KNOW THIS: Professional sports team owners don't get run off by newspaper columnists, irate fans or a raucous rabble of both.
When the well has run dry, when the last drop of blood has been squeezed from the stone, when it is time to say goodbye, the owners will sell for an enormous profit.
They will certify once again that a professional sports franchise is one of the only investments where you can buy high and sell much higher. Leonard Tose bought the Eagles high from bankrupt Jerry Wolman. He sold them even higher to Norman Braman - even though he had lost most of his paper profits in the gambling hells of Atlantic City, where they loaded him with Scotch before dropping face cards on his double-down 12s.
Wolman paid the most ever for an NFL franchise at the time. Tose, Braman and Jeffrey Lurie all bought in at the high end.
Lurie paid $185 million in 1994. Do I hear $1 billion 13 years later? Or damn close to it? Bert Bell and Lud Wray bought the Frankford Yellow Jackets franchise in 1933 for $2,500 and joined the fledgling National Football League. My math stinks, but I think Lurie paid 74,000 times more than Bert and Lud.
There's a simple guideline to remember when you ask aloud, "How do we get rid of this bum owner [or fill in the Phillies' Teflonics]?"
It's not your call unless you can find a way to force the sports franchise to be sold at a loss. Now, that really would be driving the scalawags out. In major league baseball and professional football, it just doesn't happen - even when the day-to-day, season-to-season operation is backstroking through red ink. The next guy and his investors will come in for the same tax advantages, appreciation of assets and taxpayer handouts as the one hanging out a for-sale sign.
Bob Carpenter's daddy bought the bankrupt Phillies from the National League for $400,000. Since the Phillies were historically always bankrupt, it was one of the first times actual money changed hands. That was in 1943 and 38 years later, Bob and his son, Ruly, had a bad lease in a stadium built for the Phillies by the city. Baseball's economic storm clouds were flashing lightning, so he sold to Bill Giles and a group of investor/fans he cobbled together for $31 million. Let's see, $400,000 goes into $31 million 77.5 times. That's not a windfall profit, it's a Perfect Storm of cash.
Years ago, I climbed up on the column armed with figures underlining the sad decline of the Phillies' once-great minor league system, the loss of key scouts and field men, the sag of attendance and general sense of second-classness. And hadn't Bill Giles stated in an unfortunate placing of words that the Phillies were a small-market team?
Bill Giles must go, I wrote. Hmmmm. Maybe I should have paid more attention to what happened when Bill's family friends from Taft Broadcasting in Cincinnati decided it was time to cash out what was the biggest slice of the Phillies. The remaining owners gobbled up the Taft shares like hungry piranhas attacking survivors of a capsized ferry. Giles, all-in with his initial investment of less than $100,000 was suddenly parking his luxury Lexus in the first executive space next to the Phillies' entrance as a man of substance after meeting various goals.
The Phillies play in an incredible new ballpark two-thirds funded by taxpayer money. They have a favorable lease. Various business journals place the franchise value in the $450 million range. Let's see, $450 million divided by $31 million equals 14.5. That's not 14.5 percent, the kind of "measly" profit that gets newspapers sold, it's 1,450 percent.
So now, Ed Snider's well-shod feet are in the fire. The aging chairman presides over two sorry teams his Comcast-Spectacor owns. The Flyers and Sixers play in the Wachovia Center, a brilliant building his financing wizardry made possible without taxpayer expense. They are two-thirds of the core programming of Comcast SportsNet. He owns the venerable cash cow next door, the still-useful Wachovia Spectrum. And the minor league hockey Phantoms. The Phillies are partners in the Comcast SportsNet and many of their fans park in lots owned by Comcast-Spectacor.
Ed Snider sits atop an empire where the Flyers and Sixers are profitable even when attendance sags and TV ratings fall. So, when the Sixers lose 12 straight and the Flyers continue their embarrassing stumble through the NHL basement with a team assembled by the icon Ed let hang around a decade too long, it hardly makes a dent in the rest of the Empire.
The long list of "entities" won't miss a beat or a booking. Ever hear of Global Spectrum? Well, when you watched the NCAA's BCS showdown between Ohio State and Florida, the events in University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz., were hosted by one of Comcast-Spectacor's several spinoff companies. Global Spectrum did the Fiesta Bowl there, as well. All told, GS is the fastest-growing facilities management company in the country, with 60 arenas under full-service contracts.
Chairman Ed sits astride this far-flung empire. You may be distraught over the perceived organizational collapse of the wretched Sixers and reeking Flyers. In the broader view of Comcast-Spectacor, however, they are not much more than programming for the sports network located in the same company-owned building where both teams play.
Feel free to denounce Chairman Ed, to call for his ouster - uh, by whom and for what? Making money hand over fist was never indictable if acquired honestly.
Just know this: When Ed Snider does decide to take a back seat and start smelling the roses, the people running the Empire will have been handpicked by him. *
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