Economics And Soccer Today

We all realize that the coronavirus has had major economic impact in virtually every corner of the industrialized world, and we should not be surprised to recognize that even the very rich owners of major sports franchises are feeling the pinch. There are fixed costs that an owner has to endure as a result of his ownership whether or not there is ever a game played. Some examples are:

  • Lease costs for venues
  • Interest owed on money borrowed
  • Wages paid to core workers who are not furloughed
  • Insurance premiums
  • Legal fees

I got to thinking about those sorts of things in my abundant spare time now that my long-suffering wife will not allow me to set foot outside of our abode “in an abundance of caution”. And that led me to wonder if any owner might need to sell his franchise in order to shore up his finances in the area that got him enough money to buy a sports franchise in the first place. Then, I wondered if any owner might be feeling a double whammy here:

  1. His sports franchise is not bringing in any money
  2. His “core business” is also in a bad way

I could only come up with one example like this one. Micky Arison owns the Miami Heat; they are in lockdown at the moment. Micky Arison achieved his net worth of approximately $5B as the chairman of Carnival Crop which gets its money from Carnival Cruise Lines and that is not exactly a booming business as of April 2020. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that the Miami Heat may be on the market nor am I suggesting that Arison is having any sort of “solvency issues”. He is, however, involved in two large and visible business areas that are stalled for the moment.

The virus continues to push back sports scheduling for this season. MLS has abandoned its hope to restart its season in mid-May; their current projection is that they will start up again on June 8 and they now acknowledge that they will not be able to get in a full season.

In England, the EFL – that is all the pro soccer leagues below the Premier League but not including the Premier League – also hopes to resume action in early June. That sounds like good news, but it comes on the heels of some dire reporting recently. Sky Sports says that there are EFL clubs that are “days away from going bust” and the BBC reported that there could be a dozen or more “insolvencies” among the EFL clubs.

Meanwhile, the clubs in the Premier League have not targeted any date for a restart there. However, there is some financial news attached to the Premier League. Newcastle United is in the process of being sold to “British businesswoman Amanda Staveley with a large Saudi Arabian backing”. The report says that the price for Newcastle United is $391M.

There is at least one Premier League team that would seem to have a nice cushion in these times of restricted revenues. Manchester City sold the naming rights for its home stadium a couple years ago to Etihad Airlines and that deal brings in a tidy $27.4M annually for the club.

Leaving the financial world but staying with news regarding soccer, Sepp Blatter is back in the news. The former major domo of FIFA – he is banned from the institution based on corruption – was interviewed by a German magazine and he says that the US could host the World Cup in 2022 instead of 2026 if FIFA decides to move the games out of Qatar.  There are multiple reasons for FIFA to consider such a move including:

  • There is evidence that the selection of Qatar was based on FIFA members taking bribes in exchange for a positive vote for Qatar.
  • The games would need to be staged at “the wrong time of the year” because it is too hot to play in Qatar in June/July/August.
  • The working conditions in Qatar for those building the venues has been likened to slavery. [Aside:  Even as venal as FIFA execs have shown themselves to be, they do not like being associated with anything that has the word “slavery” attached to it.]

To be sure, Blatter’s pronouncements have no weight within FIFA anymore. What he was doing here was musing about what might happen if such a change of venue were to take place. He said that Germany could host the tournament because it has all the infrastructure needed for the tournament already in place – – but since the World Cup in 2018 was in Russia, that would put two consecutive World cups in Europe and that would not be a good thing for the international sport.  He also recognized that the US too already has the infrastructure in place to host this event and the US is gearing up to do just that in 2026.

This is an interesting proposition. Holding the World Cup here in 2022 would be a nice shot in the arm for the US economy; waiting until 2026 would mean that the US would host an expanded tournament consisting of 48 teams and not merely 32 teams. Six of one – – half dozen of the other…

Finally, Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times dug out this piece of news:

“A 9-year-old Belgian boy is set to graduate from Eindhoven’s University of Technology.

“It would’ve been 8, but he redshirted his freshman year.”

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



Rest In Peace Hank Steinbrenner

Hank Steinbrenner died yesterday; he was only 63 years old.  He and his brother have been the co-chairmen of the Yankees’ organization since George Steinbrenner passed away about 10 years ago.  The announcement of Hank Steinbrenner’s death specifically said that it was not due to COVID-19 but did not specify the exact cause.

Rest in peace, Hank Steinbrenner.

Finances at Disney Corp in general – and at ESPN in specific – must be in bad shape.  The coronavirus has taken the steady inflow of cash from the Disney theme parks and reduced it to a slow drip; ESPN has been dealing with losing cable subscribers to cord cutting.  I can understand the difficulties there, but a recent report puts a fine point on those difficulties:

“Highest-paid staff asked to take pay cuts by ESPN”

That was a headline in the Washington Post yesterday.  Basically, ESPN asked those folks to take a 15% pay cut for the next 3 months and the report said that this would affect about 100 folks at ESPN.  The report also said that folks making $500K or more were the ones asked to take this reduction.  The report did not say how many – if any – of those folks agreed to this reduction.

Obviously, ESPN wants sports to return to normalcy quickly; its financial existence depends on that.  In that sense, a giant enterprise like ESPN is not all that different from the Mom and Pop restaurant down the street that has been shuttered for the past several weeks.  Lots of people are looking forward to a return to “everyday life” – including almost everyone in the media except for those people and outlets that are reporting on the pandemic 24 hours a day.

Imagine you are the restaurant reviewer for a newspaper; there isn’t a lot for you to recommend to your loyal readers and there is no point in panning a place that you did not like because no one is going there without your negative review.  There are just so many times you can order takeout pizza and write about the service and the product before it gets pretty stale.

Thinking about our current situation broadly, my position is not what the execs at ESPN would want to hear.  I think lots of things should reopen before sports returns to its normal way of life.  As of today, much of the country goes about life in a way that limits gatherings of more than 10 people in close quarters.  [Obviously, hospitals are exempted from that restriction.]  A return to normalcy in the sports world would throw together groups of thousands of people in stadiums and arenas.  I’m not sure that would be a smart strategic move if the overriding objective is to reduce the likelihood of a COVID-19 resurgence.

That looks at the sports world merely from the perspective of fans in the stands.  I guess you could phase back in by playing games with no fans in attendance but that does not take into consideration the risk of viral spread among the players.  You can stage a golf tournament without fans and put it on TV; you can enforce social distancing; you can have the players and caddies masked.  It might look a bit odd – – but it could be done.

Now consider football … Social distancing in the huddle becomes a real challenge.  How many locker rooms will accommodate 53 players and 20 coaches without having some of them closer than 6 feet to one another?  Try the same mental exercise with baseball dugouts and basketball games; until there is a way to assure that everyone involved in a game is virus free, the danger of viral spread is real and significant.

I do not wish it were so, but I think that other segments of our economy and society will be opening in a staged and orderly fashion before sports makes its comeback.  In fact, I believe that sports execs should anticipate that fans will not rush to return to stadiums and arenas when stay-at-home orders are lifted.  I know that my thinking here runs counter to H.L. Mencken’s famous observation about people because I am attributing some reasoning abilities to the average fan.  Here is Mencken’s observation with which I generally agree:

“No one in this world, so far as I know … has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people.”

Finally, today was supposed to be Tax Day in the US before even that annual ritual was postponed for 3 months.  [Aside:  I don’t know about you, but when I prepare my tax returns there are never any other people within 6 feet of me.  Why that activity was pushed forward by the coronavirus is unclear.]  It seems appropriate today to close with this observation from Will Rogers:

“The income tax has made more liars out of the American people than golf has.”

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



RIP Tarvaris Jackson

Tarvaris Jackson died yesterday at the age of 36 as a result of a car accident.  Jackson was in the NFL for 9 seasons mostly as a backup QB.  In his last stop with the Seahawks, he was the backup for Russell Wilson, and he was part of the Seahawks Super Bowl winning team in 2014.

Rest in peace, Tarvaris Jackson.

Yesterday, I thought I might have gone over the edge talking about the MLB record for balks – both in a career and in a game.  With every sport short of camel racing and perhaps axe throwing on hiatus, material for these rants is hard to come by; so, I included that information on balks.  At about 2:30 PM here in Northern Virginia, I checked my email and saw that I had a missive from “The Reader in Houston”.  I was positive that I had made an error in my “balk stats” yesterday and he was going to correct it.  Actually, what his email did was to add to the story of the game where Bob Shaw balked three times in one inning and 5 times in one game.  Here is the text of that email:

“Actually, Charlie Hough (Texas) was called for nine balks in a major league exhibition game in the late 1980s, including seven in one inning. That happened mainly because the umps were going to enforce pitchers to come to a full-set position for the upcoming season.

“Billy Williams of the Cubs has the record for most balks caused in a game by a runner. In the Bob Shaw game you mentioned, four of the five balks came when Sweet Swinging Billy was on base, In the top of the first he singled and was balked to second and in the third when Shaw balked three times, Billy led off with a walk and was balked around the bases for a run, which was considered an earned run because it was due to the pitcher’s ‘negligence’. “

And now you know…

Just as I need to dig a bit for material here, the NBA and their “broadcast partner”, ESPN have had to dig deep for ways to keep pro basketball relevant in the days of COVID-19.  When wildcatters drill for oil, sometimes they “discover” as dry hole; similarly, ESPN and the NBA found a dry hole when they decided to televise a H-O-R-S-E tournament.  Maybe – – and it is even a stretch to say “maybe” here – – this might have been marginally interesting had the television production quality been up to ESPN’s normal standards.  It was not.

I watched about 2 minutes and decided that I had a better way to spend my time – – and I went and rearranged my sock drawer.  H-O-R-S-E is a game for kids to play among themselves; watching pro athletes play that sort of silly game is compelling for the first two shots or maybe three.  Add in the television quality that was no better than a video taken on my smartphone and that programing was an embarrassment to both the NBA and ESPN.

I really would have liked to be a fly on the wall when folks behind that programming got together to decide this was the way to attract eyeballs to ESPN and attention to the NBA.  Remember that the league tried to incorporate H-O-R-S-E into the annual All-Star nonsense about 10 years ago and then mercifully took that abomination off life support after a couple of years.  So, in that meeting where they all decided to resurrect this silliness, I wonder who was the one to suggest that this time around, things would be much better because the production qualities would be much poorer.  They had evidence this was a dumb idea and they went forward anyway.  My conclusion:

  • It may have been a dumb idea and they knew it was a dumb idea, but no one had a less dumb idea – – so they went with it.

Here is a bit of free advice:

  • Memo to NBA and ESPN Execs:  H-O-R-S-E is a kids’ game; it is fun for kids.  H-O-R-S-E is not a game to be televised; it is not sufficiently interesting; it is not a spectator sport.  Over and out…

And speaking of dumb ideas…  The NFL instituted a rule last year that allowed teams to challenge pass interference calls – – of the lack of a pass interference call on a play.  Everyone knows why that rule was put in effect; everyone also knows that the implementation of the rule last year did nothing to improve the game and did lots to generate even more controversy.  There seems to be a silver lining to this cloud.  Last year, the “pass interference challenge rule” was approved for only the 2019 season and would need to be re-approved to keep it on the books.

Given that players, coaches, fans and broadcasters are all unhappy with the implementation of the rule – even if some think it is well intentioned – it appears as if the NFL Competition Committee will not recommend keeping it on the books.  That is not the definitive act to erase it, but it does mean that the only way to keep it around any longer would be for the owners themselves to vote to reconsider it when the owners meet next month.  Assuming that does not happen, the pass interference challenge rule will go the way of all flesh whenever the NFL returns to action.

I am not alone in thinking the demise of that NFL rule is a good thing; here is what Bob Molinaro had to say about it in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

High five: It’s all but decided. After a one-season experiment ― more like a mockery of the rule ― the NFL will not extend the replay review for pass interference. Hooray.”

My only quibble with Professor Molinaro here is that we should not be “high-fiving” in the days of COVID-19…

Finally, Dwight Perry had this in the Seattle Times recently:

“Anthony Fauci, the immunologist and national point man against the COVID-19 pandemic, was once the point guard and team captain for the Regis High School basketball team in Manhattan, Class of 1958.

“Quickie retro scouting report: liked to spread the court, run isolation plays; most effective from distance; played lockdown defense.”

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



New Beginnings?

Last week, I mentioned the blockheaded statement by Oklahoma State football coach, Mike Gundy, regarding the urgent need to start preparing for the college football season on May 1st.  His remarks were crass and showed that he viewed the landscape of life through a drinking straw.  Lots of commentators pounced on him – justifiably – for those remarks; here is one such comment from Greg Cote in the Miami Herald:

“Oklahoma State football coach Mike Gundy, a coronavirus denier who wants his players back at work May 1, shows every sign of being what psychologists call ‘a flaming idiot.’”

Dabo Swinney announced that he was “absolutely certain” that the college football season would go on exactly as scheduled in 2020.  He took gas for that sort of a remark.  Now, before you generalize and try to portray all college football coaches as maniacal control freaks – – which many of them admittedly are – – consider these two remarks by UCLA coach, Chip Kelly, from a conference call with reporters:

“I’m not well-versed in infectious diseases. I’ll leave that to the Dr. Faucis of the world, who I’ve got a lot of faith in. When I listen to him talk, it seems like he’s got a pretty good grasp of it, so when he says ‘Go,’ we’ll go.”


“If it’s not safe for fans to attend the games, then I don’t know why it would be safe for players to participate in the games.”

I don’t know abut you, but I am comfortable associating myself with Chip Kelly’s comments here…

While on the subject of starting up sports leagues and how to do that in the time of COVID-19, please consider these two observations from Bob Molinaro in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

A non-starter: Baseball’s Arizona plan is an example of a league thinking it can outsmart a pandemic. Science? Who needs that when you can send 30 teams to the desert for a mid-May start, sequestering players in hotels before letting them out to play in any of 11 stadiums? It also would prevent players from seeing their families and significant others. Whatever idea the NBA may come up with to restart its season, it cannot top this for stupidity.”


Almost lifelike: The Taiwan Chinese Professional Baseball League is beginning play without people in the seats. The Rakuten Monkeys, however, have dressed up 500 robot mannequins as fans and placed them around their stadium. I wonder if they can do the wave.”

This stay-at-home environment – combined with no live sports to watch – presents me with time on my hands and a need to go and find things to rant on.  Don’t ask how I ran across the following pair of stats; it was a long and convoluted journey:

  1. The MLB career leader in balks is Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton.  He was called for a balk 90 times in his long and otherwise sterling career.
  2. On May 4th, 1963, Milwaukee Braves pitcher, Bob Shaw, had a bad day on the mound.  He committed 3 balks in the 3rd inning that day (a major-league record) and a total of 5 balks in that game (also a major league record).

The NY Post reported over the weekend that CBS would not renew its contract with Dan Fouts as the color analyst on its #2 NFL announcing team.  Fouts had been paired with Ian Eagle for the past several years and I was always glad to have them on the air for a game I was watching.  [Aside:  I think Ian Eagle is an excellent play-by-play announcer for both football and basketball.]  CBS will replace Dan Fouts with Charles Davis who has been the color guy for FOX and its #2 NFL announcing team.

If the execs at FOX happen to be looking internally for someone to elevate to the #2 announcing team, might I please place Ronde Barber’s name in nomination.  Last year Barber was paired with Kenny Albert for FOX games and I think he has plenty of potential behind a microphone.

The XFL has ceased operations.  It did not merely cancel its games and furlough its workers; it fired everyone working for and with the league.  Too bad.  I wonder how many more years it will be until someone else comes up with the idea of pro football in the springtime…

Finally, here is another comment from Greg Cote of the Miami Herald regarding another scheduling casualty in the days of COVID-19:

“Scripps said it would not hold its annual National Spelling Bee May 24 as planned, leaving a bunch of 13-year-old brainiacs totally c-h-a-g-r-i-n-e-d.”

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




There is plenty of pain and dislocation in US sports, but it would be a mistake to think that all is well in the rest of the world.  The coronavirus outbreak in China halted the Chinese Basketball Association; in Japan and in South Korea, the professional baseball leagues are dealing with a postponed Opening Day; the British Open has been cancelled for 2020 – not merely postponed.  There is plenty of dislocation to go around.

Another serious situation exists for the English Premier League (EPL):

  • The last game played in the EPL was on March 9th.  The league plays 10 games over a long weekend, so the league has “missed” about 40 games so far.
  • The schedule is postponed “indefinitely”.  The official statement from the EPL is that games “will only return when it is safe and appropriate to do so”.  The EPL has also said that it will reopen only when it has the full support of the government and the medical community there.
  • The clubs have asked the players to take a pay cut in order to keep all the clubs solvent.  Obviously, the players’ union opposed that action and used a unique argument to bolster their opposition.  According to the union, if the players took a pay cut, the government would not receive approximately £200 in taxes and that tax shortfall would negatively affect the National Health Service.  [Aside:  I believe the appropriate adjective in England applied to that argument would be “cheeky”.]
  • After that initial standoff, there was an announcement by the Southampton Club that the team and its players have reached an agreement to defer part of the player salaries through April, May and June.
  • I read a report – that I did not fully understand – which said that the biggest TV deal between a broadcaster and the EPL had a way for the broadcaster to recoup almost £700M from the league if there were not a certain number of games played in a stated time window.  As Will Rogers was wont to say, “I only know what I read in the newspapers.”

The EPL revenue for the 20 clubs was projected to have been about €5.7B for this year.  For the most recently completed season, attendance for all the EPL games was 14.6 million fans.  I present those numbers to demonstrate that the EPL is a very large enterprise – and its financial foundation has been rattled by the COVID-19 outbreak.  And with that as a framework for the potent effect of this coronavirus, think about how it is affecting some of the niche sports here in the US:

  • The WNBA ended is last season on the highest note in league history.  During the offseason, the league and its players negotiated a significant – some have said “groundbreaking” – CBA.  The league was set to enjoy expanded TV coverage and players were set to receive significant salary increases.  Last week, the WNBA announced that its training camps would not open on schedule and that the regular season would not begin on May 15 as had been the plan.  [Aside:  The WNBA will hold its Draft on April 17 as has been scheduled all along.]
  • The National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) had been scheduled to begin play on April 18.  It has postponed all games for the 9 teams in the league through May 6th.  That seems like a hugely optimistic stance with regard to resuming the regular season schedule – one that has games until the middle of October.  Like the WNBA, the NWSL came into 2020 with momentum behind it given the success and the exposure provided by the players who were on the US Women’s National Team in last year’s Women’s World Cup.
  • Major League Soccer is in full shut-down.  The league’s 26 teams had each played 2 games in the 2020 season when they had to go dark.  Many teams have furloughed employees and a quick visit to the MLS website shows all games as “postponed” until May 10 – another hugely optimistic stance with regard to resuming the regular season schedule.
  • World Team Tennis (WTT) has not yet felt a COVID-19 effect because the WTT regular season is not scheduled to begin until July 12.  The official statement from the WTT regarding its schedule is:

“Keeping our players, fans, and staff safe is at the forefront of our decision-making. WTT will continue to heed the recommendations by the CDC, WHO and United States government – which includes adhering to our federal government’s current stay-at-home order through April 30 – and will post another update no later than the first week of May as new information becomes available.”

There is another scheduling/financial impact of COVID-19.  The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that a second worker at the construction site for Allegiant Stadium – where the Raiders are scheduled to play in 2020 if/when there is a season in 2020 – has tested positive for COVID-19.  After the first reported case, the construction management company took measures to effect social distancing at the worksite and initiated a “vigorous cleaning schedule” onsite.  Supervisors have been carrying out their tasks via telework when possible and construction was reportedly on pace.  The second case makes this problematic.  Here is a potentially ominous part of the story in the Review-Journal:

“The worker was not in close contact with other employees because of social distancing protocols and was on site for one week before leaving April 2, prior to experiencing symptoms of the disease caused by the new coronavirus”

The known infected worker had been offsite for about a week when the second case emerged.  If more cases erupt there, it could seriously affect the schedule for the stadium and its availability in September 2020.  There is no reason to panic now, but this should be monitored.

Finally, Brad Dickson formerly with the Omaha World-Herald Tweeted this less-than-rosy scenario recently:

“Good news: Walmart is going to begin taking the temperature of customers at the entrance. Bad news: there’s one rectal thermometer for the entire store.”

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



Please Stop…

A couple of weeks ago, Bob Molinaro had this comment in the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Hoop du jour: ESPN has released its “Way-Too-Early Top 25” basketball poll for 2020-21. We’re bored, yes, but this bored?”

Sad to say but we are indeed that bored; and with the boredom, comes sports writing that borders on the phantasmagorical such as the prose under headlines like these:

  • A Bold Move For Every NFL Team Before The Draft [Aside: “Bold Move” is about equivalent to “Wild Guess Pulled Out Of Thin Air”.]
  • Five Ways The NBA Can Crown A Champion
  • MLB Will [or Will Not] Open The Season With [or Without] Fans In The Stands

You get the idea…

I am convinced that sports will be back after the world has found a way to deal with COVID-19 simply because sports are a form of entertainment and I believe that entertainment is a necessary ingredient in a civilized society.  Ergo, I have taken the opportunity of my self-imposed stay-at-home directive to think about the return of the sports that I consume as part of my entertainment diet.  Specifically, I have some things that I would like to see jettisoned from those sports once they are back on the menu.

I do not delude myself that these things will not come back with the sports that they despoil in the present time nor do I think that I am going to create a groundswell – or what politicians call a movement – that will render these things to the dustbin of history.  [Hat Tip to Leon Trotsky for the “dustbin of history”.]  Nonetheless, I will not shed a single tear if any or all of the following things magically disappear:

  • The NFL should stop playing 4 Exhibition Games before the regular season.  They are absolutely meaningless and far too many players are injured in these nonsensical games.
  • In MLB – and even in some minor league games – players come to bat with walk-up music.  It is stupid and not part of the game.  Any player who allows walk-up music to be played for him should also expect to hear Chopin’s Funeral March played for them every time they make an out.
  • By the way, might it be possible to start a baseball game without having a ceremonial first pitch – – or sometimes two of them?
  • Too many NBA games have devolved into 3-point shooting contests.  The Rockets and Nets tried 99 3-point shots in regulation and 7 more in an overtime period one night.  That averages out to exactly 2 such attempts every minute.  Bet that was a fun game to watch.  Maybe put a limit on the number of attempts by a team in a game?
  • No more reporting on “All-Star snubs” or “Hall of Fame snubs”.  Here is the gold standard for such reporting.  Joe DiMaggio was passed over for the Baseball Hall of Fame four times before he got in.  If a player is “snubbed” commensurate with that standard, write about it.  Otherwise…
  • The real story about Halls of Fame is that they are being quickly diluted with players who are not nearly comparable with the players inducted when that Hall of Fame was in its “start-up phase”.  Why not shame the voters when they continue that dilution?
  • While on the subject of no more reporting, how about we ignore – in perpetuity – anything that Pete Rose says or does?  [Obviously, this dictum would be retracted when Pete Rose goes to the Great On-Deck Circle in the Sky; obituaries would be appropriate.]
  • Anyone writing anything that resembles a “Bracketology report” prior to February 25th of a given year should receive 30 lashes.
  • Anything and everything that turns National Signing Day into a soap opera event should be a felony.
  • Any golf writer who focuses on anything Tiger Woods says or does in a tournament where Woods is 15 shots off the lead should be banned from covering golf and made to cover camel racing in Saudi Arabia.
  • The March Madness Final Four games should go back to being played in basketball arenas and not indoor football stadiums.

Thoreau said, “The devil finds work for idle hands.”  My hands are no more or less idle in these days of COVID-9 than they were in normal times.  But I have had more time to ponder in the last few weeks and the list above is the product of that extra pondering time.  Perhaps Satan finds ways to implant thoughts into idle minds?

Finally, I am sure you are glad to have come to the end of this recitation; so, the following definition from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm is an appropriate way to end it:

Enough:  What parents yell into the garage after three hours of drum practice.”

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



False Hope

Last evening, had a report saying that Oklahoma State football coach, Mike Gundy, said that he wanted the football program “re-opened” by 1 May.  He said some of the right things about the ongoing pandemic such as the importance of staying healthy, testing people and developing both an antibody test and a vaccine.  Good for him.  Then he also said that the young people in the program – the 18 to 22 year olds – who were healthy were in a position to fight off the coronavirus if they contracted it.  Here is a link to that report in case you want to read it to determine if I have mischaracterized Coach Gundy’s statements here.

I take issue with one part of Coach Gundy’s statement and for his vision with regard to the restart of football activities at Oklahoma State:

  • The young men on that football team – the healthy young men – are not expendable.  They should not be exposed to more dangerous situations than are absolutely necessary.  AND playing big 12 college football in the time of COVID-19 with our current understanding is not sufficiently “necessary” to warrant their exposure to the danger of dying.

I have significant interest in seeing the “return to normalcy” in the sports world as rapidly as Coach Gundy does.  In the specific case of college football, I like the game on a national basis far more than the average guy on the street.  Moreover, college football provides me with a bounty of material to use in these rants.

Having said that, the health, well-being and continued existence of the young men who play the game is far more important to me than material to rant on.  When I think about times when young men were deemed expendable – sending them to storm the beaches at Normandy or Guadalcanal for example – the reason they were so labeled was a whole lot more important than a schedule of football games.

I understand that there is some value in optimism.  I also know that many people can be moved to optimism by enlightened self-interest.  Coach Gundy has ample self-interest in the re-launch of Oklahoma State football, and it does not take a MENSA member to realize that fact.  That is precisely why he needs to be doubly careful in the way he expresses any sort of optimism about the situations/conditions whereby college football “returns to normalcy”.

There is a middle ground between Coach Gundy’s hyper-optimism and Kirk Herbstreit’s gloom-and-doom prognostication for a college football season in 2020.

  • College football would surely be a different spectacle if they played in empty stadiums – but that might be a necessary accommodation in the Fall of 2020.  That is not ideal – – but it is better than no games at all.
  • Maybe some of the overseers of the games need to start thinking about a truncated 2020 season.  Instead of 12 regular season games perhaps this season will only have 6-8 games.  Under those conditions, maybe the bowl game contracts need to be readjusted so that the minor bowl games can provide a way to determine “conference champions” in these unusual circumstances.

We need to begin to think and speak carefully about the future of sports and sports events given our current understanding and control of the COVID-19 virus.  It need not be doom and gloom and it ought not be the promulgation of false hope.  False hope is a curse; it plays cruelly with the feelings of others; consider this statement from a wise man indeed:

  • “My favorite period of history was the Middle Ages.  If you were born as a serf, you lived as a serf and you died as a serf.  There was no false hope.”

I want to say a word about the idea of teams playing in empty stadiums.  As I said above, that situation would make the spectacle on television very different, but it is not an impossibility.  I got an email from a reader informing me that Wrestlemania happened last weekend in an empty arena.  I have not watched pro ‘rassling for at least 35 years and maybe longer; I did not see even a moment of Wrestlemania last weekend.  But I have to say that if pro wrestling can find a way to exist without crowd reaction/interaction, then the same is possible for MLB or college football or the NFL or …  It may not be ideal, but none of those mainstream sports relies on “crowd participation” to a greater extent than ‘rassling.

Finally, here is an observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times regarding sports and social distancing:

“Ahead of their time when it came to social distancing: Secretariat … Iditarod mushers … Marlins fans …”

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



Rest In Peace, Al Kaline

Al Kaline died yesterday at the age of 85.  Kaline played 22 years for the Detroit Tigers and then went on to be a broadcaster for Tigers’ games for another 25 years or so.  His stature as one of the all-time great players in MLB combined with his long-term association with a single team made him an iconic baseball figure.

Rest in peace, Al Kaline.

It was about a year ago when there was a flurry of salacious reports related to Orchids of Asia – that strip mall massage parlor where Robert Kraft allegedly received services beyond a therapeutic massage.  As I recall, the police and the prosecutors in that Florida case asserted that the spa was part of a multi-million dollar international sex trafficking ring and that they had used that suspicion as the basis for a court-issued warrant to do video surveillance inside the spa.  Moreover, the portrayal of that spa – – and others allegedly tied to the sex trafficking ring – – was one of wretched conditions where the sex slaves were forced to sleep on the massage tables and could not leave the premises because their passports had been confiscated.  It was a pretty grim story; in addition, it was a false narrative.

After several months of lurid stories asserted by prosecutors, a Florida court was informed that no sex trafficking happened in the Orchids of Asia spa – and presumably at the other spas that were linked to the case.  The video evidence collected regarding Robert Kraft’s dalliance in the spa has been ruled impermissible as evidence because the warrant used to collect it was flawed.  Other evidence proffered by the prosecutors has also been dismissed in the case.  What is left is the Robert Kraft is still charged with soliciting prostitution – he continues to fight that charge – and that is only a misdemeanor in Florida.

A year ago, the image of Robert Kraft was as a rich guy who did as he pleased and figured that “the rules” did not apply to him.  As those lurid reports began to unravel, it is interesting that the same sort of opprobrium was not heaped upon the “Law and Order guys” in the matter.  Recently, the image of Robert Kraft seems to have gotten a significant makeover.

Working with the Governor of Massachusetts, Robert Kraft sent a Patriots’ team plane to China where they somehow got it loaded with more than a million N95 protective masks needed by health care workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic.  The bulk of those masks will remain in Massachusetts but 300,000 of them were donated to New York City.

Of course, what Robert Kraft did for Massachusetts and NYC is laudable; if Mayor de Blasio does not give Robert Kraft the “Key to the City” once the pandemic is under control, Hizzoner should be placed in stocks in a public square for a day or so.  Let me ask the Patriot-haters reading this to sit down now as a safety precaution:

  • Perhaps Robert Kraft deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom for this delivery?

[Aside:  Before the Patriot-haters get themselves into high dudgeon, please remember that Whittaker Chambers, Eddie DeBartolo, Bill Cosby and Aung San Suu Kyi are prior recipients of that award.]

However, just as the whole “Orchids of Asia” story had a bunch of loose ends, so it would seem does this one.  It is not possible to tune into CNN – or most other TV news outlets these days – without hearing governors from various states saying that they are running short of protective equipment for health care workers and that they cannot buy any new supplies.  There are stories that the states are bidding against one another and that the Feds are also in the auction game outbidding the states.  OK, I’ll buy that for the moment.  Now, how about those news sources probing this matter a bit more thoroughly:

  • How did Robert Kraft find a way in just a few days to fly a plane – his own plane to be sure – into China, load it with more than a million needed N95 protective masks and fly it back to Logan Airport in Boston when various governors and the Feds are not doing the same thing?

Every time I hear one of those governors speaking into a microphone, they say that they are working night and day on the pandemic problem and that they are leaving no stones unturned worldwide to secure the PPE – personal protective equipment – for the health care workers in their state.  If that is true, how does a rich guy just waltz into the middle of this jumble and get possession of more than a million pieces of such rare and cherished cargo?  Maybe the governors should take some time away from their microphones and ask Robert Kraft how he did what they keep saying is vitally important to them.  Just asking…

The postponement of the Tokyo Olympics 2020 will cause lots of scrambling and reorganization of logistical matters in order to pull off Tokyo Olympics 2021.  The folks involved in that massive undertaking have 15 months or so to “get it done” and I am confident that they will make the Games happen.  There is a shorter-term casualty involved here that seems to have gotten much less attention:

  • NBC was supposed to broadcast more than 7500 hours of Olympic coverage on TV and on streaming platforms.  There is no way that they are going to have 7500 hours of “dead air” in July/August 2020 and there is also no way for them to produce 7500 hours of new programming between now and July/August 2020.

This is serious business; advertising revenue anticipated from the Summer Games is not going to be there on the books for the year.  Executive bonuses are in jeopardy.  Holy belt-tightening, Batman!  Here is some of what we might expect:

  • NBC has a cache of Law and Order SUV episodes that date back about 20 years.  If they play them sequentially as reruns, we can watch Marissa Hargitay’s career progression from Detective through Captain.
  • NBC has available reruns of Chicago Fire, Chicago P.D and Chicago Med.  Maybe they will have time to produce a few episodes of a new series – Chicago Veterinarian – to augment that line of broadcasting.

I would suggest that NBC execs might be in line for the Presidential Medal of Freedom simply if they refuse to yield to the temptation to give us reruns of America’s Got Talent and Miami Vice.

Finally, here is a timely comment from Bob Molinaro of the Hampton Roads Virginian-Pilot:

Worth saluting: Good news for some of us of a certain generation. Under the current self-distancing rules, it’s now a patriotic act to yell, ‘Get off my lawn!’”

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



RIP Bobby Mitchell

Bobby Mitchell died over the weekend.  Mitchell was the first Black player on the Skins back when George Preston Marshall owned the team.  He came to Washington in a trade for Ernie Davis in 1962.  In his career with the Skins, Mitchell was converted to WR where he was a perennial All-Pro and eventually he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.  He was 84 years old.

Rest in peace, Bobby Mitchell.

Normally, when I rant about the intersection of sports and economics, I am commenting on ticket prices or the value of TV rights deals or revenue splits in a CBA under negotiation.  In this time of COVID-19, there may be a much larger context in which to consider that intersection.  Let me be clear; I am not going to suggest anything like the downfall of humankind; the COVID-19 pandemic will eventually come under control and it is not going to kill off 50% of the world’s population before that happens.  Having said that, there is a very real possibility that sports in the world may be significantly changed in the post-COVID world.

Already, we have seen that life can and will persist in the absence of signature sporting events.  Consider:

  • No March Madness
  • No Spring Training and Opening Day in baseball.
  • No NBA or NHL games
  • No English Premier League games
  • No UEFA or CONCACAF competition
  • No College World Series
  • No Summer Olympics

Yet, the world goes on; and as time passes without the presence of these pleasant activities, people may very well come to a point where sports reside on a lower tier of their life-importance construct.  If – – I said IF – – that comes to pass in a significant number of people, that may mean a much smaller demand for high priced tix and a much diminished willingness to approve spending large blocks of taxpayer money to build sporting venues.  If interest diminishes, TV ratings would likely drop too and that will make ever-increasing TV rights deals a bad revenue projection for leagues and owners.

  • Might the reflex to maintain social distancing and to avoid crowded venues become embedded behavior for a slice of society meaning that going to a college football game with 85,000 of one’s closest friends becomes abnormal?
  • Might folks get used to teleworking – and likewise might their supervisors and colleagues grow to enjoy that arrangement – to the point where folks begin to move away from big cities and spread out a bit?

The macroeconomics and the trends described above are not a certainty; in fact, they may be low-probability events.  But there is a spectrum here between “no effect between sports and COVID at all” on one hand and “near-dystopia” on the other hand.  So, how might the world of sports emerge from the The COVID-19 Era?

  • Sports leagues must not jump the gun and try to open – even on a reduced basis – before the epidemiologists say it is OK to do so.  In fact, they must not be perceived as pressuring the scientists to bless such an opening against the will of the scientists.
  • One of the clichés created by this crisis is the phrase “in an abundance of caution…”  Well, sports will need to be very cautious in terms of their restarting lest they generate headlines that are far worse than “bad optics”.
  • Sports owners should look to generate more interest in their fanbases with things like discounted tickets and reduced parking fees (no more $75 to park your car).
  • Players may need to shave some of their contracts for a while.  It will not look particularly good for players hoping to “create a brand” to refuse to share some pain with the people he/she is hoping to attract to that brand.

Many times in these rants, I have asserted that the NFL and the NFLPA should evidence more realization that they are more like partners in producing a hugely popular TV series than they are deadly foes.  When sports come out of The COVID-19 Era, those two entities will have a chance to demonstrate that they recognize that partnership and its mutual importance.  Sports are entertainment; sports are escape; sports are an emotional release.  Because all those things are important to humans once the basics of Maslow’s hierarchy are secured, sports will continue to exist.  The question comes down to the stature that sports will have in society once they re-emerge.

Almost 2 decades ago, the terrorist attack on the Twin Towers in NYC interrupted the sports world.  There were dystopian forecasts back then regarding the future of sports – and about the world of entertainment itself.  People adapted; when we go to a ballgame now, we have to pass through screening points and metal detectors; women’s purses need to be transparent in some jurisdictions; those things were not commonplace in the 90s, but we adapted our behavior and our acceptance of such activity as “normal” in 2020.  I doubt that we will come to a point where entering a sports venue means taking one of those 5-minute COVID-19 tests before being allowed in, but if a new screening tool is added to the ones in place that is not physically intrusive on one’s body, my guess is that we will adapt to it too.

Finally, here is a COVID-19 observation from Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times:

“England’s Premier League might play matches with no people in the stands for a while once the pandemic ends.

“To assuage hard-core soccer fans, they plan to list the attendance as ‘nil.’”

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



Drifting About…

Last week, Chase Daniel signed on to be the backup QB for the Lions; reports said that the deal was 3 years for $13M.  Given the numbers associated with QB signings these days, that dollar figure is not eye-popping.  What made me stop and think for a moment was that the deal was for 3 years.  In the back of my mind, I had Chase Daniel in a mental slot where I didn’t think he had 3 years left in him.  So, I went looking…

Chase Daniel will be 34 years old in October; I thought he was at least 4 years older than that; I was wrong.  In the process of checking up on his age – and his stats – I came to the conclusion that Chase Daniel could very well be part of the NFL for several more decades.

  • Daniel played his college football at Missouri and his senior year stats (in 2008) were more than respectable.  Nonetheless, he was an undrafted free agent who signed on with the Skins – – but never made it out of training camp.
  • The Saints picked him up and he spent 3 seasons there.  He has a Super Bowl ring from that part of his career.
  • He then meandered around the league – Chiefs, Eagles, Saints (again), Bears – before signing this deal with the Lions.
  • Daniel has started only 5 games in 10 years in the NFL; his record in those starts is 2-3.
  • Counting this current contract, it appears that he has earned between $30M and $35M as a backup QB and as a placekick holder.

I said above that Daniel may be around the NFL for decades.  Obviously, he will not do that as a player but given the “reviews” he gets as a backup QB who quickly learns new systems and given the wide range of contacts he has established in his meanderings, it looks to me as if Chase Daniel has set himself up to become a QB coach when his playing days are over.  If he plays out his current deal, Daniel will be 36 years old the next time he has to “find a new job” …

Sticking with the NFL, the new CBA provides for the NFL to play a 17-game regular season starting as early as the 2021 season.  Since this was a major issue for the owners, one should assume that they will implement that change as soon as the logistics and legalities can be ironed out.  The obvious benefit for the owners is that they can sell an extra weekend of “activity” to their “network partners” and that means increased revenue.  For many players, the 17-game season was a bad idea for health and injury reasons.  The players received a fairly significant increase in their share of the revenue in exchange for their agreement to the 17-game season, and there’s more.

I am not here to say which side got the better part of this last negotiation; I am not nearly qualified to do that.  However, in exchange for the 17-game season and the expanded playoff format:

  • The roster of active players for each game will increase from 46 to 48 players.  [Aside: I have never quite understood why there was a 53-man roster but only some of the players on that roster were eligible to play on “any given Sunday”.]
  • The 53-man roster will become a 55-man roster because two players on the practice squad can be assigned to the main roster every week.  [Aside:  No; I do not understand the cosmic significance of this one either.]
  • The practice squad itself will increase from 10 players now to 12 players under the new CBA.  Moreover, practice squad players will get a raise; under the old CBA they made $8K for every week they were on the practice squad; as of 2022 they will be making $11.5K per week for every week they are on the practice squad.  That means there are more players – and more union members.

The biggest concession won by the players in this last negotiation was the increased share of the national revenue contained in the new CBA.  It was 47% in the old CBA; it will go to 48% immediately in the new CBA and could go as high as 48.8% depending on the outcome of the league’s negotiations for new broadcast rights deals.  An increase of 1.8% may not sound like a lot until you recognize that the current league revenues are about $16B.  That seemingly small increase here translates to an extra $288M for players as the basis for salary cap calculations.  Moreover, that revenue number is likely to increase significantly when new TV deals take effect.

Two players – who obviously do not like the new CBA and surely voted against its ratification – have now filed suit to nullify the deal and its ratification.  Russell Okung is the plaintiff in one suit and Eric Reid is the plaintiff in the second one.  I have tried to understand the basis for Okung’s complaint to the National Labor Relations Board, but it is over my head.  He says at one point that the NFLPA – the union representing the players – used illegal means to prevent debate regarding the new CBA.  Believe me, it is not nearly as simple as that might sound.  Eric Reid’s suit alleges that the CBA that was ratified is not the one that was signed and agreed to because there were changes after the ratification vote.  You may be certain that I am not going to go and try to “prove” or “disprove” those sorts of things.

Switching gears …  This may be a sign of the apocalypse but there are online proposition bets tied to Wrestlemania this year.  The show will take place this weekend and according to an offshore Internet sportsbook, here is one option that does not have anything to do with the outcome of the ‘rasslin’ matches themselves:

  • Will Donald Trump Tweet about Wrestlemania?  Yes = +600  No = -1500

Finally, here is an entry from The Official Dictionary of Sarcasm:

Decaf:  Coffee that doesn’t work.”

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