Another year has come and gone. As with all things, there’s the good, the not so good, and the flat out bad. For 2011, that held true for sports off the field, ice, and hardwood. Here’s my winners and losers for 2011 in a loose chronological order. Since sports business doesn’t happen in the nice short timeframe don’t be surprised to see losers become winners later down the list.
Winner – Hockey fans. The beginning of each year is turning into “Hockey Day” as the NHL Winter Classic continues to steamroll in popularity. The Capitals and Penguins play a thriller that sees the Captials win 3-1 in front of 68,111 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh.
Loser – The National Football League locks out the players. In windy cold Indiana, the NFL Combine in Feb. became more about the impending labor battle in the NFL rather than about players going through the paces. On March 11, the lockout began, and questions about league profitability became a core subject. Fans sat in limbo wondering how long the deal would take to get resolved and whether any games would be lost.
Loser – Humanity. On Opening Day at Dodger Stadium, two Dodgers fans beat Brian Stowe, a Giants fan, nearly to the edge of death over nothing more than being a Giants fan. Stowe, who is still recuperating,, was in a coma for several weeks. It added one more ill to the problems for the Dodgers.
Winner – The San Francisco Giants. After winning the World Series for the first time since moving to the West Coast, the Giants immediately begin reaping the benefits of winning the Fall Classic in 2010 in the form of season ticket sales. The Giants will see the benefit at the gate throughout the entire 2011 season because of it finishing third in overall paid attendance behind only the Yankees and Phillies, a jump of six places in the attendance standings from 2009.
Loser – Fans, teams, and the league due to rainouts. MLB was stricken with one of the worst seasons in recent memory due to an abysmal stretch of wet spring weather. Rainouts became a near daily affair, which made rescheduling a nightmare.
Loser – Media members writing stories about the popularity of MLB early in the season. Dear media members, You’d think by now you’d have figured out that with 162 games in a season, and weather almost always being a factor early in a season that you’d quit writing stories about how MLB has lost its luster with fans. At least one prominent sports business reporter rolled out stories and waves of tweets on Twitter saying as much, only to find out that in the end, weather and two clubs – not fan interest – was largely to blame for early declines.
Winner – Fans of the NFL really only lose one game. In mid-July, the NFL and the NFLPA finally reached a new labor deal. All told, the lockout lasted 18 weeks and 4 days. With it, free agency and training camps were compressed into a frenzied stretch and the league lost just the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. When the preseason started, with very rare exceptions, fans seemed to forget all the off-season acrimony and (once again) tuned in to get the football fix in droves.
Losers – Taxpayers and Politicians in South Florida. The documents were leaked in late August of 2010 but they’re impact continue to ripple. Both Deadspin and The AP released financial information that provided to be especially damning to the Florida, and now Miami Marlins. In them it showed that not only were the Marlins not losing money, as they had said to politicians for years as they pined for their own stadium built almost exclusively at taxpayer expense, but were profiting quite handsomely. Bryant Gumbel on HBO’s Real Sports pressed Marlins President David Samson on the subject, but the general response was “a deal’s a deal.” Watch this story throughout 2012 as the SEC has an investigation into the politicians and the Marlins into whether the stadium was improperly funded through govt. officials either not asking questions into the deal. Baseball will certainly be paying attention as investigators are seeking documents from both the Marlins and former President and COO of MLB Bob DuPuy who was the point man on getting the new stadium for the club which is set to open at the beginning of the 2012 season.
Loser – Sports Fashion. The Miami Marlins roll out their rebranded look and with it, fans grabbed for the sunglasses. Rainbow and day-glo orange uniforms coupled with a massive “Busby Berkeley meets Las Vegas” home run structure in the new ballpark has sports fashionistas reaching for the Alka-Seltzer.
Loser – Astros fans. Drayton McLane had been looking to sell the Houston Astros for years, but it took stripping down player payroll and currently the second-highest sale price ever for the club to Jim Crane to finally get the sale done. The problem was, and still is, the league wanted – and got – the Astros to jump to the AL West in 2013 to allow expanded playoffs and balanced schedules. While the move may be somewhat overblown in terms of how it relates to the Astros new RSN with the Houston Rockets, it became one more in a line of “we don’t get no respect” moves for fans of Houston sports franchises. Fans will be losing 50 years of NL history with the league jump, and when it’s coupled with the next news story below, being in the AL West just got a whole lot more difficult.
Winner – Baseball and baseball fans as the last day of the regular season becomes one for the ages. Weds. Sept 28, 2010 may best be remembered as the most memorable day in MLB regular season history. Entering the day, both Wild Card bids and both No. 2 seeds are still up for grabs. The Red Sox and the Rays in the AL and Cardinals and Braves in the NL enter the day deadlocked. In the span of a few short hours, the Braves and Red Sox see month long collapses in the standings undo them from playoff contention. The blow is especially hard on the Red Sox as a blown save by Jonathan Papelbon against the Orioles coupled with the unimaginable game-tying pinch-hit home run by Dan Johnson and Evan Longoria's walk-off to win the game against the Yankees made fans around the globe grab clickers and race around the dial trying to keep up with the action.
Loser – The New York Mets. Stung by the Bernie Madoff scandal, high player payroll and dwindling attendance, the Mets will see losses of $70 million by the end of the season. Struggling for cash, and taking out loans from both BofA and MLB, by the end of 2011 Sterling Equities isn’t being pushed out by MLB, but they may not stand in the way of the banks doing so.
Winner – Baseball attendance. All that early gloom and doom early in the season was all for not. In the end, MLB winds up with attendance up slightly from the year prior, even with the rainouts, and the cratering of attendance by the Dodgers and Mets and a gloomy economy.
Loser – The NBA follows the NFL into the land of the lockout. David Stern and the NBA lock the players out on July 1, 2011 and doesn’t end until November 26, canceling the preseason and part of the regular season. Owners claimed that they were losing money, unlike the NFL where owners say they were seeing profits decline. The season doesn’t start until Christmas Day, and questions still swirl as to whether the deal really will correct the financial ills the owners had been claiming. The 2011-12 season, with it being shortened, will make for excitement, but also likely will come with an asterisk as teams host a series of back-to-back-to-back games throughout 2012 to try and get 66 games in.
Winner – Baseball labor peace. Unlike the NFL and NBA, MLB announces in early December that they have reached a new labor deal that will see sweeping changes to everything from the amateur Draft to instant replay, to expanded Wild Card teams. Debate still rages as to whether the changes to the Draft – a Luxury Tax system around signing bonuses – will possibly overturn the parity apple cart that MLB has enjoyed in recent years, but by the time the labor agreement expires, MLB will have seen 21 straight years of labor peace.
Loser – The New York Yankees (again) get hit with the Luxury Tax bill. The New York Yankees (yet again) bust MLB’s soft-cap ceiling and with it get dinged for over $13 million in Luxury Tax bill. The 2011 figure pushes the Yankees to over $200 million in total LT payments. As Baseball Prospectus’ Jay Jaffe noted on Twitter, the Yankees must get a free roster for the accomplishment, a reference to the fact that the total amount now paid out by the Bronx Bombers is close to the total player payroll figure for the team in recent years.
Winner (possibly) – A's to San Jose. Nothing formal has come out yet, but it's being reported that after years of trying to get around territorial rights in the South Bay, the Athletics will be given permission to move to San Jose. Now, what the Giants get out the deal....
Loser - ESPN and Ryan Braun. In what turned out to be a bombshell, NL MVP Ryan Braun has reportedly tested positive for PEDs. ESPN broke the story, which may be a bigger deal than anything else as Braun has not been suspended yet by the league. With his case on appeal, if he is somehow exonerated ESPN comes out with a massive black eye. After all, MLB's drug program is designed with checks and balances in case there is some explainable means by which a player could have failed the test. If Braun wins his appeal, ESPN likely will have killed much of Braun's chances for the HOF, if his numbers ever get to that point.
Winner/Loser - TV deals turn the AL West into the AL East. Some took notice. Many didn’t. But, when the Texas Rangers exited bankruptcy with new ownership in late 2010, a new television deal for the club with FSN kicked in that’s worth $3 billion, possibly more. That deal has cascaded forward when Arte Moreno and the LA Angels got their new extension that is worth (yes) approx. $3 billion. The combination of the two has created an “arms war” of sorts in the AL West reminiscent of the AL East whether the Yankees and Red Sox have gone toe-to-toe for decades in an effort to win the division, and ultimately, the World Series. As one key sports executive said that has worked closely on such type of broadcast extensions, “Everyone is looking for a competitive advantage. The Rangers television deal could redefine how broadcast rights are negotiated across the league.” That’s good if you’re a Rangers or Angels fan right now, the latter of which inked Albert Pujols and CJ Wilson in the off-season to lucrative deals. It’s not so good if you’re the Mariners, A’s, and soon, the Houston Astros.
Winner – Dodgers fans as Frank McCourt agrees to sell. As divorces go, the one between Frank and Jamie McCourt will go down as one of the most expensive in California history. With court filings, the opulent, and some might say, grotesque lifestyle of the couple came out in full display as money was siphoned off from the Dodgers to fuel the extravagance. When McCourt couldn’t pay the bills, he decided to try and get a television rights extension with FOX that would see much of it used to pay down divorce debt and settle with Jamie on ownership of the Dodgers. MLB rejected the deal, McCourt threw the Dodgers into bankruptcy and the fight was on. Since then, McCourt (finally) agreed to sell the club off but attempted to tie selling off of future media rights fees in the deal. FOX controls the contract until at least Nov. of 2012, so busting the contract was something that they have fought vigorously (as if this publishing, an appeals judge is leaning to blocking of the advance sale of the media rights). The bottom line, MLB and McCourt have an agreement to make the sale happen by April of 2012 to coincide with a $131 million divorce settlement with former wife Jamie. That’s good news for Dodger fans as the club will see new ownership next season.
Winner – Baseball’s Bottom Line. While final numbers have not yet been released, sources indicate that MLB will, once again, see record revenues for the 2011 season.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, and is a contributor to Forbes SportsMoney blog.. He is available as a freelance writer. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network (select his name in the dropdown provided).
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