Archive for April, 2009

The Silly Waiting Game

April 22, 2009

by John Furgele

April and May are excellent sports months.  April brings us the start of the baseball season, and as ridiculous as the hype is, the NFL Draft, as well as the NHL and NBA playoffs.  Throw in the start of the Major League Soccer and the end of the European soccer leagues, and you have more than a full plate to feast your eyes on. 

May might be better than April.  By May, you get to see which baseball teams might be for real and which ones are frauds.  The NBA and NHL playoffs are getting deeper into the action and of course, you have the greatest two miutes in sports with the Kentucky Derby, followed two weeks later by the Preakness Stakes.  Memorial Day weekend also brings the start of summer and the Indianapolis 500 and the Coca-Cola 600. 

As the NBA and NHL playoffs progress through their first rounds, the thing that rattles through my mind is why do these leagues wait so long to get to the playoffs.  The NHL playoffs are riveting.  One goal can make or break a game, and each power play, each up-the-ice-rush is so exciting and so crucial.  The NBA is also full of high drama.  The NBA playoffs are very much like the NCAA Basketball Tournament.  Every posession is important and cannot be wasted.  In the NBA playoffs, you need to play good half court defense and you have to be able to get good shots on offense.  The gret thing about the NBA playoffs is that the games are possession by possession affairs. 

The NHL and NBA is all about the playoffs, and what I can’t understand is why these leagues wait so long to get us to the playoffs?  Why do they drag out an 82 games season over seven long months, when the playoffs is what American sports fans want to see?  Why do they play 82 games to eliminate jus half the teams, or why do they play 82 games, then take half the teams into the playoffs? In the NHL, they take 16 of 30 teams to the playoffs. 

Even on TV, you can feel a difference in playoff action.  You can feel the intrsnity through a television set, and you know that a magical moment is forthcoming at some time.  Turn on the TV in mid-January, and you can feel a lack of it, a run-of-the-mill just another game feel.  Why do the NBA and NHL want to market that? 

It’s been said before.  If the NHL and NBA playoffs are so good, so riveting, so exciting, why keep the fans from seeing it for so long?  Why not start them sooner?  Why not get to your exciting season as soon as you can?  Why not shorten the regular season, so the players that play in the playoffs are fresher and stronger come playoff time. 

A 60 game regular season would do the trick.  30 home games, 30 road games.  This would cut one month off the already too long regular season and would get the fans to the important stuff much sooner.  Why not start the playoffs in early March so by April and May, you’d be into the frenzy.  Crown your champions by Memorial Day or the first weekend in June and then let those who suffered through another long winter enjoy their summer? 

We know that teams and arenas would not want to give up “dates,” and owners would not want to pay players the same money for a 60 game season than they do an 82 game season.  Since the 60 game season is 27 percent shorter than the 82 game season, owners would be withing their rights to cut player salaries by that 27 percent, something that is happening all across America, where workers are often given a choice:  take the pay cut or find another job.  Many take the pay cut. 

Owners could do the right thing by letting players keep the same salary for one year, taking a 10 percent cut the next, and in year three, they would take another 10 percent cut.  In the end, the owners would give the players a break and cut the salaries by a total of 20 percent, rather than 27 percent, a thank you for accepting the new policies. 

We already know by 60 games the good teams from the bad teams, so why not get rid of the bad teams and let the good teams start the playoffs?

MLB should also cut their season, from 162 to 144 and start their playoffs in September rather than October, a 22 percent cut.  And, football, the sport that has the nearly perfect regular season slate of 16 games, should keep it at that.  Going to 18 games seems like a good move for a football demanding nation, but that would be a mistake.  The old adage “less is more,” really means something, especially in sports. 

Don’t delay, do it today.

Fans: You Deserve What You Get

April 17, 2009

by John Furgele

Citi Field, the new home to the New York Mets has hosted three games.  Yankee Stadium, the new home to the New York Yankees has hosted one.  But, Met fans are already angered with their new playpen, and I’m sure after a few hours of listening to WFAN today, we’ll get to hear from angry Yankee fans.

At Citi Field, there are two major issues.  The first is that many seats have obstructed views where some fans can’t see the right fielder or the first baseman or fly balls that go into the right or left field corner.  Based on what I hear, I’m not sure these seats are really obstructed.  To me, obstructed means you are sitting behind a pole and you have to move your body to see the game.  I’m not sure if seeing eight of the nine fielders counts as being obstructed, but with the outrageous prices that fans are paying, you can certainly sympathize with their anger. 

The second issue is the pricing and how it affected seat purchases for 2009.  There were many that had weekend packages at Shea Stadium and paid x amount for those games.  This year, that package skyrocketed in price and  the fan then stated to the Mets that they couldn’t afford the new price, but would be willing to spend the same or a little bit more for a package this season.  The Mets then gave this person a Wednesday night package and basically said take it or leave it.  Naturally, the fan who has to drive an hour each way wasn’t interested in doing so on a weeknight/worknight. 

The problem of course, is the price gouging done by both the Mets and Yankees.  At Yankee Stadium, the $250 seat is now $850, just a $600 or a 340 percent increase.  Are there that many millionaires in New York that are willing to pay these prices?  And, the really good seats at Yankee Stadium are $2,625—for one game.  This includes food and soft drinks, but I don’t care how good stadium food is, it’s still stadium food. 

Demand for baseball seats in New York has probably never been higher, and these prices were set before the recession really kicked in, but still, I can’t believe that both the Mets and Yankees are getting away with it.  Met fans actually seem to be clamoring for Shea Stadium to be put back up.  I never thought I would hear this, but I think many Met fans actually miss Shea Stadium, which unfairly has been called a dump for so many years.  Shea was hardly state-of-the-art, but it was a suitable place to watch a ball game.  I’m not saying that it should not have been replaced, but it never was a bad as it was portrayed.  You’re watching baseball, you’re not entertainig the Queen of England or the President of France, you watching the Montreal Expos play the Mets.   And, for the record, if Shea Stadium was called a dump, Yankee Stadium was a dump as well.  Packed concourses, lack of bathrooms and long, long, and slow, slow concession lines ruled the day at overrated, dumpy Yankee Stadium.

What the fans miss is the semi-affordable prices that Shea Stadium offered and before 2000, what Yankee Stadium offered.  Fans want too much.  They want a great seat at a great price and when they don’t get it, the moan and groan.  They want to take their kid to a game, but they don’t want to be in the last row in the upperdeck in right field. 

It is the entitlement mentality we have and it is this mentality that has gotten us into trouble.  $4 coffees, 62 inch televisions, Vitamin Water and silly energy drinks are all example of wasteful spending as is buying a house that you can never afford.  But, this is the world we live in.  In the 1970s, the teacher, truck driver, doctor and lawyer could sit next to each other in the mezzanine, now the teacher and truck driver probably can’t afford to go and the doctor and lawyer are way up in the upper deck.  But, we created this monster.   In Buffalo, I used to get $20 allowance for doing chores and that $20 could get me a ticket in the upper golds—the second best seats—to a Buffalo Sabres hockey game.  Now, the cheapest seats, the upper deck corners hover at the $40 range. 

Yankee fans flooded WFAN host Mike Francesa so much about the lack or customer service that Francesa had to get COO Lonn Trost on the phone to take complaints from fans on the radio.  I felt like calling in to try to sell my lawmower as I thought I was listening to Tradio.  The fans asked for certain seat locations, but were given what the Yankees wanted to give with the old “this is the best we have you, take it or leave it.”

I don’t really understand why fans feel the need to go to every game.  What’s in it for Met and Yankee fans?  Why do you feel the need to go to 10, 20, 30, 40 or all 81 home games and pay all this money to do so?  I wish Francesa would ask these fans why they feel compelled to go to all the games.  My guess is that they want to make sure they are there for the playoffs and they want to be there if their team wins the World Series, because for some reason, a fan gets respect for doing that.  When I tell my sports friends that I saw two World Series games, they actually seem to be awed and usually ask several follow up questions.  They say things like, “wow, that must have been awesome,” or “man, I wish I could have been there,” and other silly things.  And, I have done the same thing.  But, now I have to question why these things are so important. 

My advice for the Met and Yankee fan couldn’t be more clear, and that advice is simple:  go back to the old days.  Pick two or three games, preferably against a low rung team ala the Pittsburgh Pirates where the prices are lowest and go to those games.  Don’t buy season tickets, don’t buy the bloated mini-plans, just pick out one or two games and enjoy.  For the rest of the games, watch them on television.  You probably refinanced your house to get your 62 inch HD TV, so why waste that by sitting in a seat where you can’t see 20 percent of the playing field?  It just doesn’t make sense, to spend $300 on tickets, $18 to park and another $100 on food, when you can buy the MLB Extra Innings package for $179 and watch 60 games per week on cable TV. 

Shea Stadium is gone and with it the innocence of the old common fan feel.  Citi Field (they paid $400 million for naming rights over 20 years, yet had to accept a government bailout money) is not for the common fan and never will be.  The new Yankee Stadium isn’t even for the wealthy fan, it is for the billionaires, but it”s okay, you don’t have to go to all the games.  Pick a couple and be happy, and remember……

The couch is most underrated seat in all of sports.

Terrell Owens the Least of the NFL’s Worries

April 14, 2009

by John Furgele

Say what you want about Terrell Owens, but here are some things he DOESN’T do.

 1) Drink.

2)  Hang out at clubs all night.

3)  Run people over with his car.

4)  Run people over with his car then drive away.

5)  Run people over with his car then claim he wasn’t driving.

6)  Kill people while driving drink.

7)  Assault present or former girlfriends.

8)  Shoot himself with an illegal concealed weapon.

9)  Get arrested for disorderly conduct and use his NFL fame to mouth off the authorities.

10) Get suspended by the NFL Commissioner for violating the league’s conduct policy.

I laugh aloud when I see the media rip this guy for being a bit of an ego case.  The NFL gives him more attention for harmless antics and ignores serious incidents, and they ignore these actions ALL THE TIME.  I hear Mark Schlereth look into the ESPN camera with such intensity defending the Romanowskis, Ray Lewises, and all the other part time criminals, then laugh when I see him use the same intensity to rip Terrell Owens or Jason Taylor for their selfishness for missing team weightlifting sessions.  How hyprocritical can people be?

ESPN calls Owens a cancer, a distraction and says his demands are too much for the chemistry of a football team.  But, Donte Stallworth just KILLED somebody driving drink—-KILLED SOMEBODY—-and ESPN and all the other media, because they want that access to the NFL, their meal ticket, pays very little attention to it.  But, Owens gets barbecued by the press for missing a optional workout?  A bunch of guys running around and lifting weights?  It’s that important to a team’s season?

When will this end?  When will somebody point out that NFL players get arrested at an alarming rate compared to NBA, MLB and certainly NHL players.  When will the league get ripped for this—-or anything?  And, sometimes people defend the players claiming that it is the violent nature of the game that in part leads to violent behavior off the field.  While nobody expects these guys to be Ward Cleaver, do they have to live the game 24/7/365?

Many NFL players, after they retire from the game, cannot function normally.  Some divorce their wives, run away from home and end up broke, depressed and full of rage.  HBOs Real Sports looked at this issue a couple years ago and the piece was downright scary.  But, the NFL doesn’t care, and worse, the media that covers the NFL cares even less.  All they care about is having something to talk about during the offseason and discussing Owens harmless eccentricities is much more easier than discussing what to do with the Donte Stallworths, Marshawn Lynch’s and Donta Whitners of the league.  Who wants to discuss vehicular homicide when debating Ocho Cinco’s name change is what the NFL really wants one to talk about?

In 2000 at the Super Bowl in Atlanta, Ray Lewis’ friends brutally attacked—some say murdered— a person.  I’m not saying Lewis was involved directly, but by most accounts, he watched the attack take place.  After he was convicted of obstruction, he was made the poster boy for NFL and its commercials.  How can this be?  Where was the outrage by sponsors, fans, media and the like?  The man was being investigated for murder, but in the end, turned out to make millions in endorsements. 

In fact, the Sports Illustrated’s of the world did feature pieces on him, trying to convince us that his upbringing was to blame for his violence, his numerous children with numerous women and how now he is a changed man.  I hope that’s true, but if you’re going to praise him for what he is now, you have to knock him for his past, which includes that night in Atlanta.  You can’t overlook the bad and try to convince us of the good.  Not right.  Not fair.

The NFL gets a pass because it is a multi-billion dollar industry.  For decades, the NFL dissuades those from gambling on the sport, but has never tried to hide point spreads.  Furthermore, not only do they publicize the point spreads, they require teams to submit injury reports so the bookies can adjust these point spreads accordingly.  Contrast that to the NHL, which uses vague terms, such as “upper body or lower body injury,” to describe what’s wrong with a particularly player. 

Take away the point spreads and the subsequent gambling on them, would the league be as popular?  All the other sports have minor leagues, but the NFL does not.  Why is that?  My guess is that there is so much gambling done on football that a minor league would be too hard to support because the gamblers would be too unfamiliar with the minor league players that they couldn’t wage money properly.  The fact that there are several minor hockey leagues, minor baseball leagues and even minor basketball leagues suggests that those sports may be more popular than football.  If football was so popular, why can’t a spring league survive?  Why did Arena Football suspend operations for at least one year, if not more?  Hockey is a distant fourth on the sports landscape, yet there are many more hockey teams in North America than football teams.  How is this so?

So, please, let’s leave Terrell Owens alone and let’s spend time discussing the real criminals that play in the NFL; the people that drive drunk, assault people, beat up women, shoot themselves and get into altercations at 5 AM outside of night clubs. 

If Owens’ only crime is skipping optional workouts, complaining that he doesn’t get enough balls thrown to him during a game, I’ll take it.  At least I know he won’t be making a name for himself on the police blotters.  As for those who cover the National Football League, let’s try to be objective and talk about the good, the bad and the really really bad. 

If you’re going to be there for the wedding, you have to be there for the funeral.

Sometimes, You Only Get Once Chance

April 13, 2009

by John Furgele

Does anybody remember Len Mattiace?  In 2003, he had a chance to capture The Masters and get fitted for the coveted Green Jacket.  Instead, he faltered and lost in a playoff to Mike Weir.  Has anybody seen or heard from Mattiace since?  And, even the winner, Weir, has sort of fallen from the mainstream of what is golf society. But, Weir won, Mattiace didn’t and in a sport where players are judged by majors, that’s a canyon like gap. 

That’s why you have to feel a bit bad for Kenny Perry.  For 70 holes he did everything right.  He shot all four rounds under par and on Sunday, looked like he was going to to post a 4 under 68 and get measured for the cherished blazer that is green, like that of an Augusta National fairway.

Instead, he went bogey-bogey over the final two holes to find himself in a three way playoff with Chad Campbell and Angel Cabrera.  Despite the poor finish, he still had a chance for redemption, but most of the time, the person that loses the lead late doesn’t win the playoff.  Everybody remembers Jan Van de Velde’s famous meltdown at the 1999 British Open, where he tripled bogyed 18 (a double bogey would have been good enough to win) and lost to Paul Lawrie in the four hole playoff.  Perry lost his chance to win a major at the 1996 PGA Championship, and he was hopeful that history wouldn’t repeat itself on Sunday.

Most of the time, the playoff is not kind to the late leader, and I was likely not alone when I thought Perry wouldn’t win once the playoff began.  Now, it hasn’t always gone that way.  At the 2001 United States Open, Retief Goosen three putted 18 from 12 feet, then had to face Mark Brooks in a playoff—which he won.  There was a slight difference in the fact that the 18 hole playoff was played the next day, giving Goosen a chance to compose himself.  He beat Brooks by two shots to win the title, then went on to win another U.S. Open title in 2004, so for Goosen, it served as a perverbial springboard.

Perry didn’t have the time to recover.  He had to sign his scorecard, then get back out to 18 to face Cabrera and Campbell.  As the three teed off, there were different pressures.  Cabrera, the husky Argentinian had already won a major title in 2007, and now had the chance to cement his already growing legacy with another.  Winning one major is tough, but there are many golfers—good and not so good—that have won one.  But adding the second serves as a divider.  One might call the first one a fluke, but after the second, the “f” word can no longer be used.

Like Perry, Campbell had been close, finishing second at the 2003 PGA Championship.  Sometimes, the opportunity to win a major happens only once, maybe twice.  Cabrera had a chance to win a major in 2007, and he did so.  Perry and Campbell did not, but now they had a chance, a repreive, the opportunity to go down in history. 

Campbell’s par putt rimmed out on 18 and after one hole, he was gone.  Cabrera, after using a tree to salvage the hole, made a tough 10 footer to save par and marched off to 10 with another chance.

This time, Cabrera stayed straight, Perry lied four and all the Argentinian had to do was two putt from 12 feet, which he did to seize or perhaps steal the Masters title from a shellshocked Perry. 

As Cabrera tapped in for victory, I felt good for him.  He caught the world by surprise with his 2007 U.S. Open win, but now he has the validation that comes with a second major.

As good as one could feel for Cabrera, you had to feel equally bad for Perry, who at 48 is likely running out of chances to win a major title.  Rocco Mediate came close at last year’s U.S. Open, but probably saw his best chance come and go.  You hope that Perry will get another chance, and will come through. 

But, it isn’t likely.

The Insanity of the NBA, NHL

April 7, 2009

by John Furgele

Now that March Madness—and the final was anti-climatic to say the least—is over, it is time to turn our attention to other sports.  April is a big month on the sports calendar as baseball opens, the NFL Draft nears, and both the NBA and NHL wind up very long regular seasons and start their playoffs. 

The last sentence says a lot.  The NBA and NHL are wrapping up very long—too long—regular seasons.  ESPN can say that the NBA is an important sports league, but if you listen to ESPN Radio from 6 AM to 3 PM, you will find that even though ESPN broadcasts NBA games on television and radio, they hardly talk about the association at all.  They would rather talk about football, football and sprinkle in some baseball, some college sports and some issues that surround sports such as Plaxico Burress being released by the New York Giants.

I’ve said this for years and will say it again that the NBA and NHL must shorten their regular seasons.  Both play 82 games and both take seven months to play them.  That’s just too long.  No real sports fan has that kind of time or attention to be rivted to a sport for seven months.  The games just don’t hold much appeal.  Even a Celtics-Cavaliers regular season game lacks the drama because it will all come down to the playoffs and both teams know they’re in 30 games into the season.

Do we really need to play 82 games to determine that the Celtics, Cavaliers and Magic are the class of the East while the Lakers are clearly the team to beat in the West?  Do we really need 82 games for this?  And, after 82 games, they take 16 to the playoffs, and another two months off the calendar.  The NBA Finals will end in mid-June, leaving July, August and September as time off.  In October, it’s time for training camp.

The NHL is no better.  Like the NBA, they take seven months to complete their regular season, but we already know that the Bruins, Capitals and perhaps Devils are the best in the East, while the Sharks and Red Wings would make for a dandy Western final.   They award the Stanley Cup in early June, but by early September, time to lace up the blades again for training camp.

These mundane regular seasons make for very boring games.  How many blowouts, the 104-78 games exist in the NBA?  How many 5-1 and lackluster 2-1 games exist in the NHL?  When you play 82, the quality is going to suffer.  But, both leagues charge astronomical prices for these duds and the product just isn’t worth the people’s hard earned money on a nightly basis.

Baseball also has a long regular season, but they actually play 162 games in six months with only a one month postseason.  And, their regular season actually means more.  With only eight teams making the playoffs, the games are more meaningful than the NHL and NBA.  The 2006 Chicago White Sox went 90-72 and missed the playoffs by a good margin.  When was the last time a 46-36 NBA team missed the playoffs? 

That said, baseball could do better with a 140 or 144 game regular season that cuts a month off the season.  They could start the second week in April and play the final regular season game on Labor Day and get the playoffs over by mid -October before the NFL really takes over the sports landscape. 

These long regular seasons should serve as a warning to the NFL, which continues to toy with the idea of an 18 game regular season.  Yes, the NFL is the most popular sport and adding two more games will increase the money gambled on it, but those two weeks could really drag on the sports conscience.  When a team is 4-12 after 16 weeks, is playing two more games really necessary?  Ditto for the 12-4 team.  What more would they have to prove?  And, with the NFL being littered with devastating injuries, will playing 18 games cause even more?

A 60 game regular season in the NHL and NBA would be great as it would cut off a month from the regular seasons.  I would also like to see only 12 teams make the playoffs in both sports, with the top two seeds in each conference getting a bye into their conference semifinals.  This gives a real sense of urgency to the regular season and makes qualifying for the playoffs a real accomplishment. 

We’re in a recession.  Your prices are too high.  During recessions, good companies make their product more valuable, and this is the perfect time for the NBA and the NHL to make their product better by cutting the access to it.  60 games with less playoff teams makes it more valuable. 

Critics will argue that there is too much tradition in the 82 game regular season, but that’s nonsense.  Good companies must continue to evolve, to change, to plan for the futue.  If tradition remains the only reason not to change, I give you the automobile industry as an example.  They have traditions and two of the Big 3 are on the verge of bankruptcy.  If it can happen there, it could certainly happen to sports league.

It may be a shame that the American auto industry is in tatters, but with so many other options for consumers, I’m not sure how many Americans really care about the preservation of General Motors and Chrysler.  They will just go elsewhere to buy their next car. 

The same is true for the NBA and NHL.  The leagues may never go away, but they may just go unnoticed.

Which is worse?