Major League Sports Teams: Animal, Vegetable, or Mineral?

If you were the owner of a major league sports team, how would you decide what to name it? There are many considerations: city history, fan base, and an image that intimidates opponents (but nothing so fierce as to reduce marketability).

Some of the best team names had a fortunate confluence of culture and mascot: Baltimore’s foreboding Raven pulled from Edgar Allen Poe, or Scandinavian heritage brought to life in the pillaging (just not in Super Bowls) Minnesota Vikings.

When team owners decidet to move to a new city, their mascost often lose relevance. Thus, we are left with perplexing names like the Utah Jazz or L.A. Lakers. But some cities such as Cleveland are more far-sighted. Cleveland held on to rights to the Browns football name, even as Art Modell was moving the team to Baltimore.

Then there are annual battles over political correctness. The Atlanta Braves have their tomahawk chop and DC has its Redskins, a favorite target of the Washington Post:

This is not a new issue, nor is it the first time we have urged the change of a name that, as a check with the dictionary shows, is a racial slur. In the early 1990s, a group of Native Americans sued over the name, citing federal law prohibiting the registration of any trademark that disparages any race, religion or group. There’s been new activity in this challenge, and once again the Redskins are on the defensive, advancing the argument that since the team and its fans don’t intend to be racist, the nickname is not offensive.

…(But) it really is not up to the offender to characterize the nature of the offense.

It was in the paralyzing grip of political correctness that Washington renamed its basketball team the Wizards after the Washington Bullets became a self-fulfilling prophesy in the mid 1990s.

Many teams have steered well clear of controversy by naming their teams after something in the neighborhood. The Colorado Rockies and Phoenix Suns team owners seem only to have walked out onto their front porches to come up ideas. The Washington Nationals isn’t particularly ambitious, either. Statastico always favored something along the lines of the Washington Bureaucrats, or the Beltways Bandits. But that’s why I probably don’t own any major league sports teams.

Finally, there are the team names that stick out as historic oddities: teams named after folks dodging street cars, packers of meat, or brewers of beer. Those are the most appropriate team names. If not for the people honored by those teams, how else would we spend a lazy Sunday?

Major League Sports Team Names: Animal, People or Thing?

Agassi and the Death of American Tennis

Packed on the number 7 subway line to the U.S. Open, tourists ignored the New York custom of not chatting with strangers on the train. Everyone was abuzz about Agassi. Was he scheduled to play during the day or night? He had another cortisone shot? Can he win another match? But the most common phrases overheard were the clichés familiar to anyone who has watched the breathless U.S. Open television coverage of Agassi: “He has given so much back to the game” or “It’s really what he’s done off the court.”

Even if you’ve never followed tennis, it’s hard to ignore Agassi’s career. It has spanned 21 years and he has won every Grand Slam tennis tournament, a feat that eluded Sampras, Borg, Connors, McEnroe, even the great Federer (thus far). Beyond that, however, you probably know Agassi by his nearly $200 million in endorsements. About ten years ago he thankfully traded in his “image is everything” faded denim shorts and a classic 80s hair-metal coif for a shaved head, two children with Steffi Graf, and his work with the Andre Agassi Foundation in Las Vegas.

Commentators have fallen over themselves lauding what Agassi has given back to the game. But during the interminable rain delays last week, John McEnroe as commentator would inevitably turn about the sorry state of American tennis: Who is the next star? Where is the next batch of American rivals? The next Pete vs. Andre, John vs. Jimmy?

So what has Andre given back to the game? He produced TV ratings at last year’s U.S. Open final versus Roger Federer that were 92% higher than in 2004. His victory against Pavel last week broke records for first round TV viewing. And he provided late-night thrills versus Baghdatis in a match for the ages. But has he inspired any new interest in tennis?

The retirement of Agassi’s cult of personality reveals that tennis is a fading sport in the United States. An informal survey of urban tennis courts in southeast Washington, DC finds them empty on beautiful, sunny days. A few of the preppier neighborhoods often have tennis players waiting, but most of the competition for urban play space revolves around soccer fields or basketball courts. The TV viewership reflects this. NASCAR attracts nearly twice as many viewers as a Grand Slam final without Agassi. Even with Agassi, the NFL draft attracted almost as many viewers as the 2005 U.S. Open final between Federer and Agassi.

So as we bid Agassi farewell, we may also be bidding farewell to the last generation of U.S. tennis superstars. Prove me wrong, James Blake and Andy Roddick.
Average Number of U.S. TV Viewers for Major Sports Events in 2006

How Comcast is Picking Your Pocket

How Comcast is Picking Your PocketAfter nearly two full seasons of Washington Nationals baseball in the nation’s capital, 1.6 Comcast cable subscribers will finally be getting Nats games at home. While DIRECTV, Cox and others in the DC area receive the Nationals games from Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) for free, Comcast subscribers will enjoy a $2 monthly fee tacked on to their cable bills for carrying MASN. This is not an optional subscription fee like DIRECTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket, it’s a permanent hike, and it will provide $38.4 million in annual revenue for Comcast.

Fewer than 150,000* DC-area residents are likely to watch Nats games on TV. But if Comcast were to earn the same $38.4 million by selling subscriptions only to Nats viewers, they would have to charge them $44 per month. That’s money they can more easily extract from all 1.6 million Comcast customers in the DC area.

It gets better. Comcast extended basic TV comes with 76 channels, which for the sake of argument, provide 24 hours of programming for the local-monopoly price of about $46 per month. So 100 hours of TV on any of those channels will cost you about 8 cents.

If MASN broadcasts all 162 Washington Nationals games each year, and we assume that a baseball game takes 3 hours, that $2 fee from Comcast will be costing it DC-area customers $4.94 per 100 hours of Nationals baseball in the 2007 season.

But Comcast is more cunning that simply charging DC residents 60 times the normal per-hour cable program rate. They also chose to cut a deal with MASN at the very end of the 2006 season, meaning that they will broadcast a maximum of 22 games this year. So for the seven months between September of 2006 and Major League Baseball’s opening day of April 1, 2007, Comcast will broadcast about 66 hours of Nats games for the low, low price of $14. That comes out to $21.21 per 100 hours of programming!

Rest assured, Comcast isn’t going to make any money from this. Comcast executive vice president David Cohen said in a statement that, “Comcast does not intend to profit from the carriage of this new network, but its significant cost makes it necessary to pass along a price increase to our customers. It will cost literally hundreds of millions of dollars over the next decade to provide MASN….”

I’m sure the shareholders are going to be pleased to hear that Comcast isn’t broadcasting Major League Baseball for a profit. So are Nats games just unusually expensive to film and distribute? Not according to MASN. They told Reuters that Comcast would be paying about $1.25 per customer per month. MASN also estimated that Comcast could make back another $.60 per cable customer on advertising. After subtracting MASN fees and adding in their advertising revenue, Comcast’s net income will be about $15 million for broadcasting 22 Nationals games between September 7, 2006 and March 31, 2007.

If you’d like to switch to DIRECTV now, click here. Statastico earns nothing from this hyperlink, just a little satisfaction.

Go Nats!

100 Hours of Comcast

Sources: Statastic research; Washington Post; Comcast

Notes: *How many Nats TV viewers are there? It’s hard to say since there has never been full cable coverage. San Francisco had about 144,000 regular TV viewers the year after their Giants were in the World Series. This is likely a good proxy because it has a similar metro-area population and the Oakland A’s compete for viewers, much as the Baltimore Orioles do.

Baseball and Bad Technology

The Lerner Group is finalizing the purchase of the Washington Nationals today. To celebrate, they rolled out the red carpet last weekend to re-introduce the team to the nation’s capital.

Attendance is down this year for the Nationals. At 43-56 they’re really not very good. But neither is their stadium. Until 2007, when their new $611 million stadium is completed, they continue to play at RFK.

RFK Stadium is a vastly outmoded relic. The Nationals played their first season there in 2005, and the population of the nation’s capitol was so happy to have a baseball team again that we tolerated the stadium’s shortcomings.

MLB fees

But the 2006 season shows little improvement. In Congo, they can pay bills with cell phones, but at RFK, not a single concession even accepts credit cards. There are a total of 6 ATMs for a stadium that holds 56,000. That’s less than 1 ATM for every 9,000 (potential) fans. A recent survey showed one ATM with 20 people waiting, and the second with more than 30. Let’s hope that PNC Bank won’t be building the bathrooms at the new stadium.

But you can still have a cheap day at the ballpark. The Lerner group introduced $3 outfield tickets. Unfortunately, the efficiency of the Internet still doesn’t apply to the ticketing world. Despite the fact that Major League Baseball acquired Ticketmaster rival Tickets.com in 2005, fees look more like collusion than competition. Once you add the fees to your $3 outfield ticket, the total comes to $9.25. Fees more than tripled the price of the ticket!

Of course, you can save yourself $1.75 not printing the tickets yourself… although MLB wouldn’t recommend it.

Washington Nationals Outfield Ticket vs. Fees

Major League All Star Salaries

Today is Major League Baseball’s 77th All-Star Game. Statastico was curious about how well these all stars are compensated relative to NFL Pro Bowl players, MLS All Stars, and NBA All Stars.

The NFL has the highest per game average for its best athletes, but the NBA, with much smaller teams, has the highest annual average salaries. Baseball pays its stars the most, while even the richest Major League Soccer star come in well below the poorest NBA star.

Range of Major League All-Star Salaries

Average Salaries of Major League All Stars per Regular Season Game