Friday, 20 August 2010

Blacking Out

Is there a skill in the business management of sports teams? The Glazers obviously believe there is and that it's a skill they possess. Here's how they described themselves in the 2006 refinancing document:

The experience and success of the Glazer family in managing a sports club is well illustrated by its ownership of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The Glazer family acquired the club in 1995 when it was, at that point, one of the worst performing teams in the NFL both on and off the field of play. Since ownership the Glazers have transformed the business immeasurably:
Sporting success: winners of the Superbowl in January 2003
Financial success: the attraction of new sponsorship and commercial opportunities
Stadium development: now home to one of the NFL's finest facilities [paid for with public money, not by the Glazers. Anders]
Sustained investment in the playing squad
Enthusiastic fan support; seven years of consecutive sell-outs and a season ticket waiting
list in excess of 100,000 people.

Well that was then and this is now.
The 2003 Superbowl win was the last instance of "sporting success", with two lost Wild Card playoffs the only other post season achievements since. Last year of course, the Bucs only managed 3 wins out of 16, their worst season since 1991.
Many Bucs fans blame the poor on-field performance on a failure to make "sustained investment in the playing squad" with the franchise spending way below the salary cap. This summer's lack of big names and reliance on a large numbers of rookies seems unlikely to change many minds on the subject.
Poor performance, under investment and a weak economy have all contributed to the complete evaporation of the season ticket waiting list (sound familiar?). Despite price discounting and the abolition of most seat deposits and long-term ST contracts, only 40,000 season tickets have been sold for the coming season (in a stadium seating 66,000).
As fans feared, the Bucs announced earlier this week their first "blacked out" home game for thirteen years, a preseason against Kansas City Chiefs. NFL rules say that games cannot be shown on local TV within a 75 miles radius of the stadium if the game is not sold out. It's an attempt to encourage fans to go the game (not totally unlike the English ban on the live broadcast of 3pm Saturday football). More blackouts during the main season look certain.
Last season several Bucs home games "should" have been blacked-out, but the club stepped in and bought up unsold tickets and declared the games were sold out. For whatever reason (is there ever a reason to do with the Glazers that isn't financial?), that isn't going to be repeated this year.
Is there a skill in the business management of sports teams? Judging from the Glazers' record in Tampa, United fans will hope it isn't a transferable skill....