Thursday, May 10, 2012

Hitler, John Junker, DeLoss Dodds, Mike Brown ... Arthur Blank

This one is from last week, but it was a theme that I had been considering for quite a while.  Here is the conclusion:

I mention all of this as a cautionary tale for the Falcons. The local professional football franchise is seeking to replace the Georgia Dome - a facility that is only twenty years old and is a perfectly good place to watch a football game - with a retractable roof facility. The price tag for the new stadium is estimated at $948 million, although that seems to be a conservative estimate. Additionally, the only funding source listed so far has been a hotel/motel tax. The remaining funding is undetermined, but could very well come in the form of either additional tax revenue or in the form of charging fans more for the privilege of supporting the local team through PSLs and higher ticket prices.

I feel leery about any analogy that has Mike Brown and Arthur Blank in a sequence. Mr. Blank is widely popular in Atlanta for a variety of reasons, two of which are his various philanthropic endeavors and his generally good stewardship of the Falcons. That said, the Falcons risk the same sort of backlash that the bowls, Texas, and Bengals have all seen for pushing their position too hard. A new Falcons stadium promises little or nothing for an average fan, save for fewer seats, higher ticket prices, and the opportunity cost involved with $300 million in tax revenue going for a private business as opposed to schools, police, and other public services. The Falcons rely on the local community for much of their revenue. They ought to consider that fact when pushing for an unnecessary new stadium.
Arthur Blank faces an interesting quandary.  Mike Brown has no reputation to protect, either in Cincinnati or elsewhere.  The fact that the Cincinnati Bengals remain in the NFL despite decades of miserly mismanagement is a testament to the cartel nature of the league, one free from the competitive pressures that the possibility of relegation creates in the rest of the world.  Brown does not care about his reputation locally, so he has no issue driving a hard bargain with his city and county and then turning a deaf ear when the effects of that bargain affect the services that the local government can provide. 

Blank, on the other hand, has a sterling reputation in Atlanta.  His commercial creation - Home Depot - is generally popular, as are his philanthropic endeavors.  He has done a good job as the owner of the Falcons.  Moreover, he simply has a pleasant demeanor because he smiles and speaks well.  If I were casting a movie and wanted to fill the role of doting grandfather, I would pick someone who looks and acts like Blank.  Because of that reputation, Blank cannot credibly make the threat that would get him a new stadium: "give me this or I'll move the team."  He has too much to lose if he becomes the person known as the guy who killed professional football in Atlanta, a city that loves the sport.  This positive reputation works against him.

That last paragraph, by the way, can operate as a criticism of Liberty Media and Atlanta Spirit.  Whereas Blank has roots in the community and therefore wants the Falcons to do well to enhance his local reputation, Liberty Media, as an out-of-state media company, has no such interest.  Nor does Atlanta Spirit, which (at least in terms of ownership share) is predominantly composed of individuals from out-of-state.

Fisking Buzz Bissinger

I'm not going to lie; this was a lot of fun. 

It occurred to me while I was writing that Bissinger and John Feinstein occupy the same place in my head.  Both wrote indisputably great sports books in the late 80s.  Both are now grumpy old men, writing screeds against college football from the Acela Corridor.  In both instances, I read their writing and remember the day when my childhood ended: the day that I read the obituary of Roald Dahl (my favorite author as a boy) obituary and learned that he said the following:

There's a trait in the Jewish character that does provoke animosity ... I mean there is always a reason why anti-anything crops up anywhere; even a stinker like Hitler didn't just pick on them for no reason.

Bissinger also reminds me of Don Draper at the end of last week's Mad Men, left behind in a world where he didn't understand The Beatles in their "Hard Day's Night" stage, let alone their new "Tomorrow Never Knows" style, and having a drink while his actual wife is meditating and his office wife is smoking a joint while writing copy.  Buzz sees a world where college football has become a national sport, outpacing baseball in a number of ways.  The barbarians are at his gates.  For a guy already prone to angry outbursts, his WSJ column was entirely predictable.