This Town Ain’t Big Enough For the Two of Us: Athletics, Giants Battle Over San Jose

The Oakland Athletics and San Francisco Giants have one of the oldest rivalries in Major League Baseball. The series dates back to the 1905 World Series when the A’s, then located in Philadelphia, and the Giants, then located in New York, faced off in the Fall Classic, which the Giants won 4 games to 1. The A’s would get the better of the Giants in the 1911 and 1913 World Series.

Both clubs eventually found their way to California as the Giants moved to San Francisco in 1957 and the A’s to Oakland in 1968 after a 13 years in Kansas City prior. The teams met in the 1989 World Series, a series the A’s won 4 games to 0 but was marred by the Loma Prieta Earthquake which occurred just prior to Game 3 of the series. Every year since 1997, the clubs have met in Interleague play, with Oakland holding a slight 47-45 edge in those matchups.

The Bay Bridge Series should be renamed “The Battle of San Jose”.

But the battle between these teams may soon switch to the courtrooms rather than the baseball diamond. The A’s currently play in O.co Coliseum, a multi-purpose stadium that is also the home to Oakland Raiders of the NFL. Opened in 1966, the “Coliseum” is the only venue to be the full-time host of an MLB and NFL team. The Athletics’ lease at O.co expires after the 2013 season, and with poor sight lines and the fifth-oldest venue in baseball, the A’s are looking for a new home.

Enter San Jose, the third-largest city in California and one of the fastest growing cities (translation: money piling up) in the country over the past two decades. Downtown San Jose is located 40 miles from downtown Oakland, and 35 miles from O.co Coliseum. As the home of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks, the city has proven the ability to host a major sports team and grow the A’s fan base.

And that’s precisely the problem. The Giants claim San Jose and Silicon Valley as part of their MLB territorial rights, which designates what areas of the country belong to which teams (used primarily for determining which teams are shown on local TV in certain areas). According to the Giants, their territorial rights extend from San Francisco as far south as Monterey County. These rights, which were loosely agreed upon by the club’s owners over 20 years ago based upon the Giants possible relocation further south that never occurred, have led to a painful and “excruciating” deliberation process for the A’s.

In 2009, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig appointed a committee to study the implications for both the A’s and Giants if the move to San Jose were completed by the Athletics. Over three years later, the committee has yet to come forward with any resolution.

It is understandable why the Giants would be hesitant to the A’s moving to San Jose. The Giants have undoubtedly built up a fan base in this area, and a new team moving to the area would cause some fans to switch allegiances to the Athletics, and that means fewer ticket sales, merchandise sales and fewer dollars. At the same time, The A’s are struggling in Oakland, with the second-lowest payroll in baseball and a run-down stadium not helping matters. Having a franchise in such poor economic shape is not good for baseball.

The decision for the Athletics to move would have to be approved by Selig, but the real sticking point is the territorial rights. That would have to be determined by a 75 percent vote from MLB owners in order to be overturned. Of course Selig has his hands in this as well, given his close relationship with the league’s 30 ownership groups. ESPN likened the entire situation to a game of chicken, asking who will blink first among Selig, the A’s, Giants and San Jose.

What’s worse is that this seems to be the tip of the iceberg. If the Athletics are eventually given permission to enter San Jose, it would not be a stretch to suggest the Giants would pursue a lawsuit against the A’s, Major League Baseball, San Jose, or any combination. Just what Major League Baseball wants, more days in court.

Baseball’s problem is not a unique one. In the NFL, the Jets and Giants share the New York market. In the NBA, the Knicks and Nets will now share New York, similar to the way the Lakers and Clippers share Los Angeles. The NHL has three teams — the Rangers, Islanders and Devils — within the New York market, while the Ducks and Kings are only 30 miles apart between L.A. and Anaheim. Even within MLB, New York (Yankees and Mets), Chicago (White Sox and Cubs) and Los Angeles (Dodgers and Angels) are shared by two teams. To see a league struggle so mightily over market sharing is incredible.

The Athletics and Giants are sure to battle on the diamond for the next decade. But the real battles appear as though they will happen before a judge.

Photo (cc) by Tim Wilson and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Oh No, Lolo: U.S. Track Star Lolo Jones Caught Between Marketing and Medaling

If Lolo Jones had been just one-tenth of a second faster Tuesday, she would have been able to outrun her critics.

The 30-year-old Jones, a striking track & field beauty who once posed nude for ESPN The Magazine (don’t worry, link is safe for work), has been the most recognizable U.S. Olympic track athlete of these games. At the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, Jones was favored to win the 100-meter hurdles and looked primed to capture gold until she clipped the ninth hurdle with her foot, dropping her to seventh place. The devastating defeat had been brewing for four years until Tuesday, when Jones had a shot at redemption in the 100-meter hurdles in London.

Lolo Jones never hid from the spotlight, but Olympic defeat has only intensified the bright lights on her.

Alas, heartbreak again for Jones, who finished in fourth place with a time of 12.58 seconds, only one-tenth behind the bronze medalist Kellie Wells and two-tenths of a second behind silver medalist Dawn Harper, both American teammates.

Falling short once again seemed to agonize Jones, who told the L.A. Times, “I guess all the people who were talking about me, they can have their night and laugh about me.” Later on Twitter, Jones didn’t hide her pain or her problems.

On Wednesday morning, Jones appeared on NBC’s Today Show to discuss her narrow defeat, as well as to address criticism she received from the media. The frustration of being ridiculed led Jones to tears in the interview.

“I laid it out there,” Jones said while choking up. “I fought hard for my country, and I think it’s just a shame that I have to deal with so much backlash when I’m already so brokenhearted as it is.”

The backlash came courtesy of the New York Times, in which writer Jere Longman dished a scathing commentary on Jones, seeming to implicate she was more interested in marketing herself than winning a medal. The article, published three days before the Olympic finals, compared Jones to Anna Kournikova, a former tennis player who got more attention for her looks than her play on the court.

To be fair, Jones has not exactly shied away from the media attention. In addition to the ESPN The Magazine shoot, Jones appeared on the cover of Outside Magazine wearing only a ribbon bikini and has not been afraid of flashing some skin on the red carpet.

Though her attractive looks brought her attention, Jones shocked all in May when she said she was a virgin, and called maintaining her celibacy harder than training for the Olympics.

Jones even name dropped Tim Tebow as a potential future partner, a move that doesn’t exactly promise a quiet reaction.

Her looks, her virginity and her quest for Olympic redemption made her the big name in women’s track this Olympics, which apparently didn’t sit well with teammates Harper and Wells. The medalists appeared on NBC Sports Wednesday morning and did not hesitate to call out Jones.

“I think that, on the podium tonight, the three girls that earned their spot and they got their medals and they worked hard and did what they needed to do, prevailed,” Wells said. “And that’s all that really needs to be said.” Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the fourth place finisher, their teammate Jones.

The sad Jones saga demonstrates the unfortunate problem with Olympic athletes on the cusp of greatness: They must balance their quest for glory with their quest for fame. The Olympics comes around only every four years, so athletes would be wise to cash in on their popularity while they can. Jones received media attention for her looks and her back story, and didn’t hide from the spotlight. For this, she earned added publicity and nabbed sponsorship deals with McDonald’s, Oakley and Red Bull. In short, she marketed herself to make money.

But as a result of her marketing, Jones was seen as being less dedicated than the other athletes competing. She maintains she trained six days a week for four years in the hopes of standing on the winner’s podium. Whether this is true or not, her failure will undoubtedly make onlookers wonder what she could have accomplished had she stayed out of the limelight.

The only way Jones could have come out ahead in all of this would have been to win the hurdles, which is easier said than done. The fact is only one person in the world every four years can say they’ve done that, and only two others get medals for second and third place. With this in mind, it’s hard to fault an athlete looking to cash in on his or her fame, knowing that winning is a long shot anyways. If the window of opportunity was there to make money, most people would seize it like Jones did.

Today, Jones is again the center of focus for the media and the public. Right now, though, she isn’t inviting the attention.

Photo (cc) by Ragnar Singsaas and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Not Buying In: Manchester United Fans Boycott Sponsors, Send Message to Ownership

Sports fans are among the most loyal and intense people you can find.  How else to explain people showing up to support a team that hasn’t won a championship in over a century? (Looking at you, Cubs fans)

But just because sports fans are loyal doesn’t mean they always agree with every decision their favorite team makes. Case in point: Manchester United fans calling for a boycott of sponsors’ products to persuade ownership to rethink its plans of a shirt sponsorship deal with General Motors. United fans are reportedly unhappy about the British club’s association with an American company, preferring to keep the Red Devils in ties with local companies only.

Manchester United fans are loyal, but a boycott shows they have a mind of their own.

This isn’t the first time ManU fans have voiced displeasure with ownership over the club’s business. Malcolm Glazer, an American businessman who also owns the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers, has owned United for almost 10 years but fell into $1.6 billion debt in 2010 stemming from loans related to their shopping mall businesses in the U.S. The Glazer family has not been popular with Manchester United fans, who have pressured Glazer to sell the team to a more interested and trustworthy owner.

Co-sponsorship deals often put fans in unusual situations. On the one hand, supporting a product or sponsor associated with a team generally means you are helping the business interest of your team. More money typically leads to more success. But some owners only care about the bottom line rather than results. So just because you put your money into sponsors doesn’t mean your favorite team will win more. In fact, it could send the wrong message to ownership that wins and losses don’t have an impact on revenue and income.

That’s what makes the boycott by ManU fans interesting. The message has been sent to ownership that club supporters will not be blind sheep and will not buy into everything the ownership tries to sell to them. Not seeing fans open their wallets is sure to get the attention of ownership and prompt change.

A similar scenario is unfolding in Boston. The Red Sox were purchased in 2003 by John Henry, a trading advisor who had previously held partial ownership of the Yankees and Marlins. Since Henry took over the club, the Sox have enjoyed remarkable success, winning two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 and enjoying the longest consecutive home sellout streak in U.S. sports history.

But all is not well in Red Sox Nation. Henry, since buying the Sox, has also obtained ownership of NESN, NASCAR teams, and most notably Liverpool FC, a major European soccer club. With multiple business interests, Henry’s time devoted to the Red Sox seems to have waned, as has on-field performance. The Sox have not won a playoff game since 2008, and last season endured a 7-20 month of September to miss the playoffs, one of the worst collapses in sports history. This season Boston is hovering at .500 but doesn’t have the look of a playoff team. All the while, the front office has remained quiet, save for an open letter of confidence sent to Sox fans by team president Larry Lucchino.

So what is a Sox fan to do? It seems clear the dual-ownership experiment is not working out at the moment, and many are calling for Henry and company to make a change. But the best way for Sox fans to get the attention of ownership is to do what United fans did and boycott the product. That means stop going to games (and break the sellout streak), stop watching games, stop buying merchandise, etc. When ownership sees numbers dipping, they know they will need a change. Asking this is a tough thing for Red Sox fans to do, however. Fans were rewarded for 86 years of faith with the 2004 championship, and even though the current club is treading water it remains within striking distance of a wild card spot. Besides, stopping support aimed at management change creates a negative impact on players, who have no say in ownership decisions.

Manchester United fans have made it clear they want change and have put their money where their mouths are. Unless things change quickly at Fenway Park, restless Red Sox fans may be taking a cue from restless Red Devils fans across the pond.

Photo (cc) by Paolo Camera and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Delayed Reaction: Tape Delays, Social Media Create Challenges for Olympic Followers

Every four years the Olympic games capture the attention of sports fans, both casual and hardcore, across the globe. The excitement of seeing big name athletes such as Michael Phelps, Ryan Lochte, Usain Bolt, Hope Solo and LeBron James compete for gold is must-see television.

No need for the update, Bob, we already saw the results on Twitter yesterday.

Since 1988, NBC has been the exclusive TV home of the summer Olympic games, and in 2002 became the home for the winter games as well. With its headquarters in New York and its audience predominantly American, NBC has strived to broadcast the games so that major events are seen in U.S. primetime slots. But with a five-hour time difference between London and the Eastern Time Zone, NBC is forced to resort to a dreaded television phrase: tape delay.

Tape delays are nothing new, but they certainly aren’t popular. People have an insatiable need to hear the latest news as it happens, not wait five hours to hear about it. So when NBC resorted to tape delay in order to put events in primetime slots, the reaction was understandably negative. NBC used tape delay for the 2008 summer games in Beijing, but the advent of social media has created a host of issues in 2012.

Take for example the highly anticipated 400-meter freestyle relay race in men’s swimming. In 2008, the U.S. edged France by .08 in the race, coming from behind and winning by literally the margin of a fingertip to claim the gold. Both the U.S. and France squads were in this summer’s 400-meter relay, and the rematch figured to be close once again. Due to tape delay, the race was not shown on NBC until the evening, even though the race was completed hours earlier. With real-time updates from journalists on site, followers on Twitter and other social media platforms learned the French turned the tables on the U.S., coming from behind to win gold by .45. That took all the drama out of seeing the event that evening on television.

Updates on social media have put Olympic followers in uncharted territory: To follow or not to follow? Many Twitter users have unfollowed users who have updated from the games so as to keep the results a surprise when they see them at night. One Twitter user even had his account suspended when he went too far in criticizing NBC for using tape delay. The best outcome of the tape delay so far has been the parody account @NBCDelayed, which has over 20,000 followers since launching in the past three days as it gives mock updates that happened previously (Bush beats Gore in 2000 Election, U.S. wins “Miracle on Ice”).

Despite the issues, NBC seems to be doing fine. The opening weekend drew the biggest TV ratings in Olympic history. Though it may be frustrating for athletes and hardcore fans, the fact remains that tape delay helps draw bigger ratings, and that in turn helps the games generate more interest and more money. It’s an unfortunate tradeoff, but a necessary one for NBC.

This proves once again that the Olympics are not about sports or even politics, they are about money.

Photo (cc) by Doc Searls and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Social (Media) Butterflies: Fans Taking to Twitter to Lure Penn State Players

It’s open season in State College, Pa. In the fallout from the NCAA’s staggering penalties against Penn State, a new wave of recruiting is occurring in college football as 96 players hit the open market.

When NCAA President Mark Emmert announced the sanctions against Penn State, he also announced that current Nittany Lion players were allowed to transfer without having to sit out a year like most transfers. Considering the school is now banished from postseason play for four years and the talent level is expected to drop off dramatically, it stands to reason many players would seek greener pastures.

On Wednesday, roughly 25 Penn State players showed their commitment to the school they originally signed with and staged an impromptu announcement, declaring they would not transfer.

The players staying have already been praised for their loyalty to the school, and you can bet Penn State will use these players as marketing as it attempts to clean its image.

For other players considering leaving, the scene in State College resembles wild predators stalking their prey. It was reported that coaches from other schools, most notably Illinois, traveled to Penn State to meet with players and try to lure them away. On one instance, the Illinois coaches ran into Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien on campus.

By far the biggest name on the recruiting trail is running back Silas Redd. Last season the sophomore led the Nittany Lions with 1,241 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, and helped drive the offensive attack. Early reports indicated Redd was considering USC as a potential transfer destination.

And that’s when things got ugly. Like most college students, Redd has a Twitter (MomentOfSilas25) that he uses frequently. Awful Announcing did a fantastic job in detailing the Twitter recruitment of Redd.

As you might expect, there were plenty of Penn State fans and alumni pleading him to stay. But there were also quite a few Nittany Lion  fans who didn’t take kindly to the USC rumors, using choice words and labeling him a #sellout.

And then there were the other schools. USC, Tennessee, Oregon, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, Michigan State, LSU, Florida State, Purdue, Louisville, Georgia and Temple were all mentioned by people who tweeted at Redd.

I suppose we shouldn’t be surprised by any of this. College football has been known for its shoddy recruiting practices that turn teenage kids into heroes and villains at the same time. But in the wake of all that has happened at Penn State, one would hope people could keep things in perspective and let the players make their own decisions.

Guilty By Association: Penn State Non-Revenue Sports May Struggle Following NCAA’s Football Punishment

NCAA President Mark Emmert stepped to the podium Monday morning and delivered what many believe to be the strictest punishment in collegiate sports history.

As a result of the Jerry Sandusky scandal cover-up and shocking details of the Freeh Report, the NCAA chose to hand out the following penalties against Penn State and its football program:

  • A $60 million sanction — equivalent to one year’s gross revenue of the football program — with funds going to support victims of child sexual abuse and programs intended to prevent such acts from occurring
  • A four-year ban on bowl games and postseason play
  • A reduction in football scholarships ranging from 25 to 15 for four years
  • The removal of all football wins (111) from 1998 to 2011
  • A five year probation period for the entire athletic department

Reaction to the punishment has been mixed. Some call the NCAA’s decision fair, while others find it over the top. What’s clear is that Penn State’s football team will be in rebuilding mode for quite some time.

And so too might the remainder of Penn State’s athletic programs. In 2011 Penn State’s football team made $53 million in profits, by far the biggest moneymaker program at the school. This money is spread around and used to help support non-revenue sports, such as fencing, gymnastics, and swimming & diving among others.

If Penn State football struggles as it is expected to, these sports may be in trouble financially. Though the program has weathered through unremarkable seasons before, it looks as though it will be entirely dependent on donations, especially without the aid of money sharing from the Big Ten or from bowl games. It is not a stretch to say other programs could be cut as an unintended result of the NCAA’s ruling.

The problems extend outside Penn State’s campus. Local businesses in State College, Pa. could suffer an estimated $50 million in losses per year. Much like the school itself, Central Pennsylvania has thrived off Nittany Lion football. That financial vehicle has suddenly been derailed.

Time will tell how long Penn State football suffers. It may be a shorter time before the remainder of Penn State’s teams learn their connected fate.

Player Control Foul: Eric Gordon Saga Demonstrates Athletes’ Desire for Control

Eric Gordon wants to play for the Phoenix Suns, and the Suns want Gordon to play for them. That’s why the Suns offered him $58 million over four years to make the Grand Canyon State his new home. Sounds like a win-win, right?

Wrong. The New Orleans Hornets, the team for which Gordon played for during the 2011-12 season, have the right to match the contract offer and keep the shooting guard in the Emerald City. Thus, the Hornets hold the cards in this scenario.

Gordon’s only hope is that New Orleans chooses not to match the contract offer from Phoenix and lets him leave. Gordon was not shy when asked about his feelings regarding leaving New Orleans for Phoenix:

Perhaps the best way to explain this is to try and put it into terms the average person can understand. Pretend you are a recent college graduate with an entry level job. You’ve been at your job for three years, and you find an opening for a new job with another company. They see your resume, think you would be a good fit, and offer you a position with an elevated salary. But rather than give your two weeks to your current boss, you find that your company has the right to match the salary and keep you for at least another year.

Huh?

Such is life in the modern sports world with the advent of restricted free agency. To summarize in short, restricted free agency (RFA) means a player who was drafted in the first round can accept an offer from another team after his fourth year in the league. But the team he was currently with has the opportunity to match the offer and keep him. This rule allows small market teams the opportunity to keep their star players before they can be bid for by bigger market clubs.

On the surface, this rule makes sense, but it definitely puts players in an unusual position. All Gordon wants is to play for the Suns, but the Hornets have the right to keep him. The only solution he saw fit was to publicly chastise New Orleans in the hopes it would scare them away. Call it sports’ version of mudslinging if you will.

Gordon’s words have resonated in the hoops world, but not in an endearing way. Sporting News NBA writer Sean Deveney penned a mock letter that Gordon sent to New Orleans that opens with three powerful words: I hate you. Hornets 247 blogger Joe Gerrity pointed out how foolish Gordon looks for calling out a team that wants to shell out $58 million for him, a season after Gordon only played nine games. Fans who shell out big money to go to games have right to question Gordon’s sense of what is right and wrong.

From Gordon’s perspective, there is some reason to his argument. He wants to choose where he can play and the team he wants to play for also wants him. And though he will become an unrestricted free agent (UFA) next summer — meaning he will be able to sign wherever he wants without another team matching the offer — there is some risk in that scenario. What if Gordon gets injured again and can only play a limited number of games, like he did in 2011-12? Teams are unlikely to give big contracts to a player coming off back-to-back injury seasons, so there is risk in playing even one more year before hitting UFA status. And though Gordon is likely to make a lot of money even if he were to get hurt again, fans have to remember that athletes have a limited number of years to hone their craft before they are finished. If they’re lucky, players make it to about age 40 before their bodies betray them and they have to retire. That’s not the case if you’re an accountant or consultant.

CBS Sports writer Matt Moore perhaps summed up Gordon’s situation best by pointing out that these are the rules Gordon chose to play by. The NBA’s collective bargaining agreement expired after the 2010-11 season, which is what prompted the league’s lockout last winter while a new CBA was agreed to. The NBA Players Association negotiated with the league’s owners, and topics such as restricted free agency were undoubtedly part of the conversation. In the end, the CBA was ratified by the players, and the Gordon has to abide by the rules he agreed to.

Just because Gordon has rules in place for him doesn’t mean he has to stay quiet about them. But anytime someone complains about a $58 million contract being disrespectful, it’s not good for anyone.

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