Sunday, May 13, 2007

Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

A great quotation from a cynical accounting professor who's teaching us an exam preparation course:

"The Toronto Maple Leafs aren't a hockey team, they're an entertainment act. Nobody expects them to win hockey games. As long as they put on a show, people will pay lots of money for tickets."
Like the opera.


Skeelo said...

As a life long Leaf fan I would have to say that's pretty much bang on.

There are a lot of other pro sports teams in the same boat though. Cubs, Habs, Red Sox, Packers. The Sox and Packers happen to be good teams but even if they weren't, management could still get away with charging ridiculous ticket prices. Those teams are more religion than sport in their cities.

Road Hammer said...

Each of those teams (except for the Cubs) have won championships at some point within the last 15 years.

Skeelo said...

The Leafs lack of a title is well documented so what's your point? Other than to take another shot at the Leafs.

My point was that even if those teams hadn't won a title people would still pay through the nose for tickets. The fact they have won a title just makes it easier to stomach.

Road Hammer said...

The point is that achieving the pinnacle of success in their sport within recent memory explains at least some of the popularity of those teams. Hell, even the Yankees don't sell out in the spring, and if they're not a religion, I don't know what is.

I also recall Fenway being less than jammed when the Jays ruled the AL East and Montreal Canadiens fans are known for staying home in droves when their team is not competitive. As for the Pack, they are the only game in the (60,000 strong) town and are community owned, so they're a little different, and the Cubs - at least they allow baseball fans in Chicago a little competition, while the Leafs brand refuses to give up their monopoly status as evidenced by the vacant Copps Coliseum.

Now, if I wanted to take a pot shot at the Leafs and demonstrate the irrationality of their fan base, I'd have pointed out that within the last 40 years, the only teams other than Toronto to not make an appearance in the Stanley Cup final include Atlanta (expansion team), Nashville (expansion team), Columbus (expansion team), San Jose (expansion team), the Wild (expansion team), and Phoenix (joined in the late 70s so the Leafs had 12 more years to get there), but I didn't, so I believe I deserve a little slack.

David said...

For what it's worth, I think that anytime a team owner has some notion of drawing a living from the team's profitability, the fans get screwed. Two examples come to mind.

First, Buffalo Bills owner Ralph Wilson has decided that he needs to make as much money off the team as possible to leave to his children because they're not going to be able to keep the team after he dies. As a result, he refuses to spend to the salary cap. The team is sufficiently competitive to make a plausible run at a playoff spot and fill the stadium, but it's generally stuck in neutral. Buffalo fans, however, are some of the least forgiving in sports (this morning they want Lindy Ruff fired and Daniel Brier traded immediately) and are starting to push back at the Bills' geriatric leadership team.

Second, and most heartbreaking, I think the trouble with the Ottawa Lynx can be traced back to Howard Darwin, the most peculiar man in Ottawa. When Darwin got the team, he made no secret of the fact that he'd never seen a baseball game in his life. He did a great job the first two years and, helped by novelty, made the Lynx a great success. But then Howard decided that the team should help him buy a bigger house and he started cutting costs, gutting the marketing function. Minor league baseball is all about marketing and making games fun for the marginal baseball fan. When the Lynx stopped doing this, the fairweather (and cheapskate) Ottawa sports fan stopped coming.

Successful sports teams need to be ego investments by owners who are sports fans themselves. The owner has to want to win as badly as the season's ticket holder. If you want to get rich, there are much better businesses to be in. Maybe the Leafs are the exception to this rule because of the fans, but Leaf fans would be a lot better off if a billionaire hockey fan bought them.

Road Hammer said...

That said, I think we can all agree that the rich owner/fan scenario such that the Steinbrenner model should be followed and the Gliberman one avoided at all costs.