Magazine article USA TODAY

Crying All the Way to the Bank

Magazine article USA TODAY

Crying All the Way to the Bank

Article excerpt

"ANYONE WHO QUOTES profits of a [sports franchise] is missing the point. Under generally accepted accounting principles, I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss, and I can get every national accounting firm to agree with me," says Toronto Blue Jays president Paul Beeston in the book, Baseball and Billions. In other words, the owners bathe in black ink, but when it comes times to look at the bottom line, they scream, "Red!" And while the rest of the world throws off the shackles of socialism to embrace free enterprise, sports owners look to salary caps and revenue sharing as their salvation. Karl Marx lives after all.

Honest answers aren't forthcoming, but let's pose the questions anyway: First, to those who run hockey: Are you still claiming--with a straight face, no less--that the 26 national Hockey League franchises lost a combined $37,600,000 last season? If business is so bad, why did marketing geniuses like Disney and Blockbuster Video's Wayne Huizenga pay $50,000,000 for expansion franchises two years ago? Moreover, if the bottom is about to fall out of the league finances, why is the NHL expanding again, adding two more clubs in 1996, meaning the league will have put seven new franchises on the map since 1991?

If the cash flow is so bleak, why is the NHL upping the price of an expansion franchise to $75,000,000? If salaries are so out of control, how could Domino's Pizza baron Mike Ilitch pay $3,000,000 for the Detroit Red Wings in 1981 and now own a club that is worth $95,000,000? If hockey is such a losing proposition, why is it that the NHL, without a national broadcast contract for more than a decade, was able to sell its 1994-95 television rights to Fox-TV for millions of dollars? If the budget is so tight, why are the Red Wings, Boston Bruins, Los Angeles Kings, Montreal Canadiens, Philadelphia Flyers, Buffalo Sabres, Ottawa Senators, Dallas Stars, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning building new arenas? And how did the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Mighty Ducks build new arenas during the last three years? How can teams possibly be losing money when most NHL arenas, on average, are filled more than 90% while the league boasts the highest ticket prices in professional sports?

Now, some queries to those running baseball: If revenues are drying up, how have the Baltimore Orioles, Cleveland Indians, Texas Rangers, and Toronto Blue Jays been able to build new ballparks? And why are the New York Mets and Colorado Rockies planning to do the same? If pinching pennies is so necessary, how did the Orioles, Indians, Mets, Rangers, Boston Red Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Florida Marlins, Houston Astros, Kansas City Royals, Minnesota Twins, and New York Yankees afford brand new spring training complexes? If major league baseball is such a bad investment, why did the Orioles sell for $173,000,000, a record for an American sports team? If skyrocketing salaries really are devaluing franchises, why has no team ever been sold for less than its previous sale price? …

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