Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Countdown to Super Bowl XLVI – a Giant Legacy

The New York Giants (who actually play their home games in New Jersey) are currently owned and operated by John Mara and Steve Tisch who bought them in 1925 and 1991 for $500 and $150 mil, respectively. According to Forbes the 2011 New York Giants are worth more than $1.3 billion.

In 1925 the National Football League (just five years old) had yet to establish a franchise in New York City. NFL President, Joseph Carr, traveled to New York to offer boxing promoter Billy Gibson a franchise. Gibson, the former owner of the NFL's last New York franchise, the New York Brickley Giants, wasn’t interested.

He suggested Carr speak to his friend Tim Mara. While Mara did not know much about football, Mara's friend, Dr. Harry March, did. March, a former physician for the Canton Bulldogs of the pre-NFL "Ohio League" and the future author of the first professional football history book “Pro Football: Its Ups and Downs”, soon became the Mara’s first team secretary.

This backing led Mara to purchase the NFL franchise for New York at a cost of $500. Mara and March, even signed Jim Thorpe to play several half games in order to boost attendance. However many of the New York sports fans still followed college football and stayed away from the pro sport.

During the Giants' first season, attendance was so poor that Mara lost more than $40,000. To tap into New York's college football fans, Mara tried to sign ex-college football superstar Red Grange only to find that he already was a member of the Chicago Bears. However still looking for a way to cash in on Grange's popularity, Mara scheduled a game against the Bears to be played at the Polo Grounds (the home of the National League’s New York Giants). More than 73,000 packed the Polo Grounds for a total take of $143,000 for that one game against Grange and Bears. Mara had recovered all of his losses for the 1925 season.

Following the 1930 season, Mara transferred ownership of the team over to his two sons to insulate the team from creditors, and by 1946, he had given over complete control of the team to them. Jack, the older son, controlled the business aspects, while Wellington controlled the on-field operations. After their initial struggles the Giants financial status stabilized, and they led the league in attendance several times in the 1930s and 1940s.

Before the 1956 season, the Giants, who had previously been renting the Polo Grounds from baseball's Giants at a rate of $75,000 a year, began playing their home games at Yankee Stadium. The Giants run of championship game appearances in their late 1950s and early 1960s combined with their large market location translated into financial success. In 1958 they set a new home attendance record when 71,163 fans attended their November 8th game against Baltimore. And in 1959 they established their next four highest home game totals by drawing between 66 and 68 thousand fans for games versus the Eagles, Packers, Browns, and Steelers.

By the early 1960s, the Giants were receiving $175,000 a game under the NFL's television contract with CBS—four times as much as small-market Green Bay, which was one of the most successful teams of the era. However, in the league's new contract, the Maras convinced the other owners that it would be in the best interest of the NFL to share television revenue equally, a system still used, and is credited with strengthening the NFL.

It was the Maras of the early 1960’s who took the boldest leap in the evolution of the National Football League. They believed it was in the best interest of the 13 teams that comprised the NFL for the teams to pool their local television revenues and the money they were generating.

The Giants and professional football as a whole were helped financially by their contest against Johnny Unitas and the Baltimore Colts in the 1958 NFL Championship game. The televised game on CBS became the first professional football game to go into overtime, and became recognized as one of the keys to the increasing the popularity of the NFL in the US.

The explosion in interest in pro football was evidenced in the Giants financials: in 1956 they had less than 8,000 season ticket holders and by 1963 that number had increased to over 50,000.

In the early 1970’s the Maras decided they wanted their own stadium – East Rutherford, New Jersey became that home in 1976. The stadium cost $78 million to build, and had a capacity of 80,242. The Giants led the league in home attendance in 1978, drawing 604,800 in their eight games.

In February 1991, after being diagnosed with cancer, Tim Mara sold his 50% interest in the team to Bob Tisch for a reported $80 million. The sale was actually worked out before the Super Bowl but not announced until afterwards, so as to avoid distracting the team. It marked the first time since their inception in 1925 that the Giants had not been wholly owned and controlled by the Mara family.

Tisch was technically the team's co-chief executive at first, however given his lack of football knowledge he chose to defer to Wellington Mara on football decisions in his initial seasons with the club. Although he later took a more active role in making decisions related to the football side of the team, in general, Tisch concentrated on the financial aspects, while Mara focused on the on-field product.

On October 25, 2005, Giants patriarch Wellington Mara died after a brief illness, at the age of 89. Mara had been involved with the Giants since he was nine years old, when he was a ball boy for the team. Mara was universally beloved by the players.

"The Giants’ organization cares about its players more than most teams in the NFL. This stems from the top. The Maras are family men and Wellington, especially, has sought to cultivate a family atmosphere in the team,” said Hall of Fame linebacker Harry Carson, who played during some of the team's losing years in the 1970s. “If any NFL owner deserves a championship, it is Mara."

According to former Giants coach Bill Parcells, Wellington made an effort to get to know each of his players. "The Giants are Wellington Mara’s whole life, they have been his whole life. He’s at the office every day, he’s at practice very day, he loves hanging around the locker room and getting to know the players."

Despite his strong religious convictions, he put aside his personal beliefs, and avoided preaching to players who were having problems.

"Nobody did more for me than Wellington Mara." Former Giant and a member of the Football hall of Fame Lawrence Taylor said. "He didn’t have to save me, he didn’t have to keep helping me to find help.... And he never lectured me. I could tell he disapproved but he never lectured me."

On November 15, 2005, just twenty days after Mara's death, Tisch died at the age of 79. He was diagnosed in 2004 with inoperable brain cancer. Tisch was a philanthropist all his life and donated considerable sums of money to charitable causes. After his diagnosis, he donated money to institutions aimed towards the research of drugs and treatments to control brain tumors.

In 2010, the New Meadowlands Stadium (not known as MetLife Field) opened, replacing Giants Stadium. The new stadium is a 50/50 partnership between the Giants and Jets, and while the stadium is owned by the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority on paper, the two teams jointly built the stadium using private funds, and administer it jointly through New Meadowlands Stadium Corporation. MetLife Field was built at a cost of $1.2 billion and will host Super Bowl XLVIII in February 2104

The Giants had previously planned a $300-million renovation to the Meadowlands, before deciding in favor of the new stadium which was originally estimated to cost approximately $600 million, before rising to an estimated cost of $1.2 billion.

One advantage gained by owning the stadium is that the teams saved considerable money in tax payments, leasing the land from the state at a cost of $6.3 million per year. The state paid for all utilities, including the $30 million needed to install them. Both teams received $150 million loans from the NFL to pay for construction of the stadium.

The Giants today are owned by John K. Mara and Steve Tisch—the sons of Wellington Mara and Bob Tisch.

John Mara is in his 21st season with the Giants. The franchise’s president and chief executive officer, he assumed the team presidency upon the passing of his father in 2005. John Mara is the oldest of Wellington Mara’s 11 children. He had been the team’s executive vice president and chief operating officer.

Mara is a third generation owner of the Giants. Among NFL franchises, only the Chicago Bears (controlled by the Halas-McCaskey family since 1921) have been in the hands of one family longer than the Giants.

Steve Tisch has the distinction of being the only person on the planet with both an Academy Award and a Super Bowl ring. He won the former as one of the producers of “Forrest Gump,” which was awarded the Oscar for Best Picture of 1994, and the latter as Chairman of the Giants, who defeated the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

The New York Giants have won four NFL championships and two Super Bowls. Sunday in Indianapolis Mara and Tisch hope to continue what has become a family tradition – winning championships.

Sources used in this Insider Report: New York Giants history and Wikipedia.

For Sports Business News this is Howard Bloom

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