Tuesday, January 12, 2010

A Great Idea for South Florida Sports and TV

Note: I originally published this in November, but with me now posting articles on Bleacher Report, I decided to re-publish it to make it more timely, even though I believe its still a timely story. So if you read this already and want something original from me, I'm sorry, I'll have something new up tomorrow. But if you're reading this for the first time, then enjoy.

I’m not a business man, I’ve never tried to be, and I try not to be. I’m a writer and a sports fan at heart, and yes, this is about sports, but more the business of sports for today.

Sports teams are a business. There, I said it! We want to believe that they’re for civic pride, just ask people in Seattle how much civic pride they have over their Super Sonics right now, or ask a Hartford resident how much civic pride they have over the mighty whale right now, or rabid hockey fan living in Winnipeg or Quebec City, who I’m sure are just BURSTING with civic pride over their Jets and Nordiques respectively. No, they’re businesses, they can pick up and leave when they want, and they’re out to make money.

Of course, they also operate as a monopoly. The Miami Heat is the only NBA team in Miami, the Florida-soon to be Miami Marlins are the only professional baseball team in Miami. Both teams at one point were on the verge of moving before getting new stadiums built. The Heat got the American Airlines Arena which I must say is aging like a fine wine as opposed to the old Miami Arena and the Marlins will be moving into their new ballpark in exactly 162 home games not counting the playoffs. What does one have to do with the other? They both always take a backseat to The Miami Dolphins, both in the hearts of the fans, and in the media. On top of that, they both have to share a regional sports network cartel with teams from other parts of the state of Florida! In 2012, it’s only going to get worse, since the Marlins new stadium is a retractable roof ballpark, they will be competing for events such as concerts, conventions, professional wrestling, and other events where they can make money other than the team’s games themselves. It doesn’t have to be this way, and on top of that, it won’t, if they can heed my idea. Unlikely, but I have to get it on paper somehow.

The Marlins and The Heat should merge all of their non-baseball and non-basketball operations together.

Has this ever been done before, two teams of different sports merging? YES, pun intended! Why is the pun there you may ask? Well, the YES network started off as a merger between the New Jersey Nets and the New York Yankees. This was done in 1999 in order to leverage their television deals together. We ended up with YES network because they found that if they just produced their teams own games and broadcasted it on their own network, hence collecting the advertising themselves, they’d make more money than just selling their rights to a Fox Sports Net type channel. Other teams followed suit and got in the act afterwards, in some cases it succeeded (Comcast Sports Chicago, owned 25% by Comcast, 25% by the Chicago Cubs, and 50% by Jerry Reinsdorf the owner of the White Sox and Bulls; Altitude which is owned by the owner of the Denver Nuggets and the Colorado Avalanche; NESN which actually predates YES and is owned 80% by the Red Sox and 20% by the Boston Bruins; and SportsTime Ohio which is owned by the Cleveland Indians), and in some cases its failed (Victory Sports One lasted a cool 3 games when it was established in 2004 by the Minnesota Twins, however when it failed to get cable coverage anywhere in the established markets of the Twins and thus folded as the Twins moved back to their local FSN).

However this merger isn’t just about their own television network, which we WILL get to, as well as WHY it would succeed, it’s about integrating the businesses of two sports franchises that seem so different but really together could be the same.

Now, I don’t know if Mickey Arison and Jeffrey Loria know each other, hell, I doubt they’ve even been in the same room, but one has to think that if presented with such an idea, something could be worked out. For Arison, it would be a chance to own a piece of a Major League Baseball team. I’m not sure if that’s something he’d be interested in, hell if he was he probably would’ve competed against Huizinga to bring baseball to South Florida (No way he would’ve bought the team from him in 1998 when the team was up for sale, the two men hated each other!) For Loria, it would be something new to his portfolio, an NBA team, and the glitz and glamour that comes with it. The model with this though is one of efficiency.

The Heat and Marlins obviously wouldn’t merge their baseball and basketball operations. As funny as it would be to see how Larry Beinfest would try to woo LeBron to the Heat, or see Pat Riley find a way to make Freddi need to spend some time with his family, or see Cody Ross run the point, or even Dwyane Wade fully emulate his hero Michael Jordan and hit below the Mendoza line for the Carolina Mudcats one year, it’s just not going to happen that way! Here’s what WOULD be merged:

· Stadium/Arena operations. The Heat own and operate American Airlines Arena, and while Miami-Dade County will own the new Marlins Ballpark with the Marlins operating it. The two teams thru their merged company could create a company in charge of operating both places. Now the New York Yankees and The Dallas Cowboys set up a joint-venture between the two of them to operate both stadiums, this plan is similar but like I mentioned before there’s more to it. The positive of this is no competing for events. Concerts expecting to have large draws in the winter in South Florida’s perfect winter weather take place at the Marlins Ballpark, while smaller summer shows would take place at the Triple-A. Plus it would also open up the possibility of a Regular Season Heat game played outdoors in front of possibly 40,000 Heat fans sometime between December and February. (I’d suggest an annual Christmas Afternoon game against the Magic, Knicks, or Bulls and tie it in to the Orange Bowl Festivities, and while we’re at it, BRING BACK THE ORANGE BOWL PARADE DAMMIT, sorry, that’s another blog!)

· Sales and Marketing. Now here comes the drawback, if you merge their sales and marketing departments, which deal with ticket sales, marketing, and the Miami Heat team store, and sponsorships, well, people are going to lose their jobs. I’m sorry; it’s a fact of life with these mergers. BUT, wouldn’t it be more efficient and save both clubs a lot of money if their sales and marketing departments were combined? Just imagine the possibilities: Heat season ticket holders get discounts on Marlins tickets, Marlins season ticket holders get discounts on Heat tickets, and season ticket holders of both teams could actually purchase packages that combine the two teams. Example: say you but a 20 game Miami Marlins season ticket package. Well, season ticket sales for baseball are made right in the middle of basketball season, so you buy a 20 game Marlins ticket package, and you can get 50% off any 4 Heat games from the time you purchase the tickets until the end of the season. Plus, you could by Heat tickets at Marlins en Miami, the Marlins Little Havana ticket office, or Marlins tickets at the Triple-A. Hell, you could buy tickets for any event taking place at either arena at any of the arenas. Metaphorically speaking, you could catch a Saturday Afternoon Marlins game in April that begins at 1pm. You’re out by 4, and there are tickets available for the Heat’s 7:30 matchup with the Knicks that could determine what seed the Heat get in the playoffs. Well with your Marlins ticket, you could go to a ticket window at the Marlins Ballpark (or even a computer kiosk if you’re using a credit card, which many people would anyways) show the Marlins ticket to the attendant (or scan it if you’re using the kiosk) and just like that, you could get 25% off your tickets to the heat game. In fact, the Marlins will even be kind enough to even let you know the best time to do it (it's when you hear the PA say “now pitching for the Miami Marlins, Renyel Pinto.”) Same could go with the Heat at the Triple-A as well.

· Shared Sponsorships. Of course the myth in sports is that they make their money from the fans that come see the games. Well, sort of. Sponsorships like it or not, drive the economy of sports. After all, there are as many as 19,000 sets of eyeballs at the Triple-A, and during a sell-out there could be as many as 37,000 at the Marlins ballpark. Now with both teams negotiating joint sponsorships, odds are companies could pay less money but reach more people. They could probably even pay less for the two teams combined then they do for the Dolphins alone. The two teams already have many of the same sponsors, such as Pepsi, Papa John’s, American Airlines to name a few. An appealing proposition to sponsors though would be the opportunity to sponsor both teams, purchase advertising in both venues, AND purchase ads on their new Television Network, which brings me to the final point (I know you’ve been reading this for a while and are at word number 1,590 right now, so just bare with me.)

· Their own Television Network/Radio Network. Now they already have their own “radio networks” but those are really just a loose chain of radio stations that cover the team. Well, they could sell their radio packages together, or even purchase a Sports Talk radio station in South Florida of their own (Best station for that would be the low-rated 940 The Sports Animal WINZ. Great coverage not only in Miami-Dade and Broward, but could be picked up as far North as Palm Beach and as far west as Ft. Myers, both within the markets of the Heat and the Marlins. Then make Dan LeBatard and Jorge Sedano offers they couldn’t refuse for Drive-Time, while developing new local talent as opposed to syndicated sports programming with the exception of ESPN Radio and Westwood One’s NFL and NCAA package, then purchase an FM Talk station geared towards men 18-45 for overflow programming and general talk or syndicated talk programs like Dan Patrick and Jim Rome.) Of course I’d also suggest purchasing stations throughout the Marlins and Heat’s territory including Naples-Ft. Myers, and West Palm Beach to simulcast such programming.

Then there’s their television network. Fox Sports owns a monopoly on sports programming throughout the State of Florida, owning two Regional Sports Networks: Sun Sports and FSN Florida. Unfortunately, these two networks cover sports in the ENTIRE sport of Florida. This leads to the Heat and Marlins getting subpar deals to broadcast their games, on a Sports Network with virtually no other local programming, not even a nightly report on all that’s going on in Florida Sports. In fact, if I have to see The Best Damn Sports Show Period one more time, I’m going on a 5 county killing spree!

There IS a better way, and this one will not only benefit the Heat and Marlins, but the Panthers, Dolphins, even whichever Television stations in the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, and Naples-Ft. Myers Networks decide to sign on.

The new cable net would be based in Miami, with studios based in the Triple-A for Heat games, and in the New Marlins Ballpark for Marlins games, and main studios based in whatever Miami television station they’d partner with (Of course, the network would encompass all of South Florida, when I say all of South Florida I’m not just speaking of the Miami-Ft. Lauderdale DMA, but also West Palm Beach’s DMA and Naples-Ft. Myers DMA.) They’d purchase the rights to Heat and Marlins games, produce them, and the teams would collect the revenues from Advertising. If they choose, they could bid on the Panthers, BUT, I could mainly see them just making a serious bid on them, before FSN decides since they’re already losing the Marlins and Heat to make a serious claim to the Panthers, thus driving up the price for the Panthers.

Of course, if the Marlins-Heat TV partnership wins the rights to the Panthers, then they’d have a South Florida only regional sports net, a good idea would be a South Florida Cable only news network to accompany it as sort of a South Florida version of Headline News with bureaus in all of the local Television Stations affiliated with them in South Florida (before they went all Nancy Grace on us) plus a venue for overflow programming (I.E. Panthers Games)

Again, the programming would be strictly local. If they do somehow manage to own the monopoly on South Florida Sports Coverage, they could also bid on exclusive rights to Miami Dolphins pre-season football, plus Miami Dolphins post game press conferences, off-season press conferences, and during draft time a Miami Dolphins draft special. During the day they’d also air press conferences of any of the teams involved, plus hourly news and weather updates from their partners.

What would they air other than press conferences, specials, and the games themselves you might ask? A lot! I’d sign a deal with WWE for one. MSG in New York has one, why not our theoretical regional sports network? First you’d have programs from the WWE’s developmental territory Florida Championship Wrestling every weekend. It could air late at night or in the early mornings. Then you could have WWE’s Florida Classics. If a significant wrestling event from WWE, WCW, NWA, or any wrestling organization whose library is owned by WWE took place in Florida, it could be shown on WWE Florida Theatre hosted by none other than the great Craig DeGeorge!

During afternoons you could simulcast LeBatard’s show since he loves to be on TV so much, along with the previous night’s Marlins or Heat or Panthers game or even classic Heat, Marlins or Panthers games, Fall Friday Nights could be for the High School Football game of the week, with coverage of the State Football playoffs and championship. Then after games a comprehensive post game show, then a 30 minute South Florida Sports wrap up show similar to SportsCenter, without all of the superficial shit they include, that also includes relevant National Highlights.

Now I mentioned all of these partner TV stations in the three television markets this station would have cable coverage in, but you're probably asking, what would this station do for them? A LOT! This would be a lucrative package for any Television stations that decided to sign up for such a partnership. Just cut sports completely from their budget and pay a flat fee to the network for a nightly 2 minute sports report at 6pm and 11pm (or 10pm depending on the station) PLUS, a Friday Night Marlins package, a Friday Night Heat package, a Saturday Night Panthers Package, and possibly if Friday Night doesn’t work or even as a supplement to Friday Nights, a Sunday Afternoon Marlins package (this one would only last until September if the partner stations are CBS or Fox affiliates because of football.)

Of course the main studios would be located at the flagship broadcast station, meaning we need a station that’s state of the art, would appreciate the programming, and wouldn’t mind also running a local cable only supplement to their main news programming. From Miami, I’d eliminate WFOR because, hell, its 2009 and they haven’t even gone HD yet even though they’re a CBS owned and operated station. While the thought of an all news station would appeal to WSVN, it hurts that it’s a Fox Station and Fox wouldn’t be too thrilled with one of their stronger affiliates linking up with someone that drove them out of a lucrative market. WPLG has the ABC affiliation BUT then if ABC gets interested and decides to stir the pot a little bit, we’d wind up with ESPN South Florida and honestly we don’t want that (even though the radio station would be an ESPN radio affiliate AND late nights the RSN would air ESPNNEWS, an ESPN clone is NOT a good idea.)

This leaves us narrowed down to two options in South Florida: WTVJ, an NBC owned and operated station, and WSFL, a tribune owned CW affiliate. (WBFS is owned by CBS like WFOR, therefore it’s eliminated by proxy despite being the home of WWE Smackdown due to its MyNetworkTV affiliation.) Well, thing with WTVJ is that they’d enjoy the cut costs from not having a sports department, but as for an all news channel operated by them, eh, sorry, couldn’t see it working. Plus, we already mentioned a Friday Night Marlins/Heat package meaning Jay Leno would be pre-empted, something we all know NBC doesn’t want despite the fact that it’s been this year’s television EPIC FAIL!

In South Florida this leaves us with WSFL. Once upon a time it was just known as Channel 39, then WB 39, then CW South Florida, until finally they rebranded the station SFL. They already have the rights to SEC Football and basketball and have been aggressive in purchasing programming. Their afternoon programming to compete with other station’s news programs includes top hits such as Family Guy, The Simpsons, and Two and a Half Men. They’re also looking to expand their local news presence, and are operated by the Sun-Sentinel, a local Miami newspaper (both are owned by Tribune Company, who has a similar arrangement in Chicago to the local TV station-local cable news net idea for South Florida that I’m posting.) They’ve already launched a morning show that has seen its rough patches but improves on its ratings daily, and with the backing of the Sun-Sentinel could most likely run a 24 hour news station using up and coming talent that are fresh from graduation from FIU or UM to possibly in the future promote into the big leagues (which in their case would be a 10pm newscast.) Plus, other than SEC football and basketball, no other sports programming from any networks (CW doesn’t have the rights to any sports coverage) and weekend programming that mainly consists of re-runs and movies (and since the CW doesn’t program on Sunday Nights, the occasional Sunday Night Heat or Panthers game could find its way onto SFL’s schedule.)

This seems way too perfect not to work, especially since Tribune has experience with their local stations airing local sports teams games (WPIX in New York with Mets, Rangers, and Knicks, WGN in Chicago with the Cubs, White Sox, Bulls and Blackhawks). As for the other partners, Well, let’s go with the CW affiliates in both markets: WTVX in West Palm Beach, which has no plans for a newscast but would sure welcome one either produced by WSFL but geared towards West Palm Beach (or even an hour long newscast simulcast to both CW stations done in Ft. Lauderdale servicing both markets since Ft. Lauderdale is in the middle of both.) And for the Ft. Myers-Naples area, since their CW affiliate WXCW had a newscast produced by CBS affiliate WINK, both stations could contribute and be a member of this loose network, with WINK getting some Marlins, Heat and Panthers games in the Friday-Saturday-Sunday timeslots that they’d normally air anyways that don’t interfere with CBS Network programming, plus the money they’d save on their sports bureau.

Of course you’re thinking this wouldn’t work, as the station would mainly give out Marlins and Heat propaganda. Not the case, it would be independent of the two organizations, but owned under the same corporate umbrella. The reporting would have to be fair, and not abused like say with negative attacks and editorials about departing free agents or players they want to trade (not at least without a dissenting opinion). The revenue’s they’d bring in with advertising, and their partnerships with these stations would be enough to give the Marlins plenty of money to spend, as well as give the Heat more than enough to cover any luxury tax payments they’d have to make.

Of course, all of this is just a pipe dream, but a great idea none the less. If I’m the Marlins and Heat and this offer was proposed to me, I’d take it in a cocaine heartbeat. What are the chances of this happening? We probably would never see it, but if anyone reads this that can make things happen and get things done, they might want to forward the link to this blog in an e-mail to Mr. Mickey Arison and Mr. Jeffrey Loria, that way at least they’ll waste money hiring consultants to tell them exactly what I’m saying they should do and telling them for free.

And if it does happen, Mr. Arison, Mr. Loria, and their consultants can take all of the credit.

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