Monday, July 09, 2007

Barry Bonds and the Bay Area – The business of the All-Star Game

The epicenter of the baseball universe – make that the sports world will focus on Barry Bonds and the City of San Francisco for the next few days. When Major League Baseball awarded the 2007 All-Star Game to San Francisco on February 9, 2005 The Lords of the Diamond understood the impact Barry Bonds would have on the game being held in the city Bonds has called home since the 1994 season, but in all likelihood no one could have imagined the ‘perfect storm’ surrounding Bonds and the 2007 Mid-Summer classic. It will have been 23 years between All-Star Games played in San Francisco, although not in the Bay Area. The A's hosted the 1987 All-Star Game in Oakland.

Traditionally the All-Star had been awarded to a National League city one year and an American League city the next. With the 2006 All-Star Game held at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park, Major League Baseball dropped that rotation in favor of awarding back-to-back All-Star Games to National League cities.

"The conditions to me that really are most important are the franchise's commitment to the community and the ability of the community to support the game," MLB commissioner Bud Selig said when MLB awarded the event to the Giants. "This is a five-day event now. This is huge. This is nothing like the All-Star Games during the years when people just came in to play the game and left. You need, not only facilities all over, but also the cooperation of the community and the franchise.

"I'm not going to worry about rotating it. But we'll try to do that as much as possible."

When the media horde arrives in San Francisco later today the last issue Selig will to concern himself with is where the All-Star is being held, but because the 2007 Game is being held at AT&T Park the media is going to focus so much of their attention on Barry Bonds, his pursuit of Hank Aaron’s 755 career home run record and how MLB and in particular Selig is going to handle Bonds establishing a new career home run record. An injury plagued 2005 season Bonds was limited to 14 games. If Bonds had been able to play the entire 2005 season he would have already established a new career home run record. Only four away and five from setting a new mark – Selig’s nightmare scenario comes true – what to do, what to do regarding Barry Bonds setting a new record.

The San Francisco Chronicle featured an interview with Selig in Sunday’s paper focusing on a number of different issues, including the obligatory will Selig follow Bonds around when he’s closer to hitting his 755th home run and if it were Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez chasing a new career home run record would Selig be more amenable towards following Jr. or A-Rod around waiting for their date(s) with destiny?

“I have not yet. I'll do that in the upcoming weeks.

“I don't want to comment on anybody else. I am the commissioner, and that's not appropriate. So on this issue, I'm going to stick with what I've said all along, that I will decide at the appropriate time and that it will be so recognized in the appropriate way.”
The issue shouldn’t be following a player around. It isn’t in the best interests of baseball for whoever the commissioner is to follow a particular player around when he is on the verge of establishing a new career record. It can easily become time consuming and work to the determent of the commissioner’s office. The commissioner’s responsibilities are to manage the day-to-day business interests of baseball. In Selig’s case those need to be conducted within his Milwaukee offices. Following Bonds from city-to-city would create a sideshow no one needs to be a part of.

It is in the best interests of baseball for Selig to attend any celebrations the Giants plan on holding after Bonds breaks Aaron’s record. At this point if Selig wanted everyone to better understand whatever message he wants to issue in regard to Barry Bonds (and acting in the best interests in baseball) Selig would suggest he and baseball will be a part of any recognition the Giants have planned once Bonds hit home run number 756. The same is true for Hank Aaron or anyone else associated with Bonds establishing a new career home run record – once the record is set “we’ll see you in San Francisco”. If however Selig (and Aaron) decide to ignore Bonds new career home run record when it’s set – they’ll only serve to focus that much more attention on baseball’s inaction during the so-called steroid era. They’ll do exactly what the media wants them to do, create a full fledged controversy. Better they make every effort to attend whatever plans the Giants have.

Fox who will be broadcasting Tuesday night’s game made it clear last week in several media conferences – their focus will be on Barry Bonds.

"I think we're going to do more than touch on it,"Fox lead analyst Tim McCarver said. "I think it's clear he still has a bastion of support in his hometown. Because the game is being held in San Francisco, it somehow seems right to me that he's starting the game. Would we spend more time on Barry Bonds than we would normally? Of course. Would he dominate the broadcast? Of course not."

Joe Buck who will handle the play-by-play for Fox told The San Francisco Chronicle he understands the burden linked between a balanced broadcast Tuesday night and the telling of the Bonds saga.

"I can't imagine there being enough time to really do it justice," Buck said. "So the question then becomes, 'How much do you want to get into it when you can't really give the full story?' I'm sure we'll be wrestling with it right up until game time and right up until his first at-bat. How long will his at-bat last? There are a lot of factors."

"There are 15 different angles you can come at it from," Buck added. "I think Tim and I have always been up front, tried to tackle the tough issues and have the conversations that are taking place in living rooms ... across the country."

Fox Sports executive producer Ed Goren has complete faith in Buck and McCarver (calling his record 16th MLB All-Star Game on national television).

"If (Bonds' first at-bat) is a one-pitch popout to first, we're not going to get a chance to talk a heck of a lot in that at-bat," Goren told The San Francisco Chronicle. "Whoever is batting behind Bonds is an All-Star (who) has his own story that is worth telling. So it's a complicated equation.

"The key point to understand is that this isn't talk radio. We're doing a baseball game."

Bonds announced last week he wouldn’t participate in Monday night’s home run derby, but that shouldn’t suggest Barry isn’t going to be talked about during the ESPN telecast Monday night.

"I'm sure inevitably there will be discussion about Barry," said ESPN's Jed Drake, who is producing the Home Run Derby telecast. "But I've been involved in every one of these since we started doing them and the whole event takes on a life of its own. The competition is intense and there's not a lot of time to talk about other things in this show than what's happening on the field. Will it come up? Sure."

Bonds deciding to not participate in tonight’s home run hitting contest shouldn’t have surprised anyone. As is the case with the NBA’s slam dunk contest All-Star skills competition in recent years have been limited to a sports younger players. That said Giants owner Peter Magowan isn’t happy Barry won’t be trying to hit baseballs into McCovey Cove Monday night.

In an interview with KNBR's Gary Radnich on Friday according to a report in The San Jose Mercury News, Magowan said he understood Bonds' reasoning.

"But I do think he's passed up a real opportunity to be able to thank the fans," Magowan said. "The community would have loved to have seen him participate in this contest. I just think, in San Francisco, maybe the last All-Star Game that he would participate in possibly - and to have the place filled with people who were going to be there supporting him - I just thought it was a marvelous opportunity for him, as well as for our fans.

"So I'm disappointed, but I understand the reasons why he made the decision that he did."

When told of Magowan’s remarks, Bonds told The San Jose Mercury News’ Andrew Baggarly he didn’t appreciate his owners’ comments.

"I'm my own man," Bonds said before a round of batting practice at Busch Stadium. "I don't worry about it and what Peter says. . . . You're not disappointing people. It's common sense. Do you know what I have to do just to get ready for this? To take B.P.?

"How many people have I disappointed in San Francisco in all the years I've been there? Come on, man."

As has so often been the case when it comes to Barry Bonds, he would have been in his own interests to tone down the negative comments he made. Barry would have been well advised to suggest he was too tired to participate in the home run contest, he wants to focus on the honor of playing in the game and he’s thrilled to represent the Giants in Tuesday’s game. Giants’ owner Peter Magowan isn’t the issue, but once again Barry Bonds made himself a negative focus of attention.

Magowan will take tremendous pride in hosting the 2007 MLB All-Star Game. AT&T Park cost $319 million to build – all privately financed. In an era when stadiums had been largely publicly financed, when AT&T Park opened on March 31, 2000, the ballpark was the first Major League Baseball stadium built in the U.S. without public funds since the completion of Dodger Stadium in 1962, though the Giants did receive a $10 million tax abatement from the city and $80 million for upgrades to the local infrastructure (including a connection to the Muni Metro).

The Giants have a 66-year lease on the 12.5-acre ballpark site, paying $1.2 million in rent annually to the San Francisco Port Commission. The park opened with a seating capacity of 40,800, but this has increased over time as seats have been added.

As has well documented establishing the economic impact from events like a MLB All-Star Game is next to impossible. Ask city leaders and sports team owners and they’ll suggest a major sports event is worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Ask any economist and they’ll tell you it’s usually good to host events but there isn’t much of a direct economic impact. Put in simpler terms its great hotel rooms will be filled in San Francisco but it’s also the middle of the summer and San Francisco hotel rooms would be close to capacity regardless of whether or not the MLB All-Star Game was being held in the region.

In April San Francisco Mayor Newsom told a news conference he believed the five day All-Star event would generate between $60 million and $65 million in direct economic impact.

"We took the economic impact provided by Major League Baseball for other cities and adjusted accordingly for San Francisco" based on the city's comparative expense, said Laurie Armstrong, vice president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

But it’s essential that if you’re looking for the true economic engine generators MLB has a vested interest in telling city leaders it’s great for business if you host an All-Star extravaganza. A sports economist usually offers the other end of the dollars and sense spectrum.

"They typically count spending by local residents as being 'new' or 'incremental' spending that adds to the economic impact," Dan Rascher, director of academic programs and associate professor at the University of San Francisco's Sport Management program told The San Francisco Chronicle . "(If there were no game), those local residents would spend the money elsewhere in town; it's not really economic impact, it's just displaced from somewhere else toward the All-Star Game."

Rascher added, "In general, these types of fairly large national events do provide a substantial economic impact. There isn't a lot of capital costs. They already have the stadium; it's just a matter of hosting an event that's larger than others."

Hosting a Super Bowl can easily cost a city more than $10 million. According to published reports San Francisco is spending $700,000 for extra police and transportation for the All-Star festivities and has said it expects to bring in $500,000 to $2 million in hotel and sales taxes.

"The sales and hotel tax generated from these types of events typically doesn't add up to what the city is directly giving toward the event," Rascher said. But there's still a net plus for the region, he said.

"The point of local government is to represent the whole community," he said. "If money flows to businesses instead of city coffers, that's even better. This is a quality-of-life event."

Traditionally events like an All-Star Game can attract as many as 250,000 tourists to a city and along with filling all of a regions available hotel rooms, restaurants, bars – anything and everything associated with tourism is booked beyond capacity. And if you can afford to attend an All-Star Game you’re going to spend, spend and spend.

"Let's talk beer," said Pete Osborne, the owner of MoMo's San Francisco Grill, located across the street from AT&T Park. "Beer and baseball. I probably have 50 kegs in storage as we speak; ordinarily I would probably have 12. I don't even know if that'll get us through Monday."

"We're anticipating something on the scale of a World Series," Osborne said.

AT&T Park hosted three World Series games in 2002, hosting an All-Star Game as Giants officials told The San Francisco Chronicle is far more time consuming when it comes to event management.

"It's much more detailed and involved than just putting on a World Series," said Giants spokeswoman Staci Slaughter. With the World Series, "You have the actual games and maybe a gala, but you don't have the opportunity to plan a FanFest and all these ancillary events. This is almost like a presidential convention."

The real value in hosting a major event isn’t in short-term economic gains but in the ancillary benefits linked to the thousands of media attending an event – sending out “hopefully” a positive image about the city hosting that event, generating significant long-term tourist dollars.

"When the TV cameras pan back from AT&T Park with the downtown skyline in the background -- and the bay is quite stunning -- people see San Francisco and go, 'Gosh, I gotta go there,' " said Joe D'Alessandro, CEO of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

"People gotta eat, they gotta sleep and they gotta buy a T-shirt, and that's just the truth," said Laurie Armstrong, vice president of the San Francisco Convention & Visitors Bureau.

For example, Dave Devisser, who works in sales for Adobe Systems and plans to attend Tuesday's game with friends, told The San Francisco Chronicle: "I don't normally buy souvenirs, but for the All-Star Game, I would spend a couple of hundred dollars on baseball caps and T-shirts if they are cool. It all depends if it's cool."

Last years All-Star Game had an estimated economic impact in Pittsburgh of close to $52 million (similar numbers linked to the 2005 game at Detroit’s Comerica Park). For Pittsburgh the real benefit came from how great the city looked during Monday’s night’s home run derby on ESPN and Tuesday night’s All-Star Game broadcast on Fox and the positive message disseminated by the media. What makes hosting a MLB All-Star Game one of the more cost effective events to host, it doesn’t cost that much in terms of expenses incurred by a city (as compared to hosting a Super Bowl) but with the event being held early in the summer and so little else competing for attention the baseball All-Star Game garners a great deal of media coverage.

For SportsBusinessNews this is Howard Bloom. Sources cited and used in this Insider Report: The San Francisco Chronicle

Labels: , , , , , ,