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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Sunday, August 16, 2020

Greed and Over-Reaching - The Tennessee Smokies' Future?

 In 1999, minor league baseball failed in Knoxville, Tennessee. The team fled to Sevierville (about 30 minutes from downtown Knoxville) where it has a very nice modern stadium, good parking, and extremely easy access to and from the stadium. Benefiting from loyal Knoxvillians who make the drive out, a large tourist crowd from the Gatlinburg-Sevierville area, and a previously untapped market East of Smokies Stadium out to Kingsport and Johnson City and even into Far Southwestern Virginia,1 the team has flourished. 

Naturally, this means that Boyd Sports LLC has decided it must stab Sevierville in the back and put the Smokies back in Knoxville.

Things to Consider

(1) Boyd Sports may be moving this way because of a failing business model:  Boyd is one team short of a monopoly over professional baseball in Eastern Tennessee (lacking only one team of five). It's worked hard to get there and make this work - only to have MLB pull the rug out from under them with the Rookie League teams. It's not final yet, but it appears that the MLB is set on killing baseball in smaller cities in Eastern Tennessee, Southwest Virginia, Southern West Virginia, and even North Carolina by destroying the Appalachian League. This will take three teams (and their potential profits) away from Boyd. The reason Boyd Sports may be pushing desperately for this plan is a hope of recouping profits it will no longer make elsewhere.

(2) Randy Boyd is the President of UT. Almost certainly, part of the pitch will be that UT baseball can use the field too. Pay no attention to the fact that their current stadium is on campus, has more seats than it needs2, and just went through a major renovation. Shared stadiums work well for lower level teams and are usually on campus. A reversal of that will probably lead to fewer students actually going to games and maybe lower numbers period.

(3) It's doubtful that anyone will replace the Smokies in Sevierville. There was talk of putting a rookie league team there, but there's almost a 100% chance that the Appalachian League will be killed by MLB. Besides, it's too big a stadium for anything less than an Advanced A or AA team. Perhaps the best hope would be to draw in a team performing poorly where it is located currently. For instance the Hagerstown Suns have been limping along trying to sell to somebody ANYBODY for most of a decade now. However, if the Appalachian League is killed off, a new owner would likely be more interested in Greeneville (better stadium) or Johnson City (bigger crowds) as more appropriate venues for a Single-A team than an overly large, expensive to maintain stadium which will maybe draw half the crowds it did with the Smokies because people won't be coming out from Knoxville anymore. 

Maybe an independent league could be interested, but I think Sevierville is too far out of zone for the American Association or the Frontier League. The only real hope would be the Atlantic League. Sevierville is out of its regular zone, but so are the Skeeters (Texas) and to a lesser degree the Rockers (West-Central NC). So there might be some hope if a good enough ownership group and  pitch could be made.

(4) Boyd Sports will abandon maybe half its current fanbase with the move in the hopes of drawing the same number from making it easier for city dwellers to get there. After all, people on vacation in Gatlinburg-Sevierville generally aren't looking to drive into a city. What's more, as you get East of Sevierville it makes more sense to drive to Asheville to watch the Tourists instead of Knoxville. It's a shorter drive, it's a cheaper ticket with no charge for parking, and Asheville is a tourist destination with other things to do.

(5) Boyd Sports isn't solely concentrating on the number of fans in the stands. Obviously, I haven't seen their projections, but this picture tends to indicate that they plan to have hotels or apartments, stores, and restaurants as part of the stadium:

Picture Put Out by Boyd Sports

So, it seems that a large portion of their profits are intended to come from rental income. As usual, I'm sure this is being sold as "downtown revitalization." This is the big puff of modern stadium sellers. I've been to a number of these stadiums and they seem to be very hit and miss with my impression being that the numbers lean rather heavily toward the miss side.

Think about it. Why would you want to pay premium rates to rent a hotel room or an apartment when half the rooms face away from the field and most of the rest give you a poor view of it. And if you're trying to work or sleep the blaring from the PA system and the fireworks are not conducive. As for businesses, they'll pay premium rents and hope to make good money prior to and maybe after games. Their problem is that the stadium experience is designed to draw people into the stadium, keep them in the stadium, and to suck their money out of them while inside. Outside merchants usually catch crumbs.

Worse, for everyone, stadiums go dark from 01 September until mid-April and are dead half the time during the Summer. There may be events in that time, but during the summer they have to protect the field for the players and in the Winter an outdoor stadium gets too cold.

As I said, I've seen these stadiums and when I looked into the windows I saw an awful lot of empty rooms and business locations. Before Knoxville puts a lot of money into this it should talk to other cities. Plain old stadiums with all the bells and whistles inside for the fans seem a better plan (see Dayton, Nashville, Charlotte, Durham, Greenville, Birmingham etc.).

(6) It's going to happen. Owners have a ball club for three general reasons: (1) love of the game, (2) personal aggrandizement, and (3) profit. Mayors want baseball parks for three general reasons of their own: (1) as a prestige adornment for their city, (2) to "rebuild" troublesome areas in their city, and (3) political gain. Both ownership and the Knoxville government will most likely approach this with rose tinted glasses assuming everything will go swimmingly and make the city a better and richer place for all. And, with the possible exception of Gwinnet, there's always a honeymoon phase of about five years when a new team comes to town before the cracks start getting noticed. And there's always the possibility that they'll get it to work. Maybe.

As a practical matter, Boyd Sports has already bought the land for the new stadium, so something is going to happen. As well, the local fans know the owner is looking to betray them and the numbers are dropping. They'll probably continue to do so, although the numbers have been more resilient than I would have expected looking at attendance drops in Hagerstown or Richmond or other places. I think this is because a good portion of the fans are coming from Knoxville or are tourists in Gatlinburg-Sevierville just looking for a good night's entertainment. I don't know that we'll see the purposeful discouraging of attendance that sometimes happens when a team is moving, although I do expect the downward trend to continue. I know personally that I'll probably look more toward Asheville when next season opens than I have in the past. If the owner is going to yank the team, why should I support his pocketbook?


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1  This would be me, but not only me. Everyone here is used to going to Gatlinburg/Dollywood for vacations. Driving a couple hours for a baseball game or including it as part of a weekend vacation is pretty normal.

2  4,283 seats. To put that in perspective, only the eleven highest attended college baseball programs of 2019 would need a bigger stadium. UT isn't even in the top 25. The 25th, NC State, averaged 2,596 people per game.

Sunday, May 17, 2020

Fun Pickoff Play in the CPBL, a breakdown


The yellow team is the CTBC Brothers; the orange is the UniLions. This is part of the fun of watching this league and the others in Asia. It's sad to say, but the gravamen of the game is switching to Japan-Korea-Taiwan while the MLB is static (at best). It's interesting to watch when US teams play teams from Asia and it's obvious that the Asian teams are fundamentally better at basics and more rounded in all aspects of the game. Often, the USA will win on sheer talent, but when the MLB doesn't allow the top 40 from each organization to play internationally that becomes less certain and we lose to Japan, Korea, or AUSTRALIA.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Another Way to Score

Click on Pic to Enlarge
Boer player is running home when he realizes he ain't gonna make it. He turns and starts to book it back to third. He freezes when he sees the third baseman prepping to catch the ball and starts to turn back toward home and the throw from the catcher hits him mid turn. The angle he's turned at when hit sends the ball skittering across the field and the runner completes his turn and makes it home.

Pro tip: A runner hit by a thrown ball is not interference unless the runner purposefully does something to make it happen.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Countries Where They Love Baseball

One of these is from Korea, one from Taiwan, and one from Nicaragua. Each country is playing baseball.




You can play in fancy stadiums or functional stadiums. It's about love of the game and these folks all clearly love the sport.

Nicaragua Packs the Stands in Baseball


From Last night's game between Indios del Boer and Esteli. Part of the fun is watching baseball with fans in the stands.


It's not as glossy, it's not in English, and it's only on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. Still, they're my favorite games to watch out there right now. Channels to check - YouTube: vivanicaragua13 (follows Boer) (always high quality) - FaceBook: Canal22via (follows Costa Caribe) (good quality, but some places they visit have poor internet up) - Facebook: Cogelasena (I think follows Chinandega Tigres) (low res).

Friday, May 8, 2020

Taiwan Lets Fans Back in Baseball

Today was the first day that the CPBL (Taiwanese Baseball) let fans back into their stadiums.





They let in 1,000 fans, no one could sit closer than two seats from another, and most of them were located in a loose X pattern. They didn't allow food in the stadium although apparently the restaurants outside the stadium were open. They did allow water because it's Taiwan and the high for the day was 90f.

It was fun watching them do the routines and I can't wait to see the stadiums full. They interviewed their top medical official during the game and he was talking about raising the number allowed per game to 2,000 pretty much immediately and higher soon.

And the home team Guardians won a great game to watch 7-6 over the UniLions. Go Guardians!!

Saturday, April 4, 2020

MLB Misses Its Shot

Why did I just sign up to stream the Chinese Professional Baseball League when it starts its games next weekend? Because it's professional baseball, only cost me $33, and the streaming fees I paid to both MLB and MiLB ain't getting me jack spit.

MLB has really missed the ball on this one.

Baseball is pretty much by definition THE social distancing sport. On the field at any given time are nine guys who are more than six feet apart. You add in a couple umps and at most four offensive players and it would be an extreme situation if five were ever close to one another. It could be done.

Of course, there'd have to be limitations. Go to a two ump system. Every one of those umps has worked a two ump system in the minors; they can do it again. No base coaches or any of the other fifty or so coaching and other non-player positions. In fact, let the manager manage via radio or phone and not be on the field. Ten players in the dugout and five in the bullpen (four pitchers and the backup catcher); when not pitching a pitcher goes back to the bullpen. Eliminate the designated hitter so there is need for one less player. Travel by two smaller charter planes or *GASP* by a couple buses each with less than ten people. I'd suggest your eight starters, four pitchers, backup catcher, and two utility players. Add in the manager and a couple guys to prep equipment ('cuz there ain't no way MLB players remember how to wash uniforms and stack bats). Use two locker rooms per team that do not connect. It could be done.

And yet, it's not.

Imagine if MLB delayed its opening a week or two in order to let some of the furor die down and then opened in empty stadiums as the only sport on television or the only sport playing period. THE ONLY SPORT.

And yet, it didn't.

Why not? Well, I think they were still hoping to have their big opening day which makes them lots of money and they don't like the idea of playing in empty stadiums because they think it will make a bad image (because fans can't possibly understand they're empty because of the disease not low attendance). Basically, this fits in with the reason the MLB always has problems in modern times: the management is incapable of long term thinking. We've all seen really stupid things going on like rules changes which make the game worse in order to shorten it 5 or 6 minutes, picking an unneeded fight with their minor leagues with the intention of abandoning baseball fans around the country, not fixing their draft selection process so that a third of the teams will stop tanking every year, not fixing the flaws in the game proceeding (quite logically) from sabermetrics (increase the strike zone and move the fences back), and the leagues should have long ago expanded into several cities (Charlotte, Nashville, Montreal, and maybe even Mexico City). They were probably also gun shy. No matter when they open there will be a portion of the public which screams bloody murder and the press will be stalking them for the first team to have someone come down with the disease.

During the 1916 Polio epidemic (a Summer epidemic), baseball played.

President Wilson throwing out 1st pitch on opening day: Senators v. Yankees

During the 1918-19 Spanish flu epidemic, baseball played.

1918 World Series
In modern times, when we have far better capacity to protect those playing and we know better than to let people crowd the stadiums, could they play? Sure they could. They won't.

And that may be a good thing. They may be making the right call. It's hard to balance out the real threat of the disease against the more ephemeral need of uplifting events to build and maintain morale against the panic caused by the disease and the concern for the economic damage of the imposed solution.

In the meantime, I'll be rooting for the Fubon Guardians.

Friday, December 20, 2019

Louisville Soccer Logo (un)Failure

Louisville Kentucky has arguably the best soccer team and fandom in the USL, the US and Canada's second tier soccer league. They won two national championships out of the last three and they were in the final game of the third. They are opening a brand new, size appropriate stadium built for soccer. They've inspired yours truly to drive to Louisville just to watch soccer (a four hour drive) - something no other soccer team can claim.

So, they made a mis-step earlier this week. They have had a logo for several years now that I rank as adequate+. It's not spectacular, but it's easily recognizable and ties into the city well:

I can't say I'm thrilled by it. However, it's established in the hearts of the fans and thus if you're going to touch it you better come with something that's obviously better than adequate+.

The team hired some ad firm to rebrand themselves. That team came up with the kind of generic, blah corporate logo you'd expect (at least outside of the disaster zone of logos for minor league baseball).
The gray is a mistake that makes it looked washed out. The use of words across the top is an objectively bad mistake for a logo that's going to be small on the kit. Changing the the fleur-de-lis's to an ugly, sharp graphic rather than using the fleur-de-lis's that are actually on Louisville's flag is an unforced error. The inclusion of the stars is simply strange - particularly in that they are cut off. The shape of the overall logo in non-distinctive and it is far too cluttered. And then they offered an obviously contrived explanation for the white dividing slash that claimed it represented the Ohio River; fans didn't buy that for a second. This is the type of logo that is developed in a boardroom and rises at best to meh level.

Much to my surprise, after a backlash from the fans, Louisville City FC backed off. They are going to rework the logo with fan input.

Okay, so here's this fan's input.

First, a logo which is going to be on the left chest of a jersey should be simple and distinctive. Second, it is a rare logo that can pull off words on the logo (the current logo is an exception). Third, changing colors just to change colors is not a good call. Black and purple may be slightly better than purple and gold, but is it such a great improvement that it justifies the change? Don't change colors just because it's trendy or popular in some board room. And who thought that a washed out gray would do anything but look washed out? Is the white non-color meant to be part of the team's colors? Fourth, treating logos as Russian nesting dolls is a bad idea. The internal logo is okay; putting all the rest around it significantly detracts from it.

What logos could fit this criteria? Here's three I put together fairly quickly that would all look better than the corporate logo offered (click to see larger):

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All of those are simple, easily identifiable logos that will stand out on a kit and represent Louisville better than the corporate logo. If you're worried that people won't know what it is when your fans are wearing it you can write the team's name on t-shirts and hats you sell. Just don't put it on the logo for the kit.

If y'all at LCFC need some help, give me a holler at minorleaguematters@gmail.com. I'm pretty sure I can come up with at least a dozen solid options for you. And I'd be willing to do it for half the fee you paid to whatever ad company gave you generic logo #47.

Please don't prove me correct in my initial assessment that you aren't going to back down on the logo issue. If you find some useful idiots to rubber stamp your corporate logo or rubber stamp it after you make minor changes it will be obvious that you are just putting lipstick on that pig.

Monday, September 16, 2019

The Difficulties of Salary and Economics in Women's Sports

There are five leagues across the United States and Canada which are the pinnacle of their sports' leagues in the world. You can probably name four of them pretty easily: NFL, MLB, NBA, & NHL. But, you ask, what's the fifth? The National Women's Soccer League. It's also the training ground for the best women's national soccer team in the world: the US Women's National Team.

This, IMHO, makes the female soccer player's demand for more money far stronger than the same demands coming from women in other sports. Our US National Women's Team in soccer is a machine that brings home World Cup after World Cup; the men's team sucks and will continue to suck for decades to come. Why should men be rewarded with higher pay than our champions, the women?

Here are the basic arguments you see when the unequal payment across genders in the same sport is raised:  (1) Women's sports don't bring in the same revenue through television contracts, attendance1, or the licensing of merchandise.  (2) Women are already earning more of the disposable net income of their teams than their male counterparts.  (3) Women are not playing the same level game as men2.  (4) Women's sports are already being subsidized by the male versions of their sport. This last is limited to soccer and basketball.

My answer? Specifically for soccer, I don't care. All the points above are outweighed by one significant factor. The women bring us international championships while the men either don't make the tournament or are eliminated fairly quickly; the men are not and will not be competitive within the lifetime of anyone 30 years old as of today and probably longer. You reward winners who are bearing the torch for your sport in your country. Get a clue. Give them more money and promote the heck out of their success.  US Soccer is already paying the salary of all the USWNT members who are in the NWSL (at a higher level than other players3); it could increase that. You don't have to make women soccer players multi-millionaires, but if you want the team to remain the best in the world you need to pay them more. ATTENTION US SOCCER FEDERATION: In case you haven't noticed, the USNWT is your flagship team.4

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Other Women's Sports

Soccer isn't the only sport where women are working toward higher salaries. Women's hockey and the WNBA have disputes as well. In hockey the collapse of the Canadian Women's Hockey League left the NWHL as the one league standing. Theoretically, one league should have strengthened the sport by concentrating the talent pool and allowing concentration in hockeycentric markets. In reality, a large block of players walked away and refused to play in the NWHL because the pay sucks and they don't think the facilities are adequate.

Video keyed to point of interview with woman from the NWHL

There's a lot of speculation that the entire point of the boycott is to force the NHL to  invest its funds into pay and resources for the women. However, the NHL has shown no interest in doing this and if that's the end goal, it's a tacit admission that the women's version cannot sustain itself. And that could be really bad news. The NHL isn't printing money at the same rate as the other major American leagues5 and faced with the prospect of a commitment that will constantly, for as long into the future as anyone can see, demand diversion of funds from its primary product, the NHL may make a financially appropriate business decision, decline to become involved, and let women's hockey fail.

In women's basketball, there has been a drive for an increase in pay for a couple years. The WNBA has benefited from being backed both financially and through publicity channels by the NBA. Despite drops in attendance, it continues to get television contracts which keep it in the public eye. Even better, it has retrenched and placed many of its teams in more appropriate venues. Unfortunately, its competition for the hearts and minds of basketball fans has become more prominent with the growth of the G-League (where people might see players headed for the NBA6) and the Big-3 (which has put more people in the seats). It also seems to have problems drawing the younger and/or female demographics.7

There are claims that the WNBA is running in the red and has for as long as it has been in existence.8 Lots of journalists and commentators want to dispute the lack of profitability, but I've not seen a creditable claim yet that the WNBA makes a profit. This is as much the fault of the WNBA as anything else; like many failing or marginal businesses, it doesn't publish its failure for the world to see (hard to get sponsors if they don't see a route to profitability through you). The players are talking about a strike to increase the level of pay.

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The complaints of the various women players in professional sport are caused by an abrupt paradigm shift that occurs upon graduation from college. This is the point at which the profit incentive flips against female athletes.

Prior to graduation from college, the market is governed by Title IX.9 This law was passed in the 1970's and fairly quickly was interpreted to mean that for every single male sports slot on campus there had to be a female slot and the female in that slot had to be just as well equipped and looked after as the male. If you're old enough you remember the scramble in the 70's thru the 80's as schools tried to balance out the number of football players with female athletes. Sports which had both male and female teams or analogues were value neutral (basketball, soccer, baseball/softball). Sports which had only female players became extremely valuable (volleyball & field hockey10). Sports which only had male competitors, other than football, were a liability. In fact they were radioactive and sports like wrestling were killed off in droves. In any event, once all the dust settled we had a system wherein a female basketball or soccer or hockey player received basically the same treatment and facilities as a male.

Why did this happen and why does it continue? School administrators will mouth nice platitudes about equality, etc. The reality is that it's all about the money. Colleges and Universities desperately need to stay on the right side of Title IX if they want their schools to stay solvent. They could refuse all student loans and grants and operate free from Title IX and other regulations tied to federal money. Very few do11 and once you take the King's shilling . . .   Et voilà, even in a worse case scenario where the school is losing money on each and every female athlete it makes sense to keep the female sports running and the female athletes well equipped so that the number of male slots in football (beloved by the donating alumni) are balanced out and the avalanche of money from student loans keeps pouring thru the gates of the school.

And then comes graduation and a post Title IX world where the women who are athletes have to generate a profit. And let's be clear here, they are in minor leagues, playing games in minor league facilities, and drawing minor league crowds. At this time, the appropriate leagues to compare themselves against are not the NHL, MLS, and NBA. Minor league life isn't one of luxury. It's usually populated by people who love the sport and want to play every last second they can or those who don't have anywhere else to go (in men's affiliated minors there's also those climbing the ladder, but that's not applicable here). You ride buses from game to game instead of flying; you stay at a Knight's Inn instead of the downtown Marriot; you eat whatever you can scrounge at 11 p.m. after the game from a place within walking distance of the hotel. And the cherry on top is that your pay sucks because whoever owns the team isn't making enough money to pay all the expenses and give players extravagant salaries.

The NWHL

The NWHL averaged approximately 830 attendees per game last season. The lowest level men's professional minor league (FPHL) averaged approximately 1,500 per game. If players in the FPHL (previously FHL) are being paid a maximum of $400 a week12 what can the women in the NWHL reasonably expect to be paid? $250 a week? $400? The league has promised more pay and a 50-50 split of the gate although that's more than a bit amorphous. Other reports say that it's a "50% increase in Salary, 60% increase to minimum wage, 25% increase to Per Diem, 33% more games... and THE FIRST EVER 50/50 revenue split." Since there are reports that players were subsisting on $2,000 per season, that seems to mean the pay will go up to $3,000 and the rest will be added on. If the boycotting players are honest in their demand for an "economically viable professional women's league" they have to realize that this is the economically viable model. If they can help grow the league they may be able to change the model, but they're not going to get the kind of pay of even an SPHL or ECHL player (which isn't all that much higher than the FPHL) unless they want to play for a couple years, drive the NWHL out of business, and put themselves out of a job.

The WNBA

The WNBA is messier. If it is truly running the deficit claimed it wouldn't even be in business without the NBA propping it up. However, I'm going to leave that alone. The NBA has decided to keep this league alive as a long term investment with hopes that it will eventually blossom into a profitable endeavor. Hopefully, it's right, but God help the WNBA if the losses are real and the next Commissioner is an accountant rather than an idealist. NBA support has long allowed the WNBA to live in the Realm of Oughtabe rather than the Land of Is.

The WNBA had an average attendance last year of 6,721. This was a significant drop from previous years because the NY Liberty moved to a much smaller arena. Its move also raised questions about the reality of WNBA attendance when the Liberty's owner revealed that its prior average of just less than 10,000 attendees was inflated because "roughly half of those tickets had been given away."13

The true competitor against which the WNBA needs to be judged is the G-League (the NBA's developmental league).14 The women in the WNBA recognize this as well; hence the complaints about the "select contracts." As best I can tell by forcing my brain to do math, the G-League averaged about 2,300 people per game last year (1.6 million divided by the number of teams divided by half the number of games). It's growing and I figure it might top out somewhere near five or six thousand in a decade or so as it stabilizes. Of course, the G-League is the NBA's potential gold mine for kids who couldn't go to college and are great players and an important place to develop role players or keep players good enough to come up to the NBA and fill a slot if someone is injured, but not good enough to stay there permanently. It's going to fill the same slot as AAA baseball and the AHL and it's value to the NBA is evident.15

The G-League players get $7,000 a month culminating in $35,000 earned over 5 months. Of course, each team will have two men on two-way contracts which pay just under $80,000 while the player is in the G-League and league minimum when the player spends a stint in the NBA. And, of course, there are the $125,000 select contracts which no one seems to have signed.16 Looking thru these pages, it seems the lowest WNBA salary is $41,965 and none exceed $120,000 (although quite a few come close); at an eyeball guesstimate, I'd say the average salary is about $65,000 with the lowest salary being higher than the basic G-League salary and the higher end ones being more than three times the amount paid to a basic G-leaguer. The high end even outstrips the men with two-way contracts, although by my math about two weeks in the NBA balances that out. Basically, the WNBA's salary is better than most of the men in the league to which it is most equivalent. This puts the WNBA's players in a weak position when they come to the table to argue for more money.

The USWNT / NWSL

There's one women's team in all of American sportsdom which can tell me that my analysis is BS: the Portland Thorns. More accurately, since I am a fan of the Courage, I should call them the despised Portland Thorns. In any event, the Thorns are averaging over 19,500 people in the stands per game and are therefore possibly the only team in all the women's leagues that is strongly outdrawing men's teams. To put that in perspective, they are outdrawing by a wide margin every team in the USL, more than half the teams in the MLS, and 6 teams in the MLB. It's impressive and proof that a female team can draw support at a level such that it can individually be viable. Unfortunately for the Thorns, the rest of the NWSL, while growing, isn't there yet.

The argument in women's soccer doesn't seem to be so much about the pay to play in the NWSL, but how much the pay should be for the USWNT. This is a little hard to separate since US Soccer pays the salaries for those players in the NWSL who are on the national team. It pays them between $67,500 - 72,500 while those not on the national team can earn no more than $46,200.3

Anyway, in 2017 the men's national team self destructed with a little help from our friends in Trinidad and Tobago. The fans for the USMNT aren't there like they used to be. Even with the newly added Cincinnati adding 27,000+ fans at every home game, the MLS' attendance is losing ground. Whatever can we do to bring soccer back to popularity in the US? Who could we turn to who first made soccer popular and has continued to make the US look like a juggernaut?


It is my opinion that US Soccer has for some time intended to complete a flip from female soccer dominance to the primacy of the male part of the sport.17 The US has for years been in a weird situation where the women's team is winning multiple World Cups and Olympic Gold Medals (4 each) and the men's team suuuuuuucks. The women's team brings glory to the nation while even a glance at the men's World Cup record shows that they are non-competitive. Additionally, attendance at NWSL teams is trending upward (up 19%) while attendance at MLS games is stagnant and actually slightly dropping (down 3%).

US Soccer has forgotten a couple basic rules. First, you promote success. Second, a rising tide floats all boats. Instead of squabbling over monies paid to the women for the World Cup, the Federation should pay the WMNT the exact same percentage as the men make out of ticket sales and television contracts (minus whatever the Federation pays in excess of the NWSL's maximum salary). After all, the women's World Cup, starring the American team, was watched by 14.3 million people in the US while only 11.6 million watched  the men's World Cup the year before. Heck, pay them a little more of a percentage than you do the males - or have you lost the concept of a loss leader too?

You need to make your only homegrown soccer superstars happy and get them out there telling Americans how great soccer is so that people consider going to their local team whether that be a NWSL team, a USL team, or an MLS team. The men can't do this because they failed; the women aren't doing this because they're too busy telling everyone how you're cheating them financially.

As for the NWSL, it's hard to compare it to any other leagues. The best players are subsidized by US Soccer and some teams are subsidized by or at least engage in economy of scale relationships with male teams. Perhaps the best league to compare them to is another subsidized league, the WNBA. The NWSL should, at the very least, strive to put in place a similar pay scale to the WNBA's minimum of $41,965 and maximum of $120,000. The attendance averages are close and it does appear that the NWSL is becoming the most successful women's professional league. An appropriate salary range should follow that success.

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Conclusion

Simple economics make it difficult for top professional female athletes to receive the same pay as male athletes do. Their leagues, viewership levels, and merchandise sales cannot support that level of pay. However, let's not forget that these are early days for these leagues. Male players in nascent leagues aren't/weren't paid well either.18  Major League Lacrosse pays its male players between $10,000 - $20,000. The cure for low pay is to make the leagues viable so that the economics change. Personally, although I'd like to see all the leagues named above succeed I only see the NWSL getting there.

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 1 Only one women's team in the NWSL has a greater average attendance than the worst attended team in the MLS, the Chicago Fire (11,900), although the Portland Thorns at an impressive 19,500 have an average attendance better than 13 MLS teams.

2 "Some users recalled the U.S. Women’s National Team’s blowout loss in 2017 to an FC Dallas club team whose players were aged 14 and 15. The final score was 5-2. The defeat of the U.S. women, widely considered the greatest women’s soccer program in the sports history, is not an anomaly.

In 2016, the Australian women’s national squad suffered an embarrassing 7-0 defeat to a team of 15-year-old boys. In 2013, Sweden’s women’s team, runners-up in the 2003 women’s World Cup, lost to a local team of teen boys. The U-17 USMNT reportedly thrashed the USWNT 8-2 in a closed-door scrimmage in 2012." link

3 At the very least US Soccer pays "$67,500 to $72,500 per player as a salary for playing in the National Women’s Soccer League" while those paid by the teams earn from $16,538 to $46,200.

4 "According to Nielsen, roughly 14.3 million US viewers tuned into the final match last weekend versus approximately 11.4 million for the 2018 Men’s World Cup Final, marking a 22% US viewership boost.

What’s more, total viewership including online streaming peaked at about 20 million, making it the most-watched soccer match on English-language television — men’s or women’s — in the US since the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup final. That match drew 25.4 million viewers."

5 The NHL is clearly profitable, but "unlike other major pro sports leagues, NHL teams still make most of their money on ticket sales." So, its profits aren't as high and it is probably already subsidizing in some manner at least a few of its own teams (the Arizona Coyotes, Florida Panthers, and New York Islanders come to mind).

6 "You might call it a minor-league production, but it has major league implications. Isaiah Whitehead, Milton Doyle and James Webb III all have moved frequently between the LI Nets and NBA Nets this season. Spencer Dinwiddie, Joe Harris and Quincy Acy on the big club all played previously for other G League franchises."

7 "Women’s basketball is largely supported — just in terms of the demographics — by older men, for whatever reason, who like fundamental basketball, and it’s something I’ve talked a lot to the players about,” [NBA Commissioner Silver] said. “We’re not connecting with almost the same demographic that our players are."

8 "The WNBA says it has lost significant money the last 22 years, including $12 million last season.

9 "No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."

10 Yes, before all 1.3 billion of my Indian friends correct me, I know that the sport is played by males as well. That's just not the way it has developed in the USA.

11 But See examples Wyoming Catholic College & Hillsdale

12 "The FHL’s weekly salary cap is $4,400, which gets divided among 18 players, most of whom make between $200 and $400 per week."

13 Admittedly, I'm not sure what to make of this. Under various news articles claiming salary injustices against WNBA players, I found numerous trolls claiming the WNBA was padding its numbers across the board by giving away a lot of tickets. I read and ignored them figuring that such a claim - even if true - would never be provable. Then I tripped across Dolan's quote and now I don't know if that was just the Liberty or if other teams reporting large numbers are playing this game as well.

14 I don't think the Big3 is a competitor to the WNBA because it's really nothing more than a traveling show. It's fine, but it's not a real league and the reason its attendance reaches the levels it does is because it is a once a year event at whatever venue it cherry picks each week.

15 At first, I was going to compare the WNBA with AAA baseball because the attendance of the G-League is so low. However, that would be comparing apples to cars while the G-League comparison is one of McIntoshes to Granny Smiths. I think that while the G-League attendance is less, the strong incentive for the NBA to favor it balances things out so that it makes a good comparison with the WNBA.

16 The select contract is an incredibly stupid idea from an individual team's perspective. You sign the kid, pay the kid, train the kid, and then at the end of the season the kid is available for anyone to draft. It has a strong probability of being a great waste of time, effort, and money.

17 I wrote most of this post in one day, but it got too late and I had to postpone finishing it. When I reread the the paragraphs I had written late last night about soccer I decided to rewrite them. After all, if I were to call the men running US Soccer "neanderthals who care about nothing but skimming money and promoting the male part of the sport because they want so badly to be in fief to FIFA which is run by men who think that the women in the sport are just there for eye candy" that might be libelous and therefore I would never publish anything like that except as an example of something I'd never publish.

18 NFL "pay in the 1960s was so low for the majority of players that they had to work second job during the offseason - even if they had been labelled a "franchise player" for their team."

Sunday, September 8, 2019

York Revolution - Fighting for First

Click to Enlarge Picture



Who knew? The Maryland Blue Crabs pitcher is a yard gnome.
Coming in.
Going out.
York's run touches home.
Nice Stadium.
Those stadiums with bubble castles are amateurs.
Gotcha!
The York Revolution (the Revs) play in the middle of York. It has the normal problems with parking in a city and I ended up a couple blocks out. That's not too bad except as I walked up I went past two parking lots which were "reserved" and over half empty. Bah.

York is another Atlantic League team and it's only about forty-five minutes down the road from the Lancaster team. It's stadium is about the same generally, although I was impressed that the kiddie park in the stadium had an actual carousel and not the normal bubble castles. Again, the stadium felt like a AA stadium and the player's quality seemed somewhere above that level and approaching AAA. One of the tip-offs is the quality of the catchers. In many of the minor leagues stealing bases is about as easy as it is in little league. This was the second night in a row that I saw a precise throw from a catcher result in a runner being thrown out trying to steal second. The level of play combined with what seems to be a little more aggressive play than you see in affiliated ball makes this a fun league (at least from my two whole games' worth of observation).

Coming into the game, the York Revolution were on the top of the league's Freedom Division a couple games ahead of the Sugar Land Skeeters. This wasn't a night wherein it would increase their lead. In the 1st, the Revs scored first on a walk which was moved forward by a bunt and further moved forward when the first baseman threw to second and past it into the outfield. The runner on third was then moved home on a sacrifice fly. In the 2nd, the Blue Crabs got a single, ground rule double (bounced over center field wall), and sacrifice fly to tie the game. Then, in the 5th a Blue Crab got a double when his hard hit ball deflected off the shortstop's glove and dribbled into no man's land in center field. A sac fly got the quick base runner to third. A blooping single to right field scored the man on third. With that, all the scoring was done and the game got played out two a home team loss 1-2.

Folks, if you are anywhere near an Atlantic League game, I advise going. Heck, I'd advise buying season tickets.


Friday, September 6, 2019

Lancaster Barnstormers - 1st Visit to the Atlantic League

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Nice Stadium

Out stealing second.


I've been interested in the Atlantic League for a while. After all, they were theoretically bringing a minor league baseball team to Virginia Beach at one time. It didn't happen, but that didn't mean my interest flagged. The Atlantic League is supposed to be the highest level of independent ball out there. I've seen some articles calling them AAA and the American Association AA while other leagues probably hover somewhere between A and Rookie level (the Frontier League seems to be atop that pile, although the Pecos League may be shaping up nicely with the California additions). Additionally, this year the Atlantic League is, at the behest of MLB, experimenting with robo-umps (puff piece here) and changing the distance between the pitcher and the plate. I've previously commented on all this at the beginning of the season:


So, I get to the Lancaster Barnstormers' stadium which has plenty of parking (although some of it was in Outer-Mongolia) and ended up parked quite a way from the stadium. Nice young people in golf carts were shuttling people to the stadium and I caught a ride with them; unfortunately, when I really needed the ride on the way out after the game they were nowhere to be seen. It was also nice that pregame they had people guiding traffic and stopping traffic so people could safely cross roads; it would have been even nicer if they were there after the game as we all walked back to our cars in the pretty dang dark roads and parking areas. Yeesh.

Inside, the stadium was somewhere between what I would expect at a AA and AAA stadium. There were plenty of nice people filling the seats, although they all had funny accents. I think they were all Yankee-Americans. I can't find exact stats on the number of people there, but the Stormers average over 4,000 per game and I think there were quite possibly 2,000+ attending last night (not bad for a Thursday). The people running the stadium were doing plenty of stuff to keep the crowd involved and even had people sing Take Me Out to the Ballgame. The Crowd was involved and enthused.

The level of play was clearly better than you see in most minor leagues. The batters had  the ability to direct their hits. The defensemen had the ability to make some really good plays. There were several impressive plays; the best play of the night might have been a short hit to right field which the right fielder scooped up and fired to first for a force out. I think the play was better than I'd expect to see at a AA game. However, there were also a few unforced errors that I wouldn't have expected in a AAA level game. So, it was somewhere in between - probably closer to AAA.

I know the umps are required to say that robo-ump is just awesome, but that home plate ump was the most disengaged ump I think I've ever seen. Robo-ump didn't seem to be slowing the game down terribly, but it was clearly taking the ump out. Instead of getting instant calls you get a pause after the ball crosses the plate while the ump is told what to call and then the ump rather unenthusiatically signals. Basically, it took three beats instead of two. I'm still not a fan of it and it definitely takes some of the skill and fun out of the game, but on a purely functional level, it seems to work; I didn't see any clearly wrong calls.

Moving the pitcher back seems to have been accomplished by moving the rubber back on the mound. I was curious how the league would do this because rebuilding the mound in the middle of the season seemed impractical - especially considering it will have to go back next season. Pitching didn't seem to be affected much by it.

Interestingly, the batters' swings seemed to be much flatter than I've seen lately in affiliated baseball. There was more controlled hitting and placement of hits. I'm not sure if this has something to do with the new pitching position, the relatively higher skill level than I've watched lately, or other factors. In any event, it made the game much funner to watch because there were people on base and something was always going on.

As for the game itself, the Long Island Ducks took the lead in the 1st inning and never relinquished it. Nevertheless, it never felt like the Stormers were out of the game. They kept putting people on base and the Ducks kept getting out of innings by the skin of their teeth. In the bottom of the 9th, the Stormers got two on with no outs before they were finally shut down by the Ducks. In the end the home team fell 2-4.

If you're near Lancaster, go watch a game. The Atlantic League runs longer than any of the other minors, so you've still got a month. And try the veggie burger at the concession stand. It wasn't half bad.

Tonight: the York Revolution.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Boiling in Salem


Click on Photo to Enlarge
Out trying to stretch a double to third.

Not a single bit of shade anywhere.

Umbrellas

You want me to throw what?

You're doing it wrong. You're supposed to look down when you touch your toes.


1st half of a double play.

1st half of a double play.
 The last game of the regular season for the Salem Red Sox started at 1:05 in the afternoon. This was something of a disaster because the temperature as I left my car was 86F and this stadium is terribly built for hot day games. As you can see in the picture above, there is no place to sit in any shade and watch the game. Worse, the stadium seems to have been built to block the breeze. In fact, it's the only stadium I've ever been to that allows people to bring umbrellas and encourages their use (generally not allowed even when raining because of blocked views). 

I made it half way through the 4th inning in my seat on the third base wall before I had to leave. Judging from the way I felt, I was definitely overheated and had to walk slowly to get to the shaded and breezy concourse on the other side of the upper and box seats where you couldn't see any of the game. Once I got there, I realized I wasn't as bad off as some. There were older people everywhere, occupying every seat. Several were basically panting and one lady was struggling hard as her husband helped her along.

After a few minutes, I headed back out into the sun. I just didn't go anywhere that required using stairs. I got some ice water from the concession stand facing the field on the 1st base side, slugged it down in a couple minutes, and felt a whole lot better. Cudos to the folks at this stand who, when I came up and ordered water, sold me a dollar cup and filled it to the brim with ice and water and told me to come back as often as I wanted for free refills. They could have sold semi-cold bottled water and been done with it; instead, they were looking out for people. It's not the fault of anyone working the stadium that it has a terrible design for days when the sun is out.

Enuf with the griping. Let's talk about the game. The Salem Red Sox came into the game in 1st place in the Northern Division of the Carolina League and headed for the playoffs. The Carolina Mudcats came in in last place in the Southern Division with an E next to their name in the standings. So the game didn't mean much and nobody was playing like their lives depended on it. In the two double plays above the reason there isn't a picture with the runner sliding in is because both came in slow and not particularly interested in trying to break up the play. Still, neither side was giving it away either. The very first picture above is Elih Marrero trying to stretch a double into a triple and being tagged out because of excellent defensive play by the Mudcats. It may also be my best picture of the year so far. Thanks guys.

In the bottom of the 6th Salem took the lead with its single scoring drive when Triston Casas hit a homer scoring himself and the two runners on base. It was his first homerun as a Red Sox and it was a great time to get it. Those three points proved sufficient to win the game. The Mudcats didn't give up. They pushed one across in the top of the 7th and had men on second and third when their last batter grounded out to first. They fought to the end.

In the end, it was a good game, the people working the stadium and the people sitting near me were great, and the stadium sucked great big gobs of greasy grimy gophers guts. Y'all need to find a way to provide shade if you're going to have day games.

Sunday, September 1, 2019

A Tale of Two 4th Place Teams at Season End


Click on Picture to Enlarge
1st Pitch
Fun & Games before the Game

You'll go run around the field and I'll stay here all day.







It was a hot day two days before the season ended and both teams had and "E" next to their names on the GB part of the standings. The game started at 3pm and about 1,300 people were in attendance as the second worst logo in the Carolina League hosted the worst logo in the Carolina League (Lynchburg Hillcats v. Winston-Salem Dash).

Honestly, I was surprised at how many people showed up. The crowd was decent for the hot Sunday- particularly considering that football has started back up and it is so easy sit at home and be a football zombie. The people working at the stadium were working hard to make it a good experience. If you sat in one of the places where there was no shade they would come out and make sure you knew that you could go to the reserved seats and sit in the shade. In other words, I could have bought a general admission ticket and sat in the reserved area anyway - not that I sat in my reserved section seat anyway. I went around the first and third base sides where I could get a seat outside the netting and get a good view of the game. There's not really a bad seat in the park; there's just some without shade.

As for the game itself, the high point was probably before the game started when the Dash sent a kid out to exchange lineups and meat with the umps and his teammates were razzing him the entire time he was out there. The first few innings were pretty solid, but the Hillcats absolutely self destructed in the 4th with runs allowed on a wild pitch and an errant throw by the catcher to try to get a batter stealing second. After that, the Lynchburg team seemed to check out while Winston-Salem kept playing. In the end the Hillcats lost 3-10.

Tomorrow I'm going to Salem to watch the first place Salem Red Sox play their last regular season game of the year.