Sunday, April 24, 2011

Their Gold, Our Blues

With professional sports, our enjoyment is hostage to the whims of unfeeling plutocrats.

The NFL Loses its Case to A Bunch of Players
I applaud Judge Nelson's decision that the NFL owners have unfairly combined to deny the livelihood of professional footballers, an antitrust violation. She could have taken several different steps--breaking up the league into competing units (such as was done with Ma Bell some 30 years ago) or imposed crippling fines. So the owners should be relieved that she only did what the players wanted her to do: allow them to play again.

If the owners are under the impression that they do not need the players to take the field in order for them to make money from their franchises, they should be disabused of that notion--utterly, completely, violently if necessary, and preferably legally. I support boycotts of NFL merchandise, certainly a total disregard for their "draft" going on tonight (without an Collective Bargaining Agreement with their current stock of players, what do they think are they drafting for?), and I would suggest a process to separate them from their money through fines--real soon. (Though I would presume they would be smart enough not to disobey an injunction to allow "sporting activities", once they have completed their appeals.) As far as I'm concerned, the owners went too far, and they need to be slapped down, with games resuming and no concessions to them.

Frankly, though, this is not enough for me. My plan is to boycott all support of NFL (which, for me, is mostly watching games on TV and blogging about them sometimes)--indefinitely--until they get a better, wiser set of owners. That's probably forever.

What will I lose? I like watching the playoff games, and about half a dozen to a dozen regular season games a year. The Super Bowl, not so much; preseason games, never. We'll give this approach a try for a couple years and see if this is too much to give up--or maybe the owners will give in first.

The Dodgers Get Hit By A Brick

The takeover of the Los Angeles Dodgers by the Major League Baseball organization illustrates a perennial problem: How bad does an owner have to be before the
other owners decide he/she must be replaced? The Dodgers owners--whose sin was a divorce battle so fierce that Mr. McCourt had to start pumping money out of the team to protect his other interests--had gone over the line.

The owners of the New York Mets, the Wilpons (which my friend Muhammad Cohen, in a brilliant pun, has labeled as "WMD: Wilpons of Mets' Destruction"), have a different problem which has not yet put them beyond the pale but may yet do so. The Wilpons were major investors in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, and Madoff allowed them to retrieve their money before his business collapsed. The threat to the Wilpons, and thus to the Mets as currently constituted, is that the trustee of Madoff's bankrupt enterprise will successfully claim huge sums from the Wilpons', and the Mets', kitty. If it becomes apparent that will happen, the Wilpons would be forced to relinquish their control, just as the Dodgers' McCourts will have to do.

The threshold of pain required before the commissioner acts is very high for the same reason kings, historically, have always been reluctant to endorse regicide: the commissioner is just the agent of the owners, and they realize their turn could be next.

To me, the NFL owners have joined hands and jumped over the line--and off the
cliff. Their league is dead to me (until they get a new set of owners). The
jury is out for the NBA; they have a superb product, and their commissioner is
the smartest one going, but their owners have pulled out their knives and are
threatening to cut their throats unless we yield to their unreasonable demands.

Unlike the NFL, baseball has an exemption from antitrust law granted long ago by Congress. This privilege suggests a possible improvement to the game's management that will never happen. It would be some sort of Congressional oversight on owner behavior and the broad "vision" for the game. I guarantee you that, if there were such for the NFL, there would be a franchise in L.A.

The NBA May Bring the Cruelest Cuts
If there were oversight of the NBA, I guarantee there would not be three franchises in the L.A. area, as is likely to happen after this year. The peripatetic Sacramento Kings, a franchise that started in Rochester, NY, I believe (though that was before my time) came, deluded, and left Cincinnati (as the Royals), then the states of Missouri, Nebraska, and Kansas (when it had the catchy name of the "Kansas City-Omaha Kings"), now plans to leave Sacramento (where their fans have earned the reputation as the most loyal, noisiest supporters of any NBA team) because of the owning Maloof brothers' business shortcomings and dispute about yet another arena they wanted built for them at public expense.

Worse than this travesty, though, would be if the NBA goes the NFL route after this season. The Collective Bargaining Agreement between the players and owners expires, and the threat of lockout has been looming for some time. The owners are claiming that too many of their number are making insufficient returns on their capital, and thus the new agreement will have to reduce players' cut of the overall till, or they will take their (generally publicly-paid) arenas, hoops, and balls and go home.

The irony is that this may have been the best NBA season ever, in terms of sustainable interest provided by a variety of competitive teams without a prohibitive favorite. The first round of the playoffs has been exceptionally exciting--though none of the series may go the full seven games, none of the top seeds has seemed invulnerable in the first round (there was only one sweep in the eight series, the Celtics over the Knicks, the early games at home were very tough for the Celtics, and the sweep only became likely when two of the Knicks' top three players became injured), and plenty of excitement lies ahead.

The issues which separate the owners and players will be portrayed as very abstruse ones about reductions in salary cap, "franchise players" who can be protected from free agency or trade (as the NFL has), and perhaps more provisions to protect owners from overspending on players that are too young or too lame. Because the real issue is the weakness of the franchises in smaller markets, and because the NBA is the sports league in which the players are most recognizable and relatively powerful, the solution will lie in sharing of revenues between teams--but will they find the answer without having to lock out the players and go through the legal struggles the NFL is experiencing?

To me, the NFL owners have joined hands and jumped over the line--and off the
cliff. Their league is dead to me (until they get a new set of owners). The
jury is out for the NBA; they have a superb product, and their commissioner (David Stern) is the smartest and most powerful one going, but their owners have pulled out their knives and are threatening to cut their own throats unless we yield to their unreasonable demands.

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