The Role Of Revenue Sharing In MLB Free Agency

The blockbuster contract that the San Diego Padres agreed to terms with All Star infielder Manny Machado on just prior to the real start of Spring Training shocked the sports world. The contract (10 years at $300 million) is the largest in American sports history. The decision by the Padres to commit this much in both dollars and time to one single player will certainly be scrutinized for years by the pundits in the media as well as the casual sports fan alike.

The view here in this piece is how the record revenues generated by Major League Baseball (MLB) and the way those revenues are shared among all the member franchises made this player contract possible. The prevailing sentiment among many who cover the league within the media is that any team can afford any player if they chose to move in that direction.

This stands in stark contrast to the days when I was a kid and I was really interested in baseball and watched games nearly every day of the season. Those decades were marked by “big market” teams and “small market” teams. The teams in the big cities such as New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago could outspend the teams in smaller cities, and very often did just that, to land the superstar free players in free agency.

This created an inevitable shift in the balance of the league with those larger market teams seemingly always in contention for the World Series crown, and the small market teams being home preparing for the next season. The sharing of revenue in MLB from the media rights contracts, to major corporate sponsorships, and for streaming rights to games has leveled the playing field for the “small market” teams.

The signing of Machado, as wild as it sounds, will only increase the Padres payroll slightly to about $100 million this year. The perspective is that San Diego’s payroll was close to that number in 2018 as well. The smaller market teams, at points, have an advantage because they can give out a large contract because they have been budget-conscious with the rest of their payroll.

Machado is also still very young, so the decade-long contract that is usually given to an older player where the team risks losing production at the end of that contract term is not a significant concern with this deal. It helps the Padres that every MLB team kicks in a percentage of their local revenue which then gets among all the other teams.

The Machado deal is a bold move to make the Padres relevant again. The contract will most certainly have an impact on the other major free agent in this offseason, Bryce Harper, who remains unsigned.

Harper is represented by mega-agent Scott Boras, who will seek to get a larger and better deal for his client than the terms of the Machado contract. The Philadelphia Phillies are the main potential landing spot for Harper.

However, a couple of days ago, the Los Angeles Dodgers contacted Boras about a short-term deal for Harper. The problem for the Dodgers is that they already have a bloated payroll, and so they cannot make a 10 year commitment to Bryce Harper. The short-term scenario will be problematic for L.A. in its own right, with the contracts that they have already “on the books” so to speak.

The emergence of the Dodgers is a problem for Philadelphia, because Harper grew up and resides currently in the Las Vegas area. The West Coast is an attractive option for him, and there are some within the baseball media that have reported that if Harper was truly interested in playing in Philly that it would be a done deal already.

Then, the Phillies were dealt another blow on Tuesday, when the Colorado Rockies decided to hand an extension to Nolan Arenado, which on an average annual salary will make him the highest paid position player in baseball history. This deal now provides Boras with the leverage to get a better deal from Philadelphia for Harper, a much more established player with respect to Arenado.

The Rockies are also considered a small market team, and they most certainly could push the envelope on this contract because of the revenue sharing money that gets distributed throughout the league. The rise on local and regional sports media deals have also helped teams like the Rockies with additional revenue to spend on talent to improve their team.

It is a very different offseason in that the two top free agents remained unsigned until after Spring Training camps opened. Harper remains without a team, and could face a potential crossroads decision to either go to a team that has been very successful recently in the Dodgers on a short term deal, or go for the long haul approach with Philadelphia and be the star of an upstart team.

The decision for Machado and Arenado was easy in both their cases, they got very lucrative offers that made a lot of sense to sign. Harper has a different decision and it will also be fascinating to see how the Phillies handle the next few days. The asking price can be jacked up by Boras to $360 million, but the Phillies know that if no other team is going to produce a 10-year offer, they have no reason to go that high.

The emotions also play a role in these situations, and one side will eventually give in, sometimes it is the team and others, it is the player. The one certainty is that these signings will have an impact on the next wave of superstar free agents and will shape the league for the next ten years and beyond.

2019 Auto Show: Trucks Are Key To Industry Growth

The 2019 Auto Show in Chicago is the latest indication of where the industry is headed, and it is certainly pivoted toward growth in the truck segment. The growth of trucks, especially heavy- duty model types, or HD as the industry abbreviation denotes; represents a significant margin opportunity for auto makers.

This all comes within the backdrop of Ford announcing recalls for safety on over 1.5 million F-150 trucks from model years 2011 – 2013. This is a reminder that production realities still exist, and that no amount of money ensures that any particular vehicle will be fully free from defects or issues.

The truck market has evolved to where not just contractors, farmers, or other heavy labor job types utilize them. The HD truck market has become more mainstream over the past few years and is a trend that is expected to continue. The style of truck that was once exclusively for work has attracted casual drivers because of the towing power.

The ability to pull heavy loads is the key driver for HD truck models, according to industry experts, towing ability is the top priority for the consumer. The secondary priority is for the truck to have high tech options for entertainment and for driver and passenger comfort. Those types of examples would be a radio capable of attaching devices or heated seats.

The truck market has numerous options from small cabs, medium truck beds, and extended cabs. The heavy-duty class of trucks provide the best profit margin opportunity for automakers, especially American manufacturers. The market is dominated by Ford, Chevrolet is in a distant second, and Ram (parent company Daimler Benz) is in third.
The selling price on the new Ford HD is approaching six-figures it is hovering around $90,000 for the 2020 models. The demand is there and that is how the heavy-duty truck segment of the industry is going to move units and solve for other profit and revenue shortfalls within domestic automakers business models.

The Ram lineup of trucks is slightly less costly with their base HD Ram model at about $68,000 and the upgrades to the enhanced tech and other features packaged out at about $77,000 including the destination fees. The tech in the trucks provide amenities that passenger vehicles have currently: surround-view cameras, rear view cameras, lane warning systems, and bed-lowering systems.

It should be noted that Ram also issued a recall on their trucks on Wednesday as well for a problem potentially with the steering linkage system. The Ram series has the ability of getting a consumer into a HD model at a more modest price point than Ford, but Ford would counter with the amount of amenities and towing power that their packages provide to the consumer.

Chevrolet offers the Silverado HD with packages starting at $37,000 and with enhanced packages that drive the price up to around $70,000 per unit. The Chevy brand story is reliability, long-lasting truck performance, and the flexibility of financing the payments through GM Financial.

The Chevy also offers two V8 engine options and towing and hill assist features. They also have an “Infotainment” center option to bring entertainment to the driver and passengers for long hauls.

The Chicago Auto Show featured these Heavy-Duty trucks and Adventure SUVs and those are the two biggest trends in the auto industry. The American automakers desperately need something to differentiate themselves from their European and Asian competitors. These two categories have the added bonus of profitability.

The trend to watch will be what is already occurring at GM/Chevrolet where they are discontinuing making several passenger cars in favor of making more trucks. The executives at Ford are also weighing the streamlined approach to their regular automobile line to focus more on production of trucks, especially HD truck models.

The demand for HD trucks continues even as the price tag goes up, which for the automaker is a good situation for their profitability. The impact on the environment for these gas guzzlers and the impact of having people that are not regular truck users driving larger trucks for everyday use remains to be seen.

Follow Up: Chris Bosh Officially Retires From NBA

In a follow up from prior posts on this topic, Chris Bosh officially retired from professional basketball on Tuesday. It was an expected announcement as he has not suited up in an NBA game in three years and is 36 years old now.

However, the news is difficult because of the way he was forced into semi-retirement and then ultimately out of the sport he was so talented in playing. Bosh suffers from a blood clotting disorder that curtailed his sensational basketball career. The doctors had cleared him to play at some point in the last few years, but by that time, no team was going to take on the liability of him playing for their team and potentially dying on the basketball court.

Chris Bosh was one of the first in the modern game to play a “stretch forward” position. He was able to rebound, score from greater range from the basket including from the three-point area, and he could play the post as well. His versatility and dominance paved the way for his selection to the All Star team in 11 of the 13 seasons he played in the NBA.

Bosh began his career with the Toronto Raptors, where he was the star of a team that played largely in obscurity because of the market and the irrelevance it had with the average American fan. The team was also not very good outside of Bosh for many of the years that the Texas native spent north of the border.

He earned his free agency and used that to take less money than he would have earned in the open market going to the highest bidder on a different team in order to join up with LeBron James and Dwayne Wade with the Miami Heat. It was a startling move at the time, and it began a new trend now known as “super teams”, where star players decide together in a pact to join a team and take less money.
The move placed winning ahead of earnings, which was a rare situation especially in the NBA where the salary cap rules allow for “max level contracts” and “Bird rights” as well as being able to circumvent the cap to pay a star currently on your roster more money than any other team could offer.

Bosh was also very humble in his role with the Heat and was willing to play “third chair” behind Wade and James. He figured out how to play with his two fellow superstars and the trio spent four years together in Miami going to the NBA Finals in each of those four years. The trio would lead the Heat to back-to-back NBA championships in 2012 and 2013 respectively.

Bosh started having health issues in 2016 (see earlier posts on this site) and eventually failed a physical and was released by the Miami Heat. The two sides came to an agreement on a buyout of his remaining contract term. He was determined to resume his basketball career, but no call ever came for an opportunity for him to do so.

The NBA also had a role in that by stating that they deemed his clotting disorder to be a “career-ending injury”. The fall from the heights of stardom to being out of the league by age 33, is certainly something Bosh could utilize in his off-court interests in helping youth organizations as a mentor.

He has many interests outside of basketball including a foundation, the CB4 Foundation, that helps youth to understand the importance of both sports and education. Bosh frequently promotes the importance of reading at a variety of events throughout the country.

Chris Bosh will be remembered for the way that he played both offensively and defensively as well as the selfless nature in which he put his team ahead of his own statistics to win games. He will be remembered in Miami always for his role in those two championship teams, where his reluctance to be the main star helped the team to efficiently play together cohesively. It is hard for any competitor to give up what they love doing, and give up something that they have committed their life to doing on the highest level.

Therefore, while this decision was inevitable, it was the way in which Chris Bosh had to retire, not able to go out on his own terms, and not being able to play his last game; it is that way he left the game that is regrettable to basketball fans such as myself.

Bosh will now embark on the next chapter of his life, having fully shut the door on his basketball career. I am excited to see what he will do with this part of his life in the years ahead.

Knicks Trade With Dallas: Brilliant Or A Blunder?

My unfailing loyalty as a fan of the New York Knicks has inevitably led people to ask me about my opinion of the trade the team made last week with the Dallas Mavericks. The interest level of my friends and colleagues from my perspective as a writer, who at one point in my career, published many articles in sports writing.

The move by the Knicks front office was a bold one sending a once beloved rising star, Kristaps Porzingis to Dallas. New York also packaged Tim Hardaway Jr., Courtney Lee, and Trey Burke to the Mavericks in this deal. The Knicks received point guard Dennis Smith Jr., DeAndre Jordan, and Wesley Matthews from Dallas.

The methodology behind the trade was clear: Porzingis requested a trade in a meeting the Knicks had with him the day before the trade, the team also needed to clear salary cap space, and the Knicks had a logjam at the shooting guard position they solved by moving Lee and Hardaway, Jr in this transaction.

Lee was saddled with a big contract and did not have a defined role with the Knicks in Coach David Fizdale’s system. Hardaway Jr took far too many shots and was also very inconsistent this season while carrying a huge salary. Porzingis has not played at all because of the ACL injury to his knee and has been injured often in the early stages of his NBA career.

My opinion of Porzingis is that he was not a team-first player. He was acting like he was an All World player and he has never won anything or taken the Knicks to the playoffs. Porzingis has always been preoccupied with one thing: himself. I am not a proponent of players who act that way and I am not sorry to see him shipped out of New York.

The press conference held yesterday in Dallas officially confirmed that Porzingis will not be playing this season. The rumor mill was buzzing around NBA circles because apparently the Knicks were pushing for him to return this season. The Mavericks decided not to press the issue because their team is not going anywhere this season and Mavericks owner, Mark Cuban, is going to play the “long game” here with Porzingis.

The rumor mill was also speculating that Porzingis did not want to go to Dallas and that the Knicks made the best deal that they could for their franchise regardless of the desires of their former star player. The rumors persisted that Porzingis was planning on not signing long-term with the Mavericks; a topic that Mark Cuban quashed in the press conference by stating that Porzingis would be paired with his other European star player, Luca Doncic, “for the next twenty years”.

The media then asked Porzingis if he was on board with that plan and he replied very softly: “we are on the same page”. So the Knicks basically sent this guy packing into a situation that he was not on board with, and now he is stuck on a Mavericks team in a very similar stage in their rebuilding as the Knicks.

However, I would argue that the Knicks are better positioned to get significantly better in a shorter time frame than the Mavericks will after this trade. New York also received draft picks from Dallas that brings them to eight draft picks under their control that they can use as pieces in a trade for a star player.

The Knicks also have close to $75 million in salary cap space for next season after this trade which will allow them to get two max-level contracts and they can trade for that third star level player. The team already has some good young talent on the roster that they can develop this year, and they will have a very high draft choice based on their finish in the standings this year; potentially the first pick in the draft.
New York could have the best chances for the first overall draft selection if they finish with the worst record (which they are on pace to do so). The consensus top pick for them could be Zion Williamson from Duke. He would fit their roster and their style of play very well.

The free agent class this summer is tremendous and loaded with star players in their prime production years: Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving, Klay Thompson, Kemba Walker, Kawhi Leonard, Jimmy Butler, and Al Horford. The Knicks are poised to land two big name free agents and could trade for a star like Anthony Davis, who requested to be traded out of New Orleans two weeks ago.

I have read the accounts that the Knicks have been told by back channels that Durant is coming to The Big Apple in free agency. In my opinion, whether they get Durant or two other big-time star level guys, either way I do not care. The fact is that they can get these guys now that they traded Porzingis.

The past versions of the Knicks would have kept Porzingis and tried to get one or two other mid-level star type players to try to pair with him and be a middle of the road team that might make the bottom half of the playoff tier in the East. The Knicks dumped a lot of salary and any chance of being even remotely competitive this year in order to have a “clean slate” to build a team starting with the 2019 free agency class and the draft.

Some feel that the trade was a blunder and that they did not get enough in return, especially in light of the fact that they are trying to move Wesley Matthews by the Thursday trade deadline or buy him out of his contract. There are fans and media analysts alike that feel that the Knicks made a bad trade, that Durant will not end up with the Knicks, and that the whole thing will be a blunder in typical Knicks fashion.

My view is different as I never thought Matthews would fit or actually play in any games for the Knicks. The acquisition of Matthews allows the team to clear even more salary cap space for next season, which could become a major factor in getting that third star to play at Madison Square Garden.

New York also received a young point guard in Dennis Smith Jr, who could become a more dynamic playmaker than any guard they had on their roster. The center position is upgraded with them gaining DeAndre Jordan, who in my view has always been undervalued by the media and fans of the sport.

The Knicks will emerge from this trade and be rid of a guy in Porzingis who complained more than he did anything meaningful for the team. They will have the opportunity to play all of their young players this year with Hardaway and Lee off the roster. That will be an invaluable period of evaluation of these players to determine how they will shape their roster for next season.

In the end, I believe that this bold move will pay off and that whether the Knicks get Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving or not, they will be in a much better position to win than if they kept Kristaps Porzingis and had less salary cap flexibility. The next seven or eight months will tell whether my position on this trade will be correct or whether the Knicks will swing and miss on remaking the franchise into a championship contender for their long-suffering fans.

Follow Up: Sacramento MLS Bid Adds Burkle

In a follow up to multiple earlier pieces on this topic, the Sacramento bid for a Major League Soccer (MLS) expansion franchise took a positive step forward on Wednesday with the announcement that billionaire Ron Burkle has agreed to become the lead investor.

Mr. Burkle is a co-owner of the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League, so he brings capital investment, financial long-term stability, and sports franchise ownership experience to the Sacramento bid. The Mayor of Sacramento and Mr. Burkle will be travelling to MLS headquarters in New York in February based on the reports today by The Sacramento Bee regarding this significant news.

The Sacramento bid for entry into MLS was once seen as a “sure thing”, and in the years since it has fallen onto difficulties which have prevented the capital city of The Golden State from gaining access into the premier soccer league in North America.

The lack of a bona fide billionaire investor concerned MLS to the point that Nashville and Cincinnati were chosen as expansion cities before Sacramento. The support of the community, the politicians, and the business community has never wavered and that will serve the investors of the Sacramento MLS team well once it is successful in gaining a new franchise.

The news today also included that Mr. Burkle has purchased the land for the proposed new soccer stadium in the downtown Railyards district as well as the adjacent 14 acres that will be developed into mixed-use retail, entertainment, and other options for fans prior to and after the matches held at the stadium.
This proposed stadium has been approved and supported locally for a couple of years and the Sacramento Republic minor league team still has remarkable attendance from a loyal fan base. These are all positive factors, that combined with Mr. Burkle’s expertise and financial backing, should result in Sacramento being named the 28th franchise in league history at some point in 2019.

The city attracted the attention of MLS executives by the large attendance numbers they have logged consistently over the past approximately five years. The league could also benefit from having another team in California with a rivalry built in with the Bay Area’s San Jose Earthquakes and the proximity of Sacramento with the Pacific Northwest franchises in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.

The city is also a mid-way point for teams in Southern California: LA FC and the LA Galaxy and can be a stopping point for Midwest and East Coast teams on road trips from LA to the Pacific Northwest. The logistics for Sacramento strengthens the bid for expansion as well.

The question now for those who have followed the expansion of MLS from the beginning is whether or not the league office will approve another round of future new franchises. The league had previously identified 28 as the number it wanted to grow to in this round of expansion.

However, in recent weeks, MLS Commissioner Don Garber has indicated that the league may decide to go beyond the 28 team number it had identified in the past. The front runners now besides Sacramento appear to be St. Louis and Phoenix. In my opinion, I think that the Phoenix bid has some issues that need to fixed before it can move forward.

Sacramento and the fans of the Republic FC have certainly been on a roller coaster ride with this team, but in the end it looks like the pieces are in place for them to finally get a seat at the MLS table.

The meeting in February will provide more insight into the future for the Sacramento bid. Then, the question of when they will join the league will be the final answer for soccer fans in that city.

Fighting For Survival: Sears & Toys R Us

The recent developments around two once-iconic American retail brands: Sears and Toys R Us, have been in the news this week with their attempts to reinvent themselves amid a changing retail sector.

The two brands have similar, but different paths that have led to their current dire predicaments. The attempts now to innovate or reinvigorate the business could still be measured as a “too little, too late” type of scenario.

The Toys R Us retail chain as we all once knew it is gone, the company declared bankruptcy, and this was the first holiday season in several decades without that retailer being in existence. The consumer feedback was that, because of that toy retailer being out of the mix, prices on toys were dramatically increased as well as difficult to find.

The Midwest had a slightly different experience as the owners of some of the intellectual property leftover from the Toys R Us era launched a “pop-up” concept called Geoffrey’s Toy Box which was featured in Kroger stores. The idea was to have a small area of the store featuring toys for the Christmas holiday season from brands which the former Toys R Us owned the rights to, since their other vendor relationships have moved on.

The results, unfortunately, were underwhelming. The consumer sentiment overall was mixed to negative in response to the concept. The cause of those reactions varied from price, to limited selection, and it will most likely not be replicated within another retailer such as Kroger, Giant Eagle, or another regional player of similar scale.

The rumor mill is spinning that the “Toy Box” concept is going to relaunch like a spin-off of Toys R Us into smaller retail spaces. The other potential scenario being discussed is to roll out Babies R Us again. Some within the media have speculated whether the Toy Box and Babies R Us could be merged in one location and smaller in size than the original spaces that they occupied in the prior iteration of the company.

In my local area, some people with knowledge of the commercial real estate developments have told me that Geoffrey’s Toy Box spin-off store is going to be built across the highway from a former Toys R Us store that is now vacant. The validity of that claim is still speculation as nothing has been confirmed by the township or the commercial real estate developer.

The group that owns the rights to Geoffrey, the mainstay giraffe character that we all loved as kids, is not confirming any definitive plans for the branding of the character or the expansion of the “pop-up” concept from the holidays. In prior articles, I have covered the demise of Toys R Us and the attempts to revive it prior to full liquidation. The idea of a smaller scale brick and mortar toy store certainly fills a void, but it has to be executed properly.

The “knock” on the Toy Chest concept was that it seemed like a half-baked idea to keep consumers from forgetting about the brand, in essence, they rushed it out into the market and it backfired.

The one situation that those involved with the Toy Chest concept have confirmed is that they are exploring ways to revamp and relaunch Toys R Us in some form. They would be wise to reestablish vendor relationships and have a comprehensive marketing plan in place before they make that sort of attempt.

In the case of Sears, my recent piece was on their most likely demise as the company is in the final stages of bankruptcy proceeding with creditors seeking to begin the full liquidation process. The court did give their chairman, Eddie Lampert, time to present a new offer to avoid the liquidation of the company.

The news media has widely reported that his bid was accepted to keep 245 store locations open and save some of the jobs that would have been lost had the chain gone completely out of existence. The plan Lampert put together has his private equity firm taking on more risk from the floundering retailer.

However, others feel it is just a ploy and that Lampert is trying to save the company only to sell off what is left of the brands, assets, and real estate holdings to benefit his own self-interest. There are still others who feel that Sears is too close to “circling the drain” to make it back to solid footing.

Some retail industry analysts maintain that Sears might be living on borrowed time for only a short period before it falls apart. It stands as a reminder that the Lampert plan to save those stores and keep some version of Sears alive has to be approved by a judge, or else the liquidation process will begin officially in the next few weeks.

Moreover, there are still others in the retail industry that believe that Sears could live on if it narrowed the focus to strictly “hard goods” such as tools and appliances and eliminated “soft goods” such as clothing and shoes. Mr. Lampert has been reticent to make this type of shift in the past, it remains to be seen if that sentiment will change in this potential “reboot” version of Sears.

The name of the game today, not only in retail but in everything: customization and niche marketing. Sears could potentially survive in a niche where they would have certain brands of tools, tires, lawn mowers, and appliances. It would require a concerted marketing plan and advertising to remind the consumer that Sears has not closed and reinforce the value proposition it provides to the customer. If those elements are not executed flawlessly, then Sears has a very slim chance of survival.

These two American brands: Sears and Toys R Us were once dominant players in the retail landscape and are now either on their last legs, or determining how to reboot themselves not to succeed, but at this point, just survive in a changing world. It remains to be seen if either of these brands can be salvaged, or if they are headed for the inevitable end that so many other retail brands have been met with in the past. Stay tuned.

MLS Expansion Update: Soccer In North America Continues Growth Trend

The expansion process for Major League Soccer (MLS) is a topic that has been featured consistently over the years here at Frank’s Forum as the league progresses towards the stated goal number of 28 franchises. The league has no shortage of interested cities, which has prompted MLS Commissioner Don Garber to publicly admit that the expansion process could go beyond 28 teams in the future.
The 2019 MLS season schedule was released on Monday, and Cincinnati will join the circuit as the newest expansion franchise with their first match set for March 2nd against the Seattle Sounders. Cincinnati will be the 24th team in MLS with Nashville and Miami both expected to join the league in 2020 ; which would bring the number of franchises to 26.

The developments in Austin have been detailed in previous pieces on this forum regarding the situation with the Columbus Crew owner trying to relocate the team to Austin. The courts in Ohio got involved and the Crew are staying in Columbus with a new ownership group, and as part of the settlement, Anthony Precourt will get an expansion team in Austin which will begin play in 2021 as the 27th franchise in MLS.

This leaves one spot remaining for the “race to 28” and several competitive bids for that spot. This has caused speculation that the league office will look at going to 30 teams, but that is still an unsubstantiated rumor. It should also be mentioned that a group of residents in Austin has started a petition against the soccer stadium construction, but the local news sources there do not think the maneuver will deter the project from meeting the 2021 timetable to join the league.

The bid by Sacramento, which seems like it has hung around forever, would be the most likely to gain approval in the immediate future. The group has a stadium plan in place with government support, they have a minor league team with an established base of loyal fans, and according to The Sacramento Bee, they will have an announcement of a new high-profile investor.

The lack of a well-heeled investor to back the franchise for the long term was the sticking point in the Sacramento bid in the last round of expansion. That allowed Nashville and Cincinnati to move ahead of them in the process. The other attribute that works in their favor at this point being a bid from California is the failed bid from San Diego. The referendum vote against the soccer stadium in Mission Valley sealed the demise of the San Diego attempt at an MLS franchise.

The league would probably consider moving beyond the 28 franchise total if Sacramento and St. Louis get their pitches solidified. The St. Louis bid, in a previous piece I wrote, was considered dead in the water because they lost the tax funding needed for the public-private stadium construction project that was central to their bid in 2017.

The St. Louis expansion attempt received new life when the Taylor family which owns Enterprise rental car (which is based in the city) joined the investors group. The plan now is for a privately funded stadium proposed for a parcel of land next to Union Station downtown with excellent public transportation access. This development, should it be approved, would give St. Louis a leg up in the competition because of the rich soccer tradition in the city as well as the relocation of the Rams football team. It is an interesting bid.

Phoenix has gained a lot of momentum of their own in recent months. That desert destination has assembled a large group of deep pocketed investors interested in bringing MLS soccer to a very large market. The issues with the bid are notable: they have no tangible stadium plan and they have no minor league team to drum up interest or fan loyalty.

The league would have to weigh the addition of another market in that part of the country balanced against the market size and demographic reach. The other factor as mentioned before with cities like St. Louis who have less competition for fans because they lost the Rams to relocation; Phoenix has several major pro sports teams which will have an impact on fan retention as well as corporate sponsorship opportunities. That certainly is a lot of risk.

Raleigh is another long-shot type bid for expansion that might end up gaining some traction due to a variety of factors: Steve Malick is the visionary behind the bid and he is well respected within MLS circles – so they have their big money investor, the city has an established minor league team with a fan base, and they have desirable demographics for an MLS franchise.

The main issue with Raleigh is similar to other bids: the stadium plan is not formalized. The proposal from Mr. Malick is to build a 22,000 seat soccer stadium on a piece of government owned land in downtown Raleigh. The original plan, according to The News Observer, was to privately finance the project.

However, an alternative plan is being discussed where some public funds could be used through the county and city levels as well as an increase in a hotel tax to help pay for the facility. Another scenario could put into place a government board to oversee the facility and have the MLS team lease the stadium from the board, which is a similar arrangement to how the arena in Raleigh, PNC Arena, is managed currently. The Austin MLS expansion plan for that stadium is a similar arrangement, but with a wrinkle, the team is going to “gift” the stadium back to the city of Austin in exchange for a sweetheart lease agreement.

The political will is going to be the driving factor in Raleigh because Malick is passionate about getting a team in the city. The political changes from the elections in November could alter the public contribution to a stadium. If the stadium proposal gains approval they have, in my view, a better shot than other analysts think. The opposite is also evidently true, if the stadium plan and the land use agreements get thwarted, their bid is dead just like in San Diego.

Detroit had a bid that looked like a “sure thing” at one point because of the billionaires involved in the investors group there, and their quick pivot away from the original stadium proposal which I have covered in previous pieces. The latest developments have Detroit on the outside looking in, so the saying goes.
The condensed version of the scenario is this: Detroit had a stadium proposal for land downtown where a jail is currently located and the investors were trying to work out a land swap with the local government to have a new jail built on a piece of land in another part of Detroit which the investors owned. The plan fell through, and the bid pivoted to add the Ford family as partners and use Ford Field, the home of the NFL’s Detroit Lions as the home venue for the MLS team.

The bid pointed to the Atlanta United using an NFL stadium and being very successful. The MLS officials that toured the site had some concerns and suggested that artificial turf is not desirable for the league games and that they would improve their chances at Ford Field (a domed facility) if they converted to a natural grass playing surface.

The investors attempted to propose to the Ford family, the city, and MLS a plan to convert Ford Field to natural grass and to change the roof of the facility to a retractable roof so that the grass could be maintained properly. That plan to retrofit would take place in the football offseason months, but the plan was defeated due to cost and other concerns.

MLS does not seem interested in Detroit using Ford Field with the way it is currently configured, so the bid is essentially on the last legs.

Tampa/ St. Petersburg had a strong bid at one point, but it has taken on some tough twists and turns in the past few months. The original investor, Mr. Edwards, sold the minor league team, the Tampa Bay Rowdies, to the owners of the MLB Tampa Bay Rays. The baseball team owners then appointed a group to run the Rowdies and oversee the MLS bid.

The investors from the Rays have indicated that they are considering keeping the Rowdies as a minor league team in the USL. The move to MLS would be complicated because the team would have to get permission from Orlando City FC because they share the same media market. This bid has an outside chance but is unlikely to move ahead.

Charlotte is an intriguing bid now that David Tepper, owner of the NFL’s Carolina Panthers has reinvigorated the investors there and has a plan to use the NFL stadium for soccer games. The previous investors had focused on attempting to get a taxpayer funded stadium built, and that proposal failed to gain public support, so Charlotte was passed over during the last expansion round.

Tepper is a billionaire with a bold vision for soccer in Charlotte, a city with so many transplanted residents from the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic that it makes sense for MLS to want to be there as well. In fact, when I wrote my last article on MLS expansion I received messages from fans in Charlotte about how excited they are with the bid because it reminds them of Atlanta with the Falcons owner getting involved.

Charlotte has some momentum here, and the stadium is not an issue as the team would play in the football stadium, and the demographics could work well for a successful bid.

Indianapolis is another bid that is certainly in limbo at this point. The positives for the bid are the strong support for their USL team, Indy Eleven, which has the second highest attendance figures in that league last season (next to Cincinnati). The three big issues for the bid are: the Crew staying in Ohio, Nashville & Cincinnati getting approved bids for MLS teams, and the stadium financing.

They have a billionaire owner already who owns Indy Eleven and owns a construction company. The Crew staying put means that geographically there is not a need for a team in Indianapolis, but if they had moved to Texas it would have put Indy’s bid into play.

The close proximity to two teams: Nashville and Cincinnati will probably make MLS think about putting a franchise elsewhere in another less represented region to grow their overall footprint.

The final issue is the stadium plan because the original proposal for public-private development of a site downtown failed to gain full political support. The fund created by the State of Indiana to fund Lucas Oil Stadium for the Colts is currently basically out of money. The potential for playing all of their games in Lucas Oil Stadium (Indy Eleven uses it currently for special games) could be a way that this bid adapts to try to stay alive, but the MLS has come down on Detroit for a similar proposal. The other factor is some within the media in the city suggesting that they stay in USL like the Tampa Bay Rowdies and just grow their presence in that league now that Cincinnati is moving up to MLS. In my view, I think the bid is dead.

San Antonio is the final city in the group of bidders remaining for MLS, and as I have covered in prior pieces on the coverage of the Crew relocation to Austin debacle, they lost the most momentum of any other expansion hopeful.

San Antonio rebooted their MLS bid when the minor league team in the city changed ownership to the same group that owns the NBA’s San Antonio Spurs. The Spurs are the most successful small-market team in NBA history, and probably in all of professional sports history.

The Spurs owners then appointed a team of experienced people to run the minor league soccer team and prepare an MLS bid. The new bid would change direction away from the prior investors plan of expanding the minor league stadium on the outskirts of the city, instead focusing on getting a stadium built in the downtown core of San Antonio, which MLS traditionally favors that type of location.

Then, the attempt at moving a team to Austin took place and MLS took so much heat for trying to move the Crew out of Ohio, yet the people in Austin spent money and energy on the proposals there, that MLS felt compelled to have to give Austin an expansion team down the line.

The San Antonio bid was dead once the Austin expansion deal was announced. The county that San Antonio falls within, Bexar County, has conceded that and has closed down all proceedings related to bringing MLS to the city. It is sad for San Antonio who had followed all of the proper channels for expansion and got beat by an “end around” by Anthony Precourt and the Austin politicians.

In the end analysis, MLS has a great deal of interest remaining in all of these potential relocation cities. The league has to be careful to not make the same mistake as prior American soccer leagues which met with failure because of over expansion.

The league has a plan for 2026, that they want to be fully expanded by that point. The speculation is that number could hover between 30 and 32 teams. In my view I think that the 32 number is too many franchises for the league to remain profitable and sustainable.

The three bids I see as having the best chances after covering this topic for the past six years are: Sacramento, St. Louis, and Charlotte. I could envision the league in those three cities doing well and that would bring MLS to 30 franchises. It will be fascinating to see which direction the league will go in the next round of expansion and if they go beyond the 28 team number or not.

One thing is certain, MLS is certainly gaining in popularity and shows no signs of slowing down anytime soon.

Follow Up: Sears Begins Liquidation Process

The seemingly impending demise of the once dominant American retailer, Sears, took another significant step in that direction on Tuesday. The news media is filled with reports that Sears has rejected a proposal from CEO Eddie Lampert who was attempting to put together an investment proposal through his private equity company to salvage Sears.

The Sears Board of Directors informed the judge overseeing their bankruptcy case that they intend to move forward with the liquidation process. This is the final step taken before a company dissolves, and Sears will now take the necessary steps of liquidating inventory, shutting down stores, and laying off employees.

It is a very sad day for the American retail business landscape because Sears was a huge player for over 100 years (126 years to be exact) and the end of that company and some of the brands associated with it, is an end of an era in retail. The company consolidated with Kmart about 14 years ago and that proved to be one of the key factors in the demise of Sears.

In earlier coverage of this story, I shared how Sears was a store that my parents shopped in frequently for tools and appliances. It is unfortunate that many people thought of Sears for those products, and not for anything more. It also did not help that Sears did not connect with consumers that were not my parents age or older, they lost that next generation of families as well as their children who are now young adults.

The aggressive marketing of Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon siphoned those customers away from Sears and Kmart ; and neither one could recover from that setback. My local area is a good representation of that effect, the Sears has been there for decades and the Target has been there for less than twenty years. The Target location is consistently crowded, jammed. The Sears has been so empty the last five years that I would drive by and wonder if it was closed.

I read a post on social media earlier that was effectively stating that Sears will cease to exist after 116 years, which is longer than Wal-Mart, Target, and Amazon have been in business combined. The “Amazon effect” is hurting several brick and mortar retailers that have failed to innovate. Sears missed the window to innovate their business model.

Sears should have built up their website and used their physical stores as essentially distribution centers where the customer could come and pick up items, especially expensive items that they would not want shipped. Sears owned so much of the real estate that their physical store locations are located upon that they controlled so much of the costs of not having to lease or rent space from a commercial real estate landlord, that they could have reaped so many benefits from the order online, pick up in store scenario. They did not capitalize on that in a forward-thinking way, by the time they went that direction it was already too late to recover the business.

However, even Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon conceded recently that one day he expects even Amazon to perish, to cease operations. That seems unthinkable to so many, myself included, but his full quote explains further that essentially everything has a shelf life, and at some point Amazon will outlive its usefulness.

Sears managed to cobble together a pretty good run when all things are considered in the retail industry space today. It was such a huge part of Americana, the trips I remember as a kid to Sears to buy a TV, a dishwasher, or going with my Dad to buy tools for a home improvement job. I also recall before I left for college my Mom taking me there to get clothes and lamps to get my dorm room all set up.

Those memories will be all I have as well as others will have left of Sears, it will join the list of retailers and in a similar fashion to Toys R Us, who were crushed by a debt load that was unsustainable. In a similar fashion, an ex-CEO of Toys R Us attempted to save the chain from going under, and was rebuffed by the board and the court in charge of the proceedings.

Eddie Lampert put together a $4.4 billion package to try to save Sears, or at least part of it. The number was deemed to be not adequate enough to effectively salvage the company for a sustained period of time. Lampert will receive criticism for his handling of the last years of the Sears brand. His involvement with a private equity firm has already drawn scrutiny from industry analysts. His next venture remains to be seen, but this loss is going to follow him around for a long time.

My own personal last visit to my local Sears store, which is slated to close very soon, was in mid-November. I went to get work clothes and active wear at greatly reduced discounts. The store was a wreck, and it was sad walking through empty corridors and empty areas of this huge store. The memories came flooding back from my childhood one last time, of days that were easier, simpler times. That is where those memories will stay, like Sears did, frozen in time. A piece of America is gone and is never coming back.

A Matter Of Trust: Johnson & Johnson and The Baby Powder Problem

A story released by Reuters recently alleges that “the world’s most trusted company”, Johnson & Johnson, knew that their talc-based baby powder products contained asbestos for decades and did not take appropriate action. The article includes personal accounts from the thousands of lawsuits (some have the number at over 11,500) that the consumer products company faces over claims of tainted talcum in their signature product.

The Reuters investigative reporting on this controversial topic has everyone buzzing from Main Street to Wall Street. The report makes claims that the company knew of the asbestos in the product and withheld that information to the regulatory bodies as well as the public. That is a hefty claim aimed at a company that is certainly polarizing in the public view.

Johnson & Johnson, for all the good they have done both within healthcare and within communities throughout the world, has not been without their own problems. They have had quality control issues with Tylenol, wound care products, and other related personal care products over the years. It can be argued that it is an unfortunate production reality that a company that enormous would have some QA/QC issues over the years.

However, the flipside to that argument could be made that the issues speak to a larger problem within the corporate culture. The insinuation here by Reuters, a well-respected news source which is known throughout the world, is that the executives in charge there now are knowingly acting without integrity. The public seems to be split on this corporate vision of Johnson & Johnson as well.

Some Americans have taken the view that the allegations in the Reuters report are true and that J&J is a big corporate titan that acted inappropriately to spare the image of the company. Then, others feel that the report is inaccurate, and that the company would never withhold that type of information because of the damage it could do to the entire company, the public, and the shareholders.

The Reuters report is very thorough and should be read by anyone who reads this because it will certainly help provide insight into this very contrasted point of contention regarding a product that is world renowned: Johnson & Johnson Baby Powder. The company maintains that they did not withhold information from anyone regarding the claims surrounding the talc-based powder.

The exposure to asbestos, even for a small amount of time or a small amount of the carcinogen, is one of the leading causes of ovarian cancer as well as mesothelioma which effects the lining of the lungs, heart, and liver. These are aggressive forms of cancer that can cause harm to a mother and child, the exact target market consumer of the J&J Baby Powder.

The mining of talc makes it very plausible to have asbestos present because of the proximity of the two substances to one another. The testing methods for asbestos and the definition of what is asbestos are two other key components of the case against J&J at this point. The article does a complete and thorough explanation of that which will not be a part of this commentary.

The impact that this type of incident can have on the brand image and public perception of a prominent company like J&J is the focus of the commentary. The court documents, emails, and other correspondence that suggest that the company knew that at least trace amounts of a carcinogen were present in the product and the ethical imperative to report that information is also at issue.

The use of the product by women for hygiene purposes and the link to ovarian cancer is a difficult connection to make for the plaintiffs in many of these cases. The way that J&J clearly mishandled this situation instead of “coming clean” about it raises the specter regarding what other situations have they potentially betrayed the public trust.

Johnson & Johnson does not want to become another Merck or Philip Morris, or Monsanto when it comes to incorrectly handling the litigation strategy for these cases. The sales of the powder compared to the entire value of the portfolio of the company are insignificant, but it caused their stock to drop like a rock on Monday.

These lawsuits can cripple a company and can damage their reputation as a leader in the consumer healthcare and personal care marketplace. The allegations if they can be proven to be true or find that J&J was negligent with these products is a terrible situation and outcome for everyone involved.

The company had the trust of the public, Wall Street, and the regulators. This major issue with the most iconic product they sell threatens to unravel all of that trust. The defensive nature with which they have responded to this situation is also unsettling and is not a sound long-term public relations strategy. It serves to make them look guilty in the eyes of the average person.

J&J is not the first company to fall victim to the “cover up is worse than the crime” scenario. They will, sadly, not be the last company to do so either. In my view, what is so unsettling about this whole tragic situation is that it effects mothers and babies. That is going to hit straight to the hearts and minds of many people. The other component that is so unnerving is that in a time of transparency, this well-regarded company seemingly and allegedly acted in secrecy to subvert data from testing done on their best -selling product.

It should also be noted that Johnson & Johnson produces a baby powder product that is corn-starched based. It has been mentioned by several industry analysts in the thought process of why the company has not recalled the talc based powder from store shelves and gone with the corn-starch based alternative.

The fallout will be interesting to watch, the opportunists on Wall Street were leveraging the sell off yesterday to buy the stock at a lower price, greed in the benefit of someone else’s misfortune.

It remains to be seen whether Johnson & Johnson will weather the storm here because the 11,500 lawsuit settlements will not be their downfall. The loss of the trust, the subversion of information, and acting in a way that is unethical if all that is proven– once that trust is broken, it can never be repaired. That loss of trust is what would become the demise of a once dominant corporation.

Follow Up: Tampa Bay Rays Stadium Deal Falls Through

In a series of articles over the past few years this forum has followed the progress (or lack thereof) for the Tampa Bay Rays of Major League Baseball in their pursuit of a new stadium in the greater Tampa area.

The team currently plays in Tropicana Field, an indoor domed stadium facility built in the late 1980s and opened in 1990, which has been renovated several times at the personal expense of the Rays’ principle owner, Stuart Sternberg, to bring certain modern amenities to the fan experience.

The team has been locked into a lease that prohibits them from relocating the team or pursuing alternatives for a new facility outside of the St. Petersburg city limits. The team has stated numerous times in the past, with MLB executives backing it up with similar statements to the media, that the team cannot compete with larger market teams because of the current stadium.

The revenue streams from the agreement with the city is unfavorable to the Rays and with Mr. Sternberg using so much of his own money to maintain the facility, the St. Petersburg municipal government decided to grant the ownership of the team a three-year grace period in which to pursue proposals for a new stadium within the Tampa Bay area.

The ownership of the team and MLB executives in New York have long maintained that the location of Tropicana Field relative to the population centers in downtown Tampa is what has hurt the attendance of the club, causing them to lose money. The argument is that, from their perspective, a location that was more central or conveniently located to the downtown area of Tampa would be ideal for a new facility.
The Rays ownership pursued a few different locations and stadium concepts that I have detailed over time on this blog. The team’s ownership found their best opportunity in a proposal around a parcel of land in an area of downtown Tampa known as Ybor City.

That neighborhood was at one point very unsafe and was near the waterfront which was riddled with drug related activity and crime. The Tampa city officials, about twenty years ago, started a revitalization plan for the Ybor City neighborhood. This resulted in the area becoming a destination for nightlife, restaurants, bars, and retail.

The Rays were working with the neighborhood in Ybor City to construct a new $900 million baseball stadium on the parcel of unused land that was agreed upon with Hillsborough County officials. The three-year window referenced earlier to get the framework of a stadium deal agreed upon is expiring in three weeks.

However, the proposal was filled with uncertainty and vague commitments from the county government on funding. The proposal was also lacking many major infrastructure details to the point where MLB and the Rays had to announce on Tuesday that the Ybor City stadium plan would not move forward.

The Rays ownership has spent millions of dollars in trying to get a new facility built in the Tampa area over the course of the past thirteen years. The facility in Ybor City, had it progressed from proposal into an approved agreement would not be ready for play until 2024. The clock is literally ticking for the Rays in the Tampa area because each day that passes means that the timeline of the project gets pushed further into the future.

That is where the press conference on Tuesday during the MLB Winter Meetings took on a feeling of weary acceptance of the reality that the club will most likely remain playing in Tropicana Field until the troublesome lease term ends in 2027. The team will literally not have a home after the 2027 season if some other developments do not take shape in the next three years.

The post-2027 timeline is another direction that this story has inevitably taken with speculation that the Rays will ultimately seek to relocate to another city. The current ownership group remains committed, at this point at least, to trying to make a stadium deal work in Tampa. However, once those options are exhausted they may be left with no other choice but to consider relocation.

The Rays ownership has certainly built the case for relocation out of the market with repeated attempts for close to fifteen years to get an agreement on a new facility which would have easier accessibility for fans (according to them and to MLB assessments) and would provide them with a better revenue situation for competition with larger market teams.

The Rays have difficulty historically with getting top free agents because of their market size and revenue situation with being able to compete for top talent with other teams that have better attendance or that play in new facilities. The situation with the Rays is very similar to the struggles that the Oakland Raiders of the NFL had with Oakland and trying for several years to get a new facility built there, before ultimately deciding to relocate the franchise to Las Vegas in 2020.

The rumor mill is spinning with relocation ideas of the Rays going to Charlotte, Nashville, or Montreal. Those three cities would work from a geographical sense with the Rays playing in the American League East division. The move to Charlotte makes sense from a demographic perspective, with so much growth there and people from all over America relocating to that city. The city also has great corporate sponsorship opportunity with Honeywell just relocating their main headquarters as an example of the growth potential of Charlotte.

Nashville is an up and coming city with a population boost and with a demographic of young people that MLB is trying to attract to their sport. The league does not have a presence in that part of the southeast except for the Atlanta Braves, so this could serve as an American League outpost in the region.

Montreal will always make the most sense for a relocation or expansion franchise for MLB because of the history of the Expos. The most worrisome variable for a professional sports team that is started through relocation or expansion is in building the fan base. The “x factor” that Montreal brings to the equation is a ready-made base of loyal fans of the Expos which also would solve for the marketing aspect of the scenario as well. Expos gear and apparel still is sold in Montreal and the nostalgia for that team will bring a diversified group of fans back to the sport.

It is a long-shot to start planning the Rays move to Montreal or anywhere else because the team does have fans in Tampa and they have been in that market for 20 years. Most professional sports leagues are very sensitive to moving teams because it will alienate a group of people that have invested time, energy and money into supporting their product (in this case: baseball).

In my view, I have covered many sports teams’ relocations from the L.A. teams being moved into that market by the NFL, to the Raiders move to Las Vegas, the Coyotes potential move out of Arizona in the NHL, and the move by the owner of the Columbus Crew in MLS to move a soccer team to Austin. The common themes there are unfortunately present in this case with the Rays in Tampa: ownership that is trying and willing to spend money to commit funds to a new facility and being fought every step of the way by the politicians or residents that do not want public money spent on an asset like a sports stadium (which I completely understand).

I have visited the Tampa area and I know the area around the downtown and throughout the area to St. Petersburg. I have written previously about how Tropicana Field is an adequate facility and that maybe the focus should be a major renovation to that facility to retro-fit it to the standards of the new facilities within MLB.
In the cost-benefit analysis if the renovation was too inefficient, then another idea would be to build a new facility on the same parcel of land right next to the current facility like many other professional teams have done in recent years.

The news on Tuesday means that the Rays will be playing in their current home for the foreseeable future, what comes next is a mystery, and only time will tell whether or not their next home is nearby or very far away from Central Florida.