Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Smulyan's Snow Job

The Post continues their series looking at the various ownership groups. Today, Jeff Smulyan goes under the microscope. Les Carpenter is a solid writer, but he fell into the trap that every other stinkin' writer or commentator has fallen into: the carpetbagger angle.

Jeff Smulyan is not going to be a bad owner because he's an outsider. Anyone who thinks that he's going to pack the team up and move is a complete idiot who hasn't given the issue more than a nickel's worth of thought.

If Smulyan is awarded the team, he simply won't be able to AFFORD to move. The Washington Nationals are going to cost $450 million. What other market is going to be able to provide the revenue streams to pay off the massive amount of borrowing that purchase requires? (You can be sure he's not paying with cash!) Fine. Move it to Indiana. First, I doubt that MLB would allow him to move (political considerations and all), but even if Seligula stuck his thumb up, there's no way the banks would allow it. They'd have to dredge Smulyan's corpse from the Anacostia first. (And that's even before considering the lease guarantees -- as Tampa Bay proves, some of them can be iron-clad.)

The machiavellian in me makes me wonder if this isn't part of his strategy. Keep talking about the moving aspect of his ownership in Seattle, turning the focus from what it is that made him such a crappy owner, namely his constant kvetching about how horrible things were in town and how it could never work, pretty much from day one. When the owner is telling you how horrible your stadium is and how baseball is never going to work in your city, why would a casual fan make the investment either emotionally or financially? Short answer; he won't.

With this straw man created, Smulyan has been eager to combat it. Look! I've got minorities! Look! I've got locals! Look at the former sports heroes I bring before you! I'm a good guy! I've got local people. See!

But pay no attention to the corporate structure I bring to the table. Pay no attention to how very little of my undercapitalized personal portfolio is being used. Emmis Communications can take care of all that. Stop looking behind the curtain, dammit!

I've blogged about this before, but the use of Emmis money is a nightmare scenario. In Seattle Smulyan used every excuse he could to not invest in his team, claiming that the revenues weren't there. Here, he could point to the high price of the team, the unfair TV deal, the difficulties of those damn large-market cities like Philadelphia and New York. And, yes, the corporation. Sorry, boys. We can't take any payroll on at the deadline. The Emmis stockholders just won't go for it.

He claims that it's not a problem. But he also believes that he was a good owner -- just in the wrong situation. As I've snarkily suggested before, this is a guy who thought that moving the Mariners from Seattle to Tampa Bay was a good business move. Even the three or four Devil Rays fans would laugh at that proposition.

I still think there's a decent chance of Smulyan getting his hands in the cookie jar. He has too many inside connections with the Old Boys Network that is baseball. And I imagine he is especially willing to merge with other groups -- whether that's Kasten, or coming on as a communications expert with the Lerners. (Just pulling ideas out of my hoohah)

I just wish that stories about him would focus on the real problems of his ownership. Carpenter's story gets to some of it, but any time spent on the carpetbag aspect is too much.


  • Hmmm. I think I have a different take of Carpenter's article. I can see the carpetbagger angle there, I suppose, but it looks like the theme of the profile (and probably the reality of the situation) is that Smulyan's honesty concerning his Seattle ownership is very much in question.

    His explanations---from his motivation with respect to Tampa, to the Seattle Times memo, to . . . yes, his financing---just don't sound forthright. He comes across as a weasel.

    By Blogger Basil, at 11/03/2005 12:16 AM  

  • I didn't mean to suggest that he was solely focused on that; just that the idea of him taking the team to move it is silly, and that it's not even worth the five or so paragraphs he spends on it.

    As to the honesty aspect, I side with you, but it's not a willful deception. The guy honestly believes he was a good owner. It's just that the deck was stacked against him.

    By Blogger Chris Needham, at 11/03/2005 8:33 AM  

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