The View From Wisconsin
Just a random set of rants from a Sports Fan from Wisconsin.
Saturday, September 20, 2008
This is an update to my previous post from a few years back about the basic truths of team sports in North America (MLB, NFL, NBA, NHL).
- Teams in small markets will, in all likelihood, never have the largest payrolls in any of the four team sports. No one who is a fan of a small-market team in MLB, the NHL or the NBA should expect to have the highest paid player in their sport playing for their team anytime soon.
- A bad baseball team is the hardest of all team sports to turn around. For example, look at how difficult it has been for the Baltimore Orioles to recover from poor management and ownership indifference. Turnarounds in MLB are difficult because of the way the sport includes and develops new players – through a large and complex minor league system that makes success harder as the player progresses. The next hardest is the NHL (which is the only other team sport to have a minor league system), then the NBA, and then the NFL.
- There are three main factors, universal to all pro team sports, that affect franchise movement: Facilities, finances and ownership. A major shift in any one of the three areas can trigger franchise movement, though all three factors are interdependent. The first of the three areas to generate trouble is that of facilities (arenas, ballparks, stadiums). The mainstream media tends to confuse "finances" for "attendance"; finances are more equivalent to revenues (of which attendance is a large factor in some sports). If there is drastic instability in all three areas – such as what happened with the Seattle Supersonics – then the team is as good as gone. Unfortunately, the three factors are not easily seen until after the fact.
- Salary caps are good ideas for team sports – in theory. As good as the idea of a salary cap is to team sports, it's virtually impossible to get it to work in the real world. The reason for this is simple: there is no honor among thieves. All of the major pro sports teams have only themselves as the bottom line, and therefore are always looking for a way to get around the rules to their advantage. Thus, show me a salary cap and I'll show you at least five ways of getting around it.
- Players do not make good owners. In general, if players are inclined to become team owners, your sport is not in good health. Players do not generally make very good owners (just as most owners do not make very good players – or coaches).
- The Designated Hitter is not going to go away. There may be talk of abolishing it, even if MLBPA says they don't mind it going away. However, there are too many financial reasons why there should be a DH rule. In fact, it is more likely that the rule will be changed, within a generation, to apply to all of baseball. The first step to the DH becoming the law of the land may very well happen by mandating it for interleague play. This argument can also be made for the three-point shot in basketball, the shootout in hockey, and the use of instant replay in football.
- Artificial turf won't be disappearing anytime soon, either. Though there has been limited success in growing grass indoors, there will come a point in time when it will be cheaper to put a safer, realistic, life-like surface down instead of constantly replacing dead or dying grass. As technology has improved "artificial" surfaces, it will be more appealing to use them. (Ice hockey, however, is still unlikely to follow this trend.)
- It is only a matter of time before advertisements appear on player uniforms. Revenue streams will be such a large part of a franchise's continued success that this one won't be ignored in North America much longer. Don't anticipate seeing the Addidas logo overshadow the NY and the pinstripes, however. Teams will not be renamed for a sponsor, like the New York Red Bulls were in MLS.
- Ticket prices will continue to rise until they meet demand. And when demand is met, teams will start moving in to smaller facilities to increase demand before deciding to lower ticket prices. Oh, and variable rate ticket pricing – based on opponents and/or days of the week – will more than likely be the norm within a decade.
- The Internet has had a dramatic impact on how fans follow and support their teams. A fan of the Miami Dolphins can follow his team's exploits in Anchorage, Alaska – and the growth of fantasy sports makes fans more knowledgeable about players on teams other than his or her hometown teams. In fact, the Internet makes it possible for people outside North America to follow a major league team – and to be relatively knowledgeable about their team (and players) at the same time.
- Women's pro sports leagues cannot survive in the long term. Anyone who anticipates women's professional team sports, or women playing in existing male leagues, lasting for more than a short period of time is dreaming. Yes, people like Lorena Ochoa, Candace Parker, Danica Patrick and Diana Taurisi are admirable in their performances. However, few people actually want to pay money to go see them play on a continuing basis. Danica, of course, is a special case, as she is "playing with the boys". However, I doubt that a racing series comprised of strictly female drivers would be financially viable at any time in the future.
- Viable alternatives to the existing major sports leagues are highly unlikely – thanks to Vince McMahon. The failure of the XFL basically ended any and all serious attempts at creating viable alternatives to the existing major pro leagues (MLB, NFL and NBA). The reason, of course, is that all of the major TV networks saw how the league's ratings eroded so quickly, making the televising of any similar endeavor seem suicidal. There is the exception of leagues outside of North America (such as the Russian Super League of hockey, or the Japanese Major Leagues); however, their popularity within the United States is unlikely to surpass that of the existing major leagues.
- No non-Major League team sport will retain its popularity for as long as the "Big Three" of baseball, basketball and football. As popular as NASCAR and golf are now, the cycle of popularity will eventually swing away from those sports to either the three sports that were first turned pro in the US, or to other sports.
- The only way that any Major League sport will go out of business is if people stop coming to games. The "SEW" principle is the primary reason why baseball came back from the strike, the NFL survived the player strike in the 1980's, and basketball has weathered its labor strife: if you decide to stop going to games, someone else will buy your ticket and go. Until such time as people decide, en masse, to stop going to games, there will be an NFL, an NBA, MLB – and even a NHL.
- No professional sports league is completely safe from losing an entire season to a labor dispute. The NHL might be the poster child of how not to do it, but the NFL could just as easily lose an entire season due to egos, stubbornness, and the sports mentality of "winning is everything". All of that could mean more than just losing the Super Bowl, World Series or NBA Championship – or even the Stanley Cup Finals (again).
- Money can't buy you championships. However, put the money in the hands of people who know your sport, and it can move mountains. The equation is essentially money plus knowledge of the sport (plus pure dumb luck) equals success. This explains the New York Yankees as much as it does the New York Rangers.
- The National Football League is in a class by itself in comparison to all other team sports in North America. No other team sport should even think about comparing itself to the NFL, whether it is for a salary cap, revenue sharing or other forms of business operations. The NFL is so unique as a sport that it is on a level that no other sport, save perhaps baseball in the first half of the 20th Century, has ever achieved in its existence in North America. There are so many exceptions and "onlies" surrounding their operations that it would be pointless for any other league of any other sport to try to be like them – completely. In fact, there is only one other professional sport globally that can compete with the impact that the NFL has on the US and North America – and that is major professional "futball" leagues across the globe.
- ESPN should be careful that they do not allow the "E" in their name to outweigh the "S". As the so-called "Worldwide Leader In Sports" tries more original programming and movies, they are moving dangerously away from being a Sports network towards an Entertainment network. They should remember that the four major sports are the reason why they exist in the first place – or they won't make it to their 50th anniversary.
- Gambling will destroy a sport if it is allowed to permeate the game. The primary reason why players, owners, coaches and officials gambling on their sport is bad for the game is very simple: their own self interest of their wagers overrules the interest of their team or their sport. Even if a player is betting on his own team, it overrules the concept of being a "team player" because the player is trying to win more than just a game. Thus, it is for this reason and this reason alone that any athlete, official, owner or manager who is caught gambling on his sport should be suspended from the game indefinitely. The absolute worst thing for a sport is for their officials/referees/umpires to be "on the take". If the officiating is questioned because of gambling, the entire sport could be on the verge of collapse.
- The law of averages suggest that even the worst team in a given sport will eventually win a championship. Someday, the Arizona Cardinals will win the Super Bowl; the Memphis Grizzlies will win the NBA title; the Phoenix Coyotes will win the Stanley Cup, and the Tampa Bay Rays will win the World Series. It might not happen in our lifetimes, nor may it happen while the team is playing where they are now – but, all other things being equal, it should happen. It actually takes more talent (in a backwards kind of way) to not win championships than it does to win them – which makes the 100-year drought of the Chicago Cubs all that much more impressive.