NFL Extortion, and Point(s)-After

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Will Truman

Will Truman is the Editor-in-Chief of Ordinary Times. He is also on Twitter.

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  1. Avatar Richard Hershberger
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    32 teams works well for designing the championship playoff system. Any power of two tends to work out better, requiring fewer kludges. This isn’t to suggest that the NFL cares about kludges in its championship system, but it does make for a cleaner esthetic.

    I have been advocating (albeit not seriously) a return to the old rule that the PAT kick (or at least the snap) should occur from where the touchdown occurred, rather than from a hash mark. If you score on run down the sideline, the PAT is snapped from the corner of the field. For that matter, back in the day this is where the next play began for pretty much everything except a kickoff. Hash marks are for pansies.

    Somewhat more seriously, I have come to realize that unlimited substitution one of the great defining characteristics of modern American football, every bit up there with the forward pass and offensive blocking. Unlike those two, I’m not convinced that unlimited substitution is an improvement. Not that we can go back…Report

    • I think safety concerns alone will keep unlimited substitution in play.

      I talk about 40 teams, but I think 36 is my genuine preference. I hate the NFL playoffs anyway, though I might use that as an excuse to say that MLB needs to expand…Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman
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        “I think safety concerns alone will keep unlimited substitution in play.”

        Oh, there is no chance that in a gazillion years the NFL would eliminate unlimited substitution. This is strictly speculation over beer material.

        The question I have is whether the change was, in retrospect, a good idea. I don’t know what the discussion was at the time, so I can’t say what problem it was intended to address or how successfully it accomplished this.

        That being said, it is clear at this point that it resulted in hyper-specialization. You get, for example, a guy whose sole job is place kicking. You end up, in turn, with really good place kickers. This in turn changes the strategy of the game. You play differently if you can reasonably reliably get a fifty yard field goal than you do if you aren’t comfortable outside of thirty yards.

        Place kickers are more or less fungible, but the same can’t be said of quarterbacks. Part of the long-term rise of the passing game derives from the teams’ ability to have this hyper-specialized guy, and because he is so valuable, other rules are changed to protect him. This wouldn’t really be possible if he was also playing safety on defense.

        Remove free substitutions and the players become smaller, more closely resembling normal human beings. The current rules favor, in many positions, really big guys who can move really really fast for very short bursts, and then take a breather. Remove that breather, and most modern NFL players wouldn’t last one quarter. Without free substitution you need smaller guys, and they have to pace themselves. You have a different game. It might also be a more interesting game, but I’m not sure.

        So really my point is that Sammy Baugh was the greatest player of all time, and you should get off my lawn!Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        I recall in a Piers Anthony book, American-style football was played with two-player-per-play substitutions, using robots of varying balances of speed, strength, height, and other abilities. When possession of the ball changed, the team that was formerly wired for offense would be ill-equipped to defend against the advance, but the team that was formerly wired for defense had less ability to advance the ball. The human player was therefore encouraged to handle the ball himself or herself because the robots weren’t going to be up to the job.Report

    • The NFL has an almost perfect scheduling system, where each team plays four first-place teams, four second-place teams, four third-place teams, and four fourth-place teams. I know that given any excuse, like expansion or adding games, they’ll do something ridiculous like baseball’s “natural rival” games.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mike Schilling
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        You break my heart, Mike. I actually like natural rivals.Report

        • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Will Truman
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          says:

          Like Padres vs. Mariners?Report

        • Avatar nevermoor in reply to Will Truman
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          As with most things, this depends on whether you HAVE a natural rival. It’s great for the A’s to get games vs. the Giants, but if it’s just another meaningless team I can see it being tedious.Report

          • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to nevermoor
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            says:

            It’s a great thing for the A’s, because it’s the only time all year they sell out. For the Giants, it’s just another homestand.Report

          • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to nevermoor
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            says:

            The Phillies and the Orioles were natural rivals until the Expos moved to Washington. Suddenly the Phillies and Orioles transitioned into being amicable neighbors. I’m not sure who the Phillies’ natural rival is nowadays. Boston, maybe?

            I am resigned to interleague play. I readjusted my thinking by realizing that there are not in reality two major baseball leagues. There is just one, called “MLB,” with two conferences, which for historical reasons are called “leagues.” MLB is a single league in exactly the same way as is the NFL. I’m not bothered by NFC-AFC games, so why should I be by NL-AL games?

            That being said, the “natural rivals” bit is obvious BS. The silver lining is that it serves as a useful reminder that, for all that MLB talks about its history and the integrity of its records, it will toss all that out set up a few games between the Yankees and the Mets.Report

    • Avatar Mo in reply to Richard Hershberger
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      says:

      The PAT should be changed such that the person who scored the PAT kicks it, from the two. Tom Brady sneak from the half yard line? Get ready to kick! JJ Watt picks up a fumble? It’s go time! Jason Peters catches a tipped pass and runs it in? O-line kick!

      I just saw that Mike said the same below.Report

  2. Avatar North
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    says:

    Looking out my window at work I can see the new Vikings Stadium being built, mainly on the taxpayer dime, primarily approved through extortion and the votes of conservative and libertarian voters (and especially the rural ones). American football, as a collective phenomena, can die in a fire for all I care. Real football* doesn’t require billion dollar stadiums; it needs four visible objects (for goalposts) and a patch of mostly level ground.

    *Which is not to say I’m a fan of soccer, I view watching organized sports as a calamity that befalls other people kindof like going to Church on Sundays.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to North
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      Notably, almost all of the opposition to building the last couple of stadia in Colosse came from the right. A big ringleader being a Tea Party statewide official now. (He lost the stadia battles, though.)

      MLS is actually extorting stadia as well these days.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        “MLS is actually extorting stadia as well these days.”

        I really don’t get this. How does soccer have the clout to pull this off, outside perhaps of Seattle? This is a dark mystery to me.Report

      • Avatar North in reply to Will Truman
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        says:

        Yes it varies based on time and who’s in charge when the owners make their demands. In Minnesota the republicans in charge basically decided to build the stadium but make only the urban core of the cities (aka the Liberals) pay for it by putting the cost on the county. The lip service was that since the Stadium would be built and its benefits accrue to the city then the city should pay for it. The conservative rurals loved that. I’m still bitter. But Liberals are just as wont to buckle as conservatives are. No career minded politician wants to be accused of killing the local team.Report

      • Avatar Mark Thompson in reply to Will Truman
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        I’m not sure I’d call it extortion with MLS. MLS teams aren’t using the threat of relocation or folding to get new stadium deals – they may be getting public money for their stadiums in some cases, and in other cases they not surprisingly are trying to take advantage of eminent domain, but I’m not aware of any situations where they’ve been threatening relocation or anything of that nature to get leverage.

        The big thing with MLS right now is that it’s looking to expand and has been successful enough that there are lots of suitors for new teams, but there’s a limit to how much it can and will expand in the next few years. They just added two and are looking at IIRC four more in the next few years, one of which is (unfortunately) going to be Atlanta and another of which (even more unfortuantely) HAS to be Miami because that’s what David Beckham wants.

        There’s a bunch of cities with successful lower league (USL Pro, now MLS 2, especially) teams that have a good case to make the leap to MLS’ burgeoning markets, but only really 2 more spots legitimately available for the foreseeable future. It’s a matter of which locale can put together the most attractive package. Sometimes that may involve public monies, sometimes (as in the case of Atlanta) it might just involve the right ownership group.Report

  3. Avatar Vikram Bath
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    imagine a New York team that actually played in New York!

    There is! They are called the Bills.

    the extra point

    The extra point is silly now, at least at the pro level. I favor giving coaches the ability to just indicate to the referees that they want an extra point or they can choose to go for a two-point conversion.Report

  4. Avatar Burt Likko
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    I’m intrigued by the 4-point PAT idea, to preserve the possibility of (very fun) fakes on the PAT.

    As it stands, the almost-automatic 1-point PAT kick is statistically similar to the 2-point PAT 2-yard-to-the-end-zone play, which succeeds just under 50% of the time. So going for one and going for two are, in the long haul, fairly closely equivalent.

    Is it also the case, then, that a play from 15 yards finds the end zone about one time in four? If not then at what point would we see 25% success rates? My instinct is that a 25% ratio would would occur right around the 10, not the 15, but that’s really a job for the Nate Silvers and Brian Burkes of the world.Report

  5. Avatar Mike Schilling
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    There an easy way to make a PAT more interesting: make the player who scored the touchdown kick it.Report

  6. Avatar Mark Thompson
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    I hate to say this, but I think your analysis of the NFL’s ability to extort money is a bit off.

    The biggest problem I have is your suggestion that eliminating the broadcast anti-trust exemption is a good way of pushing back against the NFL’s often outrageous demands. This bothers me for several reasons:

    1. Having gone through this debate last year when it wasn’t clear what was going to happen to the Bills, there’s a misperception that the NFL’s anti-trust exemption (which, to your credit, you recognize as being mostly limited to broadcast rights) makes it easier for the league to extort money from cities for new stadiums. In fact, the opposite is probably closer to the truth – a broader anti-trust exemption (which I don’t support, FWIW) would actually make extortion more difficult, and the broadcast anti-trust exemption actually provides a discincentive for teams to relocate (and thus marginally undermines the weight of their threats to do so). This is because the broadcast exemption allows the league to negotiate TV and media rights collectively on a national level rather than regionally on a team-by-team basis. That in turn means that small market (or small local fan-base) franchises are able to make the same on media rights as the big market teams, while hanging out in a market with much lower overhead (for instance, MetLife Stadium in NJ cost $1.6 billion, and didn’t even require acquisition of any real estate to my knowledge; a new stadium in Buffalo would be about half that cost despite requiring acquisition of real estate: http://www.buffalonews.com/city-region/state-study-focuses-on-three-buffalo-sites-for-bills-stadium-as-well-as-the-ralph-20150118). What’s more, a broader anti-trust exemption (which, again, I don’t support for other reasons) would give other owners more authority to prevent a team from moving, but wouldn’t give them much ability to force another owner to relocate – indeed, the only time anti-trust law came up in an NFL relocation case, Al Davis used it to successfully sue the NFL for trying to block the Raiders’ first move to LA in 1980.

    2. A close corollary of the above is that removing the broadcast anti-trust exemption would create a huge incentive for teams to relocate and, for that matter, threaten to relocate. They’d be negotiating their own media rights, and even with some sort of revenue sharing plan, the big market teams would still be keeping the lion’s share of their local media rights. That’s a massive incentive to move to a larger market.

    3. Particularly for the NFL because of its small number of games, the broadcast anti-trust exemption also quite likely encourages expansion over relocation as a strategy of entering new markets. Specifically, because of the exemption, putting teams in new markets benefits all of the existing owners by increasing the number of people with an interest in watching from week to week and thus increasing the value of the national media rights that are the NFL’s bread and butter. Removing it would place teams in more direct competition with each other – putting a new team in a market like LA would only benefit existing owners to the extent of revenue sharing, while putting a new team in, say, San Antonio, would probably hurt existing owners to the extent of any revenue sharing, and also absolutely enfuriate the Cowboys and Texans, who would see the value of their now-local TV deals seriously undermined even if they’d still have no problem selling tickets.

    Don’t get me wrong – I absolutely hate the way in which the NFL is nonetheless able to use the mere threat of relocation to get sweetheart deals from localities, and I absolutely hate that the league is increasingly demanding that its teams play in state of the art facilities, though it’s worth mentioning that its demand that the facilities be taxpayer-funded seems to be limited to the smaller markets – from what I can gather, any stadium in LA would be privately funded, and MetLife Stadium was also at least officially privately funded. I honestly don’t understand why Goodell thinks it’s his place to demand all of these brandy-new high-tech stadiums other than to provide better environments for schmoozing with corporate sponsors.

    I’m also not at all sure that the NFL should expand further even though I fully expect to see at least two new teams added within the next 10 years regardless of whether the three teams threatening to relocate to LA actually do so. First, although the league has its fewest teams per capita since the merger, it has about a third more teams per capita than it did in 1960.

    Second, there’s a huge talent pool issue involved with expansion that is only going to get worse over the next few decades. Football is already played by fewer people on the amateur level than most of the other major sports – and that number is declining because of the head injury concerns. And, unlike those other sports, it’s almost exclusively an American game. It also requires roster sizes more than twice the size of any other major professional sport – and those roster sizes probably aren’t even large enough in light of the number of injuries the sport involves.

    Relatedly, because the game is so popular to watch, expansion within the US (other than LA, and I’m even skeptical of that) probably isn’t going to increase revenues proportionally – revenue-wise, the market is pretty close to saturated within the US. Football players are already the lowest paid of the Big Three – largely because of the roster sizes as is. I’d even go so far as to argue that they’re underpaid given the risks in the game, but expansion would probably exacerbate that problem, particularly if (as I think must inevitably happen) roster sizes are also increased.

    So if you’re going to expand, you need to be willing to accept the problems inherent with decreasing the quality of play, and if player salaries are going to continue to rise, you probably need to also focus your expansion efforts abroad, which has its own set of problems that I don’t think can be solved (with the exception of Mexico City and, perhaps, Toronto).

    Finally, there’s also the problem of the league becoming unwieldy, particularly since football cannot have the number of games other sports have. Once you get to 10 teams in a conference, you pretty much need to have divisions. And those divisions need to be of equal size if they’re going to be used to determine playoff spots. This is easy enough to do when you’ve got 20 teams overall (four divisions of 5), 22 teams (two of 6 in one conference, two of 5 in the other), 24 teams (4 of 6 or 6 of 4), 28 (4 of 7, though this is a bit unwieldy), 30 (6 of 5), and 32 (8 of 4). But 34 and 36 start getting ugly. 34 teams requires you to have unbalanced divisions within a conference – you either need 17 teams in each conference, which means each conference has a division with a different number of teams than the other divisions, or you need a conference of 16 and a conference of 18, meaning you’re either going to have a different number of divisions in each conference or you’re going to have an imbalance of teams in two of the divisions in the conference with 18 teams.

    You could, I suppose, get rid of divisions altogether at that point, and also get rid of inter-conference play such that you had two conferences of 17, with each team playing the other teams in its conference once a year – which would be pretty cool with me, but would probably not be something that owners would like.

    36 teams is better from a scheduling standpoint, but still would require some radical rethinking. You’d be looking at 6 divisions of 6, meaning the majority of games would be divisional games, with each team having only six games outside the division even as they’re competing with teams from outside the division for a playoff spot. You’re determining playoff spots based on records against only 11 of the 35 other teams, so you almost need to get rid of inter-conference play altogether (which I’m cool with), and even then, you’re probably playing a vastly different mix of teams than the other teams in your own division are playing. By comparison, as things stand, you’ve only got two games a year that differ within a division. So…yeah.

    And although 36 teams may be less unwieldy than 34 teams from a scheduling standpoint, it also exacerbates the problem of the dwindling talent pool.Report

    • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Mark Thompson
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      I’m not particularly itching to get rid of the anti-trust exemption. I mostly see it as the lowest-hanging fruit in the slack we cut professional leagues because we love them to the point of thinking of them as a public service. The goal isn’t even to get rid of the exemption, but the first in a series of threats to get the NFL to move forward. If they are considered a public good, to an extent, I think it’s fair to start requesting things in return.

      I don’t see talent depreciation as that much of an issue. Even if it did lead to a shortage of current-talent – and I’m not sure it would – we have a very high tolerance for inferior play. If we didn’t, college football would not be what it is. College football relies on the loyalty to its institutions, which the NFL doesn’t quite have… but the NFL does claim to have the highest-caliber players in the world, which is the important thing. And a thing that could be at risk in a regulatory environment conducive to the formation of a Players League.

      Bringing in scabs didn’t work, but that was because there was an immediate change in player quality and everybody knew better players were standing in the yard throwing footballs through hanging tires. That’s not comparable to a gradual change in which there are no superior players on standby.

      But watching FCS-level football gives you an appreciation for the sheer surplus of talent. A lot of great players don’t make the cut simply because they’re too small. Heisman winners end up not having NFL careers (or very good ones). Imagining that lesser talent, but with development continuing after college, and it’s hard to see talent becoming so inferior that it’s not worth watching.

      The biggest concern the NFL should have about fewer young people playing is that playing generates sports-loyalty, and that’s where youth leagues have really paid dividends. If you take that combined with a more general distaste for the game and the increasing popularity of soccer, then you could have a problem (with fan-base, not personnel), but that’s a lot of ifs on top of ifs. Contraction becomes a more reasonable possibility. I should add, though, that nothing in what I’ve been looking at depends on the NFL maintaining its current level of popularity. If I were depending on that, I might be advocating even more teams! (Actually, I’d be more vocal about the NFL having a farm system than I currently am.)Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to Mark Thompson
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      And those divisions need to be of equal size if they’re going to be used to determine playoff spots.

      They weren’t, for years. In face, I’ll bet divisions have been of unequal size for more of the NFL’s history than otherwise.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Mike Schilling
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        The NFL broke up into divisions in 1933. There were unequal divisions in 1933-1936, 1960, 1966, 1970-1994, and from 1999-2001. The rest of the time, the divisions all had the same number of teams. That’s 33 years of unequal divisions and 48 years of equal divisions. Sometimes it was as few as two divisions of five teams each as opposed to the grandiose eight divisions we know today.Report

    • Avatar Michael Cain in reply to Mark Thompson
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      Second, there’s a huge talent pool issue involved with expansion that is only going to get worse over the next few decades.

      Exactly. It’s not like there are high-quality starting QBs sitting in backup roles, or sitting out the sport entirely. Or left tackles to protect their blind side. Not just an NFL problem, of course. How many of the MLB teams have a really solid starting rotation? How many NBA teams have a solid center, point guard, and small forward all at the same time? Expanding the NFL to 36 or 38 or 40 teams doesn’t mean that there will be any more elite teams in total, only that there will be more mediocre-or-worse teams.Report

      • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Michael Cain
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        The defenses will be similarly diluted.Report

      • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Michael Cain
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        This is pretty much a definitional problem. Consider starting rotations. With 30 MLB teams, each having a five man rotation, there are150 starting pitcher slots in the majors. Let us suppose, as a first approximation, that the those slots are filled by the 150 best starting pitchers who are potentially available. It would follow that the line between the 150th and the 151st best pitcher is, by definition, the line between a major league level pitcher and a merely AAA level pitcher. Should MLB expand to 32 teams, then the definition of a major league level pitcher would move to the line between the 160th and 161st guys. I would submit that any discussion of what constitutes a major league level pitcher that isn’t based on something like this definition is going to be incoherent.

        This is obscured by several realities. (1) Pitching rotations are not created equal. If one team has five guys from near the top of the list, and another has five guys from near the bottom, it is easy to look at that second rotation and conclude that they aren’t legit major leaguers. But of course they are. They just are in the lower end of that range. (2) Refining our model to more closely match reality, it is not true that the best 150 starters are in the majors. There are lots of reasons for this, but the upshot is that you can point to a few guys in AAA and correctly point out that they are better than a few guys in the bigs. So it is true that some guys are in the majors who, by definition, are not major league level pitchers. But this isn’t because there aren’t enough MLB level guys to go around, but rather due to inefficiencies in how they are distributed. (3) The differences in ability are greater at the upper end of the range than the lower. There is a bigger difference between the best pitcher and the 10th best, than there is between the 140th best and 150th. Or, for that matter, between the 150th and the 160th. This is the underlying premise of WAR: that there is a pool of generic AAA players who are about as good as the low end of MLB players, and who can be interchanged without it really mattering.

        Putting these together, it is easy to look at a weak MLB starting rotation and observe that they are little better than an AAA rotation, and incorrectly conclude that there aren’t enough major league pitchers to go around. Of course there are: by definition.Report

  7. Avatar DavidTC
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    The anti-trust exception is a red herring.

    If you want to stop teams from moving, and stop them from extorting stadiums, *demand the NFL let governments/local NGOs own them*.

    That one change, right there, would be enough. If local non-profits were permitted to purchase teams, everything would change.

    That happened once, with Green Bay, and every single sports league correctly saw the danger of it and *panicked*.

    Hell, they won’t even let *a lot of people* own them as *for-profits*, which would at least make extortion a lot harder. Imagine if Team X fans owned a majority of stock in their team.

    NFL rules currently allow no more than seven owners, and one person has to own at least 1/3rd, which means no more than that 1/3 guy plus two other people together can exercise control, in what is obviously a *deliberate* attempt to keep them from being structured so decisions are be vested with a large group of people…because if that happens, threats can be countered within the system. Other sports leagues have similar rules.

    That, *right there*, is the actual otherwise-illegal trust-manipulation that the sports leagues are doing, and the reason they *need* the exception. They’re a corporation that is setting the *internal structure* of all the team corporations it does business with, and not letting anyone else participate.

    And, of course, whether the leagues should ‘have’ to let new teams in is an interesting legal question, fraught with complications…but a bit of a red herring. The important question really is why *existing* teams can’t be bought by anyone other than individuals (or at least a very small group of) owners, or why owners of existing teams can’t go public.

    Edit: That was supposed to be a reply to @will-trumanReport

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to DavidTC
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      Green Bay is an interesting case. It is like the National League Troy and Worcester clubs I have discussed elsewhere: a small market team owned by many small shareholders. It is characteristic of professional leagues in minor or struggling sports to locate in small markets, where there is less competition for entertainment dollars. Look at, for example, Major League Lacrosse, with a team in Brockport, NY. Where is Brockport? My point precisely. Many small shareholders results because no one–not even enthusiasts–wants serious skin in the game.

      In baseball, as the finances improved in the 1880s, investment in a team evolved from a hobbyist pursuit into a reasonable investment. Shares in the older clubs were consolidated by investors buying up shares from the hobbyists, while new clubs usually were founded by an individual or small group.

      I am not expert in the financial history of the NFL, but I suspect that it followed a similar course, with Green Bay being a living fossil of the early days.Report

      • It’s worth pointing out that Green Bay exists somewhat in lieu of a team from Milwaukee. They’re a small market team that draws from a nearby big market. Something like that is possible for football with its 8 home games than other sports with dozens.

        It’s also why I actually think the Inland Empire could actually be a better location for an NFL team than LA, if it’s financial situation weren’t quite so bad. They could get people driving from LA while having a very devoted local following.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman
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          This is what Green Bay has evolved into, but at a hundred miles away from Milwaukee, it is a good bet that they weren’t drawing many fans from there in the 1920s.

          In the modern NFL, between television revenue sharing and salary caps, the actual location of the stadium doesn’t matter a great deal. Any plausible market will do fine. The difference between the lowest attended team and the highest is less than half again, and the television revenue is the same regardless. Compare this with MLB. National television revenue is shared, but is comparatively trivial. What matters is local television, and gate receipts. The highest MLB attendance is over two and a half times the lowest. The market matters much more in baseball than in football.

          The reason LA would be especially desirable for an NFL team is actually fairly marginal. An LA team would sell more jerseys than, say, Kansas City, and I’m sure that the luxury suites would go for a lot more. And it certainly is cooler to be able to tell your rich friends that you own a team in LA. But as far as simple financial viability goes, it doesn’t matter.Report

      • Avatar Burt Likko in reply to Richard Hershberger
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        Green Bay is a living fossil of the early days. To my understanding, there are now rules in the NFL against the broad dissemination of ownership interests: individuals with readily-identifiable controlling if not majority interests must be available. Green Bay’s public corporate ownership is sort of grandfathered in, but it still more or less voluntarily self-perpetuates a front office and executive control group that looks and acts a lot like the other 31 owner-controlled teams.

        Still, as a technical matter, the team is owned by its community and that community’s diaspora, and its financial mission is the betterment of what would otherwise have become a pretty obscure small city, which it does in no small part by projecting itself as the identity of that community. I don’t think there’s anything quite like Green Bay in MLB or any other professional sport, at least not in the U.S. It’s sort of a hybrid with college ball in terms of its fan appeal and support base. That’s partially a product of the fact that the team is not just the plaything of some rich dude.Report

        • Avatar DavidTC in reply to Burt Likko
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          @burt-likko
          To my understanding, there are now rules in the NFL against the broad dissemination of ownership interests: individuals with readily-identifiable controlling if not majority interests must be available.

          All the big sports leagues have rules of this kind, in fact.

          Green Bay’s public corporate ownership is sort of grandfathered in, but it still more or less voluntarily self-perpetuates a front office and executive control group that looks and acts a lot like the other 31 owner-controlled teams.

          …not sure what you mean by that, or what other way you think a sports team could be run. Having a board and executives just like a for-profit is how most larger non-profits work.

          Still, as a technical matter, the team is owned by its community and that community’s diaspora, and its financial mission is the betterment of what would otherwise have become a pretty obscure small city, which it does in no small part by projecting itself as the identity of that community. I don’t think there’s anything quite like Green Bay in MLB or any other professional sport, at least not in the U.S. It’s sort of a hybrid with college ball in terms of its fan appeal and support base. That’s partially a product of the fact that the team is not just the plaything of some rich dude.

          Right. It’s a net win for *everyone*. It’s better for the fans, it’s better for the cities, it’s just better for everyone. Except the current NFL team owners.

          In fact, you don’t even need to allow non-profits…for-profit publicly-traded teams would accomplish the same thing almost as well. Fans of the team would start investing in the team, which would produce *more* money for the team, in addition to tying them down to where the fans want them, which basically means they won’t ever move, as their current fans tend to be local. (I suspect we’d see ‘moving the team’ as something that the stockholders vote in a rule that says the board needs stockholder permission.)

          There is absolutely no reason to force teams to be structured with a small amount of owners *except* to make sure they can be easily moved from city to city, aka, except to make sure that cities can be extorted. And not even *actually* easily moved, just the threat of moving them can be made without the intention of actually following through.Report

  8. Avatar notme
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    NPR had an interesting segment about this question recently. Their take was that teams will keep threatening to go to LA but the NFL owners will never allow it because then no other team will be able to use that threat in their own home. It benefits too many teams to be able to use that threat to get what they want.Report

    • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to notme
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      says:

      LA is a peculiar situation in that it is an open market that is large. Baseball teams used to threaten to move to Tampa Bay. The problem was that Tampa Bay was obviously a marginal market: often worse than the market held by the threatening club. So the threat was not entirely credible. Recall also the long discussion about where to move the Expos. It achieved the sublime when San Juan, Puerto Rico and Monterrey, Mexico were run up the flag pole. It was obvious to any sensible observer that DC, or a DC suburb, was the only good choice, and so it transpired. Since then, any team wanting to make a similar threat can only talk about Portland or Las Vegas or Charlotte.

      So keeping LA open is clearly to the NFL’s advantage. That being said, though, I’m not sure they can stop a team from moving there. That’s what the whole Al Davis and the Raiders shenanigans were about.Report

      • Exactly. Now, if LA did get a football team, you’d probably start hearing about Oakland or St. Louis or San Diego or wherever the team came from. If we had an expansion of four, with the fourth going in San Antonio (for example), the biggest threat would be… what? Portland and Vegas aren’t nearly as scary. They’d still be able to threaten, but it wouldn’t be the same.

        The MLB’s population-dependency (they can’t move to smaller markets the way that the NFL or NBA could) is one of the reasons – aside from declining popularity – I give them a pass on expansion. They say “We have nowhere to expand to!” and, based on the Expos, I think their claims are credible. I think they could put a third franchise around NYC, maybe, but there aren’t a lot of really good options. The MLB needs a lot from its host cities.Report

        • Avatar Richard Hershberger in reply to Will Truman
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          says:

          I don’t think there is any inherent reason Montreal isn’t a legitimate MLB market. They did just fine for years. They suffered from a crappy owner (Jeff Loria, who traded out to become the crappy owner of the Marlins) followed by no owner at all. Put a team in and give it support, and there is no reason it couldn’t succeed.

          As for a third team in NYC, it absolutely could support this, and it absolutely won’t happen. Territorial rights are sacrosanct in MLB.

          Look at San Jose. This was for many years open territory. Then the Giants were looking at leaving Candlestick Park and moving a few miles south into San Mateo County. San Mateo was already within the Giants’ territory, but Santa Clara County, which includes San Jose, was not. The idea is that the territory will generally include, at a minimum, the county the team occupies plus all adjacent counties.

          So MLB extended the Giants’ territory to include Santa Clara County, thereby enhancing the credibility of the threat to move into San Mateo County. In the end the Giants stayed in San Francisco. But this didn’t mean that their rights to Santa Clara County were revoked. That was now theirs, and theirs it was going to remain.

          Now jump forward a few years and the Athletics would dearly love to move to San Jose. Ain’t gonna happen. The Giants won’t allow it. It would actually move the A’s further away from San Francisco. My guess is that the Giants figure they aren’t losing any market share to the A’s right now, and they don’t want to risk losing Silicon Valley down the road, should the A’s ever get good. My prediction is that there is not a chance in hell of the A’s making that move. There is some talk of moving them to Alameda County, close to the county line. That might happen, though the “Fremont Athletics” lacks sparkle.

          Getting back to NYC, if that sort of wrangling goes on over San Jose, one can hardly imagine what it would take to put a team in Brooklyn. It took intense negotiations between the Yankees and Mets to agree on putting short-season low A minor league clubs in Staten Island and Coney Island. Every two-team city is a legacy from when the NL and AL were competitors. This is not going to change.Report

          • Yeah, I agree it’s not going to happen.Report

          • The Giants get a fair amount of sponsorship revenue from Silicon Valley companies and don’t want to lose it to a San Jose team. It wouldn’t really matter whether the A’s were good or not: they’d cut into that significantly, because they’d be the local team. It seems wrong to me that a team that built and paid for their own stadium and is still paying it off should have their situation that persuaded them to do that change just because another team wants to poach their sponsors.

            But the A’s moving to Montreal would work for me.Report

    • Avatar Mike Schilling in reply to notme
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      says:

      Likewise the NBA and Seattle. The Kings were able to extort significant monies from Sacramento using that threat just a few years ago.Report

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