on his mind. He was part of the football culture and at Florida A&M, he was taught "that you kill a mosquito with an axe." In other words, you have to play hard and lay someone out which is a variation of Al Davis' quote that the "quarterback must go down and go down hard.”
In Atkins' world, there was no room for a soft player.

"They (coaches) are going to say they are going to cut you if you don't hit hard or … be physical," he said. "(Coaches) look in the training room. It is a sign of weakness being in the trainer's room. You are not putting on dresses. We are gladiators who go to fight. There is nothing soft. It is a contact sport."
But a contact sport can cause major damage to a human bodies colliding.
"You can take your car (after an accident) to a body shop and the guy says I can fix that," said Atkins. "But after five or six times, you can’t fix that. The same goes for your brain. You can’t change that."
Atkins left it all on the field for New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson and Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga and ended up with brain damage. He has never heard from his former owners. Atkins and Benson are alike in one way; both are on the government dole. Atkins is getting social security disability benefits and Medicare.
Benson got about $185 million is cash payments to keep his football team in New Orleans from Governor Mike Foster and the Louisiana legislature between 2002 and 2010 as a thank you for not breaking his Superdome lease and leaving New Orleans.
Tom Benson is still doing the “Benson Boogie” while Gene Atkins tries to remember what day it is.
Benson has a new deal with Louisiana where he is getting less money but a renovated Superdome, and he purchased a building next to the stadium and is renting office space to the state. Atkins is hoping that the next collective bargaining agreement takes care of discarded and disabled players like him and provides money to treat the broken down hulks for care.
Atkins made a rather interesting observation on Monday. He thinks some of the off-field problems that a number of active players have had may indicate that something is going on with their brains. Atkins did name two players in particular who have gotten in trouble, one legal and one with his mouth and thinks a third, long time vet, will have some major physical issues once his playing days are over.
Back in 1987, Atkins went on strike but he didn't pay much attention to what Executive Director Gene Upshaw and the rest of the executive committee of the National Football League Players Association were saying.
"I had no idea what we were striking for," he said. "I just wanted to get vested. I think there were talking about Plan (he stumbles, and is prodded by this reporter), Plan B. Free agency. I was focusing on making the team."
Atkins was told the story about New York Giants nose tackle Jim Burt who waited in the Giants Stadium parking lot until the striking players decided to walk into the stadium for practice en masse in 1987 with the players association collapsing. Burt said "as football players we were used to getting hit over the head" and he was happy to be back even though the players gained nothing by going out. Atkins asked how long Burt was in the league at that point. It was seven years and Atkins said if a veteran didn’t know what was going on, how could a rookie?
Atkins was still around in 1993 when the players and owners reached a new collective bargaining agreement that included a better pension and some post-career health benefits for five years if a player became a four-year vested veteran.
The owners and players collective bargained working conditions but the players did a rotten job. They opted for money instead of long-time health benefits and players like Atkins were left with very little protection.
Five years isn't enough protection for players who absorbed a beating. But in the world of football, a football career is merely a stepping-stone and not a lifelong journey.
Atkins life unraveled after football. By 2005 he sought help and went to the NFL. He had no insurance, was unable to work and wanted disability income. In June of that year, the Bert Bell-Pete Rozelle Player Retirement Plan Board turned down his request. In February 2006, the board awarded Atkins "inactive total and permanent disability" benefits, which gave him $911.25 a month.
Atkins gets that and whatever the government gives him in SSI and Medicare benefits.
"In 2007 Gene was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome by Dr. Robert Cantu yet the NFL owners have fought hard to deny him," Dahl said.
In 2008, a Seattle neurologist wrote in his report, "I therefore consider Mr. Atkins to be totally disabled, at least as part of a consequence of professional football injuries.”
Atkins and Dahl are still pursuing NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to do something. Right now the owners and players are fighting over splitting as estimated nine billion dollars of annual revenue. The players still seem to be still "Money Now."
Atkins has two major interests in the looming courtroom, National Labor Relations Board battles. He wants the league to look after him and his son is a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. Gene Atkins hopes Geno Atkins never faces the same people he encounters on a daily basis.
The sports media is keeping score with fans as to who is to blame in the NFL lockout like fans matter in the dispute. There is a silliness surrounding the NFL Draft, which only exists because the NFL owners and NFLPA agreed to it as part of working conditions, and whether college players taken in the first round should be shown off on stage while there is a lockout. The disbanded players association wants to do something different to celebrate the draft.
Here is a free suggestion to the former NFLPA: Take care of all of your players, past and present and work out a deal with the owners to see that they get post-career care and stop the banal, inane and juvenile kabuki dance with players you don’t even have in your association — the college athletes.
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at

Monday, March 14, 2011

Are sports fans resilient or suckers?

MONDAY, 14 MARCH 2011 09:10

There is an old saying: March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb. For sports fans, March 2011 has come in with the full fury of a lion. There is more March Madness than normal.
Last Friday, the National Football League Players Association and representatives of the National Football League owners broke off negotiations and started the machinery, which promises an interesting offseason. The players association is legally no more – it has decertified – while the owners have locked players out of training facilities and suspended football operations as the 2006 collective bargaining agreement expired.
The breakdown in negotiations and the subsequent actions by the owners and players is just another blow to sports fans in the month of March. The Maloof brothers, the owners of the National Basketball Association's Sacramento Kings, asked the NBA for an extension of the league's March 1 moving deadline until mid-April as the Maloofs attempt to work out an agreement with Anaheim officials to relocate to the Southern California city.
The Maloofs have apparently soured on Sacramento as an NBA city because they cannot get a taxpayer-funded arena that is loaded with high-revenue luxury boxes and club seats – the very type of seats that are beyond the price range of the average worker in Sacramento financially – and Orange County, California residents might be a better fit as they seem to be wealthier than the people in the California capital of Sacramento.
While the Maloofs continue to negotiate with Anaheim officials, Sacramento mayor and former NBA player Kevin Johnson is forging ahead with new arena plans with or without the Maloofs. The Maloof/Kings drama is playing out against an interesting backdrop. Sacramento officials are thinking of cutting school programs like sports and basketball because they don’t have any money for anything but school basics.
Just in case fans haven’t noticed, sports owners are social class segregationists. One owner of a team never hid from his belief that fans are on the low end of the totem pole in sports society and he wanted more well-heeled people in his building.
“Nothing comes from the fan,” said the owner. “Support comes from the customers. Big difference. Fans scream on talk radio. Customers bring their kids, their families, their wives, their dates, their companies, their business partners. They have lives and don’t talk to the radio talk show hosts.”
Sports owners and athletes seem to not care all that much about fans. But fans seem to have very little problem being abused. All of those people who claimed in 1995 that they would never attend another baseball game after the Major League Baseball Players Association went on strike in August 1994 and the owners brought in replacement players or scabs in an effort to break the association in March 1995 seem to have broken their vow and have come back to the ballpark in record numbers in the 21st century.
The news from the New York Mets ownership has not been good for a good while as the Wilpon family has been battling with the trustee involved in the Bernard Madoff case. Irving Picard is looking to get victims money and is going after the Wilpons in an attempt to recover it. The Wilpons seem to be in financial trouble and that is not good news for Mets fans. Still Mets fans have not given up on either baseball or the team, they are hoping the Wilpons go down with the ship and a new owner will step in and bring the Mets back to contention.
In Glendale, Arizona, a conservative watchdog group has been causing havoc with Glendale's ability to sell municipal bonds with a lot of the bond money going to bail out the Phoenix Coyotes National Hockey League franchise so that the team will stay in the city-built arena. National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman went after the Goldwater Institute in a news conference last week in Glendale. There are rumors floating around that Glendale would sue the Goldwater Institute for poisoning the well by bad mouthing the city's attempt to sell the municipal bonds.
The irony of the potential lawsuit is that it might cause a great deal of embarrassment for one of the Goldwater Institute's trustees, Randy Kendrick. Mrs. Kendrick's husband Ken is the Managing General Partner and one of the owners of Major League Baseball's Phoenix-based Arizona Diamondbacks, a franchise that plays in a stadium that was funded by taxpayers and a franchise that just moved into a new spring training facility that was also paid by Arizona taxpayers.
While Bettman was in Glendale, the league had other health problems crop up. Former NHL tough guy Bob Probert left his brain to be studied following his death last June. There was suspicion that Probert, who died of a heart attack at the age of 45, suffered from brain damage that might have been connected to hockey injuries. Researchers at Boston University's Center for the Study of Traumatic Encephalopathy confirmed Probert's fear that he suffered from a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE). Boston University is building up a brain bank of deceased athletes, mostly football players and university added a brain recently that of former NFL player Dave Duerson who killed himself on Feb. 17. The Boston University center is attempting to find a link between playing football and permanent head injuries – something that football officials and hired medical experts say is not true.
On Thursday, Montreal police began a criminal investigation into the on-ice hit by Boston's Zdeno Chara that left the Montreal Canadiens' Max Pacioretty with a severe concussion and cracked vertebra. Chara checked Pacioretty into something called a turnbuckle, which is a piece of glass that separates the team benches in the Montreal arena. The NHL didn't take any disciplinary action against Chara but Air Canada let Bettman know they are not happy with the violence in the league and threatened to end the airline's various league marketing partnerships and Bettman responded by saying the league could end an agreement to use Air Canada in chartering teams around Canada and the US. Another NHL Canadian sponsor, Via Rail also wants the league to clean up the violence.
Meanwhile, Quebec Premier Jean Charest criticized NHL violence and wants the league to address the issue. But fans are not all that concerned. They want Bettman fired for ruining their game and don’t understand there is a business component that overrides the concern of the fans. But many fans had no problem with Chara’s hit. Fans in Canada and in the United States, stoked by know-nothing sports writers when it comes to business concerns, want Bettman’s out of office because he is in their minds incompetent and has ruined the game.
The sports fans and the Canadian hockey writers are failing to realize Bettman works for the owners and not for them. The fans blame Bettman for the NHL’s massive Sun Belt expansion plan that dates back to 1990 -- three years before Bettman took over as NHL Commissioner – and that there were 26 teams in the league when Bettman walked into his office for the first time.
In the New York metropolitan area, the Giants and Jets gave their fans a pre-lockout present. A hike in ticket prices for the 2011 season -- a season that at the moment will not be played. Cablevision also has given Knicks and Rangers fans a present for 2011-12, a whopping 49 percent average price hike for Knicks tickets and 23 percent for Rangers ducats. Jim Dolan is renovating Madison Square Garden (again) and needs money for the sprucing up of the 43-year-old building that is not on the New York City tax roll.
Give Jim Dolan some credit.
Knicks tickets are high priced items. Courtside seats are $3,000 a piece. Dolan is doing what politicians refuse to do, raising “his” tax for seats on well-heeled people to close his budget gap. Dolan has far more courage than Scott Walker, Chris Christie, Andrew Cuomo, Michael Bloomberg and many politicians who will not ask high income earners to share in the sacrifice that lesser income earners are doing whether it is union givebacks and outright government layoffs or paying higher tolls on roads or higher fees to use parks and other government services which means the poorer people of American society are sacrificing far more than the people who have the ability to buy Jim Dolan’s soon to be $3,600 courtside seats.
Dolan is forcing well-heeled customers and corporations who buy Knicks tickets to share in the sacrifice. Of course those people and the corporations that buy the high-ticket items get a tax write off of 50 percent. Someone else is paying for the entertainment-tax writeoff, perhaps the public at large for a few who are entertained at games?

So one NBA team may move, the NHL may be in a court fight with a political watchdog group that features a trustee whose husband benefited from public handouts, the NFL has locked out the players and on the horizon is an NBA lockout on July 1. What is a sports fan to do?
The sports fan who gives his or her team unconditional love and seemingly ends up like Charlie Brown in that Charlie is ready to kick the football out of Lucy Van Pelt's hold in the Peanuts comic strip. But as Charlie Brown gets ready to put his foot into the ball, Lucy pulls it away and Charlie falls on his back and head. (Hopefully Charlie Brown has a better post football career health plan than retired NFL players if he suffered any brain damage from falling on his head – American taxpayers are paying for many players healthcare through Social Security Insurance and Medicare even though the former players are in their 40s and 50s because the National Football League Players Association wanted "Money Now" in their 1982 and 1987 labor actions and didn't bother getting their membership enhanced post career health and pension benefits even though players abused their bodies in their careers.)
The United States federal government, specifically Congress and various Presidents have given owners the tools to make more and more money. But it was in Milwaukee that the shift occurred that put sports on the public dole. In 1950, Milwaukee elected officials decided to build a stadium with public dollars and get a baseball team. In the middle of spring training in the middle of March 1953, the city snagged an owner. Lou Perini moved his financially struggling Boston Braves to Milwaukee and hit the jackpot. Milwaukee gave Perini the stadium for $1,000 in rent and all concession revenue.
Wisconsin fans turned out to see Perini’s Braves in big numbers. That started the business that worked out well for owners of having cities bid for American and National League Baseball teams.
Other owners quickly moved. Bill Veeck sold the St. Louis Browns to Baltimore interests. The Philadelphia A’s baseball team was sold and moved to Kansas City. Brooklyn Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley took notice of Perini’s success and felt Brooklyn (which was at the top of baseball attendance annually) would not be able to compete with Milwaukee and started looking for an alternative to Ebbets Field. O’Malley took his Dodgers to Los Angeles in 1957. Horace Stoneham took his Giants from upper Manhattan to San Francisco in 1957. Both got new stadiums in their new cities although O’Malley spent his own money on Dodger Stadium. But he did get all sorts of tax breaks and incentives and land.
In 1961, President John F. Kennedy signed the Sports Broadcast Act of 1961, which allowed leagues to sell all of their franchises as one to TV networks, which gave leagues an antitrust exemption, and it has paid off fabulously for owners, particularly those in the NFL. In 1966, President Lyndon B. Johnson inked an anti-inflation bill, which also included the American Football League-National Football League merger. That bill led to the formulation of the Super Bowl.
The 1984 Cable TV Act has been embraced by owners who make millions off of cable channels such as ESPN and regional sports cable TV networks, like the New York Yankees’ partially-owned YES Network. The 1986 Tax Act gave owners to big help in negotiating leases at municipally built stadium and arenas. If a town built an arena, owners could get as much as 92 cents on every dollar generated in the building constructed after 1986 on a lease as municipalities were limited to just getting eight cents out of every dollar to pay down the debt on the facility.
The 1986 Tax Act is the major cause for major expansion and franchise relocation in Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Basketball Association, the National Hockey League and the formation of Major League Soccer.
Owners sought new buildings and people with money wanted to own teams whether it was for ego, making some money on a team or buying a franchise and holding onto it long enough and then sell it for a nice profit wanted to get into the game. Those people happily bought expansion teams.
Major League Baseball's 1993 expansion into Miami and Denver had more to do with Congress and paying off a debt than new buildings. Major League Baseball owners were found to have colluded against the players by an arbitrator and were slapped with a $280 million fine. The expansion helped offset the $280 million bill as MLB got $100 million each from Miami and Denver owners to join the league. Denver voters approved a baseball park to boot.
Baseball took in more money with the 1998 expansion to St. Petersburg and Phoenix. St. Petersburg had a stadium and Phoenix residents approved a stadium funding for a new facility with a March 31, 1995 expiration date. MLB expanded right before the funding was taken off the table. The 1995 NFL expansion to Charlotte and Jacksonville brought an unexpected side development. Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson hired a sports marketer named Max Muhleman, the man who introduced personal seat licensing to football.
Fourteen NFL teams use the ploy that gives “fans” the right to purchase a seat then pay for a ticket for a game. Richardson needed extra money to pay off his stadium, which did not get as much public money as needed.
Muhleman’s idea came from Donald Trump. As New Jersey Generals owner in the mid-1980s, Trump was looking to move his operations from the Meadowlands to Queens, specifically the Willets Point junkyard land. To help fund the "condo-stadium," Trump was going to have people purchase the seats and then charge for tickets. In Trump’s scheme about 2/3s of the stadium would have featured what is now know as personal seat licenses.
Fans have put up with baseball labor disputes in 1972, 1981, 1985, 1990 and 1994-95 along with a drug scandal in the 1980s and the alleged usage of illegal performance enhancing drugs in the 1990s and beyond.
Fans seemingly are unaware of the physical toll that football players endure from all levels -- Pop Warner kids football up to the NFL -- and how America’s safety net is taking care of broken down players to the tune of perhaps a billion dollars to taxpayers. When the NFL and NFLPA fight over splitting up $9 billion, former players are going through various struggles with seemingly one common theme.
Post-career business failures, broken marriages, the inability to keep a job, financial stress, depression, and disability. Neither the owners nor the players (all of whom will be former players someday) are seriously looking after the discarded players.
But NFL owners have been enriched by non-fans who pay cable bills for ESPN or pay a variety of taxes to help build NFL places of business whether it is was an increase in sales tax, car rental tax, hotel tax, motel tax, water tax, lotteries (in Maryland), a sin tax, a restaurant tax, tax breaks, tax incentives or in the case in Louisiana paying $186.5 million in subsidies to keep the New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson happy between 2002 and 2010. That lease deal has been rewritten and Benson isn’t getting the same amount of money annually from Baton Rouge politicians. He will get at the most $6 million but the state has given him a building next to the New Orleans Superdome and will rent office space in the Benson Tower.
Since the last NBA lockout in 1999, George Shinn moved his Charlotte Hornets to New Orleans, Michael Heisley took his Vancouver Grizzlies to Memphis and Clayton Bennett removed his Seattle SuperSonics from the Pacific Northwest and placed the team in Oklahoma City. In 1998 and 1999 NBA Commissioner David Stern and his owners were looking for cost certainty and trying to make NBA basketball affordable to fans that had been displaced in the every spiraling up tick in process for tickets. There will be a lockout starting July 1 unless the players agree to take far less money and the reason that NBA owners will do this is because of spiraling costs of running a franchise.
The International Olympic Committee tries to shake down local governments for the privilege of paying for a summer or winter Olympics forcing the local host city to pay off Olympic size debts. Just look at the aftermath of the 2004 Athens Games that contributed to Greece’s financial failings.
Sports fans put up with an awful lot. There are groups who are demanding a say in the NFL lockout or a place at the sports table. To those groups, no offense, but you are not welcomed at the sports table. The truth is the owners only care about customers who bring money to the stadium. For fans, it is fine for you to buy t-shirts, caps, coffee cups with team logos and other merchandise and to watch the games on cable TV. Owners don’t want you. They want customers who spend money.
When the NFL owners unlock the doors, all will be forgiven. After all there is tailgating, betting and lounging around the TV on Sunday afternoons in the fall. Besides there is always college football, a place where players make money for schools and in the process break down their bodies all for the glory of someone’s alma mater. The so-called student athletes may get a scholarship but they are there to either prepare for the pros or to be used to make money for the school – big time college sports has a tax exemption thanks to the federal government. Go to a bowl game and the school doesn’t have to pay tax on their payday for playing football.
It is more than just March Madness time. Sports fans are either the most resilient bunch of people around or the biggest suckers going. The owners know the answer to that premise. Do the fans?
Evan Weiner, the winner of the United States Sports Academy's 2010 Ronald Reagan Media Award, is an author, radio-TV commentator and speaker on "The Politics of Sports Business." His book, "The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition is available at, Barnes and Noble or amazonkindle. He can be reached at