SBJ/20090202/Opinion

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  • Golfers must reach out

    As reported this week in our golf In-Depth, the business constituencies around the sport are following PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem’s lead in asking players to be more engaged with their tour, its tournaments and its sponsors. It’s difficult. As independent contractors, golfers’ first obligations are to their competitive schedules and their own sponsors. But as we throw out the playbook in these unconventional times, we feel players must be more accountable for supporting the companies that support their tour.

    PGA Tour players already spend up to six hours each week with executives who pay to play in pro-ams, but that commitment needs to be expanded through an outreach program crafted by the players council. Top-ranked players must not be exempt from any effort, either, because they are the golfers that companies are paying to associate with. Similarly, ticket-buying fans in every market deserve to see the best the tour has to offer. If players will not voluntarily visit certain markets, then perhaps the tour should mandate their occasional attendance.

    It’s not all on the players. The PGA Tour could help itself by working to build the popularity of its stars outside the golf world and by targeting more pop culture integrations for its charismatic talent.

    But we believe that if players don’t take a more active role, they may find that those swelling purses and sweet paydays will become far less fruitful. Do you think that would that get their attention?

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  • Readers sound off on salary caps, MLB Net distribution

    The theory that small-market baseball owners are getting ready to propose a salary cap once the next collective-bargaining agreement expires is more a public relations move than an actual threat because the owners have too much to lose.

    Three of the four major sports have some type of salary constraints in place. In 2008, the NFL cap was $116.2 million, the NBA’s cap is $58.68 million and the NHL is set at $56.7 million for this season. The Yankees, Tigers, Mets, Red Sox, White Sox, Angels, Cubs, Dodgers and Mariners all had 2008 payrolls higher than the NFL’s cap of $116.2 million. Looking at these numbers you would think MLB would want a salary cap to control spending? But wait, there’s more to consider. With a salary cap comes a salary floor. Every NFL team was forced to spend approximately $100 million this season, the NBA’s floor was $44.01 million and the NHL required teams to spend at least $40.7 million during the 2008-09 campaign.

    Both the NFL and MLB have revenues around $6 billion and they both spend approximately 50 percent of their revenues on salaries. There are two reasons why MLB owners don’t want a cap. Reason one has to do with the salary floor. If you take the revenue-sharing formula the NFL has and applied it to baseball you can assume that the salary floor in baseball would also have to be at or near $100 million, the same as it currently is in the NFL. Of the 30 MLB teams, 19 of them did not have payrolls over $100 million. So why would the owners want to be forced to spend revenue on players instead of pocketing the extra money? Four teams — the Pittsburgh Pirates, Oakland Athletics, Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins — didn’t even spend half of what the league minimum could be.

    As you read this it makes you think “WOW!” the players are crazy for not wanting a salary cap if each team would be forced to spend at least $100 million, but the big difference between the NFL and MLB is how local revenues are shared. In the NFL, local broadcasting revenues — television and radio — are split equally. This is not the case for MLB. I can’t image any situation where teams like the New York Yankees would be willing to give up their local broadcasting revenues so teams like the Minnesota Twins could use it on players who would be competing against them on the field. By excluding this money, MLB revenues would be less than the NFL’s $6 billion, thus giving MLB a lower salary cap and floor than what is currently in place in the NFL. The players’ union would never agree to a cap, unless the owners are willing to share more of their revenues with each other.

    Things are great for baseball. Revenues have been increasing yearly, there has been a greater diversity of teams reaching the playoffs and World Series since free agency started in 1975 and the greatest tell all is attendance. Fans haven’t stopped going to the games, so they apparently don’t have a problem with the current system.

    The current system is fine for most teams like the Pittsburgh Pirates and Kansas City Royals. These teams figure out how much money they are guaranteed through the national television contract, Internet, revenue sharing, etc. Then they figure out their business expenses, making sure not to go far over their revenues, and anything extra is a profit …  if they win and sell more tickets, the more money they would make. If the team plays below expectations there aren’t any worries financially because the team didn’t overextend themselves. If the New York Yankees want to try to buy a championship and report a loss financially, more power to them.

    You and I have the right to make as much money as the market is willing to pay us, so why should athletes be any different? The players aren’t the ones who can’t control the spending, so why should they be the ones to suffer via a cap?

    Anthony Dennis
    Pittsburgh

    I just read your column on “Cable Marketing 101?” (SportsBusiness Journal, Jan. 12-18) and wanted to relate my recent experience with the new MLB Network and Comcast.

    In the pre-launch publicity for MLB Network, much was made of its availability on expanded basic, or digital basic cable tiers, to 50 million U.S. homes. Since I have a Comcast digital basic package, which Comcast calls Digital Starter, I thought that I was in great shape for MLB Network’s Jan. 1 launch.

    I verified this on MLB Network’s Web site FAQ, “If your video provider is affiliated with MLB Network, you will need to subscribe to digital cable at the ‘digital basic’ or equivalent level of service.”

    Well, when Jan. 1 rolled around, my TV screen showed that MLB Network was “not authorized” for me.

    My area has three levels of Comcast Digital Cable tiers (from lowest cost to highest): Digital Starter, Digital Classic, and Digital Preferred. I have the Digital Starter package, with a digital box. Sounds like digital basic to me.

    In multiple contacts with Comcast (both telephone calls and ComcastCares on Twitter), I have asked if my Digital Starter package is the expanded basic or digital basic or its equivalent.

    The answer from phone calls and ComcastCares: “No, it is not the equivalent, but we would like to look into getting you the package that includes MLB.” Per Comcast, I would need to choose a higher-cost tier of Digital Classic or Digital Preferred.

    After more researching on Internet baseball fan forums, I found that I am not alone. Other Comcast customers, throughout the country, have the same access issue with MLB Network.

    Why don’t I upgrade my Comcast package to watch MLB Network? I certainly might do that, of course. But first, I would just ask MLB Network and Comcast to deliver what they promised about digital basic carriage. Somewhere between their press releases and my TV, Comcast and MLB Network have dropped the ball.

    Does MLB Network have a distribution problem with Comcast? Does my example call into question MLB Network’s claim of 50 million cable and satellite homes?

    Bob Brown,
    Washington, Ill.

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  • Saying ‘yes’ to rewarding generosity, being a role model

    Editor's note: This story is revised from the print edition.

    When James Brown was working as a young reporter in the mid-1980s at a CBS affiliate in Washington, D.C., he was devastated by a news story about a woman mugged in his old Northeast neighborhood. The perpetrators had forced the woman into an abandoned garage when they realized they recognized her. She could identify them “so they killed her,” Brown said recently. “They murdered her in the most brutal fashion. It was so horrendous, I don’t even want to describe it.”

    A quarter of a century later, Brown is still shocked by the memory. But back then, he said, “I just had to do something.”

    Doing something is a recurring habit for the man who quarterbacks “The NFL Today” pregame show on CBS. Growing up in a lower-middle class section of D.C., he earned a reputation for charity toward friends, teammates and neighbors. As an adult, he finds time and resources for those in need; and as a celebrity, Brown, more commonly know as JB, lends his name to the NFL Players Association’s most noticeable charity. The JB Awards raised more than $1 million last April for the D.C.-area Special Olympics.

    In a November magazine feature in the Washingtonian, Showtime’s “Inside the NFL” producer Peter Radovich Jr. said, “JB is blessed with likability.” It’s evident in our living rooms on Sunday afternoons. His warmth, sense of humor and kindness seem part of his signature. On the small screen, we have no doubt about his big heart. We have little trouble believing that generosity is an integral part of who he is. He said, “It’s hardwired into my psyche.” 

    When he read about the murdered woman, he could do little. He made a consolation call to the family but that seemed prosaic. Brown learned that the woman had a son in junior high school. He decided to offer the grieving teen a moment of relief.

    “I took him to a Redskins game. I bought him hot dogs and fries. The Redskins were great. They allowed me to take the boy onto the sidelines. (You could get away with that then.) When he saw the players, his eyes lit up. He uttered just one word: ‘Wow!’ I know it doesn’t sound like much, but I cried like a baby.”

    James Brown’s annual JB Awards
    honors NFL players for their
    charitable contributions.

    That “Wow!” filled Brown with a sense of purpose. It produced warmth he continually craves. “It’s a feeling that is etched into my mental software.”

    He agreed five years ago to lend his name to the NFLPA’s program formerly known as the “Unsung Heroes.” When Pat Allen, then chief operating officer of Players Inc., asked him to host the award program, “I couldn’t say no.”

    Saying “no” is a goal he’s working toward with about as much success as his regular treadmill battles against weight. “I recruited into the fold my wife, Dorothy; my sister, Alicia Brown; and my assistant, Elizabeth Malia. I’m learning to say ‘no,’” he said with determination before continuing sotto voce with resignation, “but I usually say ‘yes.’”

    In saying “yes” to Allen, Brown saw an opportunity to give to givers. Ultimately, he believes, it will encourage a grander scale of charity.

    Player representatives at the 32 teams select nominees for JB Awards according to their contribution to their communities. As the NFL season marches toward the playoffs, Brown and Malia huddle in the selection process. At the climax of football and holiday seasons, when time is precious, they pore over the submissions.

    “It’s tough to pare them down,” said Brown of the awards, which will be announced this month and aired on CBS next October. “These stories touch your core.” What starts each year as a duty becomes an inspiration. “Revered athletes touch lives in magnificent ways, and that inspires me.”

    That selflessness comes from his parents, John and Mary Ann Brown. “It boggles my mind how they did it. My mother was 26 when she had her fifth child. My father worked two jobs at the post office and driving a cab. We never knew that we weren’t well off. My mother would forgo the 25 cents for a pair of stockings so that she could provide more for her kids. Our $13,500 house was refinanced over and over again. They squeezed every dollar they could out of that house to pay college tuition for four.”

    Brown, now 57 and a grandfather, graduated from Harvard, where he played basketball. He married Dorothy and they had a daughter, Katrina, who in turn had a daughter, Kaela.

    Before his parents passed on, they passed on to Brown the Christian values at the core of his kindness. The Washingtonian piece was titled “Making Mama Proud.” Among its vignettes: Brown’s continual kindness toward Virginia Washington, an elderly neighbor and longtime friend of the family.

    Malia said that after the article was published, Brown and Dorothy took Washington shopping for her family’s Christmas dinner. “She didn’t ask him; they just did it. He does things like that for so many others. Countless times he and Dorothy pray with folks when they’re experiencing life’s challenges.”

    Brown said, “I’ll never get tired of making someone happy.”

    He believes that charity is more effective when done quietly. “The ones who really touch us are the ones who don’t want to be recognized.” So he’s uncomfortable with talking about his deeds. But he also admits that with celebrity comes responsibility. “Those of us in the public eye must be role models.”

    John Genzale (johngenzale@gmail.com) is founding editor of SportsBusiness Journal.

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  • This Week's Cartoon

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