The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts on March 8, 1985 · 46
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The Boston Globe from Boston, Massachusetts · 46

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Boston, Massachusetts
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Friday, March 8, 1985
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46
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46 THE BOSTON GLOBE FRIDAY. MARCH 8. 1985 J HA I Mi 3 fe. SporTViewf JACK CRAIG OH 0ASX3ALLIPETC2 GAttttCaS I H I II v-i III if J Major league hangup? The idea that no one has a clue as to the future of sports on cable was reinforced In spades last week when Sports Time announced it would close down March 31 . It operated for one year. Sports Time, with offices in Cincinnati and St. Louis, supposedly had it all when it began operating last April and telecast Cardinals, Royals. Reds and Indians baseball games to 1 1 Midwest states on a pay cable channel. It had been well-funded and co-founded by Anheuser-. Busch, along with Tele-Communications Inc. and Multimedia, operators of two of the nation's r largest and most successful multiple cable systems. Sports Time lured top-notch talent from the networks in New York and planned its schedule and marketing for nine months before going on-the air at the start of the 1984 baseball season. As it turned out, Sports Time may have had it all - except subscribers. The channel said last - April that it needed 200,000 subscribers at $10 a month to break even. When it went belly up last week, it had 42,000. Sports Time's fundamental premise proved faulty. Very few baseball fans in Missouri were willing to pay to watch the Reds and Indians, . and the same was true in Ohio for Cardinals and Royals games. Viewers in other states such as Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky cared even less. In recognition of this. Sports Time had considered carrying only Royals and Cardinals games this season and showing them only in Missouri and bordering states. But after it was concluded that this would only shrink losses, not generate a profit, the plug was pulled. Sports Time encountered problems from the outset from many local cable systems that refused to make the pay channel available to their subscribers. "What's in it for us?" systems operators asked, similar to the attitude of Cablevi-sion of Boston, which is holding firm against picking up NESN, the Red Sox-Bruins pay channel. The specter of superstations also loomed over Sports Time's goal. Why pay $10 a month to get 200 games from Sports Time if you can get up to 500 contests from superstations for much cheaper basic rate cable prices? Add network and local TV games and Sports Time was trying to carry coal to Newcastle. Dantia Quirk, editor of the highly respected -"Cablesports" publication, thinks Sports Time's failure is also a prime example of the "shadow of the stadium" concept, which states that pay cable subscriber lists diminish in relation to the viewers distance from the ballpark. Using the most successful pay cable channel, r PRISM of Philadelphia, as her guide, Quirk reports that 44 percent of PRISM subscribers live within 35 miles of Veterans Stadium and the Spectrum, 20 percent live up to 50 miles away, only 7 percent live beyond 75 miles. These numbers are directly opposed to one of pay cable's original beliefs that longer distances from the action produce more pay cable fans because it's their only way to view a game. Sports Time's failure was signaled last October when it began to offer itself as part of the basic service to many local systems in an effort to recoup revenue through advertising denied to it on pay cable. A combination of free and pay cable is almost impossible to market, and with St. Louis as its biggest market (just 18th largest nationally), there was even less chance for' Sports Time to sell ads. Sports Time will fulfill scheduled college programming commitments before going black March 31, just in time to avoid paying 1985 LARRY JOHNSON ILLUSTRATIONS baseball rights fees of $1 million each to the Cardinals and Royals for their scheduled 62 and 50 telecasts, respectively. A much smaller closeout fee will now be paid to those teams. Those two teams, plus the Indians and Reds, received a combined $3.3 million from Sports Time last year, part of the $5 million the channel paid in rights fees for all of its events, notably ' college games, during its single non-baseball sea-, son. Sports Time's announcement occurred less . than a month after the shutdown of Sports Vue, the Wisconsin pay cable channel that carried Brewers and Bucks games. This deficit operation was subsidized by the teams and was cited by s Bucks owner Jim Fitzgerald in his announcement of intentions to sell the team.Even the Yankees, located in the mecca of television revenue, are cutting back their SportsChannel pay cable schedule this season. Their 15-year deal, reportedly worth $75 million, called for the Yankees to go from 40 games on SportsChannel in New York in 1984 to 100 this year. But New York City's failure to wire the four boroughs outside of ' Manhattan led SportsChannel to persaude the team to show just 40 games' again this season, and anticipated revenue was renegotiated downward. A 100-game SportsChannel schedule is now planned for 1987. , Was it a coincidence that one day after Sports Time's announcement, Lee MacPhait, representing baseball owners, surprised everyone and shocked some by stating that the teams were willing to open their books a bit to prove how poor they are? In the face of increasing evidence, do the baseball moguls finally recognize that pay cable :is not the money tree that, once in place, will ;grow and grow? The common thread in pay cable failures, sports and otherwise, has been the abrupt way those failures occur. CBS, ABC, Westinghouse, Time Inc., and even cable veteran Ted Turner have spoken of absorbing startup losses for a few years before turning a profit. But after realizing the potential was as bleak as the reality, they've gone black overnight. Surveying the problems with agents Players Assn. plays hardball with some money managers It 1 l -VIE To: All Individuals Representing Players . From: Donald M. Fehr Date: January 21, 1984 . Re: Questionnaire At the December, 1984 meeting oj the MLBPA's Executive Board, the Board discussed the relationship between agents and players. As a result of that discussion, we have been directed to survey the agents on a variety of subjects with respect to their relationship with players. Some of the areas of concern include player-agent contracts; the range of services performed; and the background and qualifications of agents. Accordingly, a questionnaire will be forthcoming in the next several weeks seeking information in these areas. We would like anyone who feels that responding to suh a questionnaire would be inappropriate to call the office and discuss the matter with Mark (Belanger) or me. TAMPA, Fla. - Don Fehr is the director of the Major League Baseball Players Assn., and he and the man he succeeded, Marvin Miller, talked years ago of the spiraling, revolutionary big business of baseball players - and their brokers. Then about eight months ago the Association's Executive Board began raising concerns about the horror stories of the mismanagement and " outright theft of the piles of money that fell into the. hands of people who five and six years ago were making $500 a month in places like Quad Cities and Midland. During the World Series, Tigers first baseman Dave Bergman told reporters that because of investments with a Phoenix "investment manager" named Howard Golub, he had been "$72,000 in the hole and I didn't really come out of that mess until this past June ... I put all of my money with one guy (Golub) to make investments for me and he mismanaged the money and wound up owing a ton. So did Art Howe. Artie nearly had to sell his house because he was in the same deal as I was." "A number of bad situations have developed," said Fehr. "There are shopping center deals that fall apart. Restaurants that go south. Instances where agents mix their finances with the players'. Insurance deals where the agent was getting the agent's and insurance broker's fees. Questionable tax shelters where four, five and six years later all the player is left with is tax liability while the agent has his fees and is often gone. " We now have a spate of agents suing players (and vice-versa). We even had one case where a player (Steve Carlton) charges that his former agent (David Landfield, a former bit player in 'Beach Blanket Bingo') took money from the player whenever he needed capital. We found an agreement between a player and an agent where the agent was allowed to trade the player to another agent. We had another recent case where the entire, sizable signing bonus the player received went to the agent. . "Compared to 1977-78-79, the magnitude of the problem is much greater because, obviously, the money is so much greater. (The average salary in 1978 was $99,876; in 1985 it will be more than $350,000). It has become the subject of considerable clubhouse conversation, and now the players want to do something about it." . Let's face it, the players are easy prey for the sharks. They are signing multi-million dollar packages at 23 years old, at 28 years old. They hear people promising them that they can turn a million into millions. "They also," said former pitcher John Curtis, "appeal to the strongest center of greed In man - the thought that he can get around paying the taxes he's due." Problem is, the Reagan Administration has eliminated a lot of the flim-flam tax shelters. Ask Curtis. The IRS notified him that he owed nearly a quarter-million dollars, a fine retirement gift, : courtesy of his trusty investment counselor. "Players don't want to admit what's happened publicly," said Curtis, "but I'll bet the percentage of players just now starting to be hit for back . taxes because of tax shelters is staggering." One agent privately says that the Players Assn. is reviewing cases involing nearly 20 players who have been hit with between $600,000 and $1 million apiece in back taxes, interest and penalties. The Mets have taken over the finances of George Foster; he earns nearly $2 million a year but disastrous investments have left him financially crippled, so crippled that he told one of his former investment counselors he was too embarrassed to show him his files. But because Foster is a decent man, his agent (Tom Reich) is both highly reputable and had nothing to do with the misguided investments, and Mets bosses Frank Cashen and Nelson . Doubleday care about their player, they have tried to bail him out. Cardinals pitcher Bob Forsch sued agent LaRue Harcourt, who got himself personally involved with his players' investments in an airline and a piece of desert he thought was going to be the site of an airport, among other creative schemes. Then there was the suit against Toronto star pitcher Dave Stieb by agentformer pitcher Dave Lemanczyk for breach of contract when Stieb de- cided to do his own contract. Tony Armas is being sued by his former agent, Tino Barzi; Barzi negotiated Armas' current contract but then sold his clients to a Texas agency. (When lawyer Ray Burgess called Marvin Miller, told him he'd bought the client list from Barzi and asked what he should do, Miller told him, "Stop payment on the check." Armas didn't think that he was getting all the services he was paying for. "It has all happened in such a short period of time that it has all jumped out at the players," said Fehr. So, when they get time amid the negotiations on a new Basic Agreement, the officials of the ' Players Assn. will send out their questionnaire to all agents and players. Within a year they will have all the Information for the players. "After we take a further look at it," said Fehr, "the players will know whether or not they want to move down the road to registration." You can be certain that some form of registration will be required. You can also be pretty certain that the players will take some of their war chest and enlist financial experts to review "investment managers" and insurance brokers so that the hustlers can be weeded out from the accredited, respected companies like Ron Shapiro's PMA in Baltimore, Jack Sands' Sports Advisors in Boston and several others. Marvin Miller and Don Fehr, contrary to owner propaganda', never brainwashed the players. They do what the players want, and now that the players realize that millions of dollars are being syphened off by absurd fee agreements and hucksters selling Everglades oceanfront property or land in the desert, they are planning to do something about it. And the owners should be happy that the Executive Board has come to realize what Miller and Fehr realized long ago. All the Players Assn. wants is for its often-naive constituency to be protected, and Fehr is saying that if they clean up the ripoff artists, medicine men and bloodsuckers, the players will make more, the owners , will keep more, and the game can only benefit. "That," Fehr said, "is what this is all about." They're getting beat before Opening Day n DUD COLLINS From The Globe's foreign correspondents in darkest Winter Haven, Fla., come encouraging reports. Good. This is what we want, need and expect at this time of year. After all, did the newspapermen accompanying Custer, Rommel and the Shah write of impending disaster? Of course not. There is always plenty of time for obituaries. Why shouldn't spring hopes eternally surface at the baseball camps? Is it a sin to titillate those left behind on the , home firont, to stimulate civillanse- ,Fy winter Into feeling that this could be the year their troops make the breakthrough and capture The Gonfalon? No. It is only humane ... for a ' while. This doesn't mean that our correspondents, sharing the hazards of possible sunstroke and boobytrapped barrooms with Our Olde Towne Team, are propagandists bent on winning the hearts and minds of New Englanders on behalf of the Fenway expeditionary force. Hardly. But you ought to consider this: Spring training is Just that for baseball correspondents too, a renewal, an unlimbering, a shaping-up for the long, arduous and - with a few exceptions - abysmal campaign ahead. Can we expect a writer to throw curves Immediately, to hit zingers in the early weeks, to go high and inside if it's' only practice, or produce the best stuff when it really doesn't count? Not a veteran scribe, anyway. A veteran, who has seen many spring phenoms disintegrate by the first western trip - kid Journalists using all their verbs in May -. paces himsell Yn Florida, California and Arizona. He accepts that the players (young, rich and strong) are ahead of the correspondents at this stage of the campaign, and polishes his phrases gently and caringly, beginning a gradual ascent so that he peaks at the autumnal climax, the World Series. The veteran realizes, though, that he'll outlast the field general and the current troops, and it won't hurt to treat them charitably for the time being. It's spring training: The readers also are getting into shape and don't want anything too heavy yet either. Their illusions will pull up lame soon enough. So the veteran correspondent brings himself along carefully, works the kinks out of his adjectives, doesn't throw away too many syllables, or leave i his game in Winter Haven. He knows from experience that early objectivity-: negativism - depends on who's defining! - can burp a guy out before the season's over. Thyjreteran may be hardened, but . he isn't heartless enough to reveal dur ing Grapefruit League play that the team reeks. The odor will cause him and the partisans to gasp and turn up noses in due time. t Burnout is always a factor the veteran reporter can't ignore. It may haunt him, but won't daunt him because he has come through more big league crusades than a face-lifted groupie. Not unscathed, but still functioning, still on the scene after thousands of bodies have been shipped out, Nevertheless, the veteran Is aware of the words of the old boxing promoter, Sam Silverman ("Sportswriters get punched out Just like fighters"), and senses the day will come when he gets caught with his participle dangling, and is issued a one-way ticket to the minors. - Not yet though. But it's something to think about. No designated hitters or relievers for the veteran word processor jockey, so he'll have to go the distance: 162 games plus exhibitions, playoffs and foe World Series. Imagine what that means? How many words, saloons, airplanes, hotel rooms and packings and re-packings are stretched across a transcontinental campaign? Can you doubt that spring training is a time for the veteran to take it easy on his two typing fingers and one liver? By August, all three will be shot. But he'll carry on as gamely as Francois Doigt de Beurre, a 15th-century French reporter who wrote of Joan of Arc, "She handled the hot corner better than anybody I ever covered." -. This Isn't a plea for sympathy for baseball correspondents, but only a request for understanding, as our representatives on the Red Sox firing line In Polk County and colleagues in the Grapefruit trenches everywhere begin pecking their way through the minefields from here to October. Sure, it beats toiling for a living, but don't forget they have to witness countless atrocities committed In the name of the game. It can drive you to drink, so they deserve the more leisurely pace of ipring training where you n frequently walk to It.

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