06 October 2010

On New England Sports Ventures

Even though it's bumping this morning's post off the top, as promised, a good friend of the blog, Mike Anton, chimes in with his thoughts on the Red Sox ownership group. There are a lot of well-placed baseball fans giving their opinions on Henry et al today (see LFCNY and the Liverpool Echo for two), but I thought Mike was a good source for a few reasons. One, I trust his opinion. Two, the masochist that he is, he actually enjoys baseball. And three, most importantly, I expected him to be somewhat blunt, as a Yankees fan who lived in Boston during their two World Series titles in 2004 and 2007. Which had to have been fun for him. Always trust a Yankees fan to say as many bad things about Boston as possible. But being a Liverpool fan, I also expect him to be as rational as a Yankees fan who lived in Boston can be.

Without further ado...
Well, lucky Liverpudlians, that terrible turn with American owners seems to be solved with...more Americans!! Thankfully, New England Sports Ventures have a much better track record than our departing duo ever had, collectively or individually.  

There are quite a few parallels between the Boston Red Sox and Liverpool FC, so we can hopefully extrapolate what happened in Boston to what will probably occur with our Reds.


They're winners: The Red Sox were lovable losers, always finding a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, especially against their main rivals, The Yankees, who dominated the sport over various decades. They had an 86-year World Championship drought (makes the wait for the League look a bit easier...or more foreboding...) and this ownership group was one of the main reasons why it stopped at 86 years. Just to be braggarts, they also won the World Series in 2007, making it two titles in five years.

They Spend Money Wisely: John Henry, the man at the head of the ownership group, made his money as a commodities trader, first in the 70s with soy beans, and then later with full-blown futures funds. He created a prediction formula on his own (well, with a couple history books and a calculator, too) and made millions because he knew how to manage his money.  

The same goes for the Red Sox. In 2004, they had the perfect mix of young, cheap talent, the right specialty players (a fast player who was a steals specialist, someone who could hit left-handers off the bench, etc.) a few big name (and big-ticket) stars, and a number of character guys who just wanted to work hard and win at all costs.  

They Understand The Fans: Red Sox fans are a fairly masochistic bunch. Their constituency, roughly five states in the US, are utter lunatics. They live and die with every regular season game. They know every player on the roster both at the main club and in their farm team (read:  reserve system). They see the rest of the league and know exactly what it is they do or do not need and are fairly "woe is me" about the whole situation, all the while having the strangest optimism every April that "this is the year" they're going to win. Sound familiar?

These same fans also treat the ownership group like heroes. The new group came in after a few decades of worthless spending, doling out big money on players that didn't amount to anything and refused to build up their young talent. NESV demanded the team be treated like a world-class winning organization, and soon they became that very thing.

But it's not all sunshine and lollipops....

They Don't ALWAYS Spend So Wisely: A couple years ago, there was a Japanese pitcher named "Daisuke Matsuzaka." He was in his mid-20s and dominated Japanese baseball like no other pitcher. A bidding war struck up between a few teams, but whenever it's Red Sox against Yankees, dollar signs go through the roof. The way the bid worked was much like football: you paid a transfer fee to the club, then had 72 hours to negotiate a deal. The Sox paid $51,111,111.11 to the club for the right to give him a six-year, $52 million dollar contract. He currently sucks ass.

And They Don't Always Spend Enough: The American baseball free agent market is the closest we have in sport to the capitalistic-as-all-get-out football market. You can pay any player anything your heart desires, so long as you'll be able to afford the contract. On a few occasions, however, the Red Sox were steadfast in not going the extra mile to sign players. One of the heroes from the 2004 team, center fielder Johnny Damon, was allowed to walk to the hated Yankees because the Sox refused to give him a four-year deal. Clearly, sentimentality comes second to business. Furthermore, they let a franchise free agent in Mark Texiera sign with the Yankees because they couldn't cough up another $3 or so million dollars.

The Sox believe in playing baseball on a budget, even if they are one of the top three in revenue year in and year out. This past season, they decided to sell the team on "defense!" and "pitching!" when in reality they decided to spend on one big free agent pitcher (and overpaid for his services) while plugging in cheap, decent players, hoping that the overall talent could make the team a winner. They missed the playoffs this season.  When they spend and spend well, they win. When they don't, they're still a good, solid team, just... underwhelming.

Boy, Do They Like Making Money: Their home field, Fenway Park, was first built in 1912, which they still use. It's an ugly matchbox of a stadium that people now consider "quaint" because they're too nice to use "horribly outdated." Most ownership groups who wanted to purchase the Sox in '03 were going to tear it down and build a new stadium. But not these guys! They believed that the park was the franchise, so they decided to keep the old barn because they couldn't envision a franchise without it. (Editor's Note: Please ignore the use of the word "franchise." A can of worms better left closed.)

Then they whored that thing out as hard as they possibly could.

The place only holds roughly 35,000, while most comparable stadiums fit 55,0000, so seats were placed everywhere. On top of the Green Monster, the space-saving giant wall that is meant to simulate a wall 380 feet away, there are now rows and rows of seats (at $200 a pop). There are new expensive club seats, banners and ads all over the Green Monster and anywhere else you look, corporate sponsorships all over the place. After games, on their own TV network, the Red Sox cut their post game show in half so they could sell "exclusive" naming rights to two different companies, one to their "Red Sox Post Game" show, and one to their "Post Post Game" show. They have a fan club named Red Sox Nation that costs about $20 a year, and a couple years ago they had a novelty "name the President of Red Sox Nation" vote....that cost 99 cents per vote.

In closing... It seems like a really good fit. There are some very clear similarities between both clubs, as noted, and the people themselves are fairly similar. The Boston area has a good number of Liverpool supporters (headed by www.lfcboston.com) already, so they'll put the heat on the Yanks if they screw up like Hicks/Gillett did. There are some concerns, but their management style is very similar to that of Rafa: spend well, hopefully spend wisely, but sometimes it doesn't work out the way everyone hoped. Sure, they aren't Saudi sugar-daddies, but it seems to be a phenomenal match with Liverpool FC... even if they are the owners of my most hated rivals (think of Bitters buying out your second-favorite sports team – this is my nightmare). So over in the states, I'll be moping about, but all of you closer to Anfield should rest easy. Your nightmare is nearly completed.


Jason said...

Let's put one thing he said in context. When he said they "believe in playing baseball on a budget" and they "don't always spend enough."

They generally spend more and have a higher budget than every team in baseball save one. This year they spent $20 million more than the 3rd highest spending team.

So let's keep this budget thing in perspective. Only a Yankee fan would see the Red Sox as a team operating on a budget. To fans of the 30 other teams in baseball they're a huge spenders who have the cash to outspend pretty much every team save one.

nate said...

Haha. Well, yeah, that's part of the reason why I went to great pains to out him as a Yankees fan.

Also funny that my local paper (and a few others, I assume) carried an Associated Press story on smaller payroll teams succeeding this year, in comparison to how free-spending has won titles in previous years.


keith.cygan said...

I'd like to echo Jason's sentiments above. The only way you can say that Boston "doesn't spend enough" is if you were to compare them to the Yankees. By that standard, though, nobody in baseball (save the Yankees) spends enough. This is reflected in the numbers -- over the past five seasons, the Red Sox have averaged a payroll of approx. $150 million (link below). This figure does not include what the Red Sox spend on the draft (for a football comparison, think of money spent on players who are under-20 and not ready to step into first-team action). The Red Sox are also well above average in that area (check the second link).

I also believe "underwhelming" isn't the correct word to describe the Red Sox play (in particular, this season). They won 90+ games the three plus seasons prior to this year (this is similar to, say, finishing top 4 in the EPL three years in a row) and this year they won 89 games, despite two of their best players missing significant time.

I don't mean for this to sound harsh -- I kind of rushed this post, but I wanted to elaborate a bit. Otherwise I think the opinion above is pretty reasonable.

(Note: for full disclosure, I am a White Sox fan. I have no particular affinity for the Red Sox, and in most cases root against them.)



keith.cygan said...

Gosh damnit. That's what I get for not previewing my comment. My above comment should read that the Red Sox have averaged a payroll of approximately $140 million, not $150 million, over the past five years. In either case it's probably not a big deal -- that would still rank in the top four in all of baseball -- but it's worth the correction.

Mike Anton said...

Fair point regarding the spending of the Red Sox vs. all of baseball. I was trying to put it in a context against the Yankees, much like we would put Liverpool against the spending of ManU, Chelsea, ManCity, etc. So yes, clearly, they spend a lot o' cash. That point was not clearly written out, so thanks for bringing it up. As for underwhelming, well...maybe I was not as "objective" as hoped for.

Many thanks, dutiful commentors.

amfm said...

Excellent points, Mike. I know that must have been hard to do, as a Yankees fan... I'm not sure I could say so many nice things about New York if prompted!

As for Fenway, I think that yeah, they have done a lot of whoring out regarding the Monster seats, sponsorship, etc. But I feel like there could have been plenty of opportunities for a company to buy naming rights to the stadium (as in the case of the terrible "Fleet Center/TD Banknorth Garden") for millions of dollars, but they (so far) have resisted the temptation. I still get chills every time I walk into that "old barn," and I'm glad it's not a U.S. Cellular Field or a Staples Center, or something similar.

Anyway, I guess that's neither here nor there. Really enjoyed the post!

Fan Futbol said...

I hate the Red Sox. But under Henry's ownership, they've been a very successful and well-handled club, and the hiring of wunderkind Theo Epstein turned out to be pure genius.

Incidentally, the Red Sox accomplished arguably the most famous comeback in all of sports history -- coming back from 3-0 to win the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees. Overcoming a 3-0 deficit in a playoff series -- let alone against the Yankees -- had never happened before in baseball history. Kind of like Istanbul, but stretched out over four games.

Here's to hoping Henry can turn around the greatest FC in the world!


Anonymous said...

Good post and comments. When I see NESV buying Liverpool, I'm hopeful for a few reasons:

1) They wanted to build a new stadium for the Red Sox, but listened to the fans when they didn't want to leave their old one (Fenway Park.) This is good for two reasons. They were willing to build a new park (like Liverpool is trying to do) and they ended up listening to the fans (excellent news). Granted, they whored out the park, but at least they listened to the fans.

2) NESV isn't new to a sports team. I don't know if Hicks and Gillett had ever owned a team before Liverpool (God forbid), but at least we know that Henry and NESV isn't new to sports teams.

Jeff said...

Hicks and Gillett owned the Texas Rangers (that are now sold as well). Nice run of it for those guys...

The Red Sox are one of the best ran team in baseball. (As much as I hate to say that - used to live in Boston as a St. Cardinals fan) They have a strong farm (reserve) system because they spend the money to buy the best prospects and youngsters.
And (for the most part) they spend their money wisely for the senior side.
They are excellent with marketing to earn the money to support their top 3 payroll.
It all starts with the ownership because I think they have the ability to find smart people to work for them.
Baseball and soccer work way differently, but management is management and I have much more confidence in NESV than Texas Rangers owners...

The Libertine Scribe said...

After the nightmare that was (is) Hicks and Gillet, even an onion kebab wholesaler as an owner sounds attractive.

Yes, after the pillaging we were subjected to, our expectation are very easily fulfilled. Just keep us debt free - the way we were before the arrival of the twin terrors.

However, reading this, my hopes have suddenly risen again. And I blame you lot. In fact, I am getting slightly turned on by the thought of funds being pumped in to my beloved Liverpool....

drew said...

Hicks owned the Rangers; Gillett the Montreal Canadiens of the National Hockey League.

Nobody get too excited yet, the court battle is going to be absolutely as drawn out as possible. There is the prospect of some money in the January window but I wouldn't expect too much, and if our play on the pitch doesn't pick up (and certainly there's been very little hope on that front) then we'll be looking at some pretty devastating transfer requests.

Already bricking the derby.

yanto888 said...

can you tell me what happened at Florida Marlins

Probal Shome said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Probal Shome said...

Really enjoyed the piece and the comments. I don't know much about baseball, but have a soft corner for the Red Sox after watching 'Fever Pitch'.

Just a note..Of the MLB teams, only the Yankees seem to get coverage here in India. Games coming on YES are broadcasted by ESPN. And Sportscenter covers them helleva lot. Guess only the NYY see India (and south east asia) as a future market.


Probal, LFC Fan,

McrRed said...

Hi Guys,
Never had time for baseball before but I could see myself following the RedSox on ESPN at this rate.

As the Mill saga hurries us to what we hope is the endgame a last email campaign has taken off:


It would be especially good if you lot on the other side of the pond could add your voices in reminding Mill that we are angry and that Hicks is currently in default of circa $525 million to his creditors and will stab them in the back at the earliest opporunity.