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Bruce Dowbiggin

MLB Economics: Ten Pounds of Sand In A Five-Pound Bag

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One might think that, in times fraught with Covid-19, civil unrest and schism politics, the people entrusted with diverting the population for a while might put aside their differences to supply a little entertainment.

If you think this you have not met the people in Major League Baseball. Instead of watching the debate in Parliament the past few days we might have been poring over the first reports from spring training in Florida and Arizona. We might have been speculating if this is the year the Blue Jays return to the World Series for the first time since 1993. But it’s not happening.

That’s because the owners and players in #MLB have chosen this time to resume their periodic border war over the economy of the sport. Since Curt Flood and Catfish Hunter led the way to free agency in baseball in the 1970s, the owners have been pining to restore the previous balance when they paid players as they pleased, and the stars of baseball were forced to accept.

More to the point, MLB once more wishes to crush the MLB Players Association, the most powerful of the pro sports unions. The unions in NHL, NBA and NFL have been smashed by owners in those sports, allowing for salary-cap regimes that range from draconian to merely intrusive. Getting MLBPA to submit has been a longterm goal for baseball owners as a result.

But repeated labour stoppages soured the public on baseball, culminating in the disastrous 1994 cancellation of the World Series (with the Montreal Expos set to win.) Since that blunder baseball kept its labour disputes from disrupting regular season games That idyll ended in the most recent prior dispute between MLB and the players’ union in 2020 as players and teams debated how to restructure a season affected by Covid-19.

But the temptation to squabble is too strong, and so owners want to again try the solidarity of players, locking them out last December. This time the the league and the union are at loggerheads over compensation for young players and limitations on tanking— losing on purpose to receive higher selections in the amateur draft. They are dealing with a situation where 10 players are making more than $33 million a year while the average salary stood at $4.17 million U.S. in 2021. And this offends many in the business.

Because, as we say in our book Cap In Hand (brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-capinhand.aspx) owners want to talk like capitalists but act like socialists. Their challenge in trying to expand their leagues to 30-plus teams— while assuring competitive balance— is that getting small markets Pittsburgh, Milwaukee or Kansas City to compete on an ongoing basis for free agents with New York, Chicago for Los Angeles is a fool’s errand.

To paraphrase an old expression, it’s like trying to put ten pounds of sand into a five-pound bag. Yes, there are smaller markets— notably the Tampa Bay Rays— who have found ways to circumvent their financial handicaps. But the dynamics of consistently winning a World Series or even making the playoffs are monumental. For that reason owners are seeking an expanded postseason which would allow 14 of the league’s 30 teams to reach the playoffs.

The current success of the LA Dodgers ( 3 NL pennants in five years) set against the systemic failure of Pittsburgh (with just one postseason win since 2010) highlights the frustration for owners and fans alike who wish to chase the unicorn of parity. The idea that any team can win on any given Sunday still has its adherents.

But this latest lockout speaks to the futility of the franchise model. The consumer has changed and the means of distributing the product has changed with it. The problem, as we point out in Cap In Hand, is that “no longer does a league need a team in every town to spread its product. Soccer has demonstrated that the sports world has morphed from the overstocked inventories of the franchise model to one based on matchups of elite teams populated by elite players.

“Without a salary cap, the beautiful game has allowed for the growth of super teams in smaller leagues. There is no parity in soccer, just the unending quest for the best product possible. As a result, the sport has finally made a breakthrough in North America.”

The breakdown of the conventional media delivery system, betting and the potential for profit has made all sports global. Fans/ bettors in Europe or Asia want to see the best teams, not Pittsburgh versus Milwaukee on a Tuesday night. What becomes of those teams? Don’t eliminate them the way the Expos were vaporized. Simply have teams play at the financial level they can afford. Concentrate the best players in the markets that can afford them. Have relegation and promotion.

Until the owners in MLB— and the other sports— grasp this simple proposition we are doomed to this cycle of defying market economics in the service of salary caps. Hope that keeps baseball fans warm till MLB cranks up again toward the end of April.

 

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). The best-selling author was nominated for the BBN Business Book award of 2020 for Personal Account with Tony Comper. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s also a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. His new book with his son Evan Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft Years In NHL History is now available on http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

BRUCE DOWBIGGIN Award-winning Author and Broadcaster Bruce Dowbiggin's career is unmatched in Canada for its diversity and breadth of experience . He is currently the editor and publisher of Not The Public Broadcaster website and is also a contributor to SiriusXM Canada Talks. His new book Cap In Hand was released in the fall of 2018. Bruce's career has included successful stints in television, radio and print. A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada's top television sports broadcaster for his work with CBC-TV, Mr. Dowbiggin is also the best-selling author of "Money Players" (finalist for the 2004 National Business Book Award) and two new books-- Ice Storm: The Rise and Fall of the Greatest Vancouver Canucks Team Ever for Greystone Press and Grant Fuhr: Portrait of a Champion for Random House. His ground-breaking investigations into the life and times of Alan Eagleson led to his selection as the winner of the Gemini for Canada's top sportscaster in 1993 and again in 1996. This work earned him the reputation as one of Canada's top investigative journalists in any field. He was a featured columnist for the Calgary Herald (1998-2009) and the Globe & Mail (2009-2013) where his incisive style and wit on sports media and business won him many readers.

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Bruce Dowbiggin

The Cooler: Harper Attempts To Pacify CPC Over Poilievre

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As demons go, Stephen Harper always left something to be desired. While the media and his political opponents painted a picture of a diabolical schemer bent of hoarding power, Harper mostly bored ordinary Canadians. For all the strenuous efforts of newsrooms and chat rooms tapping him as Trump, The Harp lacked a certain je ne sais quoi when it came to ruthless maniacs.

So the sudden re-appearance last month of Canada’s previous PM to throw his support to Pierre Poilievre in the Conservative Party leadership race took on a sinister tone with the usual suspects. Harper’s brand of lukewarm western populism was taken out for another thrashing. CBC typically quoted a Dutch political scientist Hans Mudde as saying, ”Populism presents a Manichean outlook, in which there are only friends and foes.” Etc.

In truth it is likely Harper emerged from the business of making money to bless Poilievre’s massive lead in the CPC leadership for several reasons. The most obvious is that he recognizes the inevitability of Poilievre’s win and wishes to deny the media an electoral horse race orgy till September.

But mostly it is to signify that despite the Toronto Star and CBC’s histrionic protests, Poilievre will be a populist more in Harper’s own image than that of Donald Trump. He only appears radical to the pearl clutchers of urban Toronto.

You can understand why the Family Compact is agitated by Poilievre. With their Golden Boy Justin Trudeau imploding and Poilievre talking about removing the Bank Of Canada governor and stripping CBC of funding, this threatens to get out of their control. Not even the RCMP can bail out Justin now. Harper’s benediction is meant to still that radicalism in the mind of Tory voters.

But as we wrote on May 22, 2022, Poilievre himself is unafraid to thrash about in the Trumpian waters. He’s rejecting further debates, walling himself off from the Trudeau-funded media. “Poilievre has channelled the voters’ disgust with Trudeau and the Ottawa status quo epitomized by the Trucker Convoy. That disgust includes the grandees of his own party who foisted Scheer and O’Toole on the nation .

Their 2022 candidate is the well-worn place holder Jean Charest, failed Conservative and tainted Liberal premier of Québec from 2003 to 2012. Charest’s policy chest sounds like a throwback to the days when language battles and Québec sovereignty were the burning issues. He’s pro-choice, and he knocks PP for supporting the Truckers.

In the (first) debate, Poilievre did not spare Charest. “Now, Mr. Charest learned about the trucker convoy on CBC like other Liberals… He believes I should be cancelled from this leadership race, and disqualified, his words, because I don’t share his Liberal viewpoint.”

“That is the kind of cancel culture and censorship that you would expect from Justin Trudeau, but instead we’re getting it from this liberal on this stage.” He then slammed Charest on his Quebec Liberal party’s alleged acceptance of illegal donations during his time as Québec premier. And his ties to Huawei. “The average trucker has more integrity in his pinky finger than you had in your entire scandal-plagued Liberal cabinet,”

It was red meat for frustrated Conservatives who finally see a champion in the manner of  Florida governor Ron DeSantis, a tiger who won’t back up in the face of Andrew Coyne huffing and puffing about nasty truckers. It resounds with Conservatives who refuse to accommodate themselves to a Liberal reality.

Naturally this brought out the Conservatives version of Charlie the Tuna. They want Tories with good taste, not Tories who taste good. They’re appropriating all the Donald Trump derangement beloved by Canadian pack Media. 

“Yesterday’s debate was embarrassing for our party,” said CPC leadership candidate Scott Aitchison. “The fighting, yelling and screaming. The partisan cheap shots at fellow Conservatives. We will never win another election if this is how we talk to each other and Canadians.”

Yeah. Because all the “fighting, yelling and screaming” is why Canadians refused to vote for Scheer and O’Toole. Erstwhile Ontario leader Patrick Brown, who took a powder in the debate, also played the Stop Shouting card. “After watching the debate, I can’t help but wonder: how can any of these candidates expect to unite our party and expand our Conservative coalition if they’re already adopting a scorched-earth approach?” 

Reform Party founder Preston Manning also demurred. “Stay away from the personal attacks that only poison the party well and reinforce the public’s negative perception of party politics.”

Have these people noticed that, while the CPC plays rock/paper/scissors,  the Liberals are waging drone war on them? Like Republicans— who talk tough and then support Democrats sending g $40 B in untraceable money to Ukraine— the CPC has a credibility problem.

They want to win the government. To do so they need to penetrate southern Ontario and urban areas of Montreal and the Lower Mainland B.C. The leaders of the party— prompted by the Hill press corps— insist that you can beat Trudeau by using a feather duster on him.

Poilievre— a bilingual Alberta product who represents an Ottawa riding—  dares to disagree. (He says he would fire the Bank of Canada governor if elected prime minister). He’s willing to go over the heads of the CBC chattering class and Liberals pollsters who offer unwanted advice such as: “Conservatives must ask themselves if they are falling victim to the ease of stoking and selling the politics of anger,” says pollster Tim Powers.

The outcome of a Poilievre leadership may be another schism between Reform elements and establishment Ottawa TV panel figures. But Poilievre’s attitude in the face of Trump phobia will remain much like the irascible John Diefenbaker who blew out of the West in 1957, defying the status quo, to win the PMO twice. In the face of blowback from those quivering at Liberal omnipotency Dief opined, “You can’t stand up for Canada with a banana for a backbone.”

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

 

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Bruce Dowbiggin

See No Evil, Hear No Evil: We’ve Been Here Before

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The news from the Hockey Canada sexual scandals keeps getting uglier. Sponsors are abandoning an organization thought beyond reproach just a year ago. Politicians are roasting HC executives. The IIHF is to determine whether it should withdraw tournaments from Canada till the mess is cleaned up. And the NHL is fretting that it houses sexual assault suspects— some big stars— from as far back as 2003.

The current parliamentary hearings over the 2018 WJHC champions have made HC toxic— its women’s team is expressing disgust with the organization. that represents them. The story is hampered by the fact that nothing has been proven or even alleged by police. The process has existed in a world of non-disclosure agreements and allegations and media distortions of the facts. (We’re told there are videos of the incident yet no one in the Ottawa hearings seemed to mention them.)

Faced with the uncertainties and player refusals to cooperate Hockey Canada threw up its hands and paid off the complainant.  The public is baffled. Who are the players involved? Who is innocent? Who is guilty? What is the evidence? Why did this stay hidden? How did Hockey Canada miss so badly?

So far the picture is opaque. Can we ever believe in the sports body again? Currently hockey is being used as a metaphor by all sorts of political actors to push narratives about male privilege and social inequality. What has been consistent is the excellent reporting (again) of TSN’s Rick Westhead and Katie Strang in The Athletic. Their dogged research and courage in exposing these stories is exceptional.

What’s also consistent is the tardy response of the mainstream hockey press that is now finally coming around to this story. There are hundreds of reporters and media outlets that seem to cover everything that moves in the sport. Yet a story that implicates the names of the current Conn Smythe winner and other young NHL stars— without vindicating them— is festering.

It’s not the first time in recent memory. In June of 2021— when sexual assault allegations on the 2010 Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks emerged— we asked, “Most damning is where were the dozens of hockey “insiders” in the media during this time? The people we are told have their ear to the ground on all things happening in the league? Why did it take till 2021 for Rick Westhead (TSN) and Katie Strang (The Athletic) to unearth the poorly hidden story during the NHL’s postseason semifinals. 

Isn’t this the same media that swore it would never ignore this sort of story— no matters how much it hurt friends and sponsors—  when the Graham James and Dave Frost stories emerged? Aren’t these the same networks that went wall-to-wall on the earlier stories when they surfaced, trying to make up for their negligence about sexual abuse in hockey during the past? 

Sadly, the hockey media culture is the same one we encountered in the 1990s when, along with Carl Brewer, Sue Foster and Russ Conway, we exposed the corruption between the league and NHL Players Association director Alan Eagleson on a range of subjects from player pensions to collective bargaining to Canada Cup fraud. 

That story had lain dormant for a generation despite the repeated calls by Brewer for investigations into the cozy relationship between the league and Eagleson. Media with NHL sponsorships or broadcast deals would rather have eaten glass than reported what they saw.

Thanks to the digging of Conway, Foster and CBC Toronto the truth emerged in the mid 1990s. Eagleson was convicted of fraud and NHL president John Ziegler was replaced by Gary Bettman. A familiar pattern then ensued. When the facts (about James or Frost) became too hard to deny the negligent media put on the hair shirt, condemning corruption and vowing to never allow its negligence to happen again. 

Later, they grew even tighter with the people they covered, inking enormous broadcast deals or sponsorship contracts that have drawn them ever closer to hockey power centres. 

The NHL (went) into omertà mode when asked how it countenanced the alleged behaviour of Chicago team management in ignoring a sexual predator and then giving him a letter of recommendation. Stan Bowman, the son of NHL Hall of Fame member Scotty Bowman, is not answering questions yet. But as general manager of the U.S. Olympic men’s hockey program for 2022 he will have to offer some explanations if he’s to keep the post. [he’s since been removed from both posts.]

Former Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin, who was a Chicago player at the time, says, “I was not part of any meeting & I was not part of any decision & I was not aware of what was going on at the time. You can go on the record with that.” Done.

One would like to take the league and their snoozing media at their word that they will do better in covering these abuse stories in the past. Sadly, there is little reason to believe this contrition after so many false starts in the past.”

As we are seeing, the false starts continue.

Bruce Dowbiggin @dowbboy is the editor of Not The Public Broadcaster (http://www.notthepublicbroadcaster.com). A two-time winner of the Gemini Award as Canada’s top television sports broadcaster, he’s a regular contributor to Sirius XM Canada Talks Ch. 167. Inexact Science: The Six Most Compelling Draft YearsIn NHL History, , his new book with his son Evan, was voted the eighth best professional hockey book of by bookauthority.org . His 2004 book Money Players was voted seventh best, and is available via http://brucedowbigginbooks.ca/book-personalaccount.aspx

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