Giant Gifford

Another voice of my youth died this past week.

Frank Gifford disproved the claim that everyone is famous for (only) 15 minutes. He was known to my generation as the play-by-play voice of ABC’s Monday Night Football for a decade. To my parents’ generation, he was known as a football player for the New York Giants when the NFL began to pass Major League Baseball as this country’s favorite pro sport.

Gifford was ideally situated to become football’s answer to Mickey Mantle. Both were great athletes playing on a championship-level team in the nation’s biggest media market. He was the 1950s and 1960s answer to Matt Forte or LeSean McCoy, running backs (admittedly in a much more run-heavy era) who could also catch the ball. (In fact, after Gifford missed part of the 1960 season and all of the 1961 season because of a head injury, he returned as a wide receiver.) He even threw from his running back position, generally going to his left, which is not easy for a right-handed thrower.

Between 1951, when Mantle reached the big leagues, and 1964 Mantle’s Yankees played in 11 World Series, winning seven. (Remember that between 1958 and 1961 the Yankees were the only New York baseball team, with the former Brooklyn Dodgers and former New York [baseball] Giants in California, and the Mets hadn’t been born yet.) Between 1956 and 1963 Gifford’s Giants played in six NFL championship games, winning only one.

Gifford played in the 1958 NFL Championship game, claimed for years afterward as the greatest NFL game ever played, because it was the first NFL game to go into overtime. (In those days the only games that could go into overtime were playoff games.) His offensive coordinator was a guy named Vince Lombardi, who went on to Green Bay, where he told his misused running back Paul Hornung that from then on he was going to be the Packers’ Frank Gifford.

Gifford dabbled in acting as a player …

… but after his playing career ended moved to TV, announcing football for CBS (as did teammate Pat Summerall), Giants games with Chris Schenkel (who later joined Gifford at ABC) and then games with Jack Whitaker (ditto). His assignments included the first two Super Bowls and the 1967 NFL championship, better known as the Ice Bowl:

Before the 1970 season, the head of ABC Sports, Roone Arledge, contacted Gifford about joining ABC for its new Monday Night Football. Gifford, however, was still under contract to CBS, but suggested his friend, former Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith. Meredith joined Keith Jackson and Howard Cosell, and then one year later Gifford replaced Jackson.

Gifford also worked the Olympics for ABC, including the infamous 1972 gold medal basketball game between the U.S. and the Soviet Union …

… and Winter Olympics downhill skiing:

Gifford was not particularly well regarded by TV critics because he didn’t say clever things. (During the Ice Bowl, however, Gifford said, “Give me a bite of your coffee,” which Jack Buck declared the funniest thing Gifford had ever said.) TV critics may have bought into Howard Cosell’s loathing of the “jockocracy” as well. However, he was part of the highest rated TV program for seven consecutive years. He did his job well — keeping Cosell separated from Meredith, or Alex Karras, or Fran Tarkenton. He also wrote one of the better sports autobiographies, The Whole Ten Yards.

I started this by saying that Gifford was famous twice. Actually, he was famous three times. The third was for being Kathie Lee Gifford’s husband.

Five years ago

I just realized when I started writing this that it has been five years since the last big golf tournament in Wisconsin.

The first round of the 2015 PGA Championship is today at Whistling Straits in Haven, north of Sheboygan. I was at the 2010 PGA, covering it in my previous life as a business magazine editor, and, for the last year, publisher.

Since I had three blogs at the time, all of the events taking place that year — an alternative energy fair, the annual Road America Brian Redman vintage race car event, the annual Iola Old Car Show, the annual EAA AirVenture (which this year featured my favorite musical group, Chicago), the Packers’ annual shareholders meeting (which I was entitled to attend as an owner anyway), and, of course, the PGA — struck me as good things to attend and report upon, without having to pay to attend any of them. (That’s sort of the corollary to my long-time professional goal to be paid twice for the same work.)

Each event also got me out of the office, which is useful particularly if you have coworkers who (not to name names) tend to grate on you. We had also covered the PGA as a business story (as we had done the first Kohler golf event, the U.S. Women’s Open back in the late 1990s) because of its big tourism impact, as we had previously covered Iola and EAA.

I had never attended, or had been interested in attending, a golf tournament beyond a high school meet. I wasn’t in the business magazine world in 2004, when Whistling Straits hosted its first PGA, though the people I knew who did go raved about the experience.

Vijay Singh won a three-way playoff to win the 2004 PGA at Whistling Straits.

I am hideously bad at playing golf (along with basically every other sport, but you knew that), so I beg off the few golf invitations I get. I don’t watch golf either, because it’s not exactly compelling TV viewing.

This, however, was compelling viewing. In one day I got to see Tiger Woods back when he could play; I saw Phil Mickelson, accompanied by a huge entourage of fans, literally disappear into a bunker; I saw John Daly wearing orange and white pants (really); and I saw Sergio Garcia hit out of a sand trap to his dissatisfaction, and then smack his sand wedge on the lip of the bunker three times, as if the carpenter’s poor work can be blamed on his tools. I also saw TBS’ Craig Sager, who was an on-course reporter for the first two days of the tournament, wearing merely a white polo shirt and black pants, as opposed to what he wears for NBA games.

Tiger Woods
Dustin Johnson
Martin Kaymer beat Bubba Watson in a three-hole playoff to win the 2010 PGA.

If you can say only one thing about Kohler’s hospitality division, it is that they do big events right. I got fed twice (legitimately, since after writing the blog I didn’t get home until 11 p.m.), which put Kohler way up on my list. Our bag of media swag included a polo shirt (which I am wearing today), the usual media information, a pedometer for a contest among the out-of-shape media types (in one day I walked 15,000 steps, but didn’t win), and an ear-sized satellite radio so those of us without smartphones had a better idea of what was going on on the course.

Herb Kohler, the CEO of Kohler Co., is one of the richest people in Wisconsin. All those who decry the “1 Percent” must therefore be fine with not having facilities like Whistling Straits, or Kohler’s Blackwolf Run, which also hosts pro golf events. Middle-class people do not have enough money to build golf courses to host prestigious events that bring to this state tens of millions of dollars from people not from Wisconsin who come to Wisconsin to watch their favorite golfers compete. (And the 1-Percent haters must be OK with not having Major League Baseball or pro basketball, since neither Brewers owner Mark Attanasio nor the majority owners of the Bucks are middle-class either.)

The parallel between 2010 and today appears to be weather. The Whistling Straits course, a former World War II bombing range, was built on Lake Michigan to emulate a Scottish links course, not just in design, but in weather. Most British Open tournaments you watch look as if they were played on a bad Wisconsin “spring” day, with thick clouds, high winds, and golfers and spectators wearing sweaters and jackets and even gloves. Today, however, as in 2010, it apparently will be hot, though in 2010 the Lake Michigan breeze cooled things off from about 95 to about 85. (The 2010 first and second rounds were delayed because of fog, because the air was considerably warmer than Lake Michigan.)

The weather became more as expected for the weekend in 2010. So I watched on CBS, and I could see parts of the course where I had been two days earlier. The last day of the 2010 tournament was enlivened by this:

Unfortunately, I have no professional reason to go this year. But I still have the shirt. Given the fact that playoffs were needed to win the 2004 and 2010 PGAs at Whistling Straits, a playoff could be expected Sunday as well. Whistling Straits will host the 2020 Ryder Cup, which gives all Wisconsinites five years to learn match play golf rules.


The historical oxymoron that is “Brewers pitching”

On Wednesday, the Brewers traded center fielder Carlos Gomez to the New York Mets for pitcher Zack Wheeler and infielder Wilmer Flores … for about one hour.

In one of the more bizarre moments of social media-era baseball, the trade was reported as a done deal, and then it became undone because of, depending on whom you ask, concern about (1) Gomez’s hip or (2) Wheeler’s recovery from Tommy John surgery or (3) the Brewers’ disinterest in adding money to the deal.

I got into a discussion on Facebook over the merits of this trade, including getting a pitcher who has had Tommy John surgery, getting a .250 hitter, and the Brewers’ historically poor pitching. This was before the trade was canceled because of concerns with either Gomez’s hip or Wheeler’s recovery. I preferred a different Mets pitcher, Noah Syndergaard, though reportedly the Mets aren’t trading him. (Of course, this trade “reportedly” was taking place before it didn’t.)

I have stated here before that the Brewers pitching is bad far more often than good. In 46 years of existence, the Brewers have, remember, exactly four playoff seasons — 1981, 1982, 2008 and 2011. They have had 12 seasons beyond those four with winning records, plus two .500 seasons. Those winning seasons, by the way, are the only seasons where the Brewers scored more runs than they gave up.

Admittedly, runs vs. runs given up is about all aspects of the game. So consider the Brewers’ earned run average and the team’s rank in its league. The Brewers have led their league once — 1992 — in ERA. The Brewers have finished second in their league in ERA twice, 1988 (a winning but non-playoff year) and 2008 (the wild card year). The Brewers have never finished third in their league in ERA, and they’ve finished fourth in ERA three times, all non-playoff years. I don’t know how you get in the playoffs with the 12th (1981), sixth (1982) or seventh (2011) best ERA in the league, but somehow the Brewers did.

In contrast, the Brewers have been 10th or worse in their league in ERA 20 times. (This year so far, they’re 12th; they were 10th last year.) The Brewers have led their league in one stat — games pitched, which combines appearances by starters and relievers — 27 times.

Admittedly, ERA is an imperfect measure of pitching. In WHIP — walks plus hits per inning — the Brewers have led their league twice, 1988 and 1992. The Brewers’ pitching is a historical failure in most seasons by any measure you care to use.

Who were the best Brewers pitchers? In the span from Jim Abbott to Jamey Wright:

  • Wins: Jim Slaton, 117. (He’s also the leader in games pitched, innings pitched, and believe it or not, shutouts.)
  • Win-loss record: C.C. Sabathia, who was 11-2 in his half-season in 2008. Zach Greinke was 25-9 in his two seasons, 2011 and 2012. Not surprisingly, only 111 of the Brewers’ 413 pitchers have winning career records. (Slaton does not.) The Brewers have more pitchers who never won a game than pitchers who won more than they lost.
  • ERA: Sabathia had a 1.65 ERA. Rollie Fingers had a 2.54 ERA. (Pitchers with 0.00 ERAs included Terry Francona, Jim Gantner, Mark Loretta, Martin Maldonado and Lyle Overbay, none of whom were actually pitchers.)
  • Saves: Dan Plesac, with 133.

Pitching is the most important part of baseball. So the Brewers’ chronic inability to develop pitching, or trade for pitchers who perform more than a year or two, means the Brewers are doing something wrong, and have been doing something wrong for a long, long time.

Pitching is a challenge for other franchises too. (Look about an hour and a half south of Milwaukee for other sad examples.) On the other hand, the Dodgers have been able to develop pitchers for decades. The Orioles once had four 20-game winners on the same team. In the 1990s, the Braves had Steve Avery, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz (acquired as a minor leaguer) and Greg Maddux (free agent signing) for their starting rotation, and dominated the ’90s. The Mets now have the best young starting rotation in baseball, which is why they can try to upgrade their weak offense and apparently poor defense. The Cardinals never lack for starting or relief pitching.

It is rather unbelievable that Brewers general managers dating all the way back to Marvin Milkes couldn’t generate much home-grown pitching of any quality. The Brewers have had more success importing pitchers (Mike Caldwell from Cincinnati, Pete Vuckovich and Rollie Fingers from St. Louis, Don Sutton from Houston, Ted Higuera from the Mexican League, Sabathia from Cleveland, Shaun Marcum from Toronto) than they have developing their own guys long-term. That approach is more expensive, and lasts less time. (Off that list, only Caldwell lasted as long as eight seasons.)

Particularly in this free agent era with baseball’s bad economics, in a small market you have to get it right much more often than those markets where you can throw good money after bad. Whatever the Brewers have been doing to develop pitching, it isn’t working.

Another sign of my disappeared youth

It may be impossible for current Packer fans to believe this, but there was a day when the Packers were among the dregs of the National Football League.

What has been called the Gory Years stem basically my entire conscious life before marriage. (So thanks for the great wedding present, Ron, Mike and Brett.) Between 1968, the season after Super Bowl II, and 1991, the Packers had exactly two playoff seasons, 1972 (10-4, NFC Central champion) and 1982 (5-3-1, third place in the NFC according to the strike-season format), and three more winning seasons, 1969 (8-6), 1978 (8-7-1) and 1989 (10-6). That’s it.

As a result, most kids in my world developed alternative NFL allegiances, or at least teams they’d root for in addition to the Packers — the Miami Dolphins (right, Rick?), the Pittsburgh Steelers (right, Tim?), the Dallas Cowboys, the Los Angeles Rams, or even the rival Minnesota Vikings, all teams that won more than they lost, in contrast to the Packers, whose season ended before the playoffs started every year. (I remember no one from the neighborhood or my schools rooting for the Chicago Bears, because the Bears were as bad as the Packers were in that era.)

Yes, we were all a bunch of little frontrunners while our fathers watched, and sore at, the ineptitude of the Packers. I remember in third grade getting a greatest-sports-legends book from the school library. (The book, strangely enough, had neither Muhammad Ali or Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, but there was a boxer named Cassius Clay who looked just like Ali, and there was a basketball player named Lew Alcindor who looked just like Abdul-Jabbar and played for the Bucks. Weird.) The book included former Packer quarterback Bart Starr, and added the unbelievable fact that the Packers won five NFL titles and Super Bowls I and II. That seemed impossible given that even an eight-year-old could figure out that that team wearing green and gold on fall Sundays was bad.

My alternative team was the Oakland Raiders. Part of the reason was the fact that the Raiders often were the second game of the Sunday doubleheader, usually on NBC. Many Raiders games were announced by my favorite announcer, Dick Enberg. The Raiders played in California, whose weather was always better than Wisconsin’s by the end of the season. Their uniforms — black jerseys and silver helmets and pants — looked cool.

In those days, most NFL teams had a few renegade players. The entire Raiders team consisted of renegades, beginning with their owner, Al Davis. (Legend has it a visiting coach believed his team’s locker room had been bugged. After the visitor lost, the coach yelled at a light fixture in the locker room, “Damn you, Al Davis! Damn you!” A Raider official’s response was that it wasn’t in the light fixture.) Their coach, John Madden, was like watching a human thunderstorm. Their announcer, Bill King, also announced the San Francisco (later Golden State) Warriors in a radio/TV simulcast, but was never shown  on TV because he wore a beard, in the early 1960s.

The non-home-grown players were often high draft picks from other teams who were cut (by their first and later teams) for behavior issues. That included Oak Creek’s John Matuszak, a number one draft pick cut by four previous teams. That also included Ted Hendricks, a tall and skinny linebacker who was with the Packers for one season but moved on because the Packers couldn’t figure out where to play him; the Raiders said play wherever you want, Ted, and he became known as the Mad Stork. (That did not include George Blanda, who nonetheless was a backup quarterback at 40 and kicked until he was 48.)

The homegrown players were hardly shrinking violets either. Defensive tackle Otis Sistrunk was photographed one night with steam coming off his bald head, and ABC-TV’s Alex Karras announced he was from the University of Mars. One cornerback was known as “Dr. Death,” another was called “Lester the Molester,” a safety was called “the Assassin,” and another defensive back was called, by Steelers coach Chuck Noll, an example of the “criminal element” in the NFL. One of the apparently more mild-mannered players was Chilton native Dave Casper, who became a Hall of Fame tight end despite playing offensive tackle at Notre Dame.

Their quarterback was Ken Stabler, who had been called The Snake since his University of Alabama days …

… for something he wasn’t often known for in his NFL days, his running ability. The nickname stuck for his inability to make improbable plays to improbably win games despite his perceived immobility (he would stand in the pocket and look for an open receiver) and unimpressive-looking arm, which gave him the appearance of a left-handed relief pitcher who faces one batter per appearance.

Fans forget that the famed Immaculate Reception …

… would never have happened except for Stabler’s coming into the game and leading the Raiders to the go-ahead score, his own 30-yard run.

Stabler came from the days when the quarterback called the team’s own plays. (Stabler described his play-calling philosophy as: “Run for show, throw for dough,” which probably kept his excellent offensive lines happy.) Legend had it Stabler read the Raiders playbook by the light from a jukebox. Such implied hard living, plus his long hair and beard (both of which grew gray as he headed into his 30s, gave him style appropriate for a team with a pirate motif. (The Raiders’ logo apparently used actor Randolph Scott for a model, complete with eyepatch.)

Stabler’s autobiography and another autobio by the aforementioned Assassin told tales of a team that seemed to be the real-life example of the fictional North Dallas 40. (The novel was a thinly veiled tale of the 1960s Dallas Cowboys, but unlike the Cowboys, the Raiders never denied their wild life.) One of the more tame stories was of the annual team air hockey tournament, which had only one rule: Cheating was mandatory. Players would wear fur coats in 100-degree training camp heat to play games that would go scoreless for hours. Stabler’s book makes one wonder how he lived as long as he did.

Of course, style is nothing without performance. The first Raiders game I remember well was the 1974 AFC divisional playoff game against Miami. The Dolphins were trying for their fourth consecutive Super Bowl, having won the previous two.

The game started with a bang, with Dolphins wide receiver Nat Moore returning the opening kickoff for a touchdown.

And yet no one ever trailed by more than a touchdown. The Raiders took the lead on a tightrope touchdown catch by wide receiver Fred Biletnikoff, who couldn’t outrun anyone, but always caught the ball whenever it was in his area code.

And then came the fourth quarter, when the Raiders got the lead back on a bomb pass to wide receiver Cliff Branch, who caught the ball, fell down, got up because no Dolphin touched him, and ran it in the rest of the way.

That would have been the highlight were it not for the touchdown the Dolphins scored right after that. When Stabler got the ball back, just 2:08 remained. That turned out to be plenty of time.

Stabler spent much of his career winning other improbable games …

… the most crazy of which remains the Holy Roller …

… a play so bizarre that the NFL banned it.

The Raiders were among the NFL’s best teams throughout the ’70s, but only got to one Super Bowl with Stabler, beating Minnesota in Super Bowl XI. The highest praise, besides his two player-of-the-year awards, probably came from offensive guard Gene Upshaw, who said, “When we were behind in the fourth quarter, with our backs to the end zone, no matter how he had played up to that point, we could look in his eyes and you knew, you knew, he was going to win it for us. That was an amazing feeling.”

After two winning but non-playoff seasons, the Raiders traded Stabler to the Houston Oilers for their quarterback, Dan Pastorini, previously known as the guy who handed off to running back Earl Campbell. (Pastorini didn’t win a Super Bowl with the Raiderrs, because he broke his leg. In yet another case of something happening only to the Raiders, backup quarterback Jim Plunkett led the Raiders to two Super Bowl wins, one in Oakland, one in Los Angeles.) Stabler then went to New Orleans to end his career.

Stabler should be in the NFL Hall of Fame. He is the only member of the NFL Team of the ’70s not in the Hall of Fame. He doesn’t have as many Super Bowl rings as Steelers quarterback Terry Bradshaw (four), Cowboys quarterback Roger Staubach or Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese (two each), but he has more than Hall of Fame quarterback Fran Tarkenton (none). His statistics compare favorably with other Hall of Fame quarterbacks who played in his era, which featured much less passing than today. He had 96 regular-season wins as a starter, which is one more than all the other quarterbcks drafted with Stabler combined.

If Stabler ever gets in the NFL Hall of Fame, it will be posthumously. He died last night of colon cancer at 69.

The intersection of sports, business and politics

You’ve read the old saw that politics makes strange bedfellows, and you’re seeing that in the debate over the Trans Pacific Partnership trade deal.

But you don’t need to go to Washington to see strange bedfellows. In Madison, some Republicans are pushing a new Bucks arena, and some are opposed, joined, it seems, by all legislative Democrats.

The latter may seem strange since Democrats overwhelm Milwaukee and Milwaukee County, and therefore you’d think Democrats would favor something that would keep some of their constituents employed. Republicans also pushed a Miller Park deal 20 years ago instead of Democrats, one of whom, Milwaukee Mayor John Norquist, wanted a downtown baseball stadium instead. The same has been the case with Milwaukee voucher schools, generally supported by Republicans and opposed by Democrats, two exceptions being Norquist and late Rep. Polly Williams (D-Milwaukee).

The Republican divide over the Bucks is shown by Timothy P. Carney:

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker wants to send a quarter-billion dollars in taxpayer money to the billionaire owners of the Milwaukee Bucks, who are threatening to leave if they don’t get a subsidized new arena.

At the same time, however, presidential candidate Scott Walker wants to convince Republican primary voters nationwide that he is a conservative who can stand up to the special interests.

It’s a tough sell.

Walker, together with local Democratic politicians and the billionaire out-of-state owners of the Bucks, has negotiated a deal whereby the state and local governments pay for half the cost of a new $500 million arena for the NBA team. The state would borrow $55 million to build the arena, costing the state taxpayers $80 million over 20 years when interest is included. City and county governments would cover the rest.

Walker argues that the $250 million gift to the owners — billionaire hedge fund managers Marc Lasry and Wesley Edens, who live in New York — will pay for itself. “The price of doing nothing is not zero. It’s $419 million,” Walker said. “It’s not just a good deal. It’s a really bad deal if we don’t do anything.”

In short, Walker is asserting that the team and the new arena will bring in more tax revenue than the ransom money will cost taxpayers. …

The subsidy undermines Walker’s ability — especially in the general election for president — to tout his record as governor. Walker explains his cuts to government employee benefits and University of Wisconsin spending in terms of necessity — state spending was in disarray, and he had to make tough choices.

But if he’s handing $250 million to the Bucks’ owners, the spending cuts look different. It’s an easy — and not entirely unfair — line of attack for a Democrat: Walker cut $300 million from college kids, so he could give most of it to some millionaire business owners.

No doubt Walker’s subsidy to the Bucks will hurt him politically outside of Milwaukee.

The next question is: Should it?

If you are a fair-minded, thoughtful voter — in the GOP primary or the election — what does Walker’s corporate-welfare deal tell you about the man, about how he would be as president?

First, it shows that Walker’s conservatism — his belief in free enterprise and limited government — is more a disposition, a leaning, than a deeply held principle. He’s against government getting involved unless someone can make a good argument that in this case, it’s good for business. We’ve already learned this lesson, though, from Walker’s support for ethanol when he traveled to Iowa earlier this year.

Second, there’s the toughness question. Walker was supposed to be tough and unbending in the face of special interests—that’s how he beat the powerful government unions and the recall election. But when a league run by billionaires demands ransom of Walker, he forks it over just like your average mayor or governor would.

Third, Walker’s defense of the subsidy shows that he’s not a student of economics. It’s nearly unanimous among economists that stadium subsidies do not pay for themselves, and the research suggests that losing a sports team doesn’t hurt a city’s economy.

All interesting points. I would be more interested in Carney’s point of view on this subject were he actually a Wisconsinite who might have to live with the consequences of the Bucks’ leaving. Carney doesn’t. (More on that shortly.)

Carney seems shocked — shocked! — to find out that Walker is a politician. Walker isn’t that much of a small-government conservative, which should be obvious since there have not been large-scale government-employee layoffs since he’s been governor. (Teacher layoffs happen for the same reason they have always happened — diminishing layoffs in particular classes.)

The other thing Carney misses is the importance to the Republican voter of Walker’s successes against the education and Govzilla establishment, particularly public employee unions, which are a much higher priority among GOP-leaning voters than attacks on business. Teachers and other government employees did not vote for Republicans even before Scott Walker started running for governor.

It is perfectly obvious what is happening here, because it happened with the Brewers and Miller Park in 1996. Democrats are staying away from the Bucks to make Republicans do the heavy legislative work, and if it fails and the Bucks leave, Democrats can blame Republicans for the Bucks’ leaving.

More locally pertinent perspectives come from Rick Esenberg

When I was a young lawyer, one of my elders at Foley & Lardner taught me the essence of a good settlement in litigation. To paraphrase, you want to reach a deal which is so good for you that the other side will cringe, but not so bad for them that they won’t shrug. Although negotiation professionals often bang on about “win-win” solutions, most one-off deals – unless overridden by the needs of an ongoing relationship – are ultimately governed by this dynamic. …

Lot of folks say that Edens and Lasry should pay more for the arena happen because “they can afford it.” The statement is true, but irrelevant. People – and billionaires are no different – generally do not spend even what they can afford, unless it is in their interest to do so. A person’s interest might include charity, but my guess is that Edens and Lasry’s desire to make a gift to a city from which they are not from and where they do not live is quite limited.

But these guys are in a bit of a trap. Right now, it looks like they have made a great deal. They wanted to own an NBA franchise (which can be a form of consumption for billionaires) and they do. In addition, the team is probably worth much more than they paid for it. As O’Donnell points out, with the NBA’s new TV contract in place, the LA Clippers sold a few months after the Bucks for two billion dollars. While the Bucks in Milwaukee are worth nowhere near a franchise in Los Angeles, it seems certain that they are worth more than the $550 million that Edens and Lasry paid for them.

So these guys are looking like winners. But, unless the arena is built, they lose that victory. They will no longer have their shiny NBA toy and, perhaps more importantly, someone else will enjoy the increased value of the Bucks. Edens and Lasry can keep the gain on the bargain basement price that they paid only if the team stays here. (While the Bucks in Milwaukee are certainly worth less than the Bucks in Seattle, it still appears – even in Milwaukee – that they are already worth much more than the sales price.)

So, quite apart from what they can afford, it is in their interest to contribute to the deal. You’ve got to give Herb Kohl credit for setting it up this way. While he made out like a bandit on his investment in the Bucks, he certainly left money on the table for his hometown.

But the reason that Edens and Lasry must throw in some money also limits the amount that they will throw in. Remember, to keep the team, they have to keep it here. And it is worth less here. Putting aside the thrill of owning a sports franchise, let’s assume that they believe the Bucks are worth $725 million and a little bit more if the team must stay in Milwaukee. They ought to be willing to put $150 million into the arena deal so they can hang on to that “little bit more” in value. (They should also factor in expected appreciation discounted to present value, but I’m trying to keep the example simple.)

So how much are the Milwaukee – as opposed to the Seattle – Bucks worth? How much will make the owners cringe and yet shrug ?

… and Dan O’Donnell:

The Bucks are a beloved sports team, yes, but they are also an important business to both its city and its state.  As conservatives, we pride ourselves as being pro-business, free market capitalists who understand that to achieve economic growth, government must work with (not against) the private sector.

Whereas liberal taxation and over-regulation stifle enterprise and inherently view business as a sort of enemy to be demonized when convenient and always made to “pay its fair share” (which, as it happens, is determined by liberals in government), conservatism understands that private enterprise is a partner whose success shouldn’t be punished, but encouraged.

Encouragement, of course, does not mean corporate welfare, and this is why so many conservatives are so divided about the current proposal to use $250 million in taxpayer money to pay for approximately half of the Bucks’ new arena.

This is why I am so conflicted, because while I love my team, I also love my fellow taxpayers and don’t want city and state government to place an undue burden on them so that fans like me can keep wearing our jerseys and buying our tickets.

Remember, though, the Bucks are a local business every bit as much as they are a local team, and are as such a significant contributor to the state and local tax base. Each year, the estimated tax revenue from NBA salaries alone is estimated to be approximately $6.52 million.  The NBA has just signed a new $24 billion network television rights agreement, and the resulting player salaries and revenue sharing cuts are expected to rise exponentially when that agreement kicks in next season.

Anticipating this rise, Governor Walker estimated that the annual revenue from taxes on NBA player salaries could rise 8% next year to a little more than $7 million and a full 25% to $8.15 million in 2017.

And that’s just in player salaries.  The Bucks themselves also employ more than 160 workers, from coaches to trainers to professional scouts to ticket sales representatives—all of whom pay state income taxes and many of whom pay local property taxes.

If the Bucks leave Milwaukee (which is a near-certainty if an arena deal isn’t agreed upon), all 160 of those jobs—and the tax revenue they generate—would disappear.

Moreover, the most recent Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce analysis of the BMO Harris Bradley Center’s overall economic impact found that it “supports 2,350 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $73 million, while its net impact supports 1,068 jobs with an annual payroll of more than $29 million.”

If the Bucks leave Milwaukee, many of those jobs—and the tax revenue they generate—would disappear as well, leaving taxpayers to fund the maintenance of the facility without the millions in revenue generated by 41 (or more) NBA games per year.

Without those games, sales tax revenue on tickets, concessions, and merchandise would be lost as well.  So would hotel tax revenue from not only out-of-town fans, but also visiting NBA teams, which typically have traveling parties of 30 or more.

Radio and television rights to broadcast Bucks games also generate tax revenue and help to support the salaries of hundreds of FOX Sports Wisconsin and Scripps Media employees, from on-air personalities to camera operators to producers to salespeople. …

In addition, a substantial amount of the Bucks’ annual taxable revenue comes from outside of Wisconsin in the form of the NBA’s revenue sharing agreement and luxury tax system under which the league’s more profitable teams in effect subsidize its less profitable teams.  Last year, the Bucks made a whopping $18 million in revenue sharing and an additional $3 million in luxury tax payouts.  That reportedly turned a $6.5 million loss for the 2013-2014 season into $14.8 million worth of profits that were then subject to taxation.

If the Bucks leave Milwaukee, all of that out-of-state revenue sharing and luxury tax money will leave Wisconsin’s tax base.

In other words, Wisconsin’s taxpayers would be out millions of dollars per year in corporate and individual income tax revenue and stuck with millions of dollars in BMO Harris Bradley Center maintenance fees that would likely not be covered by the Marquette basketball and Milwaukee Admirals hockey games and occasional concerts that the arena would still host.

Esenberg’s and O’Donnell’s perspectives are interesting beyond what they say for this reason: Esenberg writes for Right Wisconsin, a creation of the late Journal Communications, whose WTMJ radio has been the originating station for the Bucks for their entire existence. WTMJ and Right Wisconsin are now owned by Scripps Media (the broadcast half of the ill-advised Journal sale), which definitely has a financial stake in whether the Bucks stay or go. I haven’t kept track, but I think Right Wisconsin has run more pieces against the stadium deal than for it, despite the fact that Scripps stands to lose money if the Bucks leave. (WTMJ, in fact, dumped the Badgers in favor of the Bucks two years ago.)

O’Donnell, meanwhile, works for WISN, WTMJ’s competition, which could stand to gain by WTMJ’s losing the Bucks. (Perhaps, however, WISN has on its to-do list wrestling the Bucks’ rights away from WTMJ.)



Whether you’re a fan of the proposed Milwaukee Bucks arena deal announced Thursday, you have to give Gov. Scott Walker credit for coming up with a sort-of novel rationale — financial conservation:

Cheaper to Keep Them

Today, Governor Scott Walker joined state and local leaders, including Speaker Robin Vos, Majority Leader Fitzgerald, Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett in announcing a plan to protect state taxpayers from a loss of approximately $419 million, if the NBA relocates the Milwaukee Bucks.  The total state contribution will be capped at $80 million.

“We’ve considered the financial impacts on the state should the Bucks stay or go, and quite simply, we found it’s cheaper to keep them,” Governor Walker said. “Our plan is the result of a state and local, public and private alliance, and it is developed with the goal of ensuring a good return to our state taxpayers. Under this plan, for every dollar the state invests, state taxpayers will get a $3 return on that investment.”

In April 2014, new owners bought the Milwaukee Bucks from Herb Kohl in a deal approved by the NBA and contingent upon the construction of a new arena by 2017. If a new arena is not constructed by 2017, the NBA will buy the Bucks back from the current owners and move the team to another state.

If the team is relocated, there will be a loss to state taxpayers of at least $419 million over the next 20 years due to the loss of current revenue, future growth, and the ongoing costs to maintain the Bradley Center.

Current and former team ownership committed to fund $250 million toward funding the $500 million arena project. Under this plan, state and local governments will also fund $250 million, or half of the total project costs, toward building the new arena without tax increases or state bonding. Any cost overruns would be paid by other sources, but not the state.

Working together with local leaders, Governor Walker, Speaker Vos, and Majority Leader Fitzgerald developed a plan that will cap the total state investment in the project at $80 million over 20 years. Over a 20-year period, this plan protects $299 million in income tax revenue, including the base and projected growth.

Basically Walker is saying that the $250 million taxpayers — $80 million from the state, and $170 million from Milwaukee County and the City of Milwaukee — will be spending on the new arena will “protect” $299 million in income tax revenue, but having the Bucks leave will be a bigger loss, $417 million.

Bucks Arena Funding Shares

Cap State Investment

Wisconsinites, whether they are Bucks fans or not, will be on the hook for less than $1 per year for 20 years. I suppose state government has spent money on worse things over the years, though if you find it strange that a Republican is using the word “investment,” usually a Democratic tactic to justify spending tax dollars, you’re not alone. The $80 million could be thought of as a couple of years’ worth of spending by the previous governor to purchase land with absolutely zero return for taxpayers. (That would be the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund, which Republicans apparently lack the guts to kill.)

The fact that state taxpayers pay less than one-third of the public-sector costs — less than one-sixth of the total cost — makes some logical sense, though whether it makes political sense remains to be seen. At least with Republicans in charge it seems the chance of taxes being raised to support this spending seems less likely.

There is an additional potential cost to the Bucks’ leaving, and I’m surprised no Bucks supporter has brought this up yet. Similar to the NFL with Los Angeles (which is reportedly being pined over by the Rams, Raiders and Chargers, all of which used to play in the same L.A. stadium), two cities are named when the subject of the potential move of NBA franchises comes up — Seattle and Kansas City, both of which used to have NBA teams. Kansas City has the Sprint Center, a new arena without a major pro sports tenant, and Seattle has the Key Arena, the former home of the former Sonics, now the Oklahoma City Thunder. If you were the NBA, wouldn’t you rather have a team in Seattle than in Milwaukee?

The additional potential cost is not just the tax revenue lost by losing the Bucks; it’s the money spent to replace the Bucks with another NBA team when political pressure ramps up to get a replacement pro sports franchise. (The Bucks are not going to be replaced by a National Hockey League team; when your current pro hockey team, the Admirals, draws only a few thousand people every night in an arena four times that size, that doesn’t say “growth market” to anyone.) In addition to Kansas City (which also lost the NHL’s Scouts to Colorado and then New Jersey) and Seattle, Buffalo had the Braves, which became the San Diego and then Los Angeles Clippers, and Cincinnati had the Royals, which became the Kansas City and then Sacramento Kings. Cincinnati is in the same boat as Kansas City, with neither an NBA nor an NHL franchise on which to get people to spend money.

It would be interesting to know how much Baltimore spent to get the Cleveland Browns to move there after the Colts left for Indianapolis, and how much Cleveland spent to get the second edition of the Browns as an NFL expansion team, not to mention how much Nashville spent to get the Houston Oilers, and how much Houston spent to get the expansion Texans. In each case, the minimum answer is: A new stadium, cost nine digits.

This is not the good old days (if that’s what you want to call them) where, for instance, when the Milwaukee Hawks left for St. Louis and the Braves left for Atlanta, the Milwaukee Arena and Milwaukee County Stadium were there waiting for new tenants. If the Bucks leave, the number one demand of a potential new team owner will be a new state-of-the-then-art stadium. As it is, without the Bucks whether the Bradley Center needs to be there is an open question. The Admirals’ apparent fan base certainly fits into the Arena, and I doubt that Marquette basketball would be a money-maker for the Bradley Center by itself, given that college teams have fewer than half the home dates of an NBA team.

The same applies to baseball. Washington lost the Senators to Minnesota in 1961, got another Senators team and lost that to Texas in 1972, and then got the Nationals from Montreal, which won’t be getting a replacement team to occupy the hideous money-sucking Olympic Stadium. Beyond the late Braves, Royals, (Kansas City) Kings and (San Diego) Clippers, the NBA’s New Orleans Jazz moved to Utah, eventually replaced by the Charlotte Hornets; Charlotte had to build a new arena for the expansion Bobcats. (More confusing, the former Hornets are now the Pelicans, and the Bobcats are now the Hornets again.)

There was a TV commercial years ago in which a mechanic touted the value of preventive maintenance by saying, “Pay me now or pay me later.” A similar metaphor probably applies to pro sports franchises as well, in that keeping a used car, including maintenance costs, is cheaper than buying a new car, including payments. Whether Walker’s numbers are correct, logic says that if the Bucks leave, replacing them will be considerably more expensive.

The bigger issue is whether or not people care about the Bucks and their leaving without a new arena. There probably were Wisconsinites in the mid-1960s who said they didn’t care about the Braves’ leaving for Atlanta. One year after the last Milwaukee Braves game, Gov. John Reynolds and the state Supreme Court chief justice, who ruled in favor of the Braves’ being able to leave (though he delayed their departure for one year), were bounced from office.


The WIAA vs. the GOP

One of my favorite UW–Madison classes was the Olympic history class taught by Prof. Alfred Senn, who said at the beginning and throughout the course that to believe that sports and politics were ever separate or could ever be separated was futile.

Senn’s valuable cynicism comes to mind because of what the Wisconsin Sports Network reported:

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association (WIAA) has started a petition against a recent Wisconsin legislative proposal that would allow students from private schools, virtual schools, and home-schooled students to participate on sports teams of public schools in their district. reports the language in the 2015–17 state budget thusly:

29.  Participation in Athletics and Extra-Curricular Activities.  Require a school board to permit a pupil who resides in the school district to participate in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities on the same basis and to the same extent as pupils enrolled in the district, if the pupil is enrolled in one of the following:  (a) a home-based private educational program; (b) a private school located in the district; (c) an independent “2r” charter school located in the district; or (d) a virtual school.  Provide that a pupil who is enrolled in a home-based private educational program and is determined by the public school or school board to be ineligible to participate in interscholastic athletics because of inadequate academic performance would be considered ineligible to participate.  Specify that a pupil attending a private school or an independent “2r” charter school could only participate in a sport that the private school or charter school does not offer.

Provide that a school district could not be a member of an athletic association unless the association required member school districts to permit home-based, private, charter, and virtual charter pupils to participate in athletic activities in the district.

Provide that a school board may charge participation fees to a non-public pupil who participates in interscholastic athletics or extracurricular activities, including fees for uniforms, equipment, and musical instruments, on the same basis and to the same extent as these fees are charged to pupils enrolled in the district.

For the state education establishment, which certainly includes the WIAA, to expect any sympathy from the state GOP seems as likely to happen as the Brewers’ winning the World Series this year. On the other hand, if the majority party in the Legislature doesn’t like the WIAA, the Legislature has the ability to wipe the WIAA out of existence by legislating that the state Department of Public Instruction be responsible, to borrow from the WIAA Constitution, “To organize, develop, direct, and control an interscholastic athletic program” for state schools. (That would certainly make superintendent of public instruction elections much more interesting, and maybe it would compel Wisconsin conservatives to get behind candidates with a better view of what our schools should be than the current superintendent of public instruction and his predecessors going back as far as memory. If indeed school sports are an extension of the classroom, shouldn’t DPI regulate school sports?)

There are numerous reasons why parents might not want their children to attend the local public school. Some schools, frankly, aren’t very good. (Read the School Report Cards.) There are some good school districts with bad teachers (largely due to the evil teacher union), and there are some school districts with poor administrators. If it’s correct that everyone learns differently, then it stands to reason that some children don’t learn in the local public school environment as well as they are capable of learning. Public school choice is great, unless your family lacks the means to get a child from home to school. Some students are bullied, and some schools clearly do little about bullying.

There are obvious reasons as well why non-students like high school sports. Games at the local YMCA don’t attract thousands of fans. Nor do the events of any non-school-based athletic club. For hundreds of small Wisconsin towns, the local high school is the source of that community’s prominence, and a big part of that is high school sports.

Independent of whether the proposal should become law (and apparently the state of Washington allows this), or be included in the 2015–17 state budget, the WIAA’s statement is full of not-entirely-truths. Let’s peruse and parse:

Please, keep in mind that the “WIAA” is a voluntary membership of public and non-public schools that have joined together to create and provide programming opportunities for the students in their school. To have the state government limit or prohibit membership in the WIAA — unless legislative mandates are followed­ — is an alarming precedent and an unacceptable over-reach in an attempt to control a voluntary, private and non-profit organization. To be clear, as a private entity, the WIAA receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.

There are two enormously disingenuous statements in this paragraph. The first is that WIAA membership is voluntary. It is voluntary unless your school district wants to (1) host high school sports and (2) have any WIAA-member high school as an opponent. WIAA membership is as voluntary as the voluntary contributions to the UW Athletic Department to keep your football season tickets.

The even more disingenuous statement is that the WIAA “receives no funding from taxpayer dollars.” Where do you suppose WIAA-membership dues came from — trees? (I used the past tense because the WIAA Board of Control voted April 21 to suspend member dues for two years to “further disconnect the organization from the indirect use of public tax dollars.” Interesting timing, isn’t it?)

Most high school sports are played in high schools whose construction was paid for, and whose maintenance is paid for, by taxpayers. While sports and school booster clubs contribute some funding, high school (and where they exist, WIAA middle school) coaches’ salaries and sports equipment are paid for by the school district, which means those salaries are paid for by taxpayers too. So are officials’ payments for games. And, of course, public schools are supported by taxpayers whose children may not go to public schools. (That is something liberals could not care less about.)

An overlooked aspect of this bill that should not be discarded is the divisiveness that is derived from the displacement of students who are actually full-time students and their school. The proposal marginalizes the commitment and opportunities for students enrolled in their school to represent their school.

Small schools traditionally have been concerned that opening the door to non-students for participation in its sports programs would accelerate the loss of enrollment and consequently, state aid.

The dropping percentage of student involvement in high school sports belies that statement. (For a variety of reasons, including student laziness and preference to do something other than compete in sports, such as compete on the XBox.) That statement also parrots the education establishment’s perspective that parents have no right to send their children to a non-public school.

High schools across the state are dropping not necessarily sports, but teams (going from, say, a varsity, junior varsity and freshman team to just varsity and JV) not due to the evil Republicans, but due to dropping enrollment. (Unless decreasing family sizes are somehow the GOP’s fault.) That is the same reason for the increase in the number of cooperative programs, sports with two or more schools’ students on the same team. (Including co-ops that include public and private high schools, such as Wautoma and Faith Christian in football.) Somehow that’s not divisive, but the GOP proposal is divisive. The only roster size rules that exist are for varsity games.

The membership recently addressed competitive equity concerns among public and private schools, and it determined — as it has done consistently — to treat all segments of the membership uniformly.

Well, that’s one way to put it. This refers to the WIAA’s votes on proposals to address competitive equity complaints from small public schools that similar-size private schools that can draw from much larger population areas were competing in the same state-tournament division. That would include, for instance, Whitefish Bay Dominican, which won four consecutive state boys basketball championships competing against non-metro-area schools Colfax, Cuba City, Auburndale, Brillion, Blair–Taylor and Mineral Point. (Plus one similar Catholic school, Eau Claire Regis.) WIAA membership rejected (1) increasing private-school enrollment for postseason purposes, as Illinois does; (2) reducing public-school enrollment by 40 percent of the percentage of students getting free- and reduced-price lunches, as Minnesota does; or (3) pushing teams, public or private, that get to state a lot upward an enrollment class. That could be a sign of the difficulty in finding a good solution for the small schools’ complaints; it could also be a sign that WIAA members don’t care about small public schools.

It is certainly true that policy added to the state budget late in the budgeting process (the fiscal year and budget cycle ends June 30) is an invitation for demonstrations of the Law of Unintended Consequences. It is also true that the WIAA’s institutional arrogance and Democratic-leaning interest groups’ knee-jerk opposition to non-public schools (and refusal to admit that some of Wisconsin’s public schools are not serving their children well) has led Wisconsin to this point. The author of this proposal is reportedly state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt (R–Fond du Lac), who should get a call from WIAA leadership soon.