Two Very Different Drafts

07.2.2005 | Evan Weiner | Sports

It may be the Fourth of July weekend, but that won’t stop the New York Olympic committee in its bid to land the 2012 summer games. The New York delegation has joined bidders from Paris, London, Moscow and Madrid in Singapore to essentially beg International Olympic Committee delegates for their vote in the July 6 summer games selection. It is thought that Paris is the frontrunner in the so-called contest, which could more accurately be described as a bid to see how much public money cities can use for a two week event that is really nothing more than a corporate bazaar. The Olympics are a money loser; local taxpayers are on the hook for costs long after the games leave town. Just ask Australian and Greek officials about their experiences in 2000 and 2004. Yet cities and nations go after the games despite knowing the event will be a cash drain and that the money could be better used for  basic services. In five days, four Olympic committees will be disappointed, but in this case the victor may prove the real loser.

It’s highly unlikely that Minnesota Twins President Jerry Bell has paid much attention to centre college professor Bruce Johnson, but Bell, who is trying to get a publicly funded ballpark for the Twins, and Johnson agree on one thing. Baseball parks do very little to spur a local economy.

In campaigning for a new stadium, Bell hasn’t used the usual create jobs and economic growth argument. Instead Bell is making it simple: Either build us a park or don’t. His stance is unusual in that sports owners and politicians always talk about economic growth, but Professor Johnson’s research has lead him to conclude that stadiums are lousy investments for taxpayers, big money losers. Johnson sought other reasons, such as civic pride, that a community would want a new facility. He found that there is civic pride attached to a stadium, but the professor also discovered that taxpayers don’t want to pay so much for pride. The Twins, though, need the new park and its revenues to pay top dollar for players.

Last week’s draft marked the last time NBA Commissioner David Stern will shake hands with 18-year-olds who’ve just become pro players. Stern no longer wants new high school graduates playing for any of his 30 teams and starting in 2006, new high school graduates will no longer be eligible to play in the NBA. Stern got his way last week, at the same time the Defense Department began assembling a database on 16- and 17-year-old high school students in the hopes of identifying candidates who might want to join the military when they become high school graduates. While Stern thinks it’s bad for pro scouts to be looking at high school players, the Defense Department is marketing a career in the military to 18-year-olds; this is how out of touch with reality the fluff entertainment NBA has become. Stern will pose with some 18-year-old tonight, someone he can market globally but doesn’t  really want in his league. If an 18-year-old can join the armed forces, he should be able to get an NBA tryout no matter what Stern thinks.

In about two weeks, Major League Baseball will officially join the NHL and NBA in undertaking a global expansion. It’s clear the national pastime has some catching up to do.

MLB and USA baseball will hold a news conference at the all-star game in Detroit to explain baseball’s World Cup contest in February and March of 2006. Japan may or may not be part of the festivities, which will include the United States, Canada, the Dominican Republic and others, including that great baseball power, South Africa. But understand: This venture is not about who wins, it’s about how to market the logos of the New York Yankees, Washington Nationals and Boston Red Sox to people outside North America who know nothing about baseball.

The United States has reached the point of sports saturation. The television ratings for the NBA are down. But globally, in places like Argentina and China, viewers are watching at record rates. Sales of NBA logos on all kinds of items are skyrocketing globally and NBA commissioner David Stern has suggested that Paris might be an all-star game destination. Stern has not ruled out expanding the league into Europe after 2010.

The NHL opened its doors to international play in 1972 when Team Canada took on the soviets. The world hockey association brought in players from Sweden and staged international tournaments in the 1970s. Hockey has been at the forefront in global expansion. The NHL and its players’ association will likely agree to send players to the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy.

Olympic participation may help the league reacquaint itself with casual sports fans who turned off hockey because of the lockout.

While the NBA has its eyes on European expansion, the NHL probably can’t go to many European cities because of strong leagues already established in Sweden, Russia, Finland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Italy and Switzerland.

Oddly enough, America’s most popular sport, football, doesn’t have the global reach that basketball, soccer, baseball, hockey, tennis and golf have. NFL Europe has struggled for years, though the NFL is trying to make inroads in China.

While American (and Canadian) sports owners are exporting their sports to Europe, Asia, South America, Africa and Australia, the most popular international sport, soccer, is still struggling to obtain a higher American profile. Soccer is making some progress, but it’s been a slow haul.

Baseball has been slow to embrace the global stage, which is odd because baseball teams have been touring Japan for decades. Back in 1888, Albert Spalding’s Chicago White Stockings took a worldwide tour trying to internationalize the sport. Spalding failed. Baseball is counting on succeeding this time.

They need the international exposure to sell t-shirts and get eyes glued to the TV, because that’s where badly needed new sources of revenue will be found.

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