A few notes from around the sportsworld.
In Newsday, Wallace Matthews slaughters the Mets:
“On the joyous occasion of
Thanksgiving Day, let us take a moment to thank the New York Mets.
Last week, the club gleefully announced its sweetheart stadium
deal that will hand over to them, rent-free, tax-free and finance-charge free,
a virtually limitless source of income for the next several generations of
And in return, they give us Moises Alou.
And Jose Valentin. And Orlando Hernandez. And let us not forget Damion Easley.
These four gentlemen have one important thing in common. They are all old, verging on ancient. The youngest is Easley; he turned 37 on Nov. 11, a month after Valentin. The oldest, of course, is El Duque, whose official age is also 37, but whose actual age can only be verified through carbon dating. Then there is Julio Franco, the only active Met who can get into Shea on a seniors pass. ”
“As bad as the Mets season ended, so far their off-season
has been worse. The best deal they have made was to trade away poor old Bill
Shea for 20 years worth of $20 million checks.
When they announced the stadium deal last week, plenty of Mets fans swallowed the Wilpon spin, that even though their would be 10,000 fewer seats, higher ticket prices and, possibly, personal seat licenses, it would all work out for the best because now the team would be able to spend money in Yankee-like excess.
So far, they have spent like the Florida Marlins and signed like the Kansas City Royals. They take and take and take from the good people and bad politicians of this city, and they give you back Moises Alou.
Even on Thanksgiving Day, being a Mets fan remains a thankless task.”
Few fans are going to cry in sympathy with the plight of Mets’ fans. Under Minaya, they have figured out that they play in a large market and can be a financial juggernaut on theorder of the Yankees. And, with a core of Beltran, Reyes and Wright, they are very well situated for the next five years. But, I am always interested in the kind of populist resentment on display from Matthews here. And, from the standpoint of public priorities and moral decency, it’s going to be a bad few years in New York. The Yankees and Steinbrenner are also getting an unconsiconably generous deal from the City to build their new stadium, and Bruce Ratner, the Nets owner, is in the process of pulling off a bigger political boondoggle than either Wilpon or Steinbrenner, as he puts together a multi-billion dollar development deal to bring the New Jersey Nets to Brooklyn.
I know, I know – we’ve got bigger fish to fry – like T.O.’s latest tantrum or the pressing social necessity of making sure NBA players never again utter a disrespectful word.
Speaking of misrepresenting and soft-pedaling wealthy interests, Commissioner Bettman was on with Mike and the Dog two days ago. Mike and the Dog can be critical of powerful and wealthy interests at times (Mike especially was opposed to the West Side stadium project), but they can also be painfully naïve and ill-informed about the business of sports. I’ve written at length before about the dishonesty of Bettman’s claims about his franchises finances during the 2004-05 NHL lockout. Now that there’s a salary cap, everything is hunky dory of course, so the fact that the NHL is on Versus, for crying out loud, is no problem for the commish because the new labor deal guaranteed his owners profits, irrespective of their actual level of competence in running their businesses. Mike embarrassed himself during the Wednesday interview by asking Bettman “so, can the franchises make money now if they’re well run,” as if this was an impossibility previously.
Forbes magazine recently published a report on the state of the NHL. Unsurprisingly, it was a rosy one, as the “cost certainty” associated with the new labor agreement makes buying an NHL franchise a more enticing proposition than it was previously (and it was still a decent investment prior to the lockout). One particular note in the Forbes report caught my eye:
“Another benefit of the salary cap is the ability some team owners have to leverage their arena. Earlier this year, George Gillett, who bought the Montreal Canadiens and the Bell Centre for$181 million in 2001, borrowed $240 million (most of which was secured by the arena). The financing allowed Gillett to pay himself a $72 million dividend.”
I have put in a call to an accountant friend to explain this to me in more detail, but let me promise you this: that $72 million that the Canadiens’ owner is able to pay himself is not going to be counted as hockey revenue. This is perhaps the single biggest issue that sports journalism misses about the nature of sports ownership: the opportunities for income created by ownership of a major sports franchise goes well beyond the revenues directly associated with the games themselves. But, and this is critically important: it is the possession of the sports property that allows the ownership to make the money it does. Thus, when you hear Bettman utter the phrase “hockey-related revenue” as the basis for determining the 54% share the players are entitled to, rest assured that that figure is leaving ungodly sums of money off the table.
I think the contracts being signed this off-season in baseball, from the Soriano deal, to the similarly massive Carlos Lee deal (six years, $100 million), to the dumbest one of all: the Juan Pierre deal, are a bad use of resources. But, count me off the bandwagon of anger at the size of contracts doled out to professional athletes. They make the money they do because they possess a skill that is exceedingly rare among the larger population, and a skill that many millions of people will pay to see. Echoing George Will’s comments on the Ken Burns baseball documentary series, I am a firm believer in Marx’ labor theory of value – that the value of a product is (essentially) solely a function of the labor applied to it.
If we’re going to talk about outrageous money in sports, can we please keep the focus where it belongs: on the outrageous accounting gimmickry, political insiderism and spin that allows the impossibly wealthy sports owners to portray themselves as publicly minded and just trying to get by.
On an unrelated note, I don’t think I’ve ever written the word “tennis” in any of my posts dating back to my first one in May.
But, after his year-ending win last week, I was thinking about the historic run that Roger Federer is on. Golf has become far more popular than tennis over the past decade, largely dueto Tiger, but the difference in the level of attention that Tiger gets compared to Federer is not a consequence of difference in their performance level. Both are historically great competitors having historically great seasons. Both are now light years ahead of their competition. According to SI’s L. Jon Wertheim, after Federer’s win over James Blake in last week’s Masters Cup in Shanghai, the difference in the world rankings between Federer and No. 2 player Rafael Nadal is the same as the difference between Nadal and the No. 50 player in the world (Tiger’s so far ahead of No, 2 Jim Furyk, that I can’t count that far down in the rankings to find the comparable player to tennis’ No. 50). He’s made a record $8 million this year (Tiger’s earned about $10 million in winnings this year, in addition to the $6.23 quadrillion he makes in endorsements), has a match record of 92-5 in 2006, has won 12 tournaments and would be ranked No. 1 in the world even if you threw out his performance at all four grand slam events this year (three of which he won). Like Tiger, he’s fast closing in on the all-time record for career grand slams.
Wertheim writes: “But this was the year Federer revealed himself as not just a singular talent. At some point in Michael Jordan’s career we came to see him as something more than a magnificently skilled basketball player. We glimpsed the ambition and poise and the self-sufficiency and the work ethic – the alchemy that produces greatness. Federer has reached that plane, too.”
The fact that Federer is not American and that, furthermore, there are no great American male tennis players now has clearly hurt the sport, especially in terms of US coverage. And, whereas the nature of golf will allow Tiger to compete at the highest level for at least another decade, the 25-year old Federer has perhaps a 3-4 window in which he can continue to dominate. It’s too bad the public is largely missing this – we’re watching arguably the greatest tennis player of all time in the dead center of his prime, and no one’s noticing.