Archive for May, 2012

Garden State Goes All In: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie Seeks to Add Sports Betting

If you’re anything like the average sports fan you probably filled out a bracket for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as March Madness. You also probably entered a pool — whether with your friends or your family or your co-workers — and put some money on it. And unless you saw those upsets by Norfolk State and Lehigh — be honest, no one did — then your bracket was busted and you lost.

New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie is challenging the federal government on sports betting.

Losing bets aside, Chris Christie invites you to bet some more on other sports, no matter what the federal government says. Christie, the governor of New Jersey, said his state will allow people to bet on sports despite the ban set by the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act of 1992, which outlaws sports betting outside of Nevada, Oregon, Delaware and Montana.

Here are Christie’s thoughts on the ban: “If someone wants to stop us, then let them try to stop us.” Not exactly conservative rhetoric from a Republican during an election year, huh?

There are signs the state was pushing closer to this, most notably the non-binding referendum on betting and a vote that passed 2-to-1 from the public.

Early reaction seems generally positive on the move, pointing to the fact that states should have a choice on the matter and that allowing public betting will take away the dangerous underground nature of the practice that already exists.

If this goes through, this would be huge for the popularity of sports. Think fantasy sports on steroids. It would give casual fans another reason to lock their attention on a Week 6 NFL game or check their smart phones for the score of the late-season NHL contest. Of course regulating the practice would be a hassle, which is why many are skeptical of the proposal passing.

Either way, Christie has gone all-in on sports betting.

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

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The $3 Billion Question: The Potential Sale of the New York Yankees

For the extremely cheap price of $3 billion you can now own the New York Yankees.

Or maybe not, depending on who you believe. A report from the New York Daily News surfaced Wednesday evening that the Yankees, who have been owned by the late George Steinbrenner and his family since 1973, could be up for sale.

Check between your sofa for loose change because Yankee Stadium and the team that plays in it could be all yours for only $3 billion.

According to the report, the impetus for putting the team on the market stems from the recent sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers. Despite not having won a World Series title in 24 years, an aging stadium and a tumultuous period of ownership from Frank McCourt that led to a bankruptcy filing, the team still sold for more than $2 billion.

Steinbrenner’s two sons, Hank and Hal, don’t seem to be as emotionally invested in the team as their father, who paid $10 million to buy the club four decades ago. The thinking is if the downtrodden Dodgers can fetch more than $2 billion in a sale, the Yanks could easily surpass that and then some.

To quell the commotion, the family immediately denied the rumors from the Daily News story and said there is “absolutely, positively nothing to” the speculation. After all, it has been 932 days since the Bronx Bombers last won the World Series, and in Yankeeland that is unacceptable.

All kidding aside, the prospect of a sale is a tricky one. The late Steinbrenner no doubt always wanted the team to stay in the family, and seeing his children sell the club two years after his passing seems unjust. There’s also the tricky subject of the Empire State’s estate tax. In 2009, the 45 percent tax expired and the new rate of 55 percent did not begin until 2011. Because Mr. Steinbrenner passed in 2010 — between tax years — his family escaped having to pay nearly $500 million in taxes. If the family sells the team now, those taxes would apply. Why would the family surrender to such a hefty price they just evaded?

Others see it differently. Based on numbers from the Dodgers sale, financial experts estimate the Pinstripes could be sold for as much as $3 billion.  If someone asked to buy your business for $3 billion, you’d be selling too. Also consider the team’s aging roster of superstars like Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte, Alex Rodriguez and others. These players have contributed to the team winning five championships since 1996, and though a new crop of stars could still reap titles, it will be hard to replace these names. Finally the new Yankee Stadium, built in 2009, is the third-youngest in Major League Baseball and should be around for at least 40 years or more. To summarize: The value of the franchise may be at its peak.

So what do you think: Should the Steinbrenners sell the Yankees or not?

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

A House Divided: NFL, Players Association Feud Could Spell the End for Football’s Fortune

On the outside the NFL is the cash cow of the four major professional sports leagues (NFL, NBA, MLB, NHL). A recent study by Plunkett Research, Ltd. shows the NFL exceeds the other leagues in every monetary category. Football ranks first in overall revenue ($9 billion), operating income ($1,069 million) and average team value ($1 billion). The league has captured the attention of sports nuts as well, accounting for 23 of the 25 most-watched telecasts from Sept. to Dec.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell has been criticized heavily by the NFLPA, even in what was billed as a decade of labor peace.

The good times might not last much longer, however, if the league and players association can’t get along. Just like John Lennon and Paul McCartney or Kobe Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal, this power duo is showing signs of a breakup:

First, there was the lockout. For 136 days from March to mid-July, the NFL and NFLPA sat on opposite sides of a debate on league revenue, the longest in league history. After a heated summer of negotiations, the pair finally agreed to a new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

Next, benefits for retired players. Football is a violent game, and many players have experienced health issues after retiring from the sport. Ex-players say the NFL doesn’t care about the health of retired players and doesn’t do enough for them. The recent suicides of Dave Duerson and Junior Seau show the effects the game can have. As much as this is an issue for the players union to handle, the NFL will continue to look bad if it doesn’t do its part.

This leads to player safety issues. This has actually been a testy topic for the past three years. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has been committed to making the game safer, as evidenced by his harsh punishment for the Saints bounty scandal. Goodell has already levied more fines against players than any other commissioner in league history, leading to criticism from players such as James Harrison and a defamation lawsuit from Jonathan Vilma.

Finally, two separate issues emerged on Wednesday that further strained the relationship between the NFL and NFLPA. The players union is unhappy about the league’s decision to make thigh and knee pads mandatory for the 2013 season, claiming such a rule should be negotiated. Also on Wednesday, the NFLPA filed a collusion lawsuit against the NFL for allegedly setting a $123 million salary cap in 2010, which was supposed to be an uncapped year. By secretly setting a cap, the NFLPA claims the league and its owners confided to keep player salaries low.

It’s unsettling for football fans to think that all this is happening in the first year of what is supposed to be a 10-year window of labor peace. Matters only seem to be getting worse, arguably more so than during the lockout last year. It’s not a stretch to imagine another lockout occurring in the next three to five years if matters don’t improve.

Through it all the sport remains as popular and successful as ever. Perhaps the two sides should take a lesson from The Beatles and let it be.

Photo (cc) by Staff Sgt. Bradley Lail, USAF and republished here under a Creative Commons license. Some rights reserved.

Internal Struggle: Dwight Howard, Stan Van Gundy Saga Shows Players Have Control

Orlando Magic head coach Stan Van Gundy found out the hard way on Monday that sometimes your toughest opponent can be on your own team.

The 52-year-old Van Gundy was fired by the Magic on Monday, finally ending long-held speculation that star player Dwight Howard wanted Van Gundy gone if he was to sign a long-term deal with Orlando. General manager Otis Smith also parted ways with the team on Monday as well.

Player-coach feuds are nothing new in sports, and Van Gundy certainly isn’t the first coach to leave a team because of a spat with a player. What makes this case so bizarre is that Van Gundy publicly acknowledged that he knew Howard wanted him gone, and did so during the season with the team in contention. Van Gundy did this with Howard right next to him.

With the grievances out in the open, the Magic had a decision to make: Keep Van Gundy, the winningest coach in team history, or keep Howard, the 26-year-old franchise player with six All-Star appearances to his name. In the end, Howard won and Van Gundy was gone.

Early reaction to the decision seems to be negative. Many feel sympathy for Van Gundy, noting that through the turmoil Howard put him through the Magic were still contenders. Others point out that re-signing Howard is no sure thing, and that even with the coach gone the player could still bolt for another team. If that happens, the Magic will have entered the worst-case scenario.

No matter how you slice it, this is a sad state of affairs in today’s sports world. Van Gundy and Howard had their moments together and came within three wins of a championship in 2009.  Somewhere along the line the relationship strained and Howard hinted at a departure from Orlando unless Van Gundy was gone. The Magic, seeing how a star player’s departure can ruin a franchise like LeBron James did to the Cleveland Cavaliers, chose the player over the coach.

The Magic saga is simply Exhibit A in how players have taken control over a team’s decisions. It used to be the general manager or owner who had the final say in personnel, but the threat of free agency makes teams cautious of losing their prized player, and therefore losing big money. To prevent losing him, they’ll do anything to please him, even if it’s not the decision they want to make.

There’s a saying in sports that “players play, coaches coach” and that each sticks to their own job. It appears as though Howard is performing double-duty, and he’s surely not the last to do so.

West Coast Bias: Los Angeles Becomes Center of Sports World for One Weekend

The Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles has seen its fair share of activity since opening in 1999. The arena has hosted events such as the Grammy Awards, Democratic National Convention and concerts from the likes of Mariah Carey, John Mayer, Beyonce Knowles and Michael Jackson.

The Staples Center could have used an Easy Button during a busy sports weekend.

But nothing could have prepared the Staples Center for what it experienced this weekend: Six NHL and NBA playoff games over four days. The NHL’s Kings made a surprise run to the Western Conference Finals and hosted Games 3 and 4 at the arena on Thursday night and Sunday afternoon. Meanwhile the NBA’s Clippers and Lakers — who both play at Staples but use different courts and arena setups — played their respective Games 3 and 4 of the Western Conference Semifinals between Friday and Sunday night.

In order, the arena transformed from Kings to Lakers to Clippers to Lakers to Kings to Clippers, and each time roughly 20,000 fans filed in and out for each game. The changeover is grueling for the 45 arena workers in charge of making the switch between games. The change from basketball to hockey is considered the most difficult, taking roughly two hours and 15 minutes to complete.

The NBA and NHL weren’t the only attractions in town, however. The MLB’s Dodgers hosted a three-game series with the defending World Series champion Cardinals from Friday to Sunday at Dodger Stadium, just over four miles away from Staples Center. Major League Soccer’s L.A. Galaxy hosted rival Chivas USA on Saturday at the Home Depot Center, only 20 minutes south of L.A. in Carson, Calif. Throw in the Amgen Tour of California Bicycle Race, which ran through the downtown area, and you have a sports fans’ dream weekend all in one location.

Revenue numbers are still being tallied up, with the Staples Center events expected to net between $15 and $20 million for the six games. The biggest gain, however, could be seen on the gridiron. Los Angeles has been without an NFL franchise since the Raiders and Rams departed in 1994. Los Angeles city councilwoman Jan Perry called the busy weekend a “test case” to see how the city could handle major congestion and if a football stadium could co-exist downtown. Farmers Field, a roughly $1.25 billion football stadium and entertainment complex, has been proposed for construction downtown to be completed by 2016, but is awaiting city government and taxpayer approval. Michael Roth of Anschutz Entertainment Group, which owns the Staples Center, said the weekend’s activity was a “success on all levels.”

For one weekend at least, Randy Newman had sports fans singing along.

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