SBJ/June 27 - July 3, 2011/Opinion

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  • Pressure on NCAA could help ‘endangered’ sports

    Absolutely great article concerning college football/business (“NCAA must admit big-time college football is big business,” SportsBusiness Journal, June 13-19).

    On May 12, 2001, I gave a presentation at an NCAA Title IX Seminar concerning the loss of nonrevenue sports due to escalating tier one budgets, and I quote: “Looks like college athletics is becoming a big business.” The room got quiet. Apparently, that was not the time to discuss “big business” in college athletics.

    The 1937 movie “Saturday’s Heroes” was about the business of college football: Students wanted a return for their efforts; presidents wanted to get back to education and less emphasis on football. And again in 1940, when in the movie “Knute Rockne” discussions prevailed regarding the same issues — higher graduation rates and ethics were/are more important than playing football. But who was listening 70-plus years ago?

    Again, keep up the pressure, and we just might see some “endangered” Olympic sports, i.e. men’s gymnastics, (17 remaining teams) returning to collegiate competition.

    Dick Aronson
    Newton Center, Mass.

    Aronson is executive director of the College Gymnastics Association.

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  • Well-meaning parents fuel kids’ sense of entitlement

    Rick Burton and Norm O’Reilly accurately articulated (“The secrets of leadership are often found at the bottom,” SportsBusiness Journal, June 6-12) an all-too-familiar sense of entitlement among today’s young adults. But that sense of privilege begins much earlier than college years.

    As the article points out, their parents are “history’s most successful generation,” and many of those parents are sincerely determined to see that their offspring are never less than successful at any endeavor — academic, athletic, artistic and others.

    For those of us involved in youth sports, it becomes a real dilemma.

    In Pop Warner, our rules prevent tryouts, cutting, and require mandatory play; yet, we’ve been forced to defend lawsuits that, at the most basic level, were filed due to playing time, or lack thereof.

    Beyond the tremendous waste of our limited organizational resources defending lawsuits and the threat of suits, we often think of the values that the children are learning.

    Instead of the positive values of team sports, they’re learning that Mom and Dad will fight their battles and will make any negative situation go away.

    What a tremendous disservice to our children!

    All of us learn that we win and we lose in life. I’m not a psychologist, but I believe that lesson is most easily and less painfully learned while young. Those of us in the youth sports world will continue to do our best to teach sports’ positive values.

    Jon Butler
    Langhorne, Pa.

    Butler is executive director of Pop Warner Little Scholars Inc.

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  • Cartoon: McCourt's slide

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  • A PG version of the top stories of 2011, so far …

    Off to Vermont for a long weekend and to take my two sisters to see Peter Gabriel play at Saratoga. Heading into the halfway mark of the year, here are my top 10 sports business stories of 2011 — set to certain songs from Gabriel’s catalog:

    WAITING FOR THE BIG ONE — The NFL Lockout: It’s all anyone has talked about, for good reason. The lockout has paralyzed the NFL marketplace since it was implemented March 12 and it has clearly set the tone of sports business for 2011.

    NOT ONE OF US — Comcast Takes Over NBC: The closing of this deal changed the face of sports media with the stroke of a pen. It eventually led to the surprising exit of Dick Ebersol and created an environment where the new leadership committed a record $4.4 billion rights deal with the International Olympic Committee.

    BIG TIME — Pac-10’s 12-Year, $3 Billion Deal With ESPN and Fox: The size and scope of this major coup by Commissioner Larry Scott is remarkable, but getting two longtime rivals to work together and box out Comcast is what makes it so important to the industry.

    DIGGING IN THE DIRT — Time Warner’s 20-Year Deal With Lakers Worth Nearly $3 Billion: This may turn out to have the biggest influence on the industry. It represented a major move by a new player in the rights market, it put an immense value on local rights (up to $150 million a year) and it caused every team to re-examine its local media deals.

    IN YOUR EYES — The Two Sides of the NBA Labor Stalemate: David Stern calls for a significant give-back from players; players call for an overhaul of revenue sharing and note the league’s record revenues.

    I HAVE THE TOUCH — AEG Inks Farmers Field: As was written when the agreement was announced in January, it was a masterstroke by AEG to sign Farmers Insurance to a 30-year, $600 million naming-rights deal for a proposed stadium in downtown Los Angeles “that has no architect, no site approvals and no NFL team.” It’s easily the most talked about deal of the year.

    FAMILY SNAPSHOT — The Financial Plight of the Mets and Dodgers: These history-rich, major-market franchises offer compelling family subplots. The Dodgers’ problems have been underscored by the McCourt divorce, and Sterling Equities’ relationship with Bernie Madoff is the backdrop for the Mets’. Both situations have been major PR headaches that MLB has been forced to deal with all season.

    ON THE AIR — NHL Cashes In on U.S. Media Rights: Gary Bettman brought on John Collins with this deal in mind. The result: NBC and Versus paid up, providing team owners much more than double the previous amount in rights fees.

    GAMES WITHOUT FRONTIERS — Under Armour’s and Warrior Sports’ EPL deals: Two big and bold overseas bets, as UA moves forward with its global ambitions by signing Tottenham Hotspur, while New Balance’s Warrior Sports surprises everyone with a $41 million annual kit contract with Liverpool.

    THE RHYTHM OF THE HEAT — Miami’s Pop Culture Influence: Despite losing in the Finals, LeBron, D-Wade and Pat Riley drove the NBA’s business metrics to record heights, creating watercooler conversation around a team that people loved or hated.

    I will most likely take a Sledgehammer to this list in December. In the meantime, let me know what you think.

    Abraham D. Madkour can be reached at amadkour@sportsbusinessjournal.com.

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  • 40 years later, how cable changed the world of sports

    In the course of U.S. history, 40 years is not a long time. In the course of cable and sports history, however, it’s more than a lifetime.

    To put it in a certain perspective, members of SportsBusiness Journal’s 2011 Forty Under 40 class were still in diapers or not even born when I wrote the first article to appear in a national publication on cable and sports (“Cable TV Offers Expanded Medium for Sports,” July 3, 1971, The Sporting News).

    Forty years ago, Bud Selig had just purchased the bankrupt Seattle Pilots and moved them to Milwaukee, where he was in the family’s auto business; David Stern was outside counsel to the NBA and practicing in New York; Gary Bettman was a Cornell undergraduate; and Roger Goodell was 12 years old.

    It’s almost amusing likewise to take a look at where sports and cable were in 1971. Cable — or CATV (for Community Antenna Television) — was already a well-established business in the U.S. with some 5 million subscribers, but almost all of them were in small towns. The fifth-largest system in the U.S., for example, was located in Elmira, N.Y. (Currently in New York City alone, there are more than 2 million
    subscribers.) Cable had been created some 23 years prior in the valleys in Pennsylvania and Oregon but was designed just to sell television sets by offering nearby stations to communities where television reception was spotty. Sports on cable was usually just the local high school game.

    But cable was beginning to find its footing. In 1968-69, a system serving lower Manhattan had signed a contract to offer all of the sold-out games of the Knicks and Rangers to its 11,000 subscribers. By 1970-71, both Manhattan systems had a 125-event package from Madison Square Garden. By 1972, Home Box Office had entered the sports business, distributing games from the Garden by microwave to a dozen cable systems in eastern Pennsylvania. There was the hope of using satellites to distribute programming.

    The universe changed on Oct. 1, 1975, when HBO offered the Ali-Frazier “Thrilla in Manila” to its subscribers. Suddenly, distance was no object — although money still was — since sports events could be transmitted from anywhere to anywhere. Later in the ’70s, two individuals with separate game plans, Ted Turner and Bill Rasmussen, discovered satellites and sports.

    Turner was operating a failing independent station in Atlanta: WTCG, later WTBS, and later still the TBS Network. Needing programming, he purchased the Atlanta Braves in 1976 and used their games as a staple of his station’s lineup, creating the first “superstation.” At about the same time, Rasmussen, an enterprising former publicity man for the New England Whalers of the World Hockey Association, had the idea that if he could lease satellite time, he could show University of Connecticut games to all 12 Connecticut cable systems. He got it and suddenly found that his Entertainment and Sports Programming Network (now ESPN, of course) could deliver sports events to any cable system in the entire country that had a receiving dish. ESPN signed on on Sept. 7, 1979. Now things had really changed.

    Sports interests fought the basic idea behind cable’s bringing in non-local television signals, such as WTBS. They were concerned that non-local games would hurt attendance and the sale of their own local broadcast rights. Only when their own local systems entered the marketplace and bought the rights from the home team did the teams and leagues begin creating business plans to adjust to this new world. By the end of the 1980s, more than 50 million homes were cable subscribers, a tenfold increase in less than 20 years.

    By this time as well, regional sports networks, such as Madison Square Garden Network, had begun carrying the games of the local MLB, NBA and NHL teams, as well as college teams, to cable subscribers. Eventually, some 32 RSNs — 20 of them affiliated with Fox, nine more affiliated with Comcast/NBC — had been developed carrying virtually every professional team. And, earlier this year, the University of Texas announced the Longhorn Network, the first network dedicated to a single collegiate program.

    The lone holdout in the marriage of the cable and sports worlds had been the NFL. The league had been more than successful in its dealings with the major broadcast networks for its Sunday games and “Monday Night Football.” Although ESPN had had contracts with the NCAA, NBA, and the United States Football League, it really didn’t achieve its full-fledged status until its 1987 NFL contract. Indeed, it may have been a two-way street, since former NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue was quoted as crediting ESPN with “revolutionizing” the league by taking “the draft, the pregame and highlight shows, and other NFL programming to a new level.”

    In 1994, a few years after the ESPN-NFL deal, a significant cable competitor showed up: direct-to-home, small-dish satellite services. While both DirecTV and Dish Network began service, the former jump-started its service by partnering with the NFL on Sunday Ticket which, for the first time, allowed subscribers to view their choice of any out-of-market game.

    By the turn of the century, the cable sports industry had gone from mom-and-pop operations to the behemoth of ESPN on a national level. And within 10 years, ESPN and ESPN2 had grown to more than 100 million subscribers each.

    Where do cable and sports go from here? In the blink of an eye, they’re going online, to your computer, smartphone and tablet. Who knows, maybe with voice recognition and maybe with personalization, you might be able to pick your own camera angles. And many events are available in 3-D.

    Has the world changed in the last 40 years? Well, a little bit. In addition to the four national over-the-air networks that carry sports, one typical major-market cable system dedicates 87 channels to sports programming, including pay-per-view, high definition and 3-D. (And that doesn’t include wireless services, such as phones, laptops and tablets.)

    To say, as I did 40 years ago, that cable and sports had a great potential seems a bit of an understatement.

    Philip R. Hochberg (PHochberg@srgpe.com) is a Washington lawyer who represents professional and collegiate sports interests.

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