When it comes to pro sports, Toronto's fans are
shaken down welcomed by the most anonymous of big-time sports owners.
|Mark Cuban: A hands-up approach.|
Ted Rogers made a rare appearance this week to welcome B.J. Ryan, pat himself on the back for keeping the big leagues in Toronto, and demonstrate a "commitment to winning" as J.P. Ricciardi called it -- which I thought was the commitment you're always supposed to have (although it must be said, it's a lot easier when you've just come off buying a taxpayer-funded stadium for five cents to the dollar).
The MLSE principals are rarely seen or heard from. When it comes to hockey or basketball, the designated managers John Ferguson Jr. and Rob Babcock speak a careful language of neutrality -- in one of his unguarded moments, Babcock suggested last summer the Raptors would quite possibly be worse than last year's team, which was pretty bad. He was cut down for it in the media and by his masters, and has been back to the usual boilerplate since, lessons learned.
All this came to mind Monday when Mark Cuban made the trip north with his Dallas Mavericks. He sat behind the bench, kibitized with fans, was booed for protesting a referee's call, and got up early the next morning to go on CITY TV. Cuban can be over the top at times, but he is also the most progressive, accessible and visible tycoon in North American pro sports. His Blog Maverick is a must-read for sports fans and tech types -- his posting on the NBA dress code, for example, was the best thing I read on the issue anywhere:
Its funny how the media likes to talk about the fundamentals of the players on the court being lacking, the real lack of fundamentals is in the teams’ executive suites. When a team is unable or afraid to communicate their message or iniative to their front office or players, or when they know they have a problem they are afraid or unable to deal with, they ask the Commissioner to create a league wide edict. This is a convenient out for the teams. Its not their fault that the players have to do this, its the league’s fault. To the Commissioners credit, he knows he can easily take the hit for something so simple in concept.
Across the Atlantic, Crystal Palace chairman Simon Jordan writes a weekly column for The Observer that's a newsprint equivalent to Cuban's blog, drawing on his own experiences to give us a glimpse of what ownership of a sports team is like in the 21st century. The latest entry, on the sense of entitlement that some pro athletes carry around, is especially pungent, and as applicable here as it is over there:
Palace's liberty culture before I took over and just after was almost mesmerising. One player nicked the club's training kit and sold it on. Neil Ruddock took the team out and got them wasted when we were fighting relegation. A married player on £6,000 a week put his extra-marital condoms on club expenses. We signed one player on £10,000 a week who claimed conveyancing expenses of £8,000 and used it to have a house in London he already owned made over. Players taking the piss left right and centre because that was the culture: do what you like, you're a footballer. And it's that attitude that is the source of 99 per cent of football indiscipline, big incidents and small. It creates and sustains problem players.
This kind of stuff has predictable repercussions. Jordan appears next week in front of the English FA for comments he made in a September 18 column on refereeing standards, a regular Cuban topic over the years. Cuban recently got into it, at least virtually and hugely overblown in some quarters (like, the NBA itself), with Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley over comments they made on TNT.
What these kind of articles and the fallout from them shows is they care about what they're doing.
What we get here is the corporate line. It's Babcock saying that "We'd like to be 15-0 right now" as he explains what goes into the making of a 1-14 team. It's the Blue Jays starting off the press conference announcing their biggest free agent signing in eight years with a reminder that "B.J. Ryan flex-paks are now on sale" -- sound marketing, I suppose, but a message that surely could have waited a few minutes, couldn't it?