Chuq Von Rospach is a Silicon Valley veteran doing Technical Community Management and amateur photographer with a strong interest in birds, wildlife and landscapes. My goal is to explore the Western states and working to tell you the stories of the special places I've found. You can find out more on the About Page.
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Yearly Archives: 2001
A whole bunch of stuff, all over the place. Mostly because I’ve been off
backing christmas things (ahh! my divinity failed!) and relaxing (well,
playing Heroes of Might and Magic III) and not writing…
On Saturday, a game of “good oldtime hockey” breaks out between anaheim and
calgary. It’s garbage time, the game is done, and craig berube roughts up
Duck goalie J.S. Guguiere a bit — chumpy, but nothing serious. He got the
penalties he deserved. Then all hell breaks loose. Duck cementhead Sawyer
runs Vernon in a blatant retaliation, and then there are multiple sets of
dances, when everyone except the trainers choose partners. When it’s done,
NHL records for penalty minutes are broken, which given some of what went on
in the 70′s, I find amazing.
Let me be clear here: I don’t have any real problem with Berube’s original
hit. It’s part fo the game. It was in a meaningless part of the game, and I
really, really don’t like this “we’ve lose, so we need to send messages”
crap that’s snuck into the game, but heck, intimidation is a part of the
game, it happens.
Where I start getting pissed is after, when anaheim decides to do the
broadway remake of Slap Shot, staring the Rockettes. And once Anaheim
escalated it, Calgary responded, and frankly, both teams should be sent to
bed without dessert. The original hit is the least of my issues, it’s the
rest I want to slap people silly over. And that includes Berube’s attempted
mugging of Friesen. That’s not BERUBE’s fault, since the coach so blatantly
ordered it, but Berube gets a suspension for doing it, and I think the coach
gets fined and suspended for ordering it, too. And I’d give Dave Lowry a
game off, because I think he’s a really classy guy, and as Captain, and as
the guy who made sure they could get the faceoff that let Berube come out
and pull the stunt, I’m horribly disappointed in him, so suspend his butt
for a game, too, for not being classy enough to tell his coach to cool it. I
expected better, if not from Berube, from Lowry. Friesen isn’t a fighter,
and the universe knows that. Might as well chase down Kariya, or Brett Hull,
or Pavel Bure. Worse, once Friesen made it clear he wanted out of the
building, Berube took him on anyway. Iginla dug in, and frankly, as bad a
fighter as Lambert is (heart of gold, fists of playdough — I’ve been
following his career since he played as a Gull in San Diego of the IHL;
great guy, great heart, rotten fighter), I’d expect the linesmen to protect
Lambert first, but at least Lambert went after a guy with a clue about how
to drop his gloves. Friesen was too busy peeing in his pants (giggle), and
honestly, I’m not ripping Friesen by saying that. I’d do it, too, if I had
Craig Berube chasing me at that point…
It’s the rest that has me pissed. But, well, what can you say about a group
of guys who are paid for their testosterone, not their IQ. But I’m not
accepting or justifying it, even athletes can be taught to behave if you hit
them enough times with a newspaper.
==== another injury in montreal… What a surprise.
I was going to rip Donald Audette for his attitude — until the curse of
Montreal kicked in and took care of it for me. Audette, for those that
haven’t been paying attention, signed a free agent deal with the Stars in
the off-season, and then whined his way into a trade to Montreal so the
Stars could be rid of him. After the trade, Audette griped to the press (and
this is a paraphrase): “they knew what kind of player I am. They tried to
change my game!”
Well, Donald — did you ever stop to think that Hitchcock’s coaching style
and the Stars aren’t exactly cyphers, either? Where do you get off thinking
the Stars have to change for you, and not the other way around? What were
you thinking? That somehow the world changes for you? Why did you sign a
contract with that team, knowing exactly what kind of team Hitchcock
coaches? Get real. Brett Hull figured it out — and he’s a much better
player (with, if possible, a bigger ego) than you have. What a whiner.
But the ghosts of the Forum dealt with him for me. When the skate went over
his arm, pretty much every tendon was cut. Ugh — and it’s ANOTHER injury in
montreal. Take a look at their injury problem since moving to the new
building (and not JUST injuries: Saku Koivu, too). If that’s not a case of
pissing off the karma gods, I don’t know what is. They don’t need a team
doctor, they need an exorcist.
And here’s hoping Audette’s arm is okay and he comes back to play more
hockey, so I can go back to ripping him for his attitude. But for now, my
main worry is that he gets better, since I hate seeing anyone injured.
Especially like that. If you haven’t seen it, it’s one of the ugliest
injuries I’ve seen since Clint Malarchuk.
==== Sports Business News
Some baseball financial news. Commish Selig goes to congress to whine about
baseball finances, and what’s he do? Open the books, sort of, to announce
that baseball as an industry had income of $3.5 billion, with operating
losses of $250 million or so.
Put this in perspective: $3.5 billion is about the size of the cat food
industry in the US (and thanks to the NY Times for that comparison). If
major league baseball collapses and goes under completely, it’s not going to
cause a recession, folks. And frankly, a company that size losing $250
million? In a recession? That’s not bad. The airlines have lost $700 million
or so since 9/11. Apple, one quarter, lost a billion dollars (to quote then
CEO Gil Amelio: “that’s a lot of zeros!”, and we’re doing okay now.
So what’s the problem? According to Selig, some of his teams are financially
irresponsible, and screwing up things for the others. And, evidently, he
can’t stop them.
Consider baseball as a single umbrella company with 30 independent
subsidiaries. That is, effectively, what they are. In most companies like
that, the president of the umbrella firm would track down the general
manager of those subsidiaries and shoot them.
But this is baseball. It’s — different. Of course. It’s 30 independent
companies, not subsidiaries, and the umbrella organization (major league
baseball) isn’t a controlling corporation, but more or less a ‘trade
organization’ — they can’t control or demand where the owners don’t agree
to cooperate, and the owners, classically, have seen this as a “I win, up
yours” business, not a “cooperate and we’ll all make lots of money” thing.
And it gets worse, given the few times they have cooperated, it’s been to
screw the union — which gave us Collusion I, Collusion II, and collusion
III, hundreds of millinos of dollars in fines, and enough ammo to make sure
that the a sneezing owner can’t get a hankerchief from another owner without
the union winning a collusion fight.
Baseball has really dug itself one hell of a hole here. They’ve set it up so
it’s almost impossible to cooperate to keep salaries down, but even better,
don’t want to; at least the ones making money don’t want to.
But looking at those numbers, my initial response was… Well, gee, that’s
the worst you can come up with?
The numbers baseball show don’t shot a company (or industry) in crisis. It
shows a company/industry in a recession, that needs to get its act together
and fix its internal problems. Small market teams can, and are, making money
and succeeding on the field. Look at the San Francisco Giants (a small
profit, if you exclude the money they put into the fund to support marginal
teams), Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners. And the Giants are doing it in a
privately funded stadium that costs them $20mil a year that other teams
could put to salaries, the A’s aren’t profitable, but are in an old, frankly
not-baseball-friendly stadium with limited stadium revenue issues (thank
you, Al Davis), and the mariners were dead in the water in the Kingdome just
a few years ago, remember? With a new stadium and ownership with a clue,
they’re now quite successful — 14 mil profit on 202 mil in revenues, and 84
million in salaries. The new stadium is a huge part of that: it basically
doubled their revenue from 1998, but also increased their costs. What all
three of those teams have in common are good management that field good,
Does all this justify contraction? Well, a company with financial issues
where revenue and income don’t match — layoffs and closing ‘plants’ are
fairly standard operations. Invariably, unions hate it, too.
Does it in this case? IMHO, yes — and no.
Personally, I think baseball got greedy and over-expanded, and I have no
problem with them cutting two teams (I’d consider cutting four) to get the
quality of talent up, and to not spread the money so many ways.
But that’s not the solution to baseball’s crisis. And the over-expansion
isn’t the reason they’re in this crisis, either. This is a case of seeing
that the roof is leaking, and going and trying to waterseal the basement.
Contraction is (IMHO) a good idea, no matter how unhappy it makes the people
in Minnesota (Montreal will find it a relief to be done with it), but once
they’re done, it’llb e baseball with a smaller league and the same basic
The REAL answer is that baseball needs to get its internal act together.
That means owners cooperating to give everyone a fair shot at winning, if
they have good management to build good teams. Today, many teams can have
the best management in the world, and are eliminated from the playoffs
opening day. 25 of 30 teams lost money (although, I admit, baseball is
infamous for funky accounting practices, so take that number with a grain of
salt). That’s now how it should be. How it should be is that any team with a
good scouting/drafting/development system ought to be able to put together a
team that can take it to a championship, and a franchise iwthout good
management should fail on the field (i.e., it can’t buy it’s way out of
mistakes, as the yankees do) and not be guaranteed a profit.
Nobody should be GUARANTEED a profit, but right now, many teams are
guaranteed they’ll lose money. Where’s the incentive?
The problem is that baseball has owners who see it as “me first”, without
realizing that they all have to live together, too. The divergence of
revenue is the real problem, in an industry where a dead team hurts ALL
So the focus shouldn’t be on getting revenue back in line (revenue sharing).
Not contraction, not salary caps, but making sure that teams are on somewhat
of a even footing, but at the same time, you don’t want to encourage
mediocrity, so good teams should benefit from being well-run.
My idea is simple: no matter how successful a team is, if it doesn’t have an
opponent, it can’t play. Baseball’s way of dealing with the away team, like
most sports, sucks. So I suggest this:
All national revenues go into a pot.
Each team gets to keep 60% of all gate revenues and local media revenues
(TV/radio/cable). The other 40% goes into the pot to pay the visiting team
for travelling to the home team to play.
That pot is split evenly among all of the teams.
The end result: is teams that can generate more revenue benefit from it, but
there’s a shared piece. Teams that are bad at generating revenues make less
money than teams that are good at generating revenue, but had enough revenue
So, instead of a team’s chances at the world series being defined by how
well a lawyer negotiates a cable deal, a team’s success is defined by its GM
and manager. And bad management will make a team struggle, while good
management will make it easier to succeed.
Gee, it seems so simple. But — the teams who have the money don’t want to
give it up. I suggest, frankly, they think about how much money they’ll make
if the other teams go away or refuse to play with them….
To those who say “owners should just say no” — it doesn’t work that way.
With limited talent pools, one owner overpaying can screw the market for
everyone else, especially the way the union contract is set up, and
especially the way arbitration is defined. The yankees can overpay someone
because their pockets are leaking money, and someone in Montreal can use
that number in an arbitration case and index their salary off of it, because
arbitration assumes all teams are the same. So even if you “do say no”, you
can have an outrageous (for your market) salary force on you in arbitrarion.
What that means, then, is that you stop goin to arbitration, or risking
arbitartion. And that means you start losing players to free agency before
they fully mature, which means you never have your top talent in their prime
years, which means all you become is a farm club for all of the other teams.
Just ask Montreal — who despite all that managed to stay — okay — for a
long time, before giving into the futility of it all. Or Kansas city. Or
Minnesota, except for the most recent abberation, which won’t last, even if
the team survives.
Under the current labor system, owners “can’t say no”. Or more correctly,
many do: Montreal, for one, but the way things are set up, salary inflation
creeps into your expenses no matter what you do, and your best players leave
sooner or later. More often, sooner. If you’re a have-not, you can’t win,
literally. All you can do is try to compete, and hope you get lucky. That’s
no way to build a wining tradition.
Baseball is seriously screwed up. Contraction is the answer to one of
baseball’s problems. Contraction isn’t, however, the answer to the core
problem — lack of reasonable revenue sharing among teams. Until that’s
solved, baseball’s going to remain screwed up. And frankly, it just goes to
show that baseball still have no clue — it’s fixing the problem it thinks
it can fix, or perhaps using this as a club against the union in the
upcoming labor fight (which baseball will lose, because it always loses,
because they’re idiots about business who don’t know how to fight together
for common causes, unlike the players). Eithe way, it’s wrong. And even if
they succeed, when they’re odne, baseball will still be screwed up, until it
gets real revenue sharing. Which the rich owners hate, so you’ll see
baseball again try to force a solution on the players, who really aren’t the
The problem is the massive difference in revenues between rich teams and
poor teams. There are other problems, like arbitration, guaranteed
contracts, the truly ugly labor deal that favors players in almost all ways,
messed up free agency restrictions, declining viewership and TV revenues,
declining interest in the sport among players, and talent dilution due to
excessive expansion — exacerbated by the fact that the expansion came
during an unprecedented economic boom in the states, and nobody seems to
have stopped to think “what happens if we hit a recession?” — which, any
accountant with a brain will tell you, was going to happens ooner or later.
How’s this relate to hockey? There are some parallels. First, hockey’s free
agency is too restrictive. More free agencts are better (I happen to believe
that Charlie Finley was right: everyone sign a 1 year deal, everone’s a free
agent every offseason. Earn your next contract, or go away). Hockey’s put
some positive rstrictions on arbitration, but it’s still too player
I’d do away with arbitration completely. Instead, I’d set things up so that
when a player hits an arbitration-eligible age, a team should have three
choices: sign them to a long-term (3 years or longer), after which he’s an
unrestricted free agent; they can sign him for a 10% raise for one year,
after which he’s a unrestricted, or a 2 year deal for 25% (average 10/15%),
after which he’s unrestricted. Or, of course, not sign him, and let him go
free. This gives a player a chance to develop and a team to decide they want
to keep him — and if so, they have ways to do so with known costs, but lose
the rights to him sooner. Or they can sign him for longer periods and commit
to keep him.
I also think hockey needs to rethink the revenue sharing issue. They’re
trying to help the canadian teams, but it’s not enough. I like my “40% in
the pot” alternative above in hockey, too, because the games played in
canada will ratchet down dollars, while when canadian teams come to the
states, they’ll start getting their 40% of the gate in US dollars. It sill
won’t close the gap, but it’ll narrow it in ways that are better than what
Fortunately, hockey and the union don’t have the bad relationship baseball
has. They CAN, actually, sit down and talk reasonably and get things done.
It won’t always be easy or polite, but they can (and do) work together.
Baseball and the union look more like Israel and palestine, or perhaps the
federation and the stormtroopers (with Selig as Darth Vader, since
baseball’s stormtroops haven’t hit a target in 20 years…).
The big worry I have in all pro sports is this: the TV-media golden goose is
tapped out. There won’t be more money coming from “the media” any time soon
in any sport, and most sports are likely to see less. Internet and “new
media” stuff is years away from being significant revenue sources. Hockey
is, if anything, lucky it never got too addicted to the glass teat, unlike
football or baseball. Being gate-revenue tied ain’t fun, but at least the
NHL won’t have to figure out how to do without money it never had. The NFL
wishes it had that problem…
All in all, pro sports has had a couple of decades of unprecedented growth.
And now, that’s over — the new buildings are built, the TV revenues are at
max, things are about as saturated as they’re gonna get. Some sports (like
NASCAR) are taking away interest and revenue that used to go to the big four
of baseball, football, hockey and basketball, and all four sports are going
to see weakening of interest and revenues.
Baseball is just the first sport to get hit by all this, but that’s because
it’s been seriously screwed up for years, and badly managed from top to
bottom, but all sports are going to be affected in some way.
All in all, though, hockey’s owners ought to watch baseball’s ongoing soap
opera very carefully — beause whatever Selig and the owners of baseball do,
hockey should do just the opposite.
when the word hit the newswires, I have to admit that my first response was
“Bure? Keenan? Let’s sell tickets!”
But on further review, I come not to bury Keenan, but to praise him. Sort
I was surprised to see Keenan back in the NHL, at least for a few minutes.
But on reflection, it’s not surprising seeing him back. he’s experienced,
he’s successful. If you’re trying to jumpstart an organization, you tend to
go with the ‘safer’ choice, which makes the experienced ex-coach lower-risk
than hiring in someone new and hoping they can do what you think. this is
even more expected when the people you’d expect to know how to hire a coach
– the GM — is also fired.
But the question is, will Keenan make Florida better?
good question. His recent history hasn’t been good. His stay in Vancouver
was rather infamous, and he’s still not on many christmas card lists in that
But when I sat down to write about Keenan, a funny thing happened. I’m not a
fan of Mike Keenan, I’ve never been a fan of Mike Keenan, and I never
expected to be a fan of Mike Keenan. But I suddenly realized that there were
positive things to say about him as well as the negative.
Keenan is a complex person who tends to polarize those around him. You like
him, you don’t. Very few people who’ve heard of him don’t have a strong
opinion of him, one way or the other. And people who polarize people also
tend to get demonized by those that don’t like him — not necessarily
without justification, but it means you tend to forget about the good parts.
Keenan did help the Rangers win a cup after 53 years. Keenan has won pretty
much everywhere. I thought, frankly, that Keenan deserved to keep the job in
Boston, where he did some good things (and Joe Thorton has publically
credited him for helping him take the next step in his play), but Keenan was
evidently too strong a personality for the Bruins management. Keenan is, if
you talk to people around the league, a pretty good coach.
He does, however, carry some baggage. Keenan is not, doesn’t want to be, and
probably never will be, a “player’s coach”. He’s your coach, not your
friend. Sometimes, that goes over the edge. Keenan wants to win,
desperately. He has little patience for those that don’t, and less patience
for those that put other priorities ahead of winning. And when he gets
frustrated, it can leak out in less than teambuilding ways. Which puts him
on edge with the players.
And over time, players tend to tune that out, and his effectiveness wanes.
Scotty Bowman has learned the art of “reinventing himself”, so that the
players don’t tune him out. Keenan hasn’t. That may be the key difference
between the two — but it’s a huge difference.
His strategy on goaltenders is to terrorize them, and use them as pawns to
manipulate the skaters. this doesn’t make him freinds with many goalies (and
there’s history in his life that, I think, explains thnis. Read the keenan
book listed at the end for more info on it).
As a coach, Mike keenan is a specialist — he can take an underperforming
team, and kick it up a notch. Make them play to expectations, or a little
more. For a while.
Keenan’s major failures — St. Louis, for one, and Vancouver — were where
he got involved in more than coaching, and tried to also be the GM. In St.
Louis it was close to an unmitigated disaster, although to be honest, his
Shanahan for Pronger trade was unpopular, but it worked. Would St. Louis
have been as strong with Shanahan instead? I don’t think so — but even that
wasn’t enough to get the job done.
In vancouver? he’s been ripped for dumping some long-term fan favorites:
Kirk McLean, Trevor Linden, Gino Odjick. The way he did it was atrocious and
insensitive, but the more I think about it, the more I realize he had to do
something. The Canucks, when he came on board, were a team not only mired in
mediocrity, but comfortable with being that way. Whether they realized it or
not, that franchise, and its players, had gotten comfortable with being
“okay”. It had to be shaken up, and Linden, as the leader, had to be shaken
up (and shipped out) to do that. They’d hit, as a team, a comfort point that
there weren’t going to move out of without major surgery. Keenan committed
that surgery — and yes, the team tanked without a trace, but when you take
things down to the foundation, that happens.
I have issues with how he was rebuilding it, but Keenan had the courage to
do what nobody else in Vancouver was willing to admit was needed: to blow it
up and start over. It was, frankly, long overdue. And now, the Canucks are
turning into a winning team, not just a “fun to watch” team. And credit for
some of that goes to Keenan.
I have two significant criticism of Mike Keenan:
First, he’s never figured out that “I am not your friend” doesn’t have to
mean “I am your enemy”. An example is Darryl Sutter, who isn’t a player’s
coach, who can be quite, well, clear adn distinct on his feelings about a
player, without falling down into abuse of the player. You don’t hear
players around the league complaining about Sutter’s behavior, like you do
Keenan (usually under their breath, off the record, in case Keenan is hired
to coach their team again). There’s tough-but-fair, and there’s tough.
Sutter is tough-but-fair.
Second, if you study Keenan’s stays with teams, a theme appears. Keenan
invariably restructures a team (or tries to) to fit him image of what a
hockey team is. Whcih is a grinding, defense-first, heavy-forecheck,
physical team. he demands hard work, but he demands hard work his way.
Players that don’t buy in — they’re gone.
And that, to me, is the essential problem of Keenan as coach. Many in the
league say he’s a great coach; I disagree — because a great coach learns to
make the most of the players he has. Keenan invariably tries to replace
players with guys he wants in his system, he doesn’t adapt his systme to his
players. That is the other key difference between Keenan and Scotty Bowman.
Bowman is flexible, and adapts his coaching to his talent. Keenan isn’t, and
adapts his talent to his coaching — with a hammer and chisel, if necessary.
No wonder some players hate him.
And that’s why his stays at teams have tended to be shorter, and less
successful. Players have changed and aren’t as tolerant of screamer coaches,
in part because players have contracts and options to force trades or move
around as free agents. What worked 20 years ago to motivate players doesn’t
work now, the players won’t tolerate it. And the players, frankly, have
found ways to submarine Keenan and get him fired when he starts crossing the
line. All it takes is for players to tune him out and stop playing, because
they know either they’ll be traded, or Keenan will be. Keenan doesn’t seem
to realize this, or can’t help himself, so when the frustration hits, Keenan
goes over the line, and the players shut down and wait for the new coach.
That, and his inability to succeed with what he’s given — insisting on
changing out teams to his vision, rather than maximizing what he has, makes
me wonder how successful he’ll be in Florida.
Here’s how to make Keenan successful: hire him as coach. make sure he knows
player personnel issues are off the table, if you want his opinion, you’ll
ask him. Otherwise, shut up and coach. Give him a good, physical team that
is underperforming and needs a kick in the butt. And give him a three year
contract, but plan on firing him after two: if he hasn’t made the team peak
in two seasons, he won’t.
Keenan is not a player’s guy, but he’s also not someone who can build a
team, and his ability to develop talent is fairly weak. his ability to spot
talent is pretty good. His ability to motivate talent is interesting: if
you’re a player that is compatible with his style, it can be quite
effective. If you aren’t, he’ll make your life hell. Guys like Mark Messier,
who aren’t afraid to threaten to pulp his face, tend to do best, and I think
he needs a guy like that on the team to help keep him from destroying the
team; a player who’s willing to take him aside and yell him into submission.
Moose can do that, Linden can’t.
Is he a good match for Florida?
I’m not sure. But — I think maybe. I think about Vancouver, and I see
florida as a similar team. It’s gotten comfortable losing. It’s full of
players with personal agendas, and there’s very little team ethic. And
everyone seems to have fallen into that comfort spot of “well, we suck, we
aren’t going to get better, why bother”.
Keenan is a perfect guy to kick a few butts that need kicking here. Starting
with, well, Pavel, who may be the most overpaid player in the league when it
comes to how much better his team is with him skating than without, and has
been for years (what good are personal numbers if the team doesn’t win
because of them?).
Can Keenan fix this team? Probably not. But he can break the complacency and
get peopel working their butts off again, and then the Panthers can see if
they want to give him a chance to take the next step, or not. Given his time
in Boston, maybe he’s finally figuring that part out.
But now that I think about it, well, it’s not suprising that Keenan ended up
with teh Panthers. he won’t kick them in the butt until they win a Cup like
he did in New york, but he will kick them in the butt until the complacency
stops, and that’s the first step in breaking that team out of the morass
it’s been in.
But it’s not going to be fun for the players, but, you know? If they were
getting the job done, he wouldn’t be there. So they shouldn’t complain as
much. They, by the actions, really asked for a guy like Keenan to come in.
I’ll bet it won’t be long before they miss Sutter as coach, that’s for
Useful research: Keenan, the high times and misadventures of hockey’s most
controversial coach, by Jeff Gordon (beat writer for the St. Louis paper).
(originally posted on 11/26. I’m just catching up with my post-vacation e-mail deluge..)
This is mostly off-topic, but I’m bringing it up because we’ve had
discussions about business issues before, especially things like the Arena
lease and other aspects of the business side of sports, and while this isn’t
hockey-related, I think it brings some hard data into the arguments over the
business of sports, and public funding for buildings and the like.
Over in baseball-land, the fight over contraction continues. The Minnesota
government is currently in the not-fun position of simultaneously having to
1) the Twins are a private concern, and therefore, no public funding for any
2) the Twins are a major economic and civic resource, and therefore, the
owner of the Twins (Carl Pohlad) isn’t to be allowed to shut them down.
Doesn’t this sound a bit like talking both sides of the fence? If the Twins
are a private concern, why does the government have the right to tell the
owner he can’t do what he wants? If they’re important to the area, why won’t
the government invest some money into making sure the team is economically
viable? (FWIW, goverments have no trouble investing in other industries,
whether it’s dairy subsidies or tax breaks….)
Jesse Ventura (Da Guv) campaigned on a “no money, no how” platform on the
stadium. He’s now waffling, having moved to a “well, maybe, if it doesn’t
affect the budget” position. If there are user fees or “things that don’t
affect the general fund” that can be taxed, he’s willing to consider it. The
problem: most of those things are already taxed, and those taxes already go
into the general fund. He hasn’t commented on being willing to redirect any
Evidently someone clued him into the numbers. Here are some:
Payroll taxes on the Twins players paid just under a million dollars into
the general fund.
Payroll taxes on visiting players (who are taxed by most cities on the money
earned while playing in the local city) added another $2.2 million.
Sales tax on concessions was worth $800K, based on an average purchase of $7
There is also a sales tax on ticket sales.
This means the Minnesota Twins directly adds $4-5million a season into the
general fund. If the Twins go away, that number goes to zero. And this
doesn’t include a lot of things: lease payments to the stadium, payroll
taxes for non-player staffers, jobs created at the stadium or indirectly,
moneys spent by the twins in the community or by the visiting teams (hotels,
meals, etc), moneys spent by fans in the area, etc, etc, etc.
If you just look at the taxes generated by the twins, it’s about $5 mil a
year. How many companies in Minnesota generate that much directly into the
I’m not going to take a hard position on all of this, but I’m curious what
I think a government has every right to refuse to build a stadium. But I
also think that if they don’t, the owner has every right to go somewhere
that will. Many governments want it both ways: no investment, but wanting to
define how things are done. If you don’t buy into the program, stand on the
sidelines and shut up.
My position has been, and continues to be, that a sports franchise isn’t
“just a private business” — the area and fans have an emotional investment
and commitment in a team (except in Montreal), in a way you don’t with a
dairy farm or a chip-fab facility. But emotional investments don’t pay the
bills. There has to be a financial commitment as well.
Cities that blindly built stadiums and paid the bills to “save the team” are
just as stupid as cities that blindly refuse to get involved at all. I’m not
saying “build it” — I believe that the involved governments should invest
only to the point that it makes economic sense to get involved, and no more.
How much is that $5 mil in tax revenues worth to Minnesota? How much would
it be worth to double that (which wouldn’t be unreasonable in a new stadium
with new revenues, an increased payroll and improved attendance).
One problem, of course, is that both sides of this fight politically come up
with their own definitions of ‘worth’. The anti-stadium people define most
revenues as “not really attached to the team”, while the pro-stadium side
tend to toss in money that is trivially attached (at best). There is rarely
an attempt to come up with a rational economic value to a team, the two
sides are too busy demonizing each other.
That’s why I find the Twins numbers fascinating. You can ignore the
intrinsics: just look at the $4-5 million of general fund money a year, and
ask yourself what it’s worth to save that money.
If the Twins leave, or shut down, that goes to zero. You lose it. If you
shift that money into paying off bonds that partially fund a new stadium, it
STILL goes to zero, but the Twins stay, and you keep getting all of that
indirect revenue, civic pride, etc. Eventually the building is paid off and
that money starts flowing back to the general fund again.
Turn this back to the Sharks a bit: the Sharks probably generate $2mil in
direct taxes on a local or state basis a year, on top of the indirect
economic revenues. If the Sharks went to the city and said “we need $10
million to fund improvements to the arena” with the inevitably implied “or
else”, just how involved should the city get?
The answer, of course, is “it depends”, depending on many features. But
knowing that there are tax revenues that will disappear if you don’t, I
think you have to look and see what makes sense. The problem is how to
de-demonize the argument and make a good deal that’s financially reasonable
to all sides.
If you look back in history, prior to the 1950s, cities didn’t build
stadiums, people did. But teams moved around and folded a lot, too. It was
the move of the Dodgers and Giants that really changed this, convincing
cities that they had to invest in a team to keep it. And that’s led, in most
cases, to decades of relatively stable franchises, where movement has been
rare and folding (thanks mostly to the teat of mamma-TV) pretty much
non-existant. Of course, as cycles go, some cities were stupid and built
financial white-elephants, and those abuses have caused things to start
San Francisco is a rare case, where they ended up with their cake and eating
it too — but we shouldn’t think that’s a reasonable model in most cities,
either. Don’t forget they REALLY WERE the Tampa Bay Giants for a while, and
if not for some serious backroom politics and Peter Magowan, they’d still
The future of all this has to be the partnership model. Minnesota is finding
this out the hard way, and hopefully everyone on both sides (government AND
ownership) will notice. Sports teams DO generate economic benefits to a
city. They also generate ‘non-revenue’ benefits, too (and defining a value
to those is a b-tch, which is more or less how this whole morass got this
I guess the question I have is this: what do you consider reasonable to
consider as part of that “economic benefit” when it comes to defining the
value of a franchise to an area? And what does that translate to into having
the affected governments invest in guaranteeing those benefits? Does a
governemnt “go into the red” to protect those non-revenue benefits? If so,
Montreal, I think, did it pretty much the right way — they looked at it,
decided the Expos just weren’t that important, and now they’re moving on
into whatever comes next. Sometimes, it DOESN’T work (anyone else miss the
Vancouver Grizzlies?), or maybe it could work but isn’t worth the fight.
Minnesota tried to have it both ways — no investment, but all the benefits.
They’re now finding out the hard way what that means.
I think the real road, is down the middle somewhere: everyone gets involved,
to the level it makes sense. If you don’t get involved, you don’t get a say.
Seems pretty simple, no? But the fun is in the details. When millions and
millions of dollars are involved, nothing’s simple. (but, I note for the
record that while the city of SF was doing the “not a penny” schitck against
the Giants, millions of dollars of subsidies and building-improvement money
was stuffed into the SF Symphony and Davies Hall; it wasn’t okay to invest
in keeping the Giants, who now draw 3+mil fans a year, but it was okay to
heavily subsidize the symphony. So much for consistency…)
What do you think?
(posted to sharks on the 20th of november, but due to our vacation, I’m just now catching up…)
The first quarter of the season it over, so it’s time to take a look at
where things stand around the league. What better foil than to look at my
pre-season predictions, and see how they’re shaping up?
>detroit: Everyone who thought last year was bowman’s last run, raise
> your hand. I sure did. But — he felt the wings had a bit left in
> them, with some minor tweaking. that tweaking was: god help us,
> Dominik Hasek.
Um, duh. Al Strachan could have called this one. He probably did, too.
>dallas: Of the teams in the west, Dallas is most screwed by bowman and
> the Leafs. Another aging diva of a team, I honestly expected them to
> start the rebuilding, and half-expected Belfour to be dumped off on
> the Blues (see below). Instead, they reloaded for another shot. I
> don’t see them getting past the Wings, I think they’re more
> susceptible to injury problems, and I think despite that, they’re
> the best team in the west not based in detroit.
How the mighty doth fall. The Stars simply look old. The Stars look like
they miss Brett Hull. The stars look like they wish Coach Hitchcock would
fall off a bridge; Hitch, however, is too smart to walk on bridges.
Right now, this team looks ugly-bad, in 8th in the west. Way below what this
team ought to be. But also be aware that the Stars have done this “bad
chemistry we hate our coach he sucks” dance before, and when playoff time
comes, they’re in the hunt. So don’t’ read too much into it — yet. But
enjoy it. I am.
>san jose: I’ve got issues with rating San jose this high; but I have
> issues not doing it, too. a number of sharks have to prove
> themselves this year; the defensive depth could be a problem, but I
> look at the teams, and I just don’t see a team that deserves a
> higher ranking. Defensive injuries could decimate this team, nabokov
> could turn into a pumpkin, and a key injury to Selanne or Nolan (or
> another long suspension) could hurt this team. I just don’t think it
> will. time for the sharks to take the next step up from a building
> team to a contender.
The “selanne chemistry” issue is a factor. Defensive depth is a factor.
Nabokov didn’t turn into a pumkin. The team is playing pretty good, overall,
and Jillson is a great find. Fifth in the west isn’t bad; and this team
should improve as the team goes along. They have a legitimate chance to end
up third seed in ranking, not just third based on divisions.
>colorado: I would have ranked them third, until forsberg went on
> vacation. That hurt. But don’t pretend this team’s in trouble.
Okay, go ahead and pretend the team’s in trouble. As of today, Colorado’s
out of the playoffs. This team is showing depth problems up front; without
forsberg, they no longer have two legitimate scoring lines, and teams simply
gang up on them. Beyond that, they just aren’t playing good hockey much fo
>St. Louis: The blues were pretty close to a top-caliber team.
> Unfortunately, the one missing piece was goaltending.
> Um, well, Brent Johnson. Is he really the answer? I don’t know.
He seems to be at least half the answer — but once again, out of seemingly
nowhere, Freddie Brathwaite is stepping in and shoving a team up on his
shoulders. He and Johnson are splitting time, and both are carrying this
team as far as they can. (why is it nobody, including me, believe in
Brathwaite, despite his ability to keep doing this?)
Goaltending is the least of the Blue’s problems right now, mired in 7th in
the west and basically not playing well. Doug weight isn’t the answer, yet.
But like Dallas, it’s a long season, and if/when this team pulls it
together, they could make life interesting come playoff time. Then again,
haven’t we heard the comment “a team that has Keith Tkachuk on it has
chemistry problems” before?
>At the other end of the spectrum, you have – the guys who know they’re
>out of the playoffs, and they’re still in training camp.
>minnesota: the second year of an expansion team is rarely pretty.
They’re not doing badly — compared to expectation. Given their record is
almost as good as Colorado’s, they ought to be thrilled. Colorado ought to
be ashamed. They actually have a chance at the playoffs, now. But don’t
expect that to continue.
>columbus: and columbus.
>chicago: at least the expansion teams have an excuse to suck. Chicago
> fans took one look at this roster and declared the season over
Well, lookie here. Chicago is making a statement. Whod’a thought? Not me.
My opinion, though, is pretty simple: if they’re still doing this in
january, I’ll still believe it. Right now, I think this is just a nefarious
plan by the hawks to really piss off their fans by showing signs of
not-sucking for a while before sinking. I don’t think the Hawks will sustain
this. If they prove me wrong, great. I wouldn’t put money on it.
>anaheim: Steve Shields upgrades the goaltending, and the Ducks
Still really suck. And — gee, well Steve couldn’t keep the starting job,
either. Guigere took it away. The Ducks suck. The only thing saving them
from complete mediocrity is the fact that they aren’t the worst team in
southern california. Barely.
>calgary: the smallest of the canadian teams, it tries, it struggles, it
> falls short.
My, oh my. Never question whether miracles happen. The Flames don’t suck.
Seriously don’t suck. Really don’t suck. And unlike the Hawks, it ain’t
smoke and mirrors. Roman Turek got out of St. Louis, found his confidence
and turned into a goaltender (will he fail in the playoffs again? Who knows?
It won’t matter for a while, and that’s good for all involved — turek’s in
a perfect position here). And with good goaltending behind them, the Flames
have turned it up and started burning people.
This team looks for real to me, folks. I don’t think they’ll fade.
>So you have five teams in the playoffs, and five playing because the schedule
tells them to. that leaves: the other five.
>los angeles: I think LA is the best of the rest
Oops. Oh, my. What happens when your goaltender turns into a pumpkin? You
turn into this year’s Kings. Potvin was run out of Vancouver for being
unable to stop pucks, ended up in LA and played his heart out. And this
year, well, he’s Felix Potvin again. Time for the “old yeller” treatment
here, folks, but be gentle.
Oh, wait. The alternative in LA is Jamie Storr. Um, never mind, we’ll keep
broken Felix for a while, thanks.
The rest of the team looks pretty mediocre, unfortunately. But with
goaltending this bad, it’s hard to tell how much is bad hockey and how much
is “we know we’re going to lose, so why bother?” hockey…,
>vancouver: I like what the canucks are doing — except for goaltending.
Two things have turned the Canucks into a real contender.
Andy Moog is their goaltending consultant. And Dan Cloutier is a goaltender
waiting for the right time, the right place, and the right voice to listen
to. Moog has fixed many of Cloutier’s technical weaknesses, and right now,
he looks like a real goalie. More important, a confident one. It may not
last, but as long as it does, the Canucks will win a fair number of hockey
Second, Trevor’s back. Beyond the ‘intrinsics’ of bringing Linden home, he
centers a solid checking line that can now reliably shut down the other
team’s top line, wins oodles of faceoffs, and works his butt off.
Suddenly, the Canucks look for real. Keep an eye on them, they should move
up the standings.
>phoenix: phoenix finally cleaned house, starting (literally) at the top.
> About bloody time, too.
About where I expected them to be, doing what I expected. 7th in the west,
not great, not terrible, not a real threat, but they don’t suck.
>edmonton: another canadian team struggling to hang on. They lost Doug
> Weight this year because they couldn’t afford to keep him.
And gee,fourth in the west. A bunch of guys (most visibly Mike Comrie) have
stepped up big time, tommy salo is proving himself to be an elite goalie
(finally — another goalie the Islanders seriously screwed up that another
team took and fixed, laughing), and the ryan smith injury hurts, no
question, but this team believes.
>nashville: I find myself feeling really, well, bored by nashville.
Nashville seems pretty bord with nashville, too. 10th in the west, not
really sucky, but always within shouting distance of it.
Right now, the division winners look like:
And other playoff teams, in more or less seeding order:
>Off in the east, here’s how things look:
>new jersey: still the team to beat.
And boy, are they being beaten. Like a drum. Like a horse. Like a dog. 8th
in the east — barely. It’s not goaltending, ti’s not talent, it seems to be
(gasp) chemistry, unheard of problems in New Jersey before now.
Still, I won’t rule them figuring it out and going on a roll. They’re not
dead, by a long shot. Just sitting in a corner puking…
>Philadelphia: plans on arguing with New jersey over the east.
They’re ahead of Jersey, but don’t get sized up for rings yet, guys. 5th in
the east isn’t bragging rights.
>Ottawa: How about ottawa? I keep rooting for them, and they don’t quite
> get over the hump. Maybe this year. I’ll root for it. But something
> tells me it won’t happen. darn.
They’re ahead of both Philly and New Jersey, but I’m still not convinced.
>Washington: how about the Caps? Sure, why not? well, for one reason, my
> gut tells me it won’t happen. but they now have jagr — but is it
> the happy, score-logs jagr? or the whiny, pouting one?
Or the missing, hurt, not-performing, bad-chemistry whiny pouting one?
Four words: someone open a window.
>toronto: I’d love to root for toronto, too, but
Oh, hell. I’ll go ahead and root for Toronto. Not only are they tops in the
east, they seem to deserve it….
>Pittsburgh: they have mario back. they don’t have jagr. I like both
At least until mario notices he’s old and creaky. Sigh. Whoops. That wasn’t
in the business plan…
>buffalo: no hasek. no peca. is the team better? I sure don’t think so.
And the sabres agree.
>carolina: they’ve got their act together enough to be decent.
And, at 6th, they’re decent.
>boston: every time this team starts stepping it up, Harry Sinden goes
> and worries about his budget. A franchise that will — guaranteed –
> always find a way to keep from getting good, and tries to not suck.
> Must be the proximity to Fenway.
Sixth in the east, playing decently, good goaltending, they don’t suck. Not
to worry, folks, they have plenty of time to screw it up.
>NY Islanders: you add peca, yashin and osgood. hey, they might not suck.
Hey! they don’t suck! amazing what good goaltending and leadership (Peca)
does for you. And what I said about Turek goes for Osgood, too.
>florida: can we bring back the rats? Just to make it interesting?
Sorry, even rats won’t make this interesting.
>NY Rangers: Okay, you tell me. Theo fleury coming back from rehab. eric
> lindros coming back from injury. Mike richter has finished getting
> old, and starting to grow barnacles. I’d call Messier old, but if he
> read it, he’s track me down and hurt me.
Okay, never mind. I’ll call Messier old, because the way he’s skating this
year, he couldn’t catch me. But Lindros is coming around (and staying
healthy), fleury is coming along (and staying straight)), and the
reclamation projects are working — better than Richter’s knees are. But
Blackburn is okay.
However, this is still a house of cards. If they pull it off, it’s a
miracle. I wouldn’t bet on it, but I might (quietly) root for some of these
guys. Especially Theo.
>montreal: sigh. I’m hopeful montreal is on the right track. I’m not
> ready to expect it.
Montreal — what little of the team we actually see skating — is definitely
on the right track. Too bad they can’t keep anyone healthy. The arena
announcer just went on the IR when he sneezed and broke his nose on the
microphone during a power play. They don’t need goaltending, they need an
>Atlanta: expansion team. see columbus.
>tampa bay: and finally — will tampa or chicago finish lower in the
Hey, cut them some slack. Tampa’s ahead of buffalo. Would I bet that to be
true in March? Nope. But it’s safe to bet that tampa will finish below
chicago. Even when chicago’s plummet hits, it won’t be THAT bad.
This note’s not going to be very coherent, but that’s okay, it’s about the
Atlanta game. It fits.
Congratulations on Adam Graves, who got his silver plated stick (the 9th the
Sharks have paid for — and you wonder why we need revenue sharing?), his
crystal plaque (does Jim Gregory do anything but hand out pieces of glass?
His job: give out all those things Bettman doesn’t want to hand to
people…), a very, um, Niemanesque portrait that I”m sure will sell well on
ebay (maybe), a huge magnum of very nice wine, and a hearty “thank you, go
back to work” from Greg Jamison. Graves’ wife also got a bit of a surprise,
too — Marchment came up during the ceremony and hugged Graves. His stick,
however, took off and missed her face by maybe six inches, much to Mush’s
chagrin. I can see it now — Marchment the first player to get four minutes
for careless use of the stick during an NHL award ceremony…. (we interrupt
this ramble for an inappropriate comment about Adam Grave’s wife: whoo-hoo.
We now return you to the random rant, and I’ll go somewhere and feel
Nine sharks have now celebrated 1000 games while in teal. For extra points,
name them. Without looking. Then, name which ones actually had been sharks
for longer than the season they celebrated the milestone….
Whatever the question is, Atlanta ought to realize that the answer is not
(and likely never has been) “Damian Rhodes”. Although to be honest, he was
the least of their problems tonight. Sort of. That first goal wasn’t soft.
It wasn’t “stay-puft marshmallow man” soft. It was “Old Yeller” soft. And
he’s willing to take 45 shots and not start swinging sticks at his so-called
In case you’re wondering, on the first shift of the game, Jeff Odgers tried
to put an elbow through Marchment’s face. Marchment looked carefully at both
refs, who were pointedly ignoring him, and those of us close to the ice
heard a quiet feral growl and then the pinging of the sonar, as Marchment
started shedding clothing and played “heatseeker” for Odgers. Odgers seemed
rather surprised to be jumped, and Mush won on points.
Here’s hoping Odgers isn’t seriously hurt, but he was putting no weight on
his right leg, and there were rumors of it being his knee. And his being
ready for the long jump from that last hit. That injury seemed to stun
Atlanta, and I’m not sure they ever recovered. They aren’t THAT bad a team,
honest. They really aren’t — although I wondered at times if this was a
prank, and they’d hired the san jose state team to stand in for the evening.
The Thrashers REALLY aren’t that bad. Honest. I think. The good news: ticket
prices will go down next year, because of the reduced need for showers and
laundry tonight in the Sharks locker room. If you don’t sweat, you don’t
need to wash…
What got into Hannan tonight? Especially in the third, everything he touched
fell down. Especially good (judges rated it a 6.5, except for the Slovak
judge, but we threw out the high and the low) was Kowalchuk’s triple-axel
fall to the ice, but the rumor that he and Hannan are going to the Olympics
for the pair competition are false.
And imagine this: what would have happened if the sharks WEREN’t playing a
back to back and had to travel in from Anaheim (via the reno airport, or
perhaps Cleveland), arriving about next Thursday and exhausted?
Finally, our refs tonight were Ron Cowal, who we got to know in pre-season,
and Mike Leggo, who we got to know last season. What I want to know is: what
did Lombardi do to piss off the league THIS time, that we got blessed with
these guys together? And will either one ever finish reading the rulebook?
Because anyone who refs that way ought to be told to buy a ticket if they
want to watch. There’s a small difference between “letting the boys play”
and “someone find me a mirror, I need to see if he’s still breathing”.
But then, maybe that’s what this game deserved, and my god, despite the
Graves ceremony, it was over at 10:02. And only that because, god help me,
the Refs decided to call a meaningless penalty with four miliseconds left in
the game, after having ignored the game up until then… Game time:
something like 2 hours and 20 minutes. I’ll take it…
Onward to Vancouver, who could use a guy like Rhodes in goal right now…
There has been a Rathje sighting. Unfortunately, it was in Vancouver, where he’s working out and waiting for the deal that seems nowhere to be found. Dean Lombardi has come out and said things are at an impasse.
If so, it could be a long wait. If (as a semi-educated guess by me) is close to true, and the two sides are about $500K apart for this season, it could be 20 games before the pay lost to missing games overtakes the money he’s holding out for. If they’re demanding more, or if they’re demanding a multi-year deal, it could be longer. But assuming it’s only half a million dollars (well, “only”…), I bet about game 15, Rathje might get itchy about settling. Or maybe not.
The track record of the Sharks says that the deal on the table is reasonable. That implies that Rathje, or his agent, aren’t. If I knew Mike Rathje, I’d tell him to stuff a sock in his agent’s mouth, fly to San Jose, and sit down with Lombardi without his financial weasel, um, advisor. And see what happens. Because sitting in Vancouver and waiting for this deal isn’t doing any good, and as far as I can tell, rathje’s agent is the one causing this problem, not the Sharks.
More on the possible sale of the Sharks:
Rumors about the possible sale of the Sharks circulate. I’ve speculated on this a bit, but thinking about it more, I have another angle, which makes it even less than it seemed. The Gunds aren’t getting any younger. Perhaps the easiest explanation for this is “estate planning”, trying to set things up so that the sharks and those holdings continue moving forward if anything happens, while also making sure they don’t get nailed by the government in taxes. Most of the Gund holdings are private and closely held. This could well be nothing more than an attempt to re-arrange their finances and equity in a way to make things easier to pass along and keep intact in an estate. Let’s hope that odesn’t happen for many years, but estate planning is something you can’t wait until the last minute on….
Is Korky moving on?
Rumor surfaced today of Korolyuk to Ottawa for Chris Phillips (one must guess, as part of a package, I’m not sure I can convince myself it’s a value trade straight up). The big question for me is — what’s the ulterior motive here?
Perhaps the rumor is straight up, and it’s really being discussed. I don’t believe it for a minute. Here’s why — it seems to have leaked out of the Sharks side of the trade, and the Sharks never, ever leak. Or more correctly, they just don’t leak stuff by accident. So if this really did come out of San Jose, why?
Could it be — the team’s kinda struggling, and the sharks are floating the trade rumor to point out that if they don’t get it together, management’s going to make some changes? (and hint: it ain’t the coach going….).
Could it be — Mike Rathje, the lone NHL holdout now that Kaberle has traded, who’s agent has gotten into a bit of a pissing match with Dean Lombardi? It just so happens that f the Sharks bring in Chris Phillips, the need to sign Rathje any time soon goes way, way down, and the Sharks have made it painfully clear they’re willing to let Rat sit (and rot) until his agent gets a clue and comes to terms?
Could it be — since Korky has evidently asked for a trade, they’ve floated the rumor to let him know they’re working on it? And maybe they even are? Might make the guy feel a little better, and that can’t hurt his game. Korky was showcased in the Hawks game, and frankly, didn’t exactly help his stock around the league.
Could it be something else? Sure. The one thing I’ve learned about Lombardi is that whatever you expect to happen, he’ll do something else. And when he does, you’ll usually look at it and say “duh, I never thought of that….” — and it makes sense, unlike most of what Mike Milbury does…
It looks to me like the time has come for the sharks and korolyuk to shake hands and head off in different directions. Chris Phillips would be nice, as part of a package (he is, IMHO, worth more than Korky is in return, but we have to be careful not to overpay) — unless you think Rathje is going to sign soon. If he does, we have a numbers-game problem on the blueline (even if rathje DOESN’T sign, we have that problem, given the way Jilllson is playing…).
It seems to me the Sharks are playing mind-games with Rathje here. More power to them. Rathje needs to quit waiting for miracles, look at the Kaberle contract, and split the difference and get into uniform. Will he?
We’ll see. Lombardi is clearly not going to cave any time soon, and he’s made it clear he’s not going to make it easy for Rat to sit back and wait for concessions. Let’s hope it doesn’t last much longer; make no mistake, the Sharks are a better team with Rat on it than without him; but Rat is not the kind of player that gets huge bucks. Why? No offense, and a quiet but not imposing physical presence. The kind of defenseman rathje is can make an NHL team, but it isn’t the kind of defenseman that generates the big bucks. His agent evidently doesn’t realize that. He better figure it out fast.
The bubble is bursting — pro sports in america heading for a fall.
Something unprecedented is happening in pro sports in america. Prices are falling. For the first time in basically forever, the average ticket price in the NBA dropped — 2.3 percent. Not an individual team, but the entire league. Due to dropping revenues and special clauses in the CBA, NBA players are finding out that 10% of their salary is being deducted from their contracts (remind me to read the fine print on my next paycheck…)
Over in football-land, advertising is exceptionally soft. Rumors are that Monday Night Football, which is having decent viewership numbers, is going to lose as much as $200 million this year (it’s a $650 million a year contract), and the rest of the NFL broadcasts are hurting too. Rumors are circulating that after the season, the networks are going to the NFL to discuss these contracts (read, they’re going to demand cuts in the numbers).
In baseball, as soon as the Diamondbacks win the world series (I’m not pro-diamonbacks, but I know better than to bet against Schilling and the Unit), the CBA expires, and there’s a good chance all hell will break loose. Maybe, just maybe, they’ll find a way to avoid a strike, a lockout, a major fight with the players — but heck, they’ve never done it before, and the Germans have outlawed miracles….
All over the sports landscape viewer numbers are down, advertising revenue is imploding, and the golden eggs have this funny smell to them.
The huge bubble known as pro sports is starting to burst, folks. After adding what seems to be 300 cable sports channels, where there are six hockey games, five basketball games, eight baseball games and every college and NFL game in the universe available free or by Pay Per View, the sports leagues have found out something: that you can have too much sports on TV. The market is beyond saturated.
They’re also finding out that you can’t keep raising ticket prices and other prices infinitely, either. The NBA got hit first here, because, frankly, they marketed around Bird and Johnson and Jordan, and they all retired and the NBA found the new kids simply weren’t marketable — the downside of personality marketing, and something minor league teams could have told them long ago (market the team, not the people. Or do both, but give fans a hook to the city, not a player who’ll be in Cleveland when he signs that next contract…). Baseball is seeing playoff tickets go unsold, and not because of September 11th. Because fans looked at the prices, and said “TV’s good enough”. And the question in baseball is not “do we contract”, but “by how many teams, and who?”. Baseball IS going to fold franchises, the only questions are how fast, which ones, and what kind of stink the union will make about it. Montreal is history; tampa is probably history, and I sure wouldn’t be at all surprised if a couple of other teams join them before this is all finished. If not 2002, then 2003. But if it waits until 2003, I’d bet on there not being any baseball in 2002, either. Scary thought, no?
And in Los Angeles, the 2nd market in the country is still telling the NFL they like having all their football on the boob tube. And the NFL is freaking, because if other cities figure that out, wh’s paying for the new stadiums and the seats in them?
The reality is, pro sports have seen massive increases in revenue in the last 20 years; in many cases, the last decade. Now we get to watch how the leagues, teams and players deal with a gravy train where the wheel has fallen off, and the fans are saying “no, thanks”. Will players realize endless raises and outrageous salaries for journeymen are over? Will it be easy? Or tough? Bet on tough.
What’s this mean for hockey? Of the four major sports, Hockey may be the best set to deal with this, although why may not be obvious. Here is why I think Hockey will weather the storm: First, Bettman has a clue, and has seen this coming for a while. Those of you who hate Bettman, get over it. Without him, this league would have been in horrible trouble long ago, and the Oilers and Coyotes would have been sold and moved by now, and canadian hockey would be in even worse shape, effectively dead. Second, hockey never got addicted to the great teat of TV revenue. It tried — it should now count its blessing that it never hooked up to this the way the NFL and Baseball did. Third, the NFL doesn’t have to worry about a new CBA until 2004. It’s going to be a bit painful getting there (just ask the Oiler owners, who just had a cash call made — but that was misunderstood and overblown by much of the press, it’s not as big a deal as all that); but by 2004, the NFL TV contract wars will be fought, the baseball contraction wars will be fought (we hope, If they’re still fighting, baseball will be dead…), and the NHL can simply point to what’s happened to all of the other leagues and say “see? Let’s talk”.
Baseball’s going to have it worst (as usual) because of a combination of being first to renegotiating a CBA after the bubble bursts, having a tradional hostile relationship with the union (which always wins!), and worst, having an ownership group that can’t agree on the shape of a baseball, much less key strategic issues like revenue sharing or fiscale stability. The union doesn’t have to work hard to win labor fights, they just sit back and let the owners shoot at each other until everyone is wounded, and then step in and plant a flag. Until the baseball owners figure that out and fix their own house, baseball’s in deep trouble. I’m not holding my breath.
Hockey has its issues — but ownership seems to be more or less on the same page, without being stuck in the “league offices uber alles” mentality of the NBA, or the “TV money uber alles” mentality of the NFL. This gives them flexibility, but also the strength of building consensus, something Bettman does better than pretty much everyone (selig talks a good talk, Bettman delivers. Stern and Tagliabue issue edicts).
The good news for fans is — prices are going to stop going up; maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but the peak is here. Teams may try pricing to delay the inevitable, but the ones that do will likely regret it. Players may try to pretend it’s not happening — but when teams start folding, it’ll get their attention. And unlike baseball, I think hockey players are sharp enough to learn from the disasters of other sports (and, in general, I think hockey players are more reasonable than other sports….)
The bad news: it’s not going to be fun. Even in hockey, where TV revenues aren’t huge, advertising hits (boards, programs, broadcast, naming rights, etc) are going to hurt. You’re likely to see more and more advertising layers (on the ice, on the uniforms, in the broadcasts) to try to make up the difference. The real answer, however, is to get the cost of the sport down to an acceptable, manageble level — and that is going to mean lower prices, but also reduced supply. That means fewer games on TV, folks.
It might also mean dead franchises, or moved ones. Canadian teams are far from safe. And there will be unhappiness during the transition. But for pro sports to survive, they have to realize that it’s going to happen whether they like it or not, and simply deal with it. Hockey has the opportunity to come out of it least hurt, and most able to build on what they have; if they’re reasonable and intelligent about it. Fortunately, I think hockey has the leadership to do it.
The last ten years, pro sports have all be climbing the hold mountain of cash. What they didn’t realize was that it’s a roller coaster, and the other side of that hill is about to arrive. Fasten your belts, and put down that coke.
The bubble has already burst in the NBA, and it’s only going to get worse. All hell is about to break loose in the NFL, because TV revenue is going to go down drastically, whether the NFL wants it to or not. And in baseball, god, I don’t want to think about it. They have everything but the four horseman throwing out the first pitch — and they have trouble not screwing it up in the good times.
Think the dot-com bubble collapse was bad? Stay tuned. You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
This is a response to Jzap that took on a life of its own. Apologies for the length, and for the marginal sharks content…
On 10/20/01 9:40 AM, “John LastMinute Zapisek 209/17″ wrote:
>> [Chuq] The Monday Night Football game on 10/15 was between two
>> teams with a combined zero wins. . . . And it had a larger TV
>> audience than a key game in the baseball playoffs.
> I think it’s easy to read too much into this.
Yeah, but its only one of all sorts of indications, from reduced viewership numbers to the significant drop in kids playing little league…
> Football is played once a week. In the regular season, a baseball
> team plays TEN TIMES as many games as a football team.
But that kind of ignores that this was a key playoff game and the worst MNF game in years. And baseball still couldn’t beat football’s numbers.
If it was typical game to typical game, sure. But that much difference in quality?
>> There are large numbers of unsold tickets to playoff games as
> That’s more telling — unless those empty seats are due to FOX
> forcing a weekday afternoon start on a game which the fans and
> teams would much rather have played at night.
It never used to stop people. It’s more a case of cost than time.
>> But if advertising revenue goes down, the only way to prop it up
>> is to cut supply, making each commercial worth more because there
>> is less competition for the dollars.
> Perhaps I don’t understand the context, but that sounds VERY
> It’s hard to cut the supply of minutes in a day And cutting the
> supply of eyeballs is hard, too
> Any TV executive who thinks he’s being smart by driving
> eyeballs away from TV to some other medium is shooting himself in
> the foot,
> If you’re talking about cutting the number of advertising minutes in
> a TV hour by replacing them with programming…
But that assumes that all programming is the same, that all advertising rates are the same, and that audiences are the same. None of which is true.
> Guess I’m having trouble imagining a scenario where cutting back the
> supply of minutes available to advertisers really works. –jzap
This gets complicated really fast. I apologize in advance if I confuse the hell out of you, or oversimplify things too much…
Take a station like Fox Sports Bay Area (please! ba-dump). It’s on the air 24 x 7. The number of minutes it broadcasts is fixed, it doesn’t change.
But what it broadcasts in those minutes differs over time. At one end, you have locally produced sports broadcasts (sharks, warriors). At the other end, you have those 2AM paid infomercials. In between you have locally produced programming (the regional news programs, for instance (which actually come out of chicago. Go figure), syndicated sports (the Pac 10 game of the week), syndicated programs (Bass Fishing weekly). That kind of stuff.
The problem, of course, is that the money you charge for a 30 minute infomercial is a lot less than what you charge for commercials during 30 minutes of a Sharks game (or you better HOPE it is…).
So — just show more sharks games, right? Not necessarily.
Each game has a certain number of commercials sold for it. The more games you broadcast, the more commercials you have to sell. That’s fine, as long as you have sponsors to buy the commercials and eyeballs (that’s us, the fans) to sell them. If the viewing audience shrinks, if there are fewer eyeballs, the sponsors aren’t as interested, so you have to drop the cost of the commercial to keep them buying. Drop it too low, you start losing money. And that’s not what you want…
Or — if, say, you hit a recession, or all your sponsors (hello, webvan!) go out of business, you find yourself with more commercials to sell than sponsors have money to buy.
In a sellers market, the price of something goes up. In a buyers market, it goes down. Or perhaps you don’t ‘sell out’ at all (we noticed watching football over the weekend that there were a few instances where they *should* have gone to commercial, and didn’t. It looks like the NFL had unsold inventory.
Even worse (for football) is the rumor that the networks are planning to go to the NFL after the season and demand concessions on the TV contracts. The advertising market has imploded, even for football, and the networks are losing their shirts. ABC pays $600-650 million a year for Monday Night Football. The estimate this year is they’re going to lose $200 million (and that number is somewhat futzed — the networks also use sports to promote their other shows, so there are off-book ‘internal’ commercials that add value to the broadcast, but not to $200 million, folks. You can only promote Friends so many times….
One of the things pro sports has found out (the hard way) is that there IS a limit to how many games people will go to, and watch. For every hard core fan that watches every game, buys full season tickets, knows every player on the taem and most on the farm, there are a dozen who scan the sports page, go to 5 or fewer games a year, and watch it on TV when they have time.
You keep adding more games to TV, and eventually, you saturate the market. The eyeballs stop growing. Worse, the eyeballs spread out across the broadcasts. But it costs the same to produce them — you just can’t charge as much because there are fewer eyeballs attached.
That’s why places like Tampa show fewer broadcasts. There are only so many eyeballs. The cost to broadcast a game is fairly fixed — you can’t save a lot of money. But by not broadcasting a game, you save the costs of that broadcast, and the reality is, most of those eyeballs will switch to other games. You’ll lose some, but not nearly to the level of the reduced production costs.
Fewer games equal reduced costs, more eyeballs attached to the games left to broadcast, which means higher ratings, and higher advertising rates. And since you’ve cut games, you’ve also cut the NUMBER of commercials you run, so advertisers have fewer chances to buy, so you start moving the market from a buyers (more commercials than advertisers) to sellers (more advertising than available commmercials). That also encourages higher ad rates.
All within reason, of course. It’d be a very complex spreadsheet (and a lot of educated guessing) to figure out how to maximize revenue here. If you cut too many games, you cut a lot of cost, but you piss off the fans and risk alienating them. You also have fixed costs (staff salaries, for instance) that don’t change as you change the # of broadcasts. And even if you cut games to 1, that doesn’t mean you can raise your ad rates infinitely; raise them too high, and the advertisers will go spend their money on NASCAR instead.
So you have a half dozen high-wires to walk simultaneously. Guess wrong on one of them, and things go blammo in your face. Set rates too low, and you lose money. Too high, the advertisers don’t buy (and you lose money). Too few games, you piss everyone off and you can’t make money because you have too few adds to sell. Too many games, and your rates drop because you can’t sell all your ad inventory at profitable prices.
All of this is coming to a head because we’re coming out of many years of economic prosperity and growth, which meant there was money to throw around, and lots of advertising. The economy is faltering (at best), and so companies are digging the foxholes. One of the first things to get cut is advertising. So demand weakens, so you have to cut prices to keep selling ads, and…
(I won’t even get into things like mass buys, Run of Schedule, PSAs, cross-promotions, and package deals (that include things like board and magazine purchases as part of a package). Suffice it to say, even if the ad card says $500 per 30 second commercial, not everyone pays that).
One thing you have to remember is that the fan is NOT the customer. The advertiser is the customer. You are the product sold to the advertiser; your eyeballs collectively is what the advertiser buys. And the sports program is what is created to convince you to watch, so they can throw ads in your face. So when you complain about what a network does, that it doesn’t care what the fans think, you’re RIGHT. As long as the eyeballs show up, you, the fan, can be ignored, in the name of (a) keeping the advertisers happy, and (b) maximizing how much money they make on selling those eyeballs to the advertiser. And they know, and you know, and they know you know, that they can jerk you around, and you’ll still watch.
Hockey, since it is less dependent on media dollars, is going to suffer less as those numbers decline (and they will; sports is at its peak at generating income; it’s downhill from here. But that’s another article). But as we move forward, I expect you’ll see more teams cut the number of games broadcast. For a while, we were headed towards “every game, except in chicago”, but the finite number of eyeballs meant that at some point, aggregate viewer numbers was going to max out. There is a tradeoff here: attracting fans and building audiences on one side, money on the other. The pendulum is swinging back towards the money. So expect somewhat fewer games, but not huge changes; you won’t see it cut to 20 or 30 games (except in chicago, of course), but you won’t see 80, either.
And don’t expect to see loosening of the Fox Sports blackouts. Fox knows that Joe Casual Fan only tunes in for a certain number of games a year. They certainly don’t plan on him wasting a set of those eyeballs on a broadcast they aren’t selling to advertisers if they can help it….
Remember, they don’t care what you think. You’re the product. And you’ll show up anyway. And they know it. Unless they do something amazingly stupid, like cancel the world series. And even if they do — 95% of you will be back in a year. That’s why we’re fans… We complain, but we keep showing up.
First off, serious congratulations to Barry Bonds for hitting #71. Now, bud, relax and see how high you can take it. (let it be noted for the record, also, that Bonds did it in the midst of a nasty pennant race, while both McGuire and Maris had nothing to play for but the record). Jesus. I’m still typing this, and he just hit 72. I need to type faster!
Opening night. Detroit. I like that — both because the Sharks start off with strong opponent, and because it looks like opening night keeps a lot of season ticket holders from selling the seats to the idiot red wing fans. Down where we are, it was quite timid. (the downside, I now realize, is that those stupid wings fans were all moved up into 226 where they hit critical mass — but perhaps a little barbed wire and a firehose?)
Last night, I saw two teams eyeing each other, and thinking “this is a team we have to beat in the playoffs”. It’s not often you see teams feel they have to make a statement on opening night, but both teams clearly did. In my preseason projections, I picked Detroit in the west. Let me rephrase that slightly — my god, the Wings are a damn scary good team. Better than I thought they were. Much. When you start seeing Hull and Robataille on the third line; whoof.
The BIG risks at detroit are injuries and tired legs. If they can stay healthy, if Bowman can spread the minutes around so this team isn’t dead in April, watch out. Those aren’t SMALL risks, either — but never bet against Bowman.
What *I* took out of last night’s game, however, was that as good as Detroit was, the Sharks played them well. Not their equal, but the Sharks seemed better than I expected, too. Even more surprising, they kept showing signs of a power play, something Shark fans aren’t used to.
Losing 4-3 in OT to the best team in hockey? Giving the best team in hockey a legitimate scare?
I’ll take that.
Maybe I’m not an idiot for picking Los Tiburones for third in the west. I liked what I saw last night — pride, determination, and a pretty damn good hockey team.
My three stars: Shanahan, Ricci, Sundstrom.
Referees: Billy McCreary (B+), Kelly Sutherland (B).
McCreary is a veteran ref, and seems to have good rapport with the players. He’s more than willing to discuss and explain things. The league is cracking down significantly on a number of things, especially any contact of any kind to the head with anything. Another one is delay of game; this nailed Todd Harvey, who fell on the puck and instead of a whistle, got a double-minor. This is to keep players from taking the lazy way out to a whistle and a faceoff, and speed up the game. I’m all for it. Amusing side note of this — after the Harvey penalty, Sundstrom was in the same situation and basically flopped onto the puck, and suddenly remembered the rule and did a great example of a cat falling in a pond; he bounced up and got off the puck quickly (and humourously….) to avoid the call.
McCreary called a good, solid game last night, fair to both sides, fair to the new interpretation of the rules. If they call it this way all season, I’ll be happy with the changes.
I don’t believe I’ve ever seen Sutherland ref before, but he comported himself well. Unlike some junior refs, he didn’t sit in a corner and watch (to his credit, unlike some SENIOR refs, McCreary didn’t tell the junior guy to shut up and get out of his way; of course, some of the junior refs, that’s how they’re most effective). He made a couple of tough penalty calls at key moments, when many refs (senior ones, too) would have swallowed the whistle. And he made the RIGHT call on them.
One instance here — Sutherland made a call down in the crease (the Chelios slash). As you know, Chris Chelios has never taken a penalty in his life, and he disagreed a bit. Sutherland was calm and firm, and Chelios went to the box (whining, but not to the point of a Robataille or Hull, who are hall of fame whiners). As the teams were lining up for faceoff, suddenly I head a “hey! hey!” — it turns out it was McCreary, who got Sutherland’s eye, and did a quiet fist pump. The meaning was clear in context: good call, gutsy call, right call.
Lots of senior refs don’t support their partners that way. The good ones do, and that’s how you encourage the young refs to become good, veteran refs. Kudos to the zebras.
As I talk about the reffing, I’ll only discuss linesmen when something really good or bad happens. They do a good job, they’re generally quite competent, and it’d get boring saying that all of the time. The place where there’s the most variability is in face-offs. Last night, I noticed they were allowing a huge amount of cheating; the lines they added a few years back for foot placement are being routinely ignored now. Might as well paint them out. A couple of times the cheating got so bad McCreary stepped in and yapped at players — in both cases, he was ignored and they kept cheating. Go figure. (linesmen, FWIW, are in a no-win situation. They really shouldn’t allow too much cheating, but they get yelled at for throwing players out of the face-off circle and/or refusing to drop the puck. No win situation for them…)
Jillson impressed me. He’s young, he’ll make mistakes, but he didn’t look too out of place — and it was the Wings. Hannan is no rathje, but he did okay (he was also -2, though). Suter was too aggressive, which bit us a couple of times, for instance the Shanahan shortie on the 2 on 1 against Jillson. Suter needs to be more careful there and not get caught and hose his partner. His partner did what he could.
Up front, Nolan was -3, Selanne -2. Offense from thornton, Matteau, harvey, the offensive studs. (in reality, I think this says more about who our first line was up against than how they performed; take this as a very GOOD thing, that when the opposition shuts down our studs, our role players step up and contribute. We need that)
The sharks sagged a little after the first shortie, faded a bit in the third as Detroit hit its stride, and really did a great job coming back late. The OT goal was a fluke bounce. I’ll take it.
Other notes —
I thought I was mostly over crying during the anthem. Dennis’ rendition proved I’m not quite past that. Not complaining, you know, just noting.
I like the new organist. Laurie, I think, called it right — he’s NOT an organist. He’s a keyboardist. I liked Sealy — this guy’s good, in different ways. I think he may have more flexibility down the road as he settles in.
The sharks have made a few changes in the arena. Most notable — they now have projectors in the ceiling that shine down on the ice, and when they do, they show what’s on the jumbotron. I found that a cute touch. I like it. Sharkie’s pre-game video wasn’t up to the caliber of some of his classics, but was pretty good. The other video, however, kicked some serious butt.
I don’t miss the fireworks one bit (if you haven’t heard, the league has banned pyrotechnics in the buildings, because of the post 9/11 concerns)
Finally, a few notes around the league:
Watched opening night in boston, where the bourquester’s jersey was retired. A good ceremony, except that every time Sinden’s name was mentioned, everyone booed. Now — I’m no fan of Sinden — but there’s a time and place for everything, and THAT IS NOT THE TIME. My god, let Bourque enjoy his time. Fortunately, Bourque finally told them to shut up (they did), and reminded them that Sinden was responsible for the two most important decisions in his career: to make him a Boston Bruin, and to allow him to leave Boston to win a Cup. Soemtimes, folks — just shut up and let people enjoy the moment. Show some class.
Watched an early Sabre’s game, too. They’re a shadow of themselves. Not going anywhere folks. And the Rangers: tonight, they sucked big-time. If THAT is the Rangers, it’s a long, long season in the city. Berard, by the way, is wearing a 3/4 visor, but not a full face shield. Definitely more than a standard visor, though. And Fleury came back from rehab down about 10 pounds and ready to roll. Let’s hope he can handle the tedium and stress of a full season.
One major mea-culpa: in the summer, I strongly criticized the rehiring of Pete Stemkowski. Well, I listened to the radio broadcast last night, and I thought he did okay. Not great (he’s no Drew; but few are), but not bad. IF that’s how Pete’s going to talk this season, and IF he can sustain it and IF the Sharks can work to keep him working like that with Dan (admittedly some Ifs, I thought he started okay last season and faded, but there were clearly extenuating circumstances) — I think he’ll be okay. So I’m going to shut up and see what I think in 15 games, and give him the fair shot I didn’t give him this summer. He’s clearly worked on it; Dan and the Sharks have clearly worked with him, and I’m going to give him the chance to make it work.
Finally, some personal notes, for those silly enough to still be reading:
After last season, I made some changes and took some time off. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and struggling with what I want to do, what I’m actually up to doing (there are days when the burnout looms heavy, and days when it doesn’t. There are fewer of the bad ones now, though, so things are getting better), and what’s good/appropriate for the list.
I’m still feeling my way around all of this. I do know I want to avoid the “yes he did no he didn’t” stuff, since I feel that’s where I create the most hassles for the list. I also have wanted for a long time to focus more on longer pieces, things that explain and hopefully illuminate. So I’m dusting off an idea I’ve wanted to do for a long time, which is Teal Sunglasses, which is me talking about what I think deserves talking about. Sometimes it’ll be sharks-centric and I’ll post it (as well as post it on chuqui.com with my other babblings). Other times it’ll be hockey-centric and I’ll post a pointer to it on chuqui.com. I think I have the time and energy to try to do this — whether it’s proven out, we’ll see. If you like it, let me know. If you don’t, that’s fine, too. And if you have stuff you want to hear my babble about, I’m open to suggestions.
And always remember, it’s only my opinion. Just because it’s mine doesn’t make it right, or make it better than yours. I put a lot of time into watching and studying hockey (and I’m lucky enough to have Laurie as a resource — trust me, most of the time, when I sound smart, I’m channelling here, folks — the rest of the time, she probably worked late….) but that doesn’t make me right, or better, or anything but someone with a remote and an opinion…..
Since I’ve started dipping my toe back in the list, AT LEAST fifteen of you have either sent me e-mail or tracked me down at the arena to tell me you were happy to see me back on the list. I can’t tell you folks what that means to me — it’s made deciding to get involved again a lot easier, and it’s given me the motivation to try to find a way to be involved that I enjoy and want to do, and which makes this a better place. And hopefully, when I screw up, you’ll tell me that, too. But — thanks. I just can’t say what it meant for you folks to do that, because you didn’t have to, and nobody asked you to. It means more than you would believe.
Hey! It’s hockey season, and the Sharks don’t suck. What more can we ask?
Drop the friggin’ puck already!