Posts by Frank Maduri

I am passionate about producing quality writing as a freelance writer and business development consultant. I am also a professionally trained grant writer with experience in fire, school, and emergency services grants. I also write short fiction, poetry, and prose. I enjoy sports and I am a fan of the NJ Devils, NY Giants, and NY Knicks. I enjoy sharing my views about these teams. I was raised and currently reside in New Jersey and I enjoy writing about my state and The Shore where I live, it is a beautiful place that has inspired my writing.

Inconceivable: MLB Realignment Proposal Gets Leaked

The award -winning publication, Baseball America, ran a story on Wednesday with a leaked proposal being considered by Major League Baseball that would realign the divisions, shorten the regular season, and add more playoff teams. The theory being that the reduction in travel costs will offset the revenue lost from the shortened schedule.

The proposal would eliminate the American League and National League as baseball fans have grown accustomed to throughout the history of the sport. The new realignment would group the teams geographically without allegiances to the current divisional groupings.

The new realignment concept would include expansion of the league by two teams to bring the total number of teams to 32; allowing the realigned proposal to divide the teams evenly. The new plan would create four divisions with eight teams each, and the two teams mentioned in the expansion component are Montreal and Portland, Oregon.

I have covered the expansion plans for all the major sports leagues for about four years now. I completed a huge series of articles on expansion about two years ago which considered several factors for different potential markets for new teams in each sport. These two cities are not surprising as top expansion destinations for baseball to consider at this point.

The support to bring back the Montreal Expos has been growing in the past few years and they have a potential ownership group and a few different sites identified for a downtown ballpark which I covered in a piece I wrote last year. Montreal makes sense because they have a built-in fan base from their first iteration that MLB can draw from and grow. The trepidation that some will have, and it is understandable, is that the city had a team and lost it already, that same type of fan apathy can happen again. That situation would be obviously very unideal for the league.

Portland came in “second place” in the race to get the relocated Expos in the early 2000s. The city has some solid demographic evidence to support a team and some potentially problematic detracting factors (media market size, weak potential corporate sponsorship) and they have no current stadium to support a team.

However, according to this report and some other research, the ownership group in Portland can still access a state grant for funding for a portion of the new stadium which was approved for the pursuit of the Expos relocation and still has not expired.

The last time MLB expanded was in the late 1990s and the valuations on those teams have gone through the roof relative to their initial expansion entry fees. The formula for the expansion fee for the two teams added in this proposal would apply the average franchise valuation and factor in the increased value based on revenue models as well as the average value increase over the past twenty years.

The new expansion fees will provide significant revenue to each owner and would be incentive enough for them to add two new members to the ranks. The newly proposed alignment would put teams like the New York Mets and New York Yankees in the same division. The format would put the Chicago Cubs and Chicago White Sox in the same division, and would break up certain rivalries that the average fan has grown to enjoy.

The Mets would be in a division without any of the other members of their current division, the NL East, and the Minnesota Twins would play all of their road games in the Eastern time zone. The questions will almost certainly arise around the designated hitter rule with the dissolution being proposed of the two league structure in place currently.

The purists are going to have several issues with this proposal including the marked increase in the number of playoff teams. The realigned league would have 12 playoff teams: the four division winners, and eight “wild card” teams that would play each other to determine who plays the four division winners in the Division Series, then the final four teams would compete to determine the World Series participants.

The shortened regular season would lead to more playoff games which would invariably increase the value of the television and media rights deals that MLB would seek to broker with their broadcast partners in the future.

The debate will most certainly be spirited regarding the expanded playoffs and the value of “making the playoffs” only to play a winner takes all one game elimination wild card game. The other side will defend the decision with the rationale that the league will have two more teams, and the expanded number of postseason slots should keep more teams in contention. This will translate into better interest in late season games in more markets which should help attendance levels in late season games with a reduced regular season.

The detractors to this proposal will inevitably feel that the elimination of the divisions we have grown traditionally accustomed to (i.e. AL East, NL West) in favor of a completely different / highly geographic setup which eliminates some historic rivalries will damage the television ratings for the sport.

In my view, baseball is different than the other major sports because it does not have the same national appeal. The television ratings for MLB have proven that it is a regional sport and while the nationally televised “Game of the Week” is nice, that game does not generate ratings the way a national broadcast for the NBA or NFL “Game of the Week”.

The argument could be made that this new proposal will become too specifically focused which could hurt the interest in the sport. A good example is who is going to care about a Baltimore Orioles versus New York Mets game outside of those two markets? Not that many people.

The new proposal is also going to face resistance from certain team owners especially in the western regions and some of the small market teams which will be placed into divisions with several larger market teams. The team owners in the eastern regions and the southern areas will most likely support this type of proposal because it will drastically reduce their travel costs, which is becoming a growing concern for team owners across Major League Baseball.

The league has other issues though that this proposal, or one of similar type, will not repair. The pace of play situation is a huge problem for the sport. The league has been looking at ways to speed up the length of games because millennials and younger people are not interested in anything that takes three to four hours out of their life to do. The average length of a game went down a couple of years ago and this season is up over three hours and five minutes. That needs to get resolved or else they will have a more difficult time maintaining fan interest in the future.

The long- term viability of certain franchises, namely the Oakland A’s and Tampa Bay Rays needs to be clarified before they expand and add two new teams to the league. Those two franchises are struggling to generate attendance and revenue and their respective owners are trying to get new stadiums built for them thinking that will solve all of their issues.

The proposal is radical, it is inconceivable to me that they would alter and eliminate the National League and American League and dissolve the current division structure and playoff structure. Then, I think of the changes to the league structures when they moved Houston to the American League which made necessary an interleague series all year long because of the unbalanced number of teams. The MLB offices did that to slowly dissolve the lines between the two leagues, to prepare the fans for something else in the future: one league.

The debate will continue as the months move forward. It should be noted that MLB knew what it was doing when it “leaked” this proposal. This was a calculated move to soften the ground around making these types of changes. It is a test sample, this does not mean this proposal for realignment is set in stone.

Conversely, the league has certain issues that you might consider giving them credit for recognizing: the cost of travel for a whole roster of players and support staff is getting very expensive, the amount of games in different time zones is draining the players, and the season is a six month grind with not enough off days (this proposal would give one day off a week to players and allow for travel the next day rather than overnight flights which can be a safety issue).

Major League Baseball has some issues that they must resolve and they are also trying to adapt to a changing landscape for the viewing of sports content and for maintaining fan interest in a world full of other distractions. This proposal seems radical, bizarre, and doomed to a baseball purist like myself.

However, we must all realize that this was just a test, the real changes are coming down the road, and I cannot imagine how inconceivable the actual realignment will be when it rolls out in the future.

The Next Battleground: Gene-Editing & Food Products

The vigorous pushback that GMO (genetically modified) or genetically engineered ingredients in our food supply have received is a topic that I have covered here on Frank’s Forum as well as for other news websites for about four years.

My position regarding this issue is well documented as being against the use of genetically modified organisms or genetically engineered ingredients in our food. I have also detailed the problems inherently built into our food supply chain with genetically modified seeds. This scenario has fostered conditions where it is very difficult in the agricultural realities of today to avoid GMOs or genetic engineering in certain staple crops: corn, soybean, wheat, and sugar beet.

In those cases, I am a staunch proponent of the need for clear labeling practices for food production companies to notify the consumer of whether or not the item in question is made with genetically modified/engineered ingredients. I believe in the movement and the slogan fostered by another group, we have “a right to know if it is GMO”.

I was researching a set of different resources last week in the library for a GMO related piece, and I stumbled upon some research on genetic editing, or gene-editing, used in crops. This particular data set was on a study using genetic editing in corn for commercial use and not for human consumption.

The process of gene-editing inserts desired traits into the genetic pathways of crops and livestock. This trend is alarming to some, and intriguing to others; it certainly presents an ethical set of questions.
The intent, according to some published reports, is for gene-editing to be used in the human food supply in the future. The large corporate players in the industry have already made statements to the media indicating that their expectation is for gene-editing to be integrated into food production.

This raises some very important ethical questions about the alteration of the DNA of food which is grown in the earth. It raises serious questions about the line of division between man and God.

The process of genetic editing in food is also generating a new oracle within certain circles as “GMO 2.0” ; an inference to this scientific method being simply a continuation or new version of GMO ingredients in food. The use of the CRISPR method allows large chemical companies such as Dow/DuPont the capability to splice the genetic makeup of the food source.

The agricultural science and seed suppliers have become increasingly enmeshed over the course of the last two to three years due to mergers and acquisitions activity. The repercussions of that activity translate to molding scientific advances into what could be marketed to generate profits. This is a dangerous trend particularly when it is connected to the food supply.

These same agricultural/chemical giants: Dow/DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, Bayer, and others are “softening the ground” (all irony aside) with campaigns designed to almost condition the consumer to accept genetically edited products. They seek to avoid the public backlash that GMOs and products with genetically engineered ingredients have faced within the marketplace.

The key to that campaign objective is to position the genetic editing as more closely related to science and the scientific makeup of the crop or produce involved. The splice at the DNA level is going to be marketed as “more natural” than the process of GMO – which has an overwhelmingly negative public perception surrounding it.

This method of direct to consumer marketing is certainly nothing new, and is an increasingly common trend in marketing. The obstacles that face the agricultural titans mentioned earlier is that the public has access to so much information now than it did twenty or thirty years ago when the genetic engineering experiments began.

The other fact that is neglected in all of this, is that the process of CRISPR and genetic editing still modifies the DNA and the chemical structure of the crop in question. The process still alters what God created with something that mankind engineered. The questions will persist that if they are moving toward genetic editing to clone a “super crop” – where does it end?

The inevitable and controversial topic of cloning will take a renewed position within the national dialogue in America. The question of human cloning will be soon to follow. The debate will again be brought to the surface and the concept of genetic editing will have higher stakes than just the food supply.

In the end analysis, the responsibility shifts back to us to educate ourselves on the concept of genetic editing, and there are numerous sources of information on this subject. The central question will remain: should man be involved in the alteration of the DNA of something that was created long before we had any technology available? Should mankind use science to change what God created?

Those answers will not be concluded easily but those are the issues we will confront in the months ahead. The battle lines are drawn: which side wiil you be on?

Bring Hope To The Isolated: Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief

Hurricane Maria brought fierce destruction to the island of Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory home to about 3.4 million people. The island has no power, and the situation there is worsening by the day. Our fellow Americans are at risk of malnutrition, dehydration, disease, and death from the conditions at this point.

The images of the destruction in Puerto Rico are disturbing. The situation is almost apocalyptic. The power grid is down, the generators need gasoline to run, gasoline is scarce, the ATM machines are running out of cash if they even work, and water is scarce. Those effected need to bring in enough water to bathe and also it takes about one gallon of water to flush a toilet which needs to be brought in to apartments in high-rise buildings that could be twenty floors up.

I put myself in their shoes, in that situation, and I have to try to do something besides just sending in some money, which is a good start. However, this is a much larger effort and something has to be done. The federal government has to get some emergency funds allocated since FEMA is so stretched from the other recent hurricanes in Texas and Florida, and that has to be a top priority.

I have seen certain drives for fundraising or for gathering gifts-in-kind (supplies) taking place in New York City, Atlanta, Washington D.C., and other cities. We need more of those types of events from a grassroots level.

I know it can be difficult to determine how to trust that the charity will allocate your money to the actual relief effort in Puerto Rico. I know that the island territory feels isolated and cut off from the world. These people are our sisters and brothers. They are fellow Americans, and we must act to help them.

Here are some charitable organizations that have active operations there:
Convoy of Hope : www.convoyofhope.org
Samaritan’s Purse: www.samaritanspurse.org
Salvation Army: www.salvationarmyusa.org
Food For The Poor: www.foodforthepoor.org

These organizations are highly reliable and transparent. Please donate whatever you can to help in the efforts of relief for what is a dire situation in Puerto Rico.

Some other ways that you, your family, or your community can give:
1. Organize a local fundraiser and send the funds to these charities
2. Collect donations at your workplace, job site, or office these charities will provide written letters of receipt for your donation
3. Start a fundraiser or supply collection (food drive) at your local church or community center or with an organization you may be involved with
4. Contact your local representatives in Congress and ask them what I call the two questions: What are you doing Senator X or Rep. Y to help with aid to Puerto Rico? What can I do to help aid in this effort?
5. Contact your local organizations: Lions Club, Knights of Columbus, Rotary, Elks Club…and find out if they have a fundraiser you can help with.
6. Get your friends from school together or work together on social media and decide on an event you can create and promote locally and then send those proceeds to the relief effort.
7. Pray for the people there and pray for guidance on how to best serve and help them in this time of great need.

In the event that you have relatives, friends, associates, or colleagues in Puerto Rico and you have not heard from them; please call this number: 202-778-0710 and keep trying because it might be busy. This number will allow you to get the latest information and check on the status of your loved ones there on that ravaged island.

In my own life, I have visited Puerto Rico on a cruise during my honeymoon. I have very fond memories of the cobblestone streets of Old San Juan, the Fort (El Morro), and the white sand beaches. Those places are decimated, the people there are living in very dangerous conditions. They could survive the storm and die of malnutrition or starvation. The children on that island are the most vulnerable as are the elderly.

I ask you to put yourself in their shoes, and search your soul. We are all capable of doing something, and the time for action is now. Please help the people of Puerto Rico. Thank you and God bless you and God be with the people of Puerto Rico.

“Straight Talk” T-Mobile & Sprint Merger Talks Intensify

The reports out of Wall Street on Tuesday were that two wireless telecommunications giants, T-Mobile and Sprint, were in negotiations on a potential merger. The reporting from CNBC has been great on this topic, and according to that trusted news source, there has been no exchange ratio determined to this point.

That is an indication that talks are still in an early stage but CNBC also added that the negotiations on the term sheet had begun. The period of term sheet negotiations can lag for a while or move relatively quickly depending on the parties involved in the potential merger. I have covered mergers where the meetings to figure out the parameters of the term sheet could get contentious, obviously much of that is centered around the valuation of given assets in the deal.

These two particular companies have discussed joining forces at least a few times in the past several years. The difference between those prior attempts and this potential merger opportunity is that the current proposal is expected to be an all stock transaction. The prior attempts at merging the two companies involved cash which brings in other variables around valuations of certain other operational components.

The main reason that these two mobile phone service providers are seeking to merge is one of the usual reasons: cost synergy. That rationale has come up often in my prior writing on M&A activity, and this deal stands to provide billions of dollars of cost savings due to the synergies involved in these businesses.

T-Mobile and their parent company, Deutsche Telecom, would become the lead party in the combined company. This translates to the average person to mean that if the two companies did link up – the combined company would be known as T-Mobile. It is too early to know, and it is unclear whether it will change, that they will keep the two names in the marketplace operating essentially as different brands with the same parent owner.

Sprint and their parent company, Softbank, expressed interest to work a deal with T-Mobile again earlier this year. The sources around the negotiations state that the understanding is that the CEO of T-Mobile, John Legere, would lead the combined company.

However, it is also being reported that the top guy at Softbank, Masayoshi Sun, wants a position of significant input into the daily operations of the potential combined entity. This scenario, in my experience covering mergers, always presents a whole other set of complications to the deal being completed.

In addition, it should be noted that the personnel involved in researching this type of transaction at T-Mobile has not begun their review of the balance sheet at Sprint. This review could (and very often does) change the terms of the structure of the deal. It also could become a factor in T-Mobile backing out of the process if it is determined that the current financial picture at Sprint is not advantageous for M&A activity.

Furthermore, the other variable which cannot be underscored is the anti-trust situation. The regulatory aspect from the federal government entities involved in a merger of this magnitude can frequently create several hurdles that could sidetrack a potential deal to the point that it never materializes.

In this case, we are dealing with a significant alignment of the third largest and fourth largest mobile telecommunication companies in the United States. The scrutiny from the federal anti-trust regulatory authorities is going to be significant. That level of scrutiny usually causes one side of the potential merger to disband the process. The possibility that T-Mobile could bow to the pressure exerted by federal regulators and pull the plug on this deal is one potential outcome of this situation.

The motivating factor for both T-Mobile and Sprint is a common one: remain competitive with the top two players in the industry, Verizon and AT&T. Those two behemoths keep getting larger and more diversified in their holdings with Verizon recently acquiring Yahoo and AT&T obtaining more media companies to go along with their blockbuster merger with DirecTV.

The pricing, network coverage, and service options (AT&T bundles services with DirecTV packages, Verizon bundles cell phone plans with FIOS TV packages) makes for competitive disadvantages for T-Mobile and Sprint. It is my belief that if T-Mobile and Sprint joined forces that the branding message would be crafted around their focus on mobile devices and the fact that they are not involved in other businesses in media.

It is very early in the process for this potential merger, anything could break one way or another with regard to the probability of it being carried to fruition. The fact remains that beyond all the “straight talk” the companies are engaging in at this point with the term sheet, is that this merger has several boundaries to overcome.

The stock valuations on the term sheet, the fact that both holding companies do not totally own all of the companies they are trying to consolidate, the role of John Legere versus Mr. Sun and his “seat at the table” demands, the balance sheet health of Sprint, and the anti-trust pressures; are all factors that could derail this deal off the tracks at any point.

The average consumer should keep tabs on this merger because it could further limit the competition and the competitive balance in the cell phone marketplace. This could lead to unfair or burdensome cost increases to the consumer and a lack of choice in their carrier. It effects an area that hits close to home to a great majority of the American public: their cell phone.

In the end analysis, it is going to come down to the same set of factors that most M&A activity revolves around: is the cost savings from the synergies obtained from consolidation worth the effort, headache, and manpower hours needed to complete the merger. The next few months will provide many of those answers as T-Mobile and Sprint move forward in this long process that merits the attention of the consumer.

The Strategy Behind Building Sports Arenas

The conclusion that I have come to over the past four and a half years of writing pieces centered on the topic of sports arenas, is that a strategy exists in getting these deals done that is far more intricate than many would believe. These strategies involve the team ownership, the league office, as well as political and business leaders.

These strategies could involve a real estate developer if they are not already involved as part of the ownership group, and they can involve civic groups or environmental groups depending on the project.

These arena development agreements for sports can be complex and involve tax payer dollars, or they can be privately financed which inherently leads to other issues in that circumstance.

The strategy behind the building of a sports arena was on full display over the past two days with the situation in Seattle. The lack of an updated venue that met current NBA or NHL standards was the main reason why the Sonics moved out of the city about nine years ago. The city had been working with a developer for a proposed new sports arena in the SoDo neighborhood, which was proving to have too many cumbersome hurdles.

The city shifted their priority to the old Key Arena at Seattle Center and fielded development proposals to renovate, expand, or rebuild a new arena on that site. The Oak View Group had the winning proposal, and on Tuesday, the city government announced the agreement of a newly renovated and expanded world class arena on the Seattle Center site built entirely with private funds.

The residents who pined for the return of the Sonics, and the sports fans that dreamed of an NHL expansion hockey team in the Emerald City, rejoiced because they had finally a light at the end of the tunnel with this news. The last, and most important, major hurdle for the city to gain at least one, if not two, new major league teams was seemingly cleared.

The old adage: “you never know what tomorrow will bring” is certainly true in Seattle; where residents woke up the next morning to learn that the Mayor of Seattle announced his resignation amid an alleged sexual misconduct scandal, and that the arena plans for Seattle Center were put on hold indefinitely.

In addition, in a related story, Wednesday brought the news that the Calgary Flames and their new arena negotiations with municipal officials were broken off with no resolution. This situation has been brewing for several months with proposals and counter-proposals being made by both sides, with no substantive progress being made toward a functional plan.

The surprising element of this situation is that the incumbent mayor, Mayor Neshi, was publicly acting as if the new sports and entertainment arena was part of his vision for the future of the city. The Flames management held a Wednesday press conference to refute that vision by stating that Mayor Neshi has not advocated at all for a new arena, and was insinuating to the public another stance in order to win the votes of hockey fans.

The NHL league office sent a strongly worded message to the Mayor, and the components of these arena deals are riled up north of the border. This news that the Flames had put $200 million on the table toward the development of the new facility and then even changed the site from one end of the city to the other, immediately bowed to speculation that the team would relocate to either Seattle or Quebec City.

The Flames management stated that they will continue to play in the second oldest arena in the NHL, while the other teams enjoy the advantages from better revenue streams achieved by playing in a new facility. However, they also insinuated that they will keep the relocation option on the table. The Mayor does not have to change his stance because polling shows that the people in Calgary do not want to use public money on a new arena.

The relocation to Quebec City is always going to be a hot topic, as they took an entirely different approach and pulled out all the stops to build a new arena a few years ago with no guarantee of an NHL team coming there either through expansion or relocation. The NHL passed them over for expansion in this last cycle, choosing Las Vegas to expand the league into, citing the weak Canadian dollar at that point in time.

A group of NHL players were surveyed recently and the majority of them selected Quebec as the place they would like the league to expand to in the future. This was ahead of Seattle and Houston on the list of choices. Quebec will always be a popular spot because of their history in the league with the Nordiques, and the nostalgia that hockey fans have for that team and for the rivalry with Montreal to be reinstituted.

Quebec took the step of making the most difficult hurdle in gaining a new franchise, the arena, the easiest step by building it. The residents, business leaders, and politicians were all on board with getting an NHL team, now they will wait to see if that maneuver will provide the desired end result.

The New York Islanders are involved in a new arena quest as well. The main issue is that when the team moved from Nassau Coliseum to Brooklyn, they underestimated the significance of the Barclays Center being built for basketball and the impact that would have on the hockey fan experience.

The sight lines for hockey at Barclays are terrible, the scoreboard is off center in the orientation to the rink, and the ice conditions are awful because the arena does not have the right pipes to adequately keep the water temperature low enough. It is a total debacle and the team is looking at two potential sites in Queens: one near Aqueduct Racetrack, and the other next to Citi Field where the New York Mets play baseball.

The league office has completely shut down any potential for the Islanders to return to Nassau Coliseum (which was renovated completely and is now a smaller seating capacity) and pursuing the Queens options. Many people in recent polling believe that the Islanders arena, another new arena in the NY metro area is unnecessary, so it will be interesting to see how this situation works itself out.

The New York metro area is one of key significance for the NHL and with the Rangers and the New Jersey Devils, the league has three franchises in the region and has a vested interest in making sure that all of them are given the best possible opportunity to remain profitable.

The scenario with the Islanders searching for a new home is similar, yet different, to the Arizona Coyotes and their ongoing struggle to find a new arena closer to the population center of the Phoenix market. The Coyotes have had issues for years on the business side, and the dispute with the Glendale municipal government involving the arena lease terms are just the tip of the iceberg.

The ownership group of the team appeared to have a deal in place with Arizona State University for a new arena being built in Tempe, but that deal fell through in February 2017. The focus now is on a few other sites in the East Valley and this boondoggle for a new arena will continue for the foreseeable future, as will the inevitable relocation rumors.

However, relocation seems unlikely as the NHL is unbalanced and needs more teams in the West, they would not move the Coyotes to Quebec, and the situation in Seattle is murky at best. The league remains bullish on keeping a team in the Phoenix area because they are enamored with the media market size.

The Phoenix Suns are also seeking a new arena to replace their current aging home court, and the NBA league office is, of course, willing to back the team up on getting the public funds squeezed out of the government to get that accomplished.

The state and municipal level governments in Arizona are looking at a scenario where the Coyotes, Suns, and the MLB team, the Arizona Diamondbacks; are all seeking taxpayer funding for public/private arrangements to build new sports venues. The resulting idea within the state assembly there is to build a sports arena in downtown Phoenix that would be shared by both the Suns and the Coyotes in order to save the outlay of total public funds.

However, the reports out of Phoenix are that the Suns ownership is not on board with sharing a facility and want their own facility in the downtown area. The Coyotes are in a different situation, they have stayed publicly mum on the shared arena concept, largely because they would probably play anywhere other than in their current arena in Glendale. It is a situation that is complex, has a ton of moving parts with proposed arena sites on Native American tribal lands, and a host of other issues that merit watching in the weeks ahead.

The Carolina Hurricanes are the final situation with arena management and potential relocation that will be explored in this analysis. The team is about to be sold from Peter Karamanos to Chuck Greenberg but the sale is not completely finalized yet.

The arena lease is key to the sale because the team has been the source of relocation rumors for the past four or five years. Carolina does not have the corporate sponsorship opportunities of other, larger markets. The Hurricanes have not had much on-ice success in recent years which has put a subsequent drag on attendance levels.

The current arena lease between the group that controls the arena and the Hurricanes is seen as one of the most favorable lease agreements from the perspective of the team as far as being a tenant in a building. The PNC Arena is in need of some renovations and improvements which many believe will be done once Mr. Greenberg affirms that the team is staying in North Carolina.

The consensus from some within the NHL circles is that the team could relocate to Quebec, but in many ways that may not make sense from a business perspective. The ownership, in this case Greenberg, would have to pay a steep relocation fee to go to Quebec. In this case, the ownership could use that money as their portion of a public/private agreement to construct a new arena in North Carolina.

The case for a sports arena is dependent upon so many variables and involves many shifting priorities and calculated interest groups from politicians, to team owners, to the league office, and local business leaders. The case studies, individually must be taken on balance, I understand all sides of the situation.

The owners feel that the municipal governments stand to make a lot of money on the ratable tax revenue from the arena, the public feels that they should not have tax money go toward the construction of a facility of this type, and the cities that do not have a new sports / entertainment venue miss out on the latest acts or could lose a team over it. All of these variables are valid, and all of the scenarios I laid out will continue to develop from Seattle to Phoenix and beyond in the months ahead.

Oversaturation Point: The Uncertain Future Of Amazon

The financial news is buzzing with the analysis of the earnings reported from Amazon and the trendline toward potential trouble in the waters ahead. The recent acquisition of Whole Foods and the expenses on the balance sheet compared to the offset from the investor and the average consumer portends a future that is uncertain for the mammoth online retailer.

The question I find myself asking, from the perspective of one who has covered mergers and other financial news, is: has Amazon reached an oversaturation point?

The investment analysts on Wall Street are stating that investors are fatigued with the process of shelling out huge sums of money for Amazon stock shares. The consumer side of the business also seems to be displaying signs of fatigue as well. The company is starting to find out that it is difficult to grow your base membership business when the Prime subscription cost is $99 per year.

The question that Amazon should ask themselves is: should we put in place a tiered subscription structure to widen the potential consumer base of the business? The answer to that question will go a long way toward the determination of the future direction of their business.

The other solution they could determine is that they could market the Prime membership differently: instead of focusing on the $99 per year cost, they could break it out into a monthly cost. This type of marketing strategy might appeal more to a younger demographic and to families that are feeling the budget squeeze.

The stock value analysis of Amazon seems to indicate troubled waters ahead. The blue-chip stocks traded on the major indices all have “breaking points”. The averages for stock performance whether by month, by quarter, or the most common: the 52-week average; all provide a snap-shot of the financial picture around the given stock valuation for a company.

The “breaking point” on Amazon is a staggering figure of $925, according to industry analysts. That point seems to be approaching unless the trend lines change. The long- range forecast for the company, and the analysis around their balance sheets, suggests that the expenses stemming from the consolidations of Whole Foods and other businesses will impact their overall outlook.

The reaction from industry analysts and those within the financial markets has been mixed overall with respect to Amazon and their future path. These groups include a faction which maintains that the Amazon purchase and consolidation of Whole Foods will eventually have a negative impact on the company from both an expense and strategic perspective. The variables of external factors that could impact their profit margins now increased exponentially with the inclusion of a retail grocery business.

The reality is that no company is “bulletproof”, no company is immune to the outside forces driven from marketplace supply and demand. Amazon will still remain one of the most influential companies in the world, but everyone goes through a slump. The average consumer will still enjoy the convenience that their shopping experience provides, while another group of consumers will choose another site for their shopping, and still yet another group will shop primarily in brick and mortar stores.

In my view, Amazon is heading toward an oversaturation point. They should adapt, like any other business, with a strategy that addresses ways to reinvigorate their core customer base. They also need to determine ways that they can attract new customers in younger demographics both now and in the future.

The company continues to be a leader in both technology and convenience in the way we can obtain or consume a huge range of products. However, the Whole Foods acquisition has changed the overall public perception of Amazon into a type of “grim reaper” for American small businesses and the jobs that they create.

A stroll through your local Whole Foods store today will invariably include an “end cap” shelf space selling the Amazon Echo, which is a stark departure from what Whole Foods built their brand imaging around over the years. These types of changes could serve to alienate the core customers of the Whole Foods brand in the short term.

In addition, Amazon continues to grow, especially in certain states such as my home state of New Jersey. The first-hand accounts that I have been told about the negative quality of life impact that the Amazon distribution center expansion has had in the area outside of Trenton, are incredible. The constant rumbling of trucks and the increased traffic congestion and noise are just naming a few of those adverse impacts.

Those negative effects are followed by accounts of the working conditions at the New Jersey distribution centers as well as the corporate office roles which support those sites. The company culture has been exposed as one where the employees are pushed beyond their limits and that working conditions need improvement.

Amazon will have to contend with this image problem amid a rising tide of expenses as well as a potential stock sell-off if the share price drops below that breaking point. The oversaturation of Amazon in the marketplace has begun, the repercussions will have a significant impact on the retail industry space, the consumer, and the economy in the future.

Return To Football & Media Companies Protection Of Live Sports Content

The NFL preseason is already three weeks old, and college football will begin traditionally on Labor Day weekend; football is back and for many Americans that means that they have something to watch on TV again. The excitement for the start of both a new college football season as well as a new NFL football season is tempered by the continued movement of media companies to protect live sports content.

The trend towards eliminating cable television service, or “cord-cutting”, is gaining momentum each year as Americans look to trim the monthly expenses in order to pay for rising costs for other services, such as healthcare. The “cord-cutting” trend has been aided by the prevalence of streaming television products and platforms available to the consumer.

However, the consumer that is looking to still utilize “live TV” can do so through a few different pathways: HD antenna, streaming devices, and hybrid streaming services. The HD antenna is very simple: it attaches next to your TV and provides the broadcast channels within the mileage range on the box. The antenna would provide CBS, NBC, FOX, ABC, CW, and PBS as well as a few more local stations.

The antenna would provide you access to live sports broadcast on the national networks, and would not include any games broadcast on cable television. This option would work very well for NFL football, and some college football games. It would be of little use to obtain access to any other major sports, other than an occasional game.

The local baseball, basketball, and hockey games are almost exclusively aired on cable regional sports networks or on national cable sports networks such as ESPN or NBC Sports Network. This leads us to option two: streaming devices.

The streaming device route or Smart TV route can provide access to a huge amount of live sports content, but most of that content is not free of charge. The NBA, NHL, and MLB all have streaming “apps” but they require a subscription to access. The streaming device route can also support “live streaming” of certain networks but most of that would require either a cable subscription or another type of payment arrangement to access that content.

The hybrid streaming device route would be a DirecTV now, Sling box, or a few other smaller services that allow for the content available on a very large package of channels to be viewed in other rooms in your home. This would require a subscription and at least one box connected from either a cable or satellite provider. This route may also require the purchase of additional equipment.

However, this setup would enable access to a significant amount of live sports content. The other service is through Hulu which will feature a package of channels for $40.00 per month which would allow for live streaming of network and cable television, including live sports.

The networks pay such a high premium for the live sporting events that it is, in some ways, understandable that they have put in place certain measures to make it more difficult to stream the content without a cable or satellite subscription. The challenge will be in adapting their content providing platforms to attract other audience/fan base demographics.

The younger generation is conditioned toward streaming versus watching any regular television programming. The advertising around some of the streaming services and apps can be a bit misleading. Some of the sports related streaming apps will give you access to certain content for free and require a fee or cable subscription for access to the most important content: the live game or archived game broadcasts.

The NFL has partnered with e-commerce giant, Amazon, to stream 10 games this year as part of the Thursday Night Football package. This exclusive opportunity with the NFL and their coveted live game content cost Amazon $50 million. The broadcasts are free for all those with an Amazon Prime membership which runs at $99.00 per year.

This agreement with Amazon is different than the agreement they had last year with Twitter for the Thursday night games because Twitter streamed them live for free to everyone with an account, Amazon requires a Prime membership for access. It will remain to be seen if that will have an impact on live stream viewership, either positively or negatively.

The future of sports content on TV, and other content on TV is trending more toward a structure where the consumer will pay to have all sorts of content streamed on a customized basis. The consumer access to a broad range of content will require membership to a wide range of services, similar to the premium channel cable TV subscriptions currently (HBO, Showtime, Starz, Encore). It is important to note that whatever service or method you use it is like the old adage: “there is no free lunch”.

A good example of this trend is the decision by Disney recently to end their partnership with Netflix to start their own streaming service. This translates into a scenario where in order to gain access to Disney content you will have to purchase their streaming service. I think that many other major media companies are going to follow suit.

The return to football means some exciting weekends relaxing with family and friends. It conjures up memories of past football weekends with the big college games on Saturday nights, and the CBS games at 4 o’clock on the East Coast with the aroma of a home cooked dinner in the background.

It is time for many of us to watch TV again, and I hope that this piece informed you on the best options that you have to access this content. I wish you all a happy and safe football season.

The Next Proving Ground: Plans To Drill Off The Atlantic Coast

The U.S. Department of Interior over the past two weeks has advanced plans to drill for oil and natural gas reserves off the entire Atlantic coast from Maine to Florida. This plan has generated mostly negative reaction from residents along most of the coastal states effected, particularly in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions.

The federal government plans to lease out areas off the coast of the entire Eastern seaboard for the planned exploration of these energy resources despite the potential risks to a massive population if there is an operational incident.

The actions of the Department of Interior have prompted the response from the state level governments which are effected by this potential new energy strategy. The most recent was in my home state of New Jersey, where Governor Chris Christie wrote a strong letter to the Department of Interior vigorously opposing any drilling or exploration efforts off the coast of the state.

Governor Christie cited the potential threat to the marine wildlife, the water, and other natural resources as well as natural habitats. The exploration for these energy sources can have a very damaging effect and the governor maintained that his position has always been against these types of exploratory methods in coastal waters.

My own view, as a resident, is that the Atlantic coast should be off limits to this type of drilling and exploration for a variety of reasons. The first of which is that the New Jersey coast line is a huge economic driver for our state; between the tourism at the beaches, to the fishing industry.
Second, the implementation of fracking (hydraulic fracturing) and other exploration methods on land have created a glut in the supply of oil and natural gas. The bigger issue now is what to do with the abundance of the supply of the resources and how to store it until the demand curve resets itself. The industry does not need more resources supplied from the Atlantic Coast, when the U.S. domestic oil and natural gas industry has other areas which currently provide supply.

Finally, I agree with the governors of the Atlantic coast states, the population density especially in the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast/ New England would create an environmental catastrophe in the event of an incident in an exploration operation. The sheer volume of people and the pollution potential for such a huge area is a high-risk scenario.

We have a responsibility to protect our natural resources and in this case, the Atlantic Ocean should not be explored for energy reserves in this manner. The risks far outweigh the return. It is my hope that the residents and the state governments can appeal to the federal government on this important matter.

I have grown up at the beach in New Jersey and I have seen the first-hand impact of pollution on the shore. I have also seen the impact of a storm like Hurricane Sandy, which a similar storm system in the future could have a disastrous impact on an off -shore drilling operation.

The Atlantic coast has been immune to exploration for this long a period of time, I do not understand what there is to gain by opening it up for oil and gas exploration at this point. I am hoping that the other side of this debate can make that argument in the coming months. I am hoping that the residents will band together and inform our representatives on both the state and federal level that we are not interested in this type of activity taking place on the Atlantic coast.

The Next Chapter For Rite Aid or Is it the Last Chapter?

The past few years have featured some major mergers and consolidations across a variety of business segments. It is rare to have a proposed “mega merger” result in a change of course, but in the case of the Walgreens deal to merge with Rite Aid in the retail pharmacy space, that is exactly what transpired.

Walgreens, after repeated attempts to find ways to satisfy the anti-trust regulators, announced that they had disbanded their pursuit of a merger with Rite Aid. The most recent proposed framework of the acquisition had Walgreens and Rite Aid both selling store locations to a Southeastern based retail drug store and discount store chain, Fred’s, done in pieces through a series of transactions.

The proposed framework left regulators and industry analysts concerned that Fred’s could essentially double the size of their company overnight and not sustain any major setbacks.

The proposal also left many in the government regulatory positions feeling unsettled with the potential size of the combined Walgreens/Rite Aid chain and the impact that could have on the consumer. The combined entity would also have tremendous influence with pharmaceutical distributors regarding price and other factors, which made interested parties in the pharmaceutical area very concerned as well.

In the end analysis, Walgreens determined that it was no longer a viable pathway to grow their business, and the proposal with Rite Aid was terminated. The transactions with Fred’s never took place, and the whole deal fell apart very rapidly. The natural next question is: what is the next step for Rite Aid?

Rite Aid has sustained five straight losing quarters and their stock has lost a significant amount of value. They will receive $35 million from Walgreens in a termination fee because the merger was scuttled. Rite Aid also announced it will sell about half of their store locations in their current business footprint. Many of those stores will be sold to Walgreens, which is a strange turn of events because regulators were concerned about Walgreens getting bigger if the merger was approved.

Walgreens stands to gain more store locations in certain markets because the merger was scrapped. Some investment analysts maintain that Rite Aid could turn their business around because they will have streamlined their operations to focus on just half the amount of store locations than they have in their current footprint once the sale of the store locations becomes final.

Conversely, some investment analysts and industry experts are concerned that Rite Aid has serious issues and that the company will still fail, despite the efforts to streamline their business operations. The sale of some of these locations will relieve some of the debt load for Rite Aid, but they still have some significant hurdles to overcome.

The strategic decision by Rite Aid to sell all their locations in certain marketplaces will certainly help the company to remain focused on their core customer bases in the Northeast and along parts of the East Coast. The distribution systems should improve in this streamlined approach, and the distribution network will be far more targeted which will also provide cost savings.

Rite Aid is a staple brand in the retail drug store channel, especially in the Northeast. The future of the company is reliant upon their marketing efforts to reconnect with their core customer base in that geographic market. They will also face external pressures from much larger competitors such as CVS/Caremark, Wal-Mart, and Walgreens.

The opportunity for Rite Aid to merge with another competitor is still a possibility, but the best opportunity for their brand was to merge with Walgreens. It is going to be difficult to find another partner that would not want to just swallow them whole, and the other chains are essentially too small to make an impact on their competitive position in the industry segment.

The decision to streamline their operation will, at the very least, buy them some time to reevaluate their options. The next chapter for Rite Aid appears to be a return to their roots, and to focus on their key strategic markets in the Northeast. It remains to be seen if this change in strategy can be enough to bring the company out of the slump that they have been mired in for several months.

It remains to be seen if this next chapter is the last chapter for yet another iconic American brand in an increasingly competitive retail landscape.

Merger News: Discovery Purchases Scripps Networks

During the past four years here on Frank’s Forum I have focused on mergers in the business world, television ratings/business side of television, and news that impacts the consumer. The news on a Monday morning that Discovery purchased Scripps Networks combines elements from all three of those sub-themes.

First, the merger itself is worth over $11 billion and will combine the networks under the Discovery umbrella (Animal Planet, TLC, Discovery, ID network, and a stake in the OWN Network) with that of the Scripps portfolio (HGTV, Food Network, DIY Network, and Travel Channel). This merger will give the new Discovery Communications ownership of about 20% of the “basic cable” landscape.

This will provide them with leverage when negotiating carriage rights with the cable and satellite providers because they will have much more content and be able to split the channels up into different packages to promote to those providers in order to attract new customers.

Second, the ratings side is a big component of this deal as well. The ratings for basic cable programs are held to a different metric than the national broadcast or premium cable programs, but ratings are still crucial. This is made even more significant by the decreasing viewership levels for cable television programs due to the large number of consumers cancelling their cable service.

The ratings for certain programs that air on Scripps channels are significant, and the combination of the two entities helps their overall combined ratings compared to if they remained two separate units. The reality series, Fixer Upper on HGTV is the #2 rated overall cable program, so that is a huge addition to the Discovery Networks stable when the time comes for contract renewals with the cable and satellite providers.

This ties in nicely to the third component: the impact for the consumer. The combined Discovery/Scripps unit will now be able to offer more content and more value to the cable /satellite providers. They will also be offering their channels in different bundle packages which will benefit the consumer. These factors should lead to lower costs to the consumer for those particular channels.

The additional benefit will most likely be that the content from the new Discovery Networks combined entity will become more readily available in the “On Demand” functions of your cable or satellite provider.

The last component which impacts both the consumer and the business side of the television landscape is that the Discovery executives have discussed the development of their own streaming application. The proposed application would feature a range of content from this newly formed group of popular cable channels.

However, some industry experts remain skeptical of Discovery creating their own streaming service application because it is expensive to develop properly. Many of those same experts also counter that the combined Discovery/Scripps is going to cost more to operate because it is going to be a larger company with more expenses. That is going to require some adjustments by the senior management structure to run efficiently.

In the end, the merger of Discovery with Scripps Networks is an indication of the direction that those types of media companies are going to take in the future. The trend toward consolidation is going to be a necessity in order to compete with NBCUniversal (Comcast), Disney/ABC, and AT&T (DirecTV) especially with AT&T set to purchase Time Warner.

The management at both Discovery and Scripps knew that in order to survive in this new world order in cable television they had to combine forces. The increase in streaming content and consumers trending toward “cutting the cord” with cable services is going to further consolidate the industry in the years ahead. The landscape will change and only the strong will survive.

This merger should have a few benefits to the consumer especially if Discovery could get a streaming application launched. The changes will continue and how it will all turn out in the end is anyone’s guess, we will all just have to stay tuned, literally.