Friday, November 30, 2012

Are Sports Still Fun Anymore?

As I was driving around yesterday listening to Vinnie and Cook discuss the rampant conference-jumping of universities nowadays, it dawned on me how depressing the current landscape of sports has become.

On the college level, there has been a huge upheaval of migration from conference to conference by universities in the last 2-3 years.  Pitt has gone from the Big East to the ACC along with Syracuse.  Louisville just jumped ship to the ACC, too, leaving the Big East in shambles.  This is after West Virginia went to the Big 12 and Rutgers (off all places) left this week to go to the Big 10.  Similar jumping has occurred with SEC/PAC-10/Big 12/Big 10 schools, too.  The reason?  TV contracts.  Soon there will be just 4 "super conferences" of 16 teams and everyone else will fight for table scraps at the college level, especially for football which is the driving source of revenue for most universities.

Things are even more depressing at the pro level.  We're now moving into three months of a lockout in the NHL, which is the 2nd lockout in the last 9 seasons.  In this case it's not TV contracts, as hockey is more of a regional sport than a national one, but rather it is mega-millionaire owners fighting with millionaire players on who gets to keep more of the revenue stream.  After the 1st lockout back in the early 2000's, I thought the NHL was on solid footing with a salary cap and their recent TV deal with NBC Sports.  The Winter Classic was the envy of all sports (aside from the Super Bowl) and it seemed like all was well.  But the NHL stubbornly refuses to admit that the "Sun Belt Experiment" has been a failure and continually tries to prop up failing franchises in Phoenix, Carolina, and Florida.  Meanwhile, Toronto could easily support a 2nd franchise, Quebec has renewed interest in bringing a team back, Seattle is courting the NHL for a team for its new planned arena, and there's always Kansas City (!).

I'm not an NBA fan at all, but just last year they endured a lockout, as well.  Again, millionaires fighting millionaires, but in my mind it's even more egregious when you look at the salaries that NBA players make.  You would think that having only 12-14 guys on a roster would make owning a team relatively affordable, but salaries in the NBA are insane.

Last year, the NFL locked out their players too, but didn't lose any of the season.  That's the most unreal lockout to me, as the NFL has sports business down to a science.  A salary cap, ample revenue sharing, scads of TV deals, and multi-media licensing should keep everyone's pockets stuffed with Benjamins and not  fighting over getting more.  But greed is a real bitch sometimes....

This all leads me to the sport I followed closest and that's baseball.  Part of my sadness with sports was hammered home this week when the Dodgers announced their new LOCAL television deal with Fox that will pay them $280 million per year for the next 25 years.  Even with the new Collective Bargaining Agreement's harsh luxury taxes starting at $189M for payroll, the Dodgers have been spending like drunken sailors since the new ownership group took over last year.  And now we see the full story on why they are doing it.  Even if the Dodgers have a $210M payroll this year (my estimate), their entire payroll will be paid for before one cent is collected from the national TV deals, one ticket is sold, one boiled hot dog is put in a bun, one Matt Kemp jersey paid for by a fan.

That deal, in comparison with the estimated $20M the Pirates get from ROOT Sports, makes it seem hopeless for the Pirates to ever compete on a realistic basis ever again.  These mega TV deals signed by the Rangers, Angels, and now Dodgers (along with some other eye-popping deals in mid-markets) are just really deflating.

If you look at Cot's Contracts and click on some of the team pages, you can see at the top what the current owner paid for the team and what Forbes estimates it is worth in 2012.  For example, the Pirates were bought by McClatchy and Nutting in 1996 for $92M.  Today, they are estimated at $336M.  The Rockies were purchased in 1992 for $95M and are now worth $454M.  Look at that appreciation in value in just 15-20 years.  Then take a look at what franchises have been sold for in just the past few years:  Dodgers -- $2.1 billion (with a "b"), Astros -- $680M, Padres -- $800M.  Not that I have $92M in my pocket, but that is at least "dream attainable".  But $680M?  That's cartoonish to think that a regular millionaire can own a team anymore.  Franchises will be the playthings of billionaires and corporations for the foreseeable future.  You won't see a Rooney family own a team anytime soon.

Sports are no longer about athletics, but rather a corporate entity that showcases athletes as its product.  TV deals have ruined sports as we used to know them.  The influx of their money is what has caused the exponential growth in player salaries in all sports.  Was this inevitable?  Can it be reversed?  I guess I'm wondering if it is possible for turn back the clock on sports, but I fear that the genie is out of the bottle on this one.

1 comment:

  1. Genie certainly cannot be stuffed back into the bottle now, Christina.

    I pretty much knew what was coming with that Dodger TV deal, but was kind of trying to ignore it. In all honesty, it makes it very tough for me to give much of a flying @#%#! about baseball anymore. May as well make it into two 4-team leagues and just advance immediately to the LDS on day one of the season. It's what it's going to amount to soon, but it'll just take six months to winnow down the other 24 teams.

    In unrelated news, the Pirates drop 8 or 9 million per year, for a couple years, on a broke down Russell Martin...or nearly half the value of their annual TV contract. Yay!