Tuesday, December 4, 2007


Warning: there are a few more links than normal.

Name the current owners of all your favorite teams.

Which one has made the most impact on their teams, good or bad?

How about those teams in the middle of the pack?

Can you name who writes the checks?

The greatest difference between professional sports and amateur sports is that more than injuries, competition and scheduling, the owner has the greatest influence on the direction of a franchise. That sounds obvious, but when you were a young sports fan, you had little to no idea of salary caps, stadium funding and luxury taxes. As you grew older, you learned about who was really making the moves for your team and the motives behind these additions and subtractions. You heard fans scream for the firing of the general manager when the team had a couple of lean years. You witnessed your team rebuild over a period of years because they could no longer contend in the current climate of a sport. Or you witnessed a rebirth of your team because of those previous lean years that kept the team intact, despite losing in order to learn how to win. Yet, there was this seemingly ominous figure that was pulling the strings behind it all, despite rare public comments and appearances. You thought it was the GM or the president of operations, but in reality…

… the owner calls the shots.

Whether it’s a single person, a consortium or a corporation, the owner has many different reasons in being involved in the sports business; love for the game, bored with their insane wealth, an extension of their core business, etc. Owners are trying to find the right mix in order to ideally contend, but to realistically make a profit in a crowded landscape. Not only do they compete with different teams within the league, but within different forms of entertainment within the few hours of time they ask fans and potential customers to dedicate to the game. The really good owners have a strong business savvy that allow for consistent profits while fielding competitive teams year in and year out. They also find a way to fix holes over time – or at least attempt to – in order to return to glory in the long run. Most owners are relative unknowns outside of the vicinity of the team. The way that an owner becomes a known entity usually depends on extremes.

Think about it. Before their rise, could you recall who owned the New York Yankees before George Steinbrenner? Probably not (CBS sold the franchise to the Cleveland shipbuilding tycoon and other investors for $10 million in 1973) as the Yankees mired in mediocrity for the eight seasons before his arrival. Mediocrity in most cities translates to ‘wait and see’ and ‘this is the year we make the move’. Mediocrity in New York was unheard of at the time due to twenty World Series titles in fifty years. Hate him or love him, he had made an impact on the franchise and the game ever since. On the flipside, there are several teams that are completely handcuffed by the economic thrift of their owners. At the moment, the most notorious practitioners of this trade reside in Pittsburgh, Minneapolis, Tampa, Oakland and Miami. If today’s agreement by the Florida Marlins to send their final pieces of the 2003 World Series champion (Miguel Cabrera and Dontrelle Willis) to the Detroit Tigers for prospects isn’t an indication of Jeffrey Loria’s mandate, then review his history as a ‘baseball man’. Loria, as the owners of the baseball teams in the aforementioned cities, has become the most despised man in the eyes of Florida sports fans as he has managed to dismantle a championship team in order to streamline costs and bottom out any potential profits in order to relocate out of Miami – if the state does not grant him a new stadium, that is.

In the NBA, the basketball public may not be able to tell you who owns the four-time titlist San Antonio Spurs (Peter Holt), but they can tell you about the league’s most enigmatic (Mark Cuban), most influential (Dr. Jerry Buss) and most troublesome (James Dolan on behalf of Cablevision) bankrollers. Cuban took over a Dallas Mavericks franchise that, under Ross Perot’s stewardship, only won more than 45 games three times since its 1980 inception. They hadn’t made a playoff appearance in eleven seasons before Cuban arrived in 2000. Suddenly, seven straight playoffs and an NBA Finals appearance later, the Mavericks are the third-highest valued franchise in the league behind Buss’ Los Angeles Lakers and Dolan’s New York Knicks. Strong drafting, shrewd trading and signings and steady coaching will keep Cuban’s coiffures filled. Before Cuban invigorated Dallas, Buss provided energy into a Lakers franchise that has won eight NBA titles since he purchased the team in 1979. He is often credited for bringing entertainment to the Lakers before David Stern pushed the template league-wide. He brought in superstar players to a city full of stars, giving Hollywood the proverbial front row seats to the league’s biggest attraction. Even with the recent acrimony within the team ranks in regards to Kobe Bryant’s future, the Lakers are still the biggest draw throughout the league. That cannot be said for Dolan’s Knicks. Instead of hurting your eyes here on Scribe, pick your poison here. Dolan was already demonized here in New York for the lack of success with the city’s team, but during the sexual harassment trial this past summer, he became a national punching bag for his testimony and support for Isiah Thomas.

Other sports have their polarizing owners, as well. The NFL has its fair share of heroes (the Patriots’ Robert Kraft, the Rooney family for the Steelers, Jim Irsay and the Indy Colts, not Baltimore) and villains (Bill Bidwell for the Cardinals, Al Davis for the Raiders, Dr. John York for the 49ers... Jim Irsay for the former Baltimore Colts, not Indy). The NHL can look to every team that has moved within the past decade for Public Enemy No. 1 along with two owners whose teams have deep rooted infamy (Boston’s Jeremy Jacobs and the Wirtz family in Chicago). These names in the business are known because of the fortunes they returned to their cities or the prolonged misery they have set asunder their fan bases. When you think of your employer – if you work for someone at the moment – you could probably count the number of times you have spoken or seen him/her within a year. It’s hard to determine if that is a plus or minus, being that the general public may not know much about your company. However, in a high-profile industry such as sports, when the fans know whose cash fronts the operation, that person better hope that something good comes out of it.

Wouldn’t you agree, Robert Nutting?

Say What?!?!: These may be infamous names in the NBA, but you can only pause when learning of the personal struggles with both Ron Artest and Stephon Marbury.

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