Friday, October 5, 2012

The New Era Owners

Do you have a friend that seems to own a baseball cap for numerous different sports teams? You know the guy who is  repping LSU one day and the next day he’s rocking Dodger blue. And then he’s wearing, the Knicks, Cowboys, Hartford Whalers... You get the picture.

I can’t stand those “fans.” I don’t believe teams should be fashion statements. (Of course marketing people may disagree.) I believe you should stick with the team you were brought up with. There is some grey area, but the point is, don’t go buying a North Stars hat unless you can name the last active player who was actually a North Star. (It was Mike Modono, by the way.)

There is another version of the hat fan for the 1%. It’s owning teams. Some owners just want the visibility that comes with owning a franchise without understanding what it means to be part of a team.

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a fantastic piece on Grantland about why owning teams shouldn’t be viewed as a conventional business.

“But most of all professional sports owners don't have to behave like businessmen. For every disciplined and rational operator like the Patriots' Robert Kraft or Mark Cuban, there is also someone like Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder. Snyder was a brilliant entrepreneur, who at the age of 36 sold Snyder Communications — the marketing company he built from scratch — for an estimated $2 billion. He has subsequently run the Redskins like a petulant 14-year-old fantasy owner. Snyder Communications was a business. The Redskins are a toy. The former he ran to solely maximize profit. The latter he runs for his psychic benefit — as a reward for all the years he spent being disciplined and rational. And it is one of the surreal qualities of professional sports that they are as welcoming and lucrative for those owners who chose to behave like 14-year-olds as they are of those owners who chose to behave like grown-ups.”

Teams are not fashion statements. They have histories. People live and die by them. Most of us don’t live and die by the price of Apple stock.

I don’t think a lot of owners understand this.The current owner of the Browns, Jimmy Haslam previously owned their division rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers. Those two teams have played each other 120 teams, the most in the AFC.

Peter Gruber owns both the Golden State Warriors and the LA Dodgers. I know there isn’t a rivalry between those two teams directly, but really?

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shahid Kahn put in a bid to purchase the St. Louis Rams, but was rejected. He then went to go purchase the Jaguars. Do you think Kahn actually cares about the Jaguars? He wants them to make money, but I’m sure he would gladly close up shop if the opportunity to move the Jaguars to LA or England came along.

Red Sox owner John Henry previously owned part of the Yankees and the Marlins. Jeesh...

Now I have respect for owners who run a tight ship, like Bob Craft. Or guys who have built their franchises up, like Mark Cuban.

However, I think sports owners should have some investment in their community. Sports shouldn’t just be assets on a balance sheet. They’re an entity that is a visible part of the community. Ask any Bostonian if the Red Sox are just a sports team.

I think there have been some positive trends recently. Peyton Manning’s wife, Ashley just signed off as a principle owner of the Memphis Grizzlies. Peyton and Ashley went to University of Tennessee.

"As a native of Memphis, it was important to me that the Grizzlies remain in Tennessee and continue to have a positive impact on the community," she said to the Denver Post.

And of course, Jay-Z a native Brooklyner owns 1/15 of 1% of the Brooklyn Nets. I know that’s a small part, but Jay-Z brings some hometown cred with him. He’s helped build the brand to show that its part of the community and not just a moneymaking venture for a Russian billionaire.

Sports teams are not normal businesses. They are a reflection of a community. They are important parts of peoples lives. Just like a hat is a reflection of who you support. I wish more owners would show pride in their team, and not just on their metaphorical head.

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