The Business of Professional Sports

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From l to r, Hooper, Glazer, Sternberg, Vinik, Byrne

Last night, I attended a symposium titled “The Business of Professional Sports” at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in St. Petersburg. The event was attended by Stuart Sternberg, Principal Owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, Jeff Vinik, Owner of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Bryan Glazer, Co-Chairman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. It was moderated by Mary Byrne, senior deputy editor for the NFL, NHL, and NASCAR at ESPN and president of the Associated Press Sports Editors, and Ernest Hooper, columnist for the Tampa Bay Times. The event was sold out, packed with media and fans, including national media like the NYT and the Daily News. I wasn’t expecting that.

The event was entertaining and very informative. As a baseball fan, and super Rays fan, I was mostly interested in the Sternberg questions, but as the night went on, I became interested in everything.

The first question was the biggest challenge facing each of the individual franchises. Predictably, Sternberg said the biggest challenge facing the Rays is their stadium issue. “Our facility and its placement”, he stated.

He also added that another challenge was, “Making sure we are doing our best to keep sports relevant…. many of us in this room, I would think, we sort of read the paper like Jewish people do, from right to left, we start at the sports section…it was always natural for me.”

You youngsters have no idea what that means, but for those of who grew up reading the spawts section, that made me chuckle. Fond memories of reading the New York Daily News as a kid, and yes. I started at the back, with the sports section, working my way left to the comics.

He added that it was a challenge keeping fans interested when there is so much competing for our entertainment dollar and our attention. He said most of us were probably itching to check our phones (wrong). I was engrossed in what they were saying.

Sternberg was asked about the situation with the New York Yankees and Stubhub. Sternberg phrased it as a security issue. He said he wanted to know who was entering his stadium. I call utter bullshit. When I purchase my ticket on Stubhub, they know who is purchasing the ticket by my credit card information and that information could easily be relayed to the Rays. If I were to purchase my ticket off a scalper outside of the stadium, which is legal in Florida, the Rays would have no way of knowing who purchased the ticket. In addition, I am thoroughly searched before I enter the stadium so the security risk is pretty minimal. I wish I could have questioned him further on that question.

He was also asked where the Rays are on the stadium search. He didn’t really answer the question. He answered like a politician. We need a new stadium, we’ve been searching since 2008, and we appreciate this new mayor who has given us this opportunity. You will be shocked to find out that all three owners are VERY PRO PUBLIC FINANCING of stadiums. I know! We could not possibly afford a new stadium all on our own. All three touted the benefits of a stadium. People will travel to see our stadium. Who wouldn’t want to be here? We have great weather! They go to the beach, they spend money, they go to restaurants.

According to Jeff Vinik: “The fact of the matter is if you look just at the financial model for stadiums, for facilities, if the objective is to 100% privately finance a new ballpark or a new arena, the economics are not going to work. So, uh you cannot finance the whole thing privately and then run the business. You’ll be so underwater. It’s just not financially feasible. I think sports teams are critically important to an area. I’ll give a personal example of the $2 billion real estate development we’re doing downtown. We are including a lot of companies right? And I got asked the question once, is it important that major league baseball stay in the Tampa Bay region? And my answer very simply when I’m talking to these companies is, if we lose major league baseball here, I’m not going to be able to recruit a company because the first thing they are going to say to me is ‘you couldn’t even keep baseball in your region. That’s not a place we want our employees to come.'” Sounds logical.

Sternberg was asked about diversity and openly gay players in baseball. He believes that the atmosphere in baseball has changed enough that it would be very accepting of an openly gay player. “I think, quite frankly, it will be very accepting — a dramatic difference even from five years ago.” He noted that the Rays as an organization are supportive of gay rights.

The owners were asked about women executives in their sport. Sternberg noted that as he looked around the room, “while it is male dominated, there’s a reasonable percentage of females in the room tonight.” (I was very happy to see another woman of color in attendance.) He said 10, 20 years ago, there would have been no women in attendance. He pointed out Melanie Lenz, the Senior Vice President of Strategy and Development of the Rays, who was in attendance. He said baseball needed to do a better job of hiring more women and improving diversity. He said, “There’s a leg up for people who have played the sport always, however, fortunately we have gotten to a point now where the general managers and the people in charge… it doesn’t matter whether you have been a big baseball fan or not, (we want) people who can code. We want people with interesting ideas. It’s a question of time, but it’s no doubt about it that we’ve moved too slow (hiring women).”

He also spoke about how when he purchased the team, “We had nowhere to go but up. We could do some crazy stuff. We could innovate and incubate.” He noted that now, the problem is they are being penalized for winning.

When the event was over, I walked over the Melanie who was talking to Rays President Brian Auld. I waited patiently until she was done and introduced myself. I told her I write for a baseball blog she’s never heard of. She was very nice. She laughed and said, “Why haven’t I heard of it?!” Why not indeed?

I asked her, “I know you’re very busy. I won’t take much of your time. What advice do you have for a woman who wants to get into this field?”

She seemed excited to be asked a question. I don’t think she expected to be interviewed and seemed flattered. She said, “Work on every project you can find. Don’t pass up any opportunity. Learn everything you can. Just total immersion. Lots and lots of hard work. And you need good luck. Work on interpersonal relationships.”

“Did you know from the start this is what you wanted to do?”

She said smiling, “Since I was a a little girl.”

She then told me she needed to go, but she reached into her purse, gave me her business card, and said, “Email me.”

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From l to r, Sternberg (I had no idea he was so close), I’m the red head, and Melanie Lenz.

Had I realized Sternberg was that close, I might have been tempted to ask him a question. (And wow, I really need to iron my shirt.)

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40 thoughts on “The Business of Professional Sports

  1. Well, pro teams are going to have to figure out how to pay for their own stadiums, either that or they have to become business partners with the cities that build them and share in the profits…because the rich have already stolen as much money as they can, leaving many levels of government bankrupt.

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    • I was pretty aghast at their audacity. I don’t expect one single owner to privately finance a stadium–it can cost billions. But they can privately fund stadiums with a group of investors. They want our public coffers and then they are going to pocket the profits? You want us to fund the stadium? Then share the wealth.

      Recently, Taylor Swift held a concert at Raymond James Stadium, publicly financed by the city of Tampa, home of the Bucs. It was a wildly successful concert, a sell-out with high priced tickets. Guess who got the bulk of the profits after Swift. The Bucs got half the profit. Why? I was so pissed. That money should go to Tampa. They built that stadium. That stadium doesn’t belong to the Bucs. It belongs to the Tampa Sports Authority of Hillsborough County.

      Liked by 2 people

      • People that own stuff have always acted like royals used to….like poor people are there to provide them with wealth. And why not, it obviously works….until they storm the castle and cut off your heads.

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        • One interesting thing I omitted. Sternberg seemed anti-salary cap. He said something about being happy to pay a player his worth, which seemed odd for an owner to say, especially one as cost conscious as him. I’ll have to listen to the audio again

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        • Well, obviously, he didn’t really mean that in general…because almost no player is paid close to their “worth” prior to FA….I’m sure what he meant was “We will pay as little as possible, but we can’t be pro-salary cap because that would also mean there would need to be a salary floor, and we aren’t interested in that either.”

          The amazing thing to me is that super rich people will ask for 100s of millions of tax dollars without ever offering to pay it back and they KNOW: 1) that local governments are not operating in the black, 2) to not declare bankruptcy, all levels of government have been cutting spending on what tax dollars are actually for…public services, cuts to education, hospitals, road and bridge upkeep, sanitation, etc. Anyone with even a tiny bit of a moral compass wouldn’t ask for money they know municipalities can’t afford to give to SUPPORT THEIR MOTHERFUCKING HOBBY!.

          Most people would probably say that Sternberg is among the more reasonable owners, and even he is spouting that obvious crap. Oh yeah, you want public money…sure, open your books to the public and let’s become business partners.

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      • That money should go to Tampa. They built that stadium. That stadium doesn’t belong to the Bucs. It belongs to the Tampa Sports Authority of Hillsborough County.

        I never understand why cities/towns do this. You want us to pay for a stadium, we get X% of the profits until you pay back the loans. After it’s paid back, then you keep everything. And yes I’m fully aware this would never, ever happen.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Is there no stopping this evil, profane, empathy challenged, fascist dictator?
        How long can we allow this sham, no this national SHAME to go on? I have personally absolutely had it with this shit, I want my fucking country back! I mean, the joke has gone on long enough, I don’t get how 49% even like this demagogue!

        Enough about Taylor Swift, you were saying….

        Liked by 1 person

  2. It’s a question of time, but it’s no doubt about it that we’ve moved too slow (hiring women).”

    I’d be curious to hear where they think the disconnect is. I haven’t seen the breakdown, but let’s assume the demographic split is similar to the NFL (with something like 40% of people watching being women). Do they think there’s just no where near the same breakdown in gender in trying to get into baseball as a job? If not, why aren’t more women being hired? We’ve had female owners, and now female announcers, why not female FO executives?

    Did they mention if there was anything they were trying to do to get more women involved?

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    • No specifics. Bucs owner Glazer said the NFL had something akin to the Rooney program now, where they have to interview female candidates like they interview minority candidates for jobs. Vinik said the challenge was finding qualified female candidates. It’s a bit of a catch-22 though. We can’t get the experience if you won’t hire us in the first place.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ugh, the Rooney Rule that’s blatantly overlooked every time a position comes available (if you promote from within, you can bypass it). It’d be nice to know what the demographic breakdown within team(s) is. Cashman worked his way up from intern to GM, are there no women angling to do the same thing? Could it be the new untapped market?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Just a reminder that the current Brewers GM is a young man who started out as an intern and worked his way up quickly. Women can do this, too. It’s not gender specific.

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  3. It’s one thing to say baseball needs to do a better job at hiring women, minorities, and gays, it’s another to actually do it. I for one am getting pretty sick of hearing this bullshit line. If you agree it’s a problem and something needs to be done and you are the one in control, fucking do it already. Stop stalling.

    Liked by 1 person

        • Yeah but, two fucking birds at once , man that’s hard to pass up. Just think of all the quail hunters that belong to 400 year old hunting clubs protecting us peons from the horrible end times of quail overlords? Kinda makes me want to kick start a new stadium for them.

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    • Then you would be asking them to do more than our congress. Seeing how much they hate women in the house and Senate, then asking them to do more than the people who they already bought off is just busy work

      I mean, who has your best interest in mind, your wife, sister or mom , or the insanely rich people who get your taxes, expendable income and unwavering support?

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        • @Indaburg-I actually don’t hate her music, I kinda like her hits because they have a certain poppy fun to them. I actually like Katy Perry too. Same with Lady Gaga and I currently have Adele’s latest playing as I type. I’m a sucker for good female singer songwriters that write at least half their own songs.

          I’m of the opinion that I would hope that all of the above mentioned would get more invested in politics as they age, as we all do. I would imagine that a Taylor Swift/Kesha ticket would bring in more democrats than the Trump/Christie ticket will bring the republicans.

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        • Well then, I didn’t realize that you have no choice on your representatives. Is the Maryland primary like the Colorado caucus? Like where the republicans in Colorado made it so hard to vote for your candidate in the primary that you have to travel for miles and miles to find who you can caucus with, then pay a poll tax just to vote? If so I guess that’s what’s stopping you. Vote democrat party down the line to fix that which you dislike or not. Nothing will change and there is a 100% chance that things will get worse if you don’t vote these fucktards out. Only you can prevent forest fires….

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        • FFS SCOUTS! You moved the fucking goalposts you bastard!

          How can I argue with empirical evidence from the greatest exception to the Supreme court’s decision of Slappy vs Parksandrecreation ? Unfair you prick.

          Haha…

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    • So, your saying that when you sell out to NBC, the lovely ladies of FI will receive more than 79% of the rate that I will get for being a valuable idiot? 79% of zero is……yup, the math checks out! Don’t worry ladies, I will get you to 100% of what I make in no time. #winning

      Unfortunately, as your agent, I will need a cut of all the filthy lucre that we make to pay off my debt to this really nice Nigerian Prince who no matter how much I give him, still needs more to get the government off his back….fucking bureaucrats.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A tip for our goyische readers: Sternberg was no doubt aware that the Yiddish language New York based newspaper, the Fervitz (Forward), had reputedly one of the best sports sections in the country. If you saw the Ken Burns Baseball documentary on PBS and recall Cousin Eli talking about how his father, who also barely spoke English, would watch games on TV and call plays ahead of the action, saying “I know thiss game,” you can thank the columnists of the Forvitz for imbuing those eastern European Jewish immigrants who barely spoke any English with both their enthusiasm and their knowledgeability. My grandfather, who spoke barely functional English himself, read the Forvitz sports pages every morning after picking up his copy at the bagel bakery downstairs, along with his beloved bialys and bearclaws. He would always finish an article about any previous day’s Borg loss by tossing the paper down contemptuously on the breakfast table and muttering, “Pah! The Yankiss stink!”

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    • Your adorable grandfather and I are always entwined by our love of the Red Sox, thanks for that OG. Funny how even though we went to separate schools together at different times, I take solace in the fact that he is, was and ALWAYS will be a Red Sox fan. His love for the Yankees biggest rival will always nourish my fandom.

      OR……I could be wrong. Choose your own adventure.

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  5. Pingback: The Business of Professional Sports – Random Thoughts and Other Musings

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