The Management Of Sports…

These are turbulent times for MLB.  The Commissioner must conduct in inquiry into a “cheating scandal” by the Houston Astros and whatever he does will be divisive.  There is almost no room for him to “thread the needle” so to speak where his inquiry is viewed as sufficiently thorough without being viewed as overly harsh.  This is not an existential crisis for MLB – as may well have been the Black Sox scandal in 1919 – but Rob Manfred is pretty much in a position where he is going to be vilified by some baseball fans at the end of his inquiry.

MLB did not ask for that problem; nonetheless, it is on MLB’s plate and is not going away quietly or on its own.  Such is not the case with a second major controversy involving MLB; the owners here have chosen to take careful aim and shoot themselves squarely in the foot – taking care to inflict maximum damage upon said foot.  This problem involves MLB’s proposed contraction of minor league baseball supported by MLB teams from 162 teams to 120 teams.

As expected, there are lots of minor league cities that do not think that is such a great idea; and as I noted when news of that proposal first surfaced, every one of those cities is in a Congressional District represented by a Congressthing.  Looking good to the “folks at home” in this one is easy for those Congressthings; all they need do is to make it crystal clear that they think this is a dumb idea proposed by a bunch of rich people who only want to make even more money and leave the poor folks in Beaglebreath without their beloved Buglers.

Already, a variety of members of the House of Representatives have made it known that they do not like this idea; they see it as a shakedown of small towns to upgrade what facilities they already have as a path to being one of the “Surviving 120 Teams”; they see MLB’s exemption from the anti-trust laws as Congressional leverage here; they see an issue on which they can campaign for re-election.  MLB did this to itself; the owners are not bleeding red ink and this idea was boneheaded from the start.  Now, Commissioner Manfred has to find a way to put the toothpaste back in the tube…

Amid all this, MLB finally did something right – – something that it should have done at least 20 years ago.  Marvin Miller was elected to Hall of Fame as a contributor to the game.  Marvin Miller did more to shape the game of major league baseball as it exists in 2019 than anyone since Dodgers’ owner Walter O’Malley convinced Giants’ owner Horace Stoneham to move their franchises from NYC to LA and SF respectively.  Marvin Miller died in 2012; he should have been in the Hall of Fame at least a decade before his death – – and probably two decades.  But at least MLB finally got this one right…

While baseball execs have some choppy seas to deal with, the business side of the NFL appears to be in much calmer waters.  Indeed, there is a new CBA that will have to be consummated when the current one expires at the end of the 2020 season.  However, any “sticking points” in those negotiations will be mitigated to some extent by one overarching reality:

  • The two sides are seeking a way to divide up a revenue stream that is estimated to be just north of $16B in 2019 and that stream is expected to continue to grow from there.

There is so much money on the table here that neither side should want to forego the bounty for any period of time.  Moreover, once a new CBA is in place providing the assurance of labor/management stability, the NFL can focus on renewing its media rights contracts with its “partner networks” meaning even more money for the owners and players to share.  [Aside:  The current agreement has been in place since 2011, and it had no “opt out clause” for either side.  That provided the basis for the league to demand – and receive – the fees they now enjoy.]

While the execs who run MLB and the NFL have challenges in front of them, there is at least an expectation that they can – and will – meet those challenges constructively and professionally.  Rob Manfred is in a tough spot with the Astros’ investigation, but MLB will weather the inevitable storm of protest that comes at the end.  The NFL will live through some sensational stories about the imminent rupture of labor/management peace never again to be re-established.  Those are nothing compared to the announcement earlier this week that the World Anti-Doping Agency has “banned Russia” from the Olympics in 2020 and in 2022 and from all other international competitions that come under the aegis of the World Anti-Doping Code.

That sounds as if the WADA members did a couple of things:

  • They caught the Russian athletes red-handed.
  • They imposed a huge sanction on those cheating athletes.
  • They have deterred future cheating based on this harsh punishment.

Well … maybe not.  According to the WADA watchdogs, this was a state-sponsored program of doping and cheating; the athletes did not do this on their own.  So, here is how that translates:

  • Those athletes may compete in the Olympics and other international competitions – – but not as representatives of Russia.
  • They will be identified as “Olympic Athletes from Russia” in the Olympics; I have not read what euphemisms will be used for other international competitions.
  • They may not display the Russian flag, nor will the Russian National Anthem be played during the competition(s).

I have no fondness or respect for WADA – or its US branch the USADA.  However, I will yield the floor here to Sally Jenkins of the Washington PostHere is a link to her column in today’s issue on the WADA banishment decision; I urge you to read it in its entirety.  To whet your appetite, here is her lead paragraph:

“What the Olympics need is a clean start. By that I don’t mean a ‘pure’ start, as opposed to a ‘dirty’ one, or any of the other uselessly simplistic terms used by the World Anti-Doping Agency to perpetuate its junk science. I mean a complete philosophical, ethical and scientific rethinking. The kind resisted by conflict of interest-riddled anti-doping bureaucrats, whose superficial ‘banning’ of Russia from competition would be more meaningful if WADA was any better than, well, Russia. What you have here is a battle between crooked cops and creeps, with a lot of athletes caught in between.”

Finally, here is a word from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“Scientists at the National Defense Medical College in Japan say they’ve created artificial blood that works better than the real stuff.

“Didn’t pro rasslers already do that?”

But don’t get me wrong, I love sports……..