Thursday, May 05, 2005

Tier III minor league sports owners (and the damage some cause)

There are major and minor league sports leagues. There are great sports owners and terrible owners at all levels, in so called Tier I leagues (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL) Tier II (Arena Football League, Major League Soccer, WNBA) and then there’s Tier III, where sports bottom feeders seem to reside.
The challenge Tier III sports leagues face (ABA, Canadian Football League, Independent Baseball and many Basketball Leagues) isn’t necessarily the product. Many (a majority) of those who own Tier III sports leagues have the best of intentions and are great owners, however it takes only a few rotten apples to spoil the barrel, hurting the reputation of other Tier III sports owners and often ruining the reputation of entire leagues.
The Canadian Football League for all its bluster remains what it has always been a minor professional football league never quite sure how it fits into the sports world. The league has an arms length relationship with the NFL, but is not a feeder league for Big Brother (NFL Europe fills that role). Unfortunately the Canadian Football League attracts problems like the CFL is currently facing in Ottawa. Ottawa is Canada’s fourth largest city, and home to the NHL’s Ottawa Senators. It is also home to the Ottawa Lynx the Baltimore Orioles Triple-A franchise. The Lynx have been at the bottom of Triple A attendance for the last eight years, averaging somewhere around 3,000 fans a game (much less the last two years). The only reason the team is still in Ottawa, a long-term lease and no real place to move the team too.
Ottawa was home to a Canadian Football League franchise until 1997 when, Horn Chen (he owns the Central Hockey League) folded the franchise. Many believed that if Ottawa had a good ownership group a CFL franchise would flourish in the City easily selling out the 30,000 seat football stadium. Three years ago the CFL returned to Ottawa, and good intentions aside the team has proven to be an unmitigated disaster from Day One. The ownership group was based in Toronto. The team didn’t sell out any games in their first three years. The team lost $7 million (a great deal for a minor league sports franchise) but managed to recoup $2 million when the team hosted the Grey Cup in November (Canada’s version of the Super Bowl). If Ottawa had experienced bad ownership before, the current group has basically left town since the Grey Cup ending. With the CFL season set to start in six weeks the team has less then 5,000 season ticket holders and can’t even afford proper equipment for their training camp that begins in three weeks.
The league and the current ownership group held a meeting in Toronto Wednesday releasing the following statement through Tom Wright its commissioner: “The Ottawa Renegades are an integral part of this League and are a fundamental fixture of the sports landscape in the nation’s capital. Our single goal is to ensure that the Renegades continue to provide exciting, entertaining and competitive football for Ottawa fans.”
Referring to the discussions on ownership, Commissioner Wright described the meeting as productive and progressive, and stated a long-term plan for the ownership of the franchise would be formalized soon. Until that time, and in accordance with League policy, no speculative announcements or commentary on the topic will be forthcoming from the League or the Ottawa Club.
The long-term plan is yet the strongest indication why the CFL will never amount to more then a Tier III league always on the edge of the abyss, always at or near the brink of disaster. Ottawa’s old CFL franchise known as the Ottawa Rough Riders was owned in the early 1990’s by Bernie and Lonie Gliberman, father and son businessmen from Detroit. Their first ownership was marked with a series of comedic events. Always threatening to move the franchise, Lonie brought Dexter Manley out of retirement. Lonie dated one of the teams’ cheerleaders. Lonie and his cheerleader girlfriend managed to get into a fight in an Ottawa bar. Conflicting reports had either the cheerleader or Lonie’s bodyguard saving the day, but not Lonie. When the Gliberman’s reign of terror ended, Lonie’s parting remarks to Ottawa football fans included a belief that he and his father could never make football work in Ottawa because everyone hated them.
The nightmare scenario for whatever football fans are left in Ottawa began unfolding in the last few days. Lonie has returned to Ottawa, with an interest in buying a 51 percent interest in the team. Not to be outdone by his Dexter Manley move of the 1980’s, Lonie brought former Green Bay Packer Forrest Greg to town with him. Greg has been out of football for ten years and at 71 is….getting older. Just how much of a carnival does this have to potentially be? When Lonie went to the teams offices Tuesday, he arrived wearing a shirt, tie and jacket and driving a bicycle. If images counts for anything, not a pretty picture.
The World Hockey Association, better known as Fools Gold. The WHA has promised a great deal in the last year, never delivering anything. Their latest concept, a tournament scheduled to be begin May 20 in Hamilton, Toronto and Vancouver. Their website Wednesday evening removed any mention of their proposed May event, now promising: “we are pushing hard to make the much-anticipated Bobby Hull Invitational a reality this June, 2005.” The full release from the leagues’ owners is included in today’s DailyDose. The owners continue to sell Fools Gold, but no one is buying what they’re selling. You can take this to the bank; the WHA will never host a game, a tournament or ice a league.
Finally there’s the ABA in our look at leagues’ and owners who embarrass the industry with inane, inept and incompetence examples.. Truly while others may strive to capture the ABA’s legacy of terrible leadership that would be next to impossible.
According to the league’s Czar (commissioner) Joe Newman, “"We have 56 teams confirmed to play and have accepted applications for 19 additional teams that were submitted before the deadline. At this time, we are uncertain how many of these 19 teams will be added; there should be several and we'll post the final roster of teams in the next week to ten days."
Newman added, "We will also finalize the divisions during the same period. The divisions will be from 7-9 teams and will be determined by the distance and travel times of the teams. Divisions will be named after original ABA legends. Thus far, four legends have been honored including Freddie Lewis, Marvin Barnes, Roger Brown and Spencer Haywood."
"The process is taking a little longer than before because of the new standards and requirements for team membership that were determined at the ABA League Owners meeting. The goal of the new standards and requirements is to strengthen the overall operations of the team and the league. Of course, the reason for the growth is that the ABA business model and plan is one of the best in professional sports. And there are still some good markets available for the 2006-2007 season," Newman stated.
Dick Tinkham, ABA Special Counsel and co-owner concluded, "Growing as quickly as we have has not been easy. However, in spite of some problems, the ABA will be providing an opportunity for more players, more coaches and more referees than any professional sports league ever; fans in three countries will be able to see exciting, professional basketball at very affordable prices, and the teams will make major economic impacts with the large number of venue dates, hotel rooms, transportation and restaurants. These are exciting times indeed."
Nevertheless if you’re interested in becoming part of the K-Tel of sports leagues all you need do is either send an email to conniejoenewman@aol.com. Or click on this link http://www.abalive.com/markets/ for an online application. When was the last time a professional sports league offered online franchise membership plans? It doesn’t make any sense and only ends up drawing ridicule.
The problem leagues like the ABA face in their ‘due diligence’ in searching for owners are the type of owners they attract, people who have no business being associated with anything that considers itself professional. Leagues like the ABA, the WHA and the CFL attract little if any national media attention, except when the truly bizarre takes place.
The Nashville Rhythm became the first men’s professional sports franchise to hire a woman to be their head coach, Ashley McElhiney. The Rhythm was (the team no longer exists) owned by three people two men and a platinum pop star wannabe named Sally Anthony. Anthony attempted to fire McElhiney during a game in February (midway through the third quarter). According to media reports and eye witness accounts, Anthony headed towards the teams bench and had to be restrained by security. The team suspended play shortly after Anthony’s in-game entertainment.
Why does it matter if boys on bicycles want to own Canadian Football League franchises? Why does it matter if proposed hockey leagues that have made nothing but unfulfilled promises are noticed? And why is it important to note leagues that offer online memberships, see franchise disband during seasons and offer the truly bizarre when it come to in game entertainment. In a word Mike Veeck and Mike Wolf.
For anyone who has never met Mike Veeck the loss is yours. Mike Veeck the son of the late legendary Clevleand Indians and Chicago White Sox owner Bill Veeck remains one of sports great dreamers. He also founded the Northern League along with Mike Wolf in 1993. The Northern League continues to grow every year and has spawned the Atlantic League, the Northeast League, the Western League, the Texas—Louisiana Baseball League and the Frontier League. All told over 150 cities are enjoying the joys of professional baseball. Not every team in these leagues will work, but every time Mike Veeck or Mike Wolf come calling they’re faced with many obstacles. And the biggest challenge they face the tainted reputation the lower levels of professional sports face from the wrong owners who somehow end up being associated with these leagues.
For SportsBusinessNews.com this is Howard Bloom