A BASEBALL GEEK

A conversation about MLB, on the field, off the field.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

From the basement November 23

It must be winter. Ok, it's not winter but I'm in my basement blogging, a definite reminder that baseball and golf are over. I returned to the world of web egocentricity (is that a word? sounds like one) last week with a post on the Rule IV draft at Maury Brown's The Biz of Baseball .

This past season was the first for independent baseball in Ottawa. On a personal level, it was a hit. My boys (7 & 5) are now old enough to enjoy watching and playing baseball, so they had a blast. On a business level, well...the owners declared bankruptcy in September.

Earlier this week, CanAm League commissioner Miles Wolff came to town to officially announce that the league will field a team in Ottawa for the 09 season.

Is the upcoming 17th consecutive season of professional baseball in Ottawa also the last? Many factors will determine whether professional baseball continues to be played here, including support, municipal politics, the local pro sports landscape, real estate and CanAm League fortunes.

Bankruptcy for last season's owners left the CanAm League with few options. Minus Ottawa, the league was left with seven teams. An odd number of teams is unworkable in professional baseball because games are scheduled practically every day during the season. The necessity of fielding an 8th team left two options.

1. The league - de facto the owners of the franchises - operate a "road only" club. The league opted for this solution in 07, prior to coming to Ottawa for the 08 season. Funding salaries, travel and accommodation for an 8th "road only" team from the revenues of 7 actual franchises was evidently discussed but rejected by a majority of league owners.

2. Return to Ottawa. At the press conference this week, Commissioner Wolff emphasized that the league is returning for 09 because he believes this market can support a franchise long term. That is debatable - Mr. Wolff also admitted that he could provide a dozen reasons why his league should not have returned to Ottawa - but the return of the league for 09 is perhaps an example of making virtue out of necessity. The CanAm League, not last seasons' operators of the Ottawa franchise, entered into an agreement with the City of Ottawa to lease the ballpark for the 08 and 09 seasons. Mr. Wolff acknowledged at the press conference that his league was obligated to pay the rent for 09 regardless of whether they fielded a team. (Media reports have speculated that he personally, not the league, is responsible for the lease) The lease commitment for 09 has to have mitigated against the option of funding a "road only" club.

The fundamentals which made Ottawa a desirable market for the CanAm League to enter last season remain in place. These fundamentals are encouraging for those of us who hope that Ottawa remains home to a CanAm League franchise.

The Ottawa region, including Gatineau, is home to approximately 1.2 million. A market this size is appealing to a minor league where average per game attendance ranged from a high of 3200 (Quebec City) to a low of 1500 (Nashua) for the 2008 season. Ottawa was fifth in the eight team league in attendance in 2008, averaging 2,200 (more on that below).

The City of Ottawa possesses a first rate baseball facility. Rapids Stadium is a AAA quality ballpark in terms of playing field and clubhouses. The capacity of 10,000 is more than adequate and if anything too large for a CanAm League franchise. The stadium also houses a restaurant with a great view of the field, concessions are up to par and parking is ample for the great majority of dates.

Geographically, Ottawa is an important market for the CanAm League. The Quebec City franchise is easily the most successful franchise in the league and is owned by Commissioner Wolff. Mr. Wolff's long term plans for the league include franchises in Ottawa and Montreal. The Independent Baseball Insider newsletter reported last month that, "Wolff also frets that losing Ottawa could damage the league’s chances of eventually getting into Montreal, where the issue is lack of a suitable facility."

The 09 season is critical to the future of professional baseball in Ottawa. If the CanAm League (or a new local owner(s), Mr. Wolff is actively searching) incurs substantial losses this season it is unlikely they would pursue a lease extension. Without a tenant, it is unlikely the City of Ottawa would preserve the stadium.

How much support is necessary to make the CanAm League viable in Ottawa? According to Mr. Wolff, average attendance of 2,500 to 3,000 is required to sustain a franchise here. Mr. Wolff also stated that revenues of approximately $1.6 million per season would be sufficient to maintain a franchise in Ottawa. Some back of the envelope math suggests that revenues of $1.6 million are achievable with an average attendance of less than 2,500. 47 home dates per year X 2,500 per game = total attendance of 117,500. Total attendance of 117,500 divided into $1.6 million = a per cap of between $13 and $14. A per cap of $14 seems unreasonably low given that adult tickets were priced at $10 last season. Parking and concessions should easily bring the per cap above $14.

How did the Ottawa franchise fare in 08? Last season's owners, Rob Hall and Rick Anderson of Momentous / Zip.ca, claimed losses of $1.4 million last season. Much skepticism surrounds this claim as approximately half of the money owed to creditors is owed to Momentous, the parent company of the now defunct club. The CanAm League website lists Ottawa as 5th in the 8 team league in average attendance last season, virtually tied with New Jersey for 4th, at approximately 2,200 per game. But what does that 2,200 figure mean? Professional sports leagues, minor and major, often report "tickets issued" when publishing attendance figures. If the published figure of 2,200 is accurate it is difficult to understand how losses of $1.4 million were incurred, given Mr. Wolff's assertion that attendance of 2,500 should make a franchise viable. Anecdotally, I received 12 free tickets this past season (and I knew nobody in ownership or management), at games I attended announced attendance appeared inflated and a ticket office employee told me that "a ton" of tickets were being given away.

UPDATE NOVEMBER 26 : One of last year's co owners, Rob Hall, is quoted in today's Ottawa Sun, " The 2,200 number was the published number the league asked for that includes all the tickets that were given away. We donated a lot to charities and community groups, even our neighbours at Canadian Tire, to try and encourage attendance. Actual butts in the seats, the exact number was 1,256 (per game)" The next logical question is how many of those 1,256 are paid admissions?

Is average paid attendance of 2,500 fans per game realistic in Ottawa? The last season of AAA in Ottawa in 07 saw average per game attendance dwindle to below 1,900. The CanAm League does have a potentially significant advantage over AAA in that their season doesn't start until mid - late May and finishes at the end of August. During it's final seasons here, the AAA franchise did average attendance in the 2,000 plus range during the summer months that the CanAm League plays.

Is Ottawa a minor league city? Independent minor league baseball thrives in two Canadian cities, Quebec City and Winnipeg. As already stated, Quebec City consistently leads the CanAm League in attendance. Winnipeg's independent Northern League franchise attracted an average 6,500 fans per game last season, a typical level of support for the Goldeyes. Winnipeg is consistently amongst the leaders in minor league average attendance, both independent and affiliated. Minor league baseball is much less popular in other Canadian cities. Ottawa, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver are former AAA cities, all save for Vancouver are now home to independent league teams. Vancouver is now home to short season A level affiliated baseball. Calgary @ 1551 and Edmonton @ 1792 were last & 2nd last in Northern League average per game attendance in 07. Last season saw Calgary and Edmonton join the independent Golden League and average per game attendance declined to 1,269 in Calgary and 1,086 in Edmonton. The 09 season will see the arrival of another Canadian independent league franchise when the Golden League debuts in Victoria. Is it coincidence that minor league baseball is most popular in smaller Canadian cities that are not home to the NHL? Is minor league baseball too "minor league" for Ottawa?

What is the long term future of the CanAm League? According to figures compiled by The Independent Baseball Insider, CanAm League attendance declined by almost 200,000 last season. This is a precipitous decline, almost 20%, from 1,040,000 in 07 to 844,000 in 08. Will widespread economic problems impact significantly on all sports leagues, including the CanAm? Some think that minor league baseball has an advantage in difficult times because of it's relatively affordable prices. The larger concern might be the impact that economic problems have on the personal financial situations of franchise owners. Typically professional sports teams are owned by individuals who treat them as "hobbies ". The real worth of these owners is tied up in other businesses and investments. If the net worth of these owners is impacted will it cause some of them to walk away from their sports interests?

Has control of the real estate been a factor in ownership changes? The departure of AAA from Ottawa after the 07 season left the City of Ottawa without a tenant for it's baseball stadium. Local businessman David Butler approached the city (unsuccessfully) with a proposal to give him year round control of stadium real estate. Mr. Butler's proposal included fielding a CanAm League team but also the right to stage concerts ( Mr. Butler was involved in staging a concert at the stadium in July 07 ) and constructing a permanent roof over the playing field to allow for usage during the winter months. In May 08, then Rapidz co owner Rick Anderson told the Ottawa Business Journal that staging concerts at the stadium was part of his long term plan. He added that, "The lease requires us to obtain the city's approval if and when we do proceed with concerts,". On September 29, the Rapidz owners declared bankruptcy. Subsequent media reports revealed that there were failed negotiations between the Rapidz owners and the city over control of the stadium real estate. The former owners and city managers differed on the details of the negotiations but reports ranged from discussions of the club owners purchasing the real estate from the city to negotiating a long term lease granting the club full control over use of the real estate.

If new local ownership is found, will control of the real estate again be an issue? If yes, how might city council react? Professional baseball and The City of Ottawa have a problematic history that might work against any such proposals. The funding of the construction of the stadium was to be shared between the city and the original owner of the AAA franchise Howard Darwin. Mr. Darwin was to be responsible for 25% of the stadium costs with the city responsible for the balance. When Mr. Darwin sold the franchise in 2000, $3 million remained unpaid on the debt he owed to the City of Ottawa. (Mr. Darwin would differ) In addition to the unresolved dispute involving construction costs, the second AAA owner Ray Pecor, filed an $11 million lawsuit against the city over a dispute concerning parking at the stadium. The city has also experienced problems with P3 partnerships ( public / private ) involving city owned sports facilities, including the Bell Sensplex and the Ray Friel Centre.

Any future owner of a local baseball franchise wanting more revenue streams from the stadium might be competing with other professional sports interests also asking for political cooperation on use of city owned real estate. Local developers are currently negotiating with the city to redevelop Lansdowne Park. The proposed plan for the city owned land includes professional sports, concerts, retail and residential. In addition, if and when local NHL owner Eugene Melnyk is awarded an MLS franchise, he too will want city owned real estate to build on. Public and political support for city assisted professional sports ventures is probably finite.

Much has changed politically in the region since the city constructed the baseball stadium. The mayor at the time, Jim Durrell, was an avid supporter of professional sports in the city. Mr. Durrell was also effective in advancing his agenda at council. Regional politics are fundamentally different now due to the amalgamation in 2001 of the "old city of Ottawa" with the former suburban cities of Nepean, Orleans and Gloucester plus a handful of rural townships. Some question if there is sufficient popular and political support outside the "old city of Ottawa" to make government contributions to professional sports in “the old city” viable.

Few in this region would miss local professional baseball more than me, but my opinions on the future viability of the sport here have not changed since I wrote not quite a year ago; “ I hope I'm wrong but the reprieve for professional baseball in town will be short lived. “

Hope to see many, many folks at the ballpark this summer.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

AUTISM

Maury Brown has learned that his youngest child ( 3 years old ) is autistic.

Please support the Brown family and all families who struggle against autism.

Please read Maury's posting to learn about autism and how you can assist.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

From the basement March 22

Be careful what you wish for.....

I'm soon to be posting stuff @ Maury Brown's Business of Sports Network. Probably most of my bloggin ( this insert hyperlink, block quote, comment & repeat hack shit ain't writin ) will be found on Maury's The Biz of Baseball platform. Thank you so much Maury for the opportunity to contribute to one of my favorite sites and in particular my favorite baseball business site. Maury's work is read and respected by every component of the baseball industry - management, labor, media, fans,players, academics, bloggers.

Short term ( next week, hopefully ) I'll submit some stuff similar to the roundup / notebook schtick I've been doing at Baseball Digest Daily. Longer term I hope to raise my game a notch and start "reporting" as opposed to just linking to other people's reporting / opinion.

In other words, I might have to get off my lazy ass and work a bit at this. Invest some time in research ( I was going to say "research more" but honestly I don't think I've done any research up to this point. Linking shouldn't be confused with researching ) and all that goes with that.

I'm kinda stunned. I've known for a handful of weeks this was happening but I didn't want to start anything before we went on holidays a few weeks back. And then I wanted to post one more "column" ( hubris ) at Baseball Digest Daily. But now that I'm actually supposed to cobble something together for Maury....I told him I'd send him somethin...jesus...he's Maury and..well...I'm a stoned guy in his basement and....I'm kinda scared. But hey, what the fuck, it's all just for fun and I suspect it will be.

Thank you so much Baseball Digest Daily for allowing me to contribute to your wonderful site. Thank you Dave Rouleau for offering me the opportunity and for your constant encouragement. Thank you Joe Hamrahi for allowing me to post at your great site that you built because of your chutzpah, grit, talent, energy, emotion and $$$. I sincerely hope that Joe and I and Dave are future colleagues somewhere in this baseball geek world ( I don't mean that in an insulting way either, quite the opposite ). Words of admiration and respect for folks @ BDD who I was proud to have my stuff lumped in with. Voros, Jon Hale, John Brattain and Bob Wirz. Thanks to Neate for linking the Miles Woolf Q&A at this blog, which led Dave Rouleau to me. Thanks to my anonymous "internet shepherd" who always has good advice and plenty of encouragement.

BTW, Opening day here in Ottawa in exactly 2 months!

Saturday, February 16, 2008

From the basement February 16

OTTAWA RAPIDS

I'm listening to Singin Ed Nottle while I'm typing this. He does a killer version of " That's Life ", a song I really like ( unfortunately the MP3 is truncated, 1 minute in length ). It was announced earlier this week that Mr. Nottle will manage the Ottawa Rapids this season. May 22 is opening day for the inaugural season of CanAm League ball in Ottawa. Mr. Nottle may be the most distinct ( this is Canada ) professional baseball manager employed here over the past 16 years - and I mean that in a good way. I hope to have a martini with him ( listen to the music, you'll get it ).

The press conference was a lot of fun. Unlike the mood of doom that hung over media day last year for the AAA Lynx, the atmosphere for the Rapids introductory press conference was cheerful and optimistic.

I was fortunate to meet two baseball legends. Jacques Doucet, the french language voice of the Expos for 33 years ( now voice of the Quebec CanAm franchise ) was very gracious. Equally as notable was the opportunity to meet CanAm commissioner and Ottawa franchise owner Miles Wolff. Mr. Wolff's accomplishments in the baseball industry include starting independent pro baseball in 1993 with the formation of the Northern League. Mr. Wolff was also the owner & publisher of Baseball America for 18 years. Mr. Wolff reacted to my compliments concerning his accomplishments with humility. He did allow himself a smile when I told him I admire his chutzpah.

A couple of Canadian players with plenty of professional experience are on board already. Ottawa native Mike Kusiewicz has played minor league baseball - both affiliated & independent - for the past 13 season. Returning to Ottawa is former Lynx OF Jeremy Ware . Ware is a veteran of 12 minor league season - both affiliated & independent.

I thank Ottawa blogger Carl Kiffner for the tremendous amount of time and energy he has devoted to preserving professional baseball in Ottawa. Mr. Wolff thanked Carl publicly at the press conference for his critical contributions in bringing CanAm to Ottawa. Obviously well earned. My Canada includes Carl.

Also an excuse to see Neate and eat lunch together.

BASEBALL DIGEST DAILY - BEYOND THE DIAMOND

My weekly baseball industry column - Beyond the Diamond - continues at Baseball Digest Daily. I think column # 6? will be posted soon.

Recent columns have discussed:

February 10: Salaries - out of control? hurting competitive balance?
January 31 : Rule IV draft - what is Selig doing? is it time to allow the trading of picks?, MLBAM & local digital rights.
January 24: CDM Fantasy Sports case, Congress & the supplement industry, mixed use stadium development

Thanks to BDD I attended a Jays season ticket holder event in Toronto earlier this month. It was a lot of fun. I had a good conversation with fellow BDD writer Jonathan Hale about baseball data - or more specifically the range in quality of data being collected - and baseball on the internet - how many of us geeks are there? Anyway, Jonathan is really into baseball data. He's been invited to some baseball data conference in northern CA. As I told him, in a broad sense I'm aware of what he and his peers are up to but I can't get into the math. Also, as I told him, recent history has taught us not to underestimate the baseball math geeks.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Jeff Blair. Jeff is the only Canadian baseball writer I read regularly - and I'm a Blair completist - and one of my favorites period. Jeff was really friendly and pleasant. His rep as a curmudgeon might be overstated - or part of the schtick.

Me being me, I had a really interesting discussion with the Jays VP of ticketing, Patrick Elster. Ticketing is a really hot topic ( honest ) and I plan to write about it soon @ BDD.

Following are some comments I left @ BDD the day following the Jays event.

Re: Blue Jays' State of the Franchiseby Pete Toms on Wed 06 Feb 2008 09:57 AM EST Profile Permanent Link

Jonathan, some random thoughts on last nite's " State of the Franchise ".

Competitive balance / imbalance was a prominent theme. Some fans as well as Godfrey & Ricciardi expressed their frustration with having to compete in the AL East with the Yanks and Red Sox. Godfrey was unequivocal in his support of a salary cap in MLB, he blamed the PA for the absence of one. Godfrey also expressed support for a balanced schedule, he's tired of playing the Evil Empires 38 times per season. This ( as well as the outdated Rogers Centre ) is the #1 problem that faces the Jays short and long term. Godfrey did mention that maybe the VP of Ticket Sales - Patrick Elster, also in attendance - might be happier than Ricciardi to see the Yanks and Red Sox as often as Toronto does. That's the flip side of the coin, so to speak.

Mr. Elster mentioned that ticket sales are well ahead of last season's pace. I'm not certain why that is but I wonder if secondary ticketing is having an impact...

The natives are restless....the faithful need a playoff appearance. Gibbons bashing and talk about 85 wins not cutting it anymore from the faithful were met with very positive responses... Godfrey was asked about the decline in popularity of baseball as a spectator sport in Canada and what the Jays were doing about it.... Expos, only one affiliated team remaining in the country -
A Ball in Vancouver -, the flop of the CBL, Ottawa.....He laid the blame squarely on the communities that haven't supported it, Edmonton, Calgary & Ottawa and was completely unapologetic. There have been rumors in the Ottawa press of Jays AAA coming but Godfrey's comments about Ottawa's lack of support for AAA certainly don't support that.

What the fans didn't ask about....Mitchell, PED's, McNamee, Clemens, Zaun, Glaus.....I think this is revealing. The hardcore don't care about it. For that matter, neither do the casual...tempest in a teapot.

Ricciardi's comments re. Ryan. None of the fans called him on it but he famously lied last offseason about Ryan's health so why believe him now?....The rule on TJ surgery is that velocity returns before command. Ricciardi mentioned that McGowan was pitching again a year removed from the surgery but that's to say he was performing up to his potential a year later. Two years later, last season, McGowan obviously did meet expectations.

Fun event.

So, the baseball season starts soon and golf and summer with my kids....and if last year was an indication there won't be a whole lot written here for several months. The weekly BDD column seems to more than sufficiently satisfy my pretentious urges.

Later.

Friday, January 25, 2008

From the basement January 25

My 3rd column for Baseball Digest Daily is here. The column title is " Beyond the Diamond ". Thanks to Joe Hamrahi for naming it, I was too lazy to think of anything. Anyway, we seem to be on a schedule of it appearing every Thursday.

YA GOTTA BE GOOD TO BE LUCKY

The Red Sox are oh so trendy. They even have their own honorary hipster band,
completely in keeping with Gammons ( official mascot ) and Epstein ( MLB's alpha metrosexual ). Everything they do is lauded as cutting edge and everybody associated with them is a genius. John Henry, Theo, NESN, FSG, Roush, Bill James, the preservation and renovation of Fenway, the farm system - Paplebon, Pedroia, Ellsbury, Lester, Bucholz... - the Red Sox are at the front of the curve in every facet of operating an MLB team. They are state of the art.

They certainly deserve the praise, they are a model franchise. But a lot of the fawning comes from their winning 2 World Series in 4 seasons. But there's a lot of luck in winning a World Series and even more in winning 2 in 4 seasons.

I wrote here in the fall that postseason prognostications are bullshit - whether proven right or wrong - because the baseball playoffs are a complete crapshoot. In November somebody way smarter than me - Stefan Szymanski, Professor of Economics, Imperial College London - explained it here.

"...sports championships are contests involving repeated trials, which work in favour of a dominant team when outcomes are based on averaging these trials (league or series play), but against it when outcomes are based on elimination. For example, suppose the Yankees buy themselves a 60% probability of winning each game they plays (those are pretty good odds). Then if they play a best of five series their probability of winning it is 68%. But if they have to win four series in order to win the Fall Classic, then their probability of success is only 22%. Moreover, even if the process is repeated seven times there is still an 18% probability they will fail (unlikely perhaps, but no so improbable)."

So what are the odds of winning 2 championships in 4 seasons? I'm not arguing that the Red Sox aren't deserving of their recent World Series victories, they won fair and square. But it's baseball and there is a whole lot of randomness, which is to say, luck.

Are the Red Sox that dominant or is 2 out of 4 just part of the probability equations? Are the Yankees of the past 7 seasons that much inferior to their predecessors who won 3 straight? Were Tino, Brosius, O'Neill & Bernie great pressure players or in the right place....Does this explain how a really mediocre Cards team - 83 regular season victories - wins the 06 World Series?

Is it why articles like this aren't worth reading?

FAN CYNICISM

I read not so recently in SBJ that a USA Today/Gallup poll from December revealed that " fans weren’t surprised by the player behavior outlined in the Mitchell Report.." I don't find that unexpected but it says something about our collective cynicism. Yes we know pro sports ( "amateur" for that matter ) is dirty but more importantly we don't care anymore or any less.

We know we're not going through male menopause in a corn field in Iowa. We know sports is a big, big business. We know baseball players aren't role models, we know they are entertainers. We don't care about sexual harrassment or animal abuse or game fixing. Signs of our moral ambiguity. Did good guys and bad guys go out about the same time as Hawkeye Pierce? Maybe that's not altogether bad.

CAN AM LEAGUE

After 15 seasons of AAA in Ottawa we will be watching the independent CanAm League here come May.

I've never followed indy ball. I've been aware of it. I see the indy leagues in the transactions and I've watched many AAA players here with indy experience but I can't claim to have followed it. But now that I'll be watching it I've started to pay some attention. I look for indy ball news in BA and Ballpark Digest. I asked my wife for a subscription to Independent Baseball Insider for Christmas.

Some of the stuff I'm learning is disappointing and reinforces what I suspected, which is we are near or at the bottom of the indy food chain. I surfed CanAm rosters from last season in preparation for a Q & A with CanAm commissioner and baseball legend Miles Wolff and found few recognizable names. The CanAm 94 game schedule was another indication that this ain't a premium indy league ( the best indy league is the Atlantic League which will play a 140 game schedule this season ). This piece from last week claims that the Northern League is having a tough time recruiting players and appears a poor sister in the indy pecking order. More important to me, the article lumps the NL in with the CanAm.

Oh well, sitting outside watching bush league ball is better than sitting in the basement.

POLITICS

"It is possible that the BALCO scandal could have been averted had Brian Sabean and Peter Magowan acted in a responsible fashion." So said Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Los Angeles, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in reaction to allegations in the Mitchell Report that Sabean turtled when a team trainer - Stan Conte - raised concerns about Greg Anderson - Bonds "personal trainer" - peddling steroids in the Giants clubhouse.

Is Mr. Waxman really that stupid? Does he really believe that if Greg Anderson had been banned from the Giants' clubhouse that Victor Conte ( no relation as far as I know to the aforementioned Stan Conte ) and Patrick Arnold would have stopped manufacturing and selling steroids?

I doubt he's that stupid. I do suspect he's engaging in such hyperbole to bring attention to himself.

MY FAVORITE BASEBALL PLAYER EVER

Kazuhito Tadano, my favorite baseball player ever, has returned to Japan after playing in the PCL & IL the past handful of years. He also logged a bit of time with the Indians.

I am proud to say that I saw him pitch here in Ottawa as a Buffalo Bison. This is more memorable than seeing either Deion Sanders or Jose Canseco here.

I love Tadano because, as far as I know, he is the only pro athlete to have "appeared" in a gay porn. But it's not the fact that he "appears" in a gay porn that makes him my favorite. I love him because he claims not to be gay! I've always considered his stance on this Clintonian, " I did not have sex with that woman ". What do Tadano and Slick Wille think they were doing? Are there more amongst us who share their perspective on this?

FACEBOOK - THE COMMODIFICATION OF HUMAN RELATIONSHIPS

I love the internet ( that's not hip, isn't "inter webs" de rigeur? ) or more specifically baseball on the internet. I waste way more time during the winter in front of the PC than the TV.

I haven't gotten into Facebook though, probably due to my age more than any other factor. I am a Facebook member ( is that the correct term? ). I joined a group that was formed in support of a friend who was being sued for some stuff he wrote on his blog. Subsequent to that I joined a group whose common interest was bringing independent ball here and I also joined the Baseball Digest Daily group. But I never visit Facebook and I've entered the bare minimum of
information about myself because I prefer to be quiet about my politics and I'm way too old to be defining myself by my preferences in movies, TV shows and music.

Having said that, if you are part of Facebook I suggest you read this, especially if you're a leftist.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

From the basement January 12

Sometime between now and tomorrow I am expecting to see something I wrote here. Here is Baseball Digest Daily. The plan is that I will submit a weekly column on matters pertaining to the baseball industry.

I've been perusing BDD the past several days and the contributors are serious fans. A handful have impressive resum├ęs. There is one former THT writer, Craig Brown. And one current THT writer, Geoff Young. Rob McQuown worked for STATS, Inc. in their formative years. STATS, Inc. - as detailed in "The Numbers Game" by Alan Schwarz - had an enormous impact on how baseball statistics are compiled, interpreted and utilized in MLB. Mr. McQuown has also consulted for both management and labor. Gordon Berger is a former player agent ( NFL & CFL ) and has taught sports and entertainment law. Bill Chuck has contributed his writing to MSNBC.com and MLB.com.

BDD is also comprehensive, transactions, stats, standings, prospects and news. There is also some pretty good chat. Kudos and best of luck to Joe Hamrahi and his colleagues who have obviously invested a lot - and I don't mean solely monetarily - into this endeavor. Thanks to Joe for the opportunity.

Also I like what BDD is not. It's not cheerleading, or jock sniffing fandom or baseball as a metaphor for "life" ( whatever "life" is, not even I'm stoned enough to ponder that ) nor is it a Deadspin knockoff, which there are a plethora of.

I don't read Deadspin although I have read a few Will Leitch pieces that I found linked elsewhere. The bits of Mr. Leitch's writing that I've read I liked. His post indictment Bonds piece for instance. I don't read it either because I'm too old or I just don't like the hipster, slacker, pop culture, ironic, sarcastic etc. tone. In fairness to Will Leitch - like he'd give a shit - my perceptions of him and Deadspin stem primarily from:

1. His headshot, which I've seen a few times in SBJ and hasn't been updated in at least a year. He may be a recovering slacker ( I say recovering because I suspect he works way too hard on Deadspin to qualify for slackerdom any longer ) but retains the haircut. ( I, on the other hand am 45 and my hair has recently started leaving. ) Anyway, his haircut says hipster, it doesn't say Bristol CT. ( Maybe he's not in Bristol but that's not my point. )

2. I read he wrote a slacker blog before Deadspin. Once a slacker....maybe I'm just anti slacker.

3. His acolytes, they're everywhere on the net and multiplying daily. If imitation is the sincerest....Will Leitch is a sports web deity. His legion of imitators invariably list Deadspin on their "blogroll" and include lots of pictures / video and pop culture riffing. I think I "get it" but I don't give a shit, which isn't to say it's bad.

What is happening with baseball on the web?

I see more and more baseball blogs. I've been yammering on here off and on for about a year and already I see plenty of baseball blogs that have debuted subsequent to mine. I suspect this trend isn't about to change. I think I'm also ( I have zero empirical evidence ) seeing more baseball / sports blogs with a stable of regular contributors. I suspect - again only instinct - that it is an attempt ( probably futile and misguided ) by us ignored, near smart, amateurs to enlarge our audience ( perhaps audience is a misnomer ) and reduce the time commitment by joining the digital commune. Writing for BDD puts me at the front of this line.

How do we baseball web geeks spend our time online? Are we consuming information? Opinion? Are we chatting / arguing? Watching video, live games? The obvious answer is all of those. But how much time are we devoting to each? What do we want more of, less of? I want information primarily, particulary during the season. The fundamentals, box scores, stats, transactions etc. The opinions become redundant, i.e. how much is there to say about the Swisher trade or Clemens / McNamee? Chatting is an offseason time waster although if I was of Deadspin age no doubt I would be conversing via my laptop while simultaneously watching baseball, listening to music, masturbating (not to imply that masturbating is particular to the Deadspin generation) and doing my homework.

How many read the baseball geek sites? Is it a small group of us - thousands, tens of thousands? - who read THT that also read BP, that also read BA....Does it matter? Do we know? Even the big media companies can't agree on "internet metrics" or "analytics" or whatever. From SBJ's "ratings issue" last year. " ...there is no de facto standard of traffic measurement, and there likely never will be. Sites freely pick and choose among the sea of available numbers, traversing everything from page views and unique visitors to time spent online, constructing and depicting at will their own preferred version of reality." In a recent interview with Maury Brown, Bob Bowman President & CEO of MLBAM is unequivocal in his criticism of Nielsen Media's online rating system. Mr. Bowman admits that Nielsen is the "standard bearer" of the third party measurement agencies but calls their online ratings "a shot in the dark".

Do the big media companies and leagues understand the web? ESPN believes more is more, buying writers and web sites as fast as they can. They lured Rick Reilly away from Time Warner / SI for a reported $3 million per and also brought aboard Howard Bryant ( The Post ) and Selena Roberts ( NY Times ). According to this - H/T Shysterball - ESPN "...in the last 18 months, it has hired at least 15 writers and editors from major newspapers and magazines..." The buying spree is likely the genesis of this rumor. Amongst the many web sites ESPN has purchased are the internationally focused Scrum.com and Cricinfo.com. Why not buy up all the content? Disney is thought to be worth roughly $67 billion dollars with ESPN responsible for $30 billion of that figure. But does the buying spree mean that ESPN is making money off the web or they have so much money they just don't know what else to do with it?

Are the big media companies still trying to build the first "Facebook" of sports social networking? Time Warner / SI is attempting with Fan Nation, Disney / ESPN does the same schtick and I have to assume their competitors are doing more of the same. Or has the "Facebook" for sports been built. Is it called "Facebook"?

What about the leagues? Do they understand the web? The NHL is in court with one of their own - MSG - over digital rights and the NFL only recently brought all their digital under "The Shield". MLB, while the most succesful league on the web, is still grappling with control - should it be at the league level or franchise level? - of in-market broadband and mobile streaming rights. Rights to and league approaches to secondary ticketing on the web is also evolving, often
contentiously, in all the "ball & stick" leagues.

At least one banker wonders if teams are making money off the web or well, digitally. Mitchell Ziets from a recent SBJ, "...there is going to have to be a quest to monetize digital media. You're building on value obviously with MLBAM as a good example of one....It goes league by league, but it's not being monetized yet...when we do our advisory work on acquisitions, it's hard to figure out the value of digital media because they're not monetizing that." So why the huge investments in it? So that the consumer isn't somewhere else? Maybe the web can't be monetized? ( what a fucking awful verb ) At least not to the degree that big industry requires?

Is this the future? ( From this guy's book ) "The information business is being transformed by the Internet into the sheer noise of a hundred million bloggers all simultaneously talking about themselves." Or baseball in our case.

Monday, December 31, 2007

From the basement December 31

A rarity, a post from above ground. We're visiting my mother at her home in Trenton ON for a few days. I think it's really cool that my 66 year old mother - raised without indoor plumbing, blue collar her entire life, never learned to type - got wired a year or two ago. In fact she explained to me today how she rid herself of spam - although she calls it junk mail. Good on my mom. On to baseball.

I think owning an MLB franchise isn't about the baseball business anymore and probably hasn't been for a while. Maybe that's an exaggeration but nonetheless it is increasingly the case.

We all know there was a time - not that long ago it seems - when guys owned sports teams because they liked it and it was also how they earned a living. Tickets, hot dogs, beer, that was pretty much the extent of it. Worked fine in MLB if for no other reason than the players were slaves thanks to the reserve clause. How could you not make a go of it? Things changed, the players were, to a large degree freed, salaries rose and owners adapted in order to survive and prosper. The last of the old school, the Griffiths & Veecks were succeeded by much wealthier hobbyists and big media companies and corporations. They cashed in big on TV. Ted Turner was the visionary, recognizing the value in the cheap programming that his baseball team provided to his new superstation. WGN followed and currently several teams have stakes in their own RSNs. They also were masters in blackmailing local governments to build new stadiums, in better locations, with better sightlines, better concessions, better signage and lots of luxury suites for the local corporate community. Although the business changed, in one way or another the revenues seemed directly related to the baseball team, even if their beancounters wouldn't admit it. Today the lines are a lot blurrier.

The present and the future appears to be real estate development. Is the cost of owning and operating a franchise part of the price you pay to develop real estate around it? Are MLB and the other ball and stick leagues part of "Shoppertainment"?

From a recent SBJ feature on AEG. "Building entertainment villages is part of what Leiweke ( my note - Tim Leiweke is the CEO of AEG ) believes is the dominant sports business theme of the 21st century. In the 1970's and early 80's, he said, sports was driven by ticket sales. Later in the 80's, television money became vital, and in the 90's, amid a building boom, premium seats and suites became a huge part of the business. "Now, when you look at what sustains growth, it's about development around the arenas," he said. "Entertainment districts are huge."

From this excellent piece in The Sun Chronicle, "Team owners see their teams or facilities they can control as a way to catalyze other types of development," Bragitikos said. Chuck Bragitikos is the President of Vibrant Development Group which "specializes in developing compelling retail, dining and entertainment destinations." and has worked with the NFL amongst others.

From a recent banker roundtable in SBJ, managing director of Societe Generale, Randy Campbell explains what owning a big league team can do for you. "...these were sort of "mom and pop" clubs to a degree, in terms of maybe how they were run or operated or viewed. Now, you clearly have a lot more sophisticated investors not only looking at sports teams but looking at media rights, looking at stadiums, looking at development around stadiums. I think that people are recognizing that these sports clubs have great brands; they have great, almost a magnetic, power to sort of draw people to them. Kind of trying to think through how you further monetize that brand value, I think, is going to be the next key thing to do."

From the same aforementioned Sun Chronicle piece:

"In Arlington, Texas, the 135-acre "Glorypark" will encompass more than 2 million square feet of office and retail space, three major hotels and 2,000 residential units sandwiched between a new ballpark for the Texas Rangers and the new Dallas Cowboys domed stadium. The complex will open in 2009."

And.

"In Fremont, Calif., the Oakland Athletics major league baseball team is proposing a "ballpark village," complete with a new stadium, a retail-office complex, 3,100 residential units, and even a new elementary school."

The Cards are also constructing a ballpark village centred around the new Busch Stadium. And the D Rays proposal for a new stadium is based on the destruction of their current stadium and subsequent redevelopment of the site - although they don't own it but I digress.

Examples abound across all leagues and in fact on other continents. L.A. Live, The O2, Patriot Place, Xanadu, on and on....

The pro sports real estate "play" ( why do they call it a play? ) also seems to be a response to skyrocketing construction costs and the fact that John Q taxpayer seems to have cottoned on to the scam of publicly funded stadia for the benefit of super wealthy individuals and corporations.

From the same SBJ banker roundtable, Mitchell Ziets on stadium financing. "You're seeing less appetite from taxpayers and political officials to put public money in....folks are getting a lot more creative about how they're packaging and dressing up public money...you're getting a lot of deals where taxes are generated by the project or by a development project around the stadium or around the arena (and) are getting funneled back into the project. You're seeing that in Oakland with a development deal...You look more at development plans to sustain the financing plans."

See the December 06 posting by Phil Miller at The Sport Economist. "...sports stadiums are not the boon of economic development that they are often portrayed to be and, thankfully, public money has not been as easy to come by in many instances. That's why some recent public financing packages include plans to have ballpark villages developed as a part of an agreement for public financing....So politicians are seemingly more resistant, thankfully, to giving subsidies just for stadiums by themselves. But package in some secondary development (which, if it draws any extra economic activity to the site, will probably draw it from elsewhere in the region) with the subsidy request and see if you can get the necessary votes."

Maybe most importantly, will "shoppertainment" revenue be counted as part of team / league revenues? Gene Upshaw and Bob Kraft are already being asked this question in light of the upcoming Patriot Place. Stay tuned...

Scouts N The Hood

In April I blogged about the much discussed subject of the declining number of African Americans in MLB. Some blamed MLB and colleges - in part - for not scouting "urban" communities as enthusiastially as they should. John Helyar , "Caucasian scouts were disinclined to bird-dog the declining number of inner-city ball fields when college baseball programs had so much talent." I've read little about this subject in the baseball media since the controversy died out in the spring - culminating on Jackie Robinson Day April 16 - until a few days ago when this piece on MLB's Urban Youth Academy in Compton popped up. Coincidentally I read this piece in Baseball America about a Winter Meetings get together of college baseball coaches and MLB scouting directors about the same time. What's notable about the BA piece are the critical comments by Washington Nationals scouting director Dana Brown.

"As for the issue of getting more black players in college baseball, coaches indicated helplessness because the pool of black players at the youth levels is so small. Coaches also said their lack of scholarships was causing them to lose quality athletes of all ethnicities to football and basketball. But Nationals scouting director Dana Brown, one of just two black scouting directors in baseball, expressed frustration with the level of discourse on that issue. "I thought, personally, it was kind of window dressing," Brown said. "I thought it was something that was brought up. I'm scouting a lot of (prep) players across the country; certainly not all of these African-American players are going to be drafted. There's a lot of guys I see that are good students that could go to some of these elite schools that just don't get recruited. I don't buy that there's not enough African-American players that we can get in school that we can recruit."...Brown cited former Florida prep standout turned Southern star Rickie Weeks, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft, as a black player who should have been more highly recruited. "What happened with Rickie Weeks?" Brown asked. "How does Rickie Weeks get out of Florida?...I just think that coaches have to make a conscious effort to go out and recruit players. They always talk about, 'Well, there's a drop-off in African-American players in the game.' Colleges have to scout them, recruit them, sign them and develop them also."