Perchance to Dream
that Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban is one of the potential buyers of the Chicago Cubs. As a baseball fan, I say fantastic.
Mark Cuban's not the world's most popular guy. He's arrogant. He's loud. He's obnoxious. He's pushy. And I like him.
Cuban has revived the Mavericks, turning the moribund franchise into a model NBA franchise. Yeah, he doesn't coach, but he signed off the Don Nelson play for the team. And Cuban's passed out the money necessary to make the players and staff happy. He wants to win. I think baseball needs more of that attitude.
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The Tribune Company has owned the Cubs since the 1980s. Sure, the team has made the playoffs a few times. And yes, the Cubs were only five outs from the 2004 World Series. But in reality, for most of the Tribune Company ownership, the Cubs have ranged from bad to mediocre.
And that hasn't mattered. The Cubs don't need to win to attract fans. People attend Cubs games for the cathedral that is Wrigley Field. And the Cubs attract fans on the road because, well, because they're the Cubs. The Cubs are always on TV. Transplanted Chicagoans live in virtually every city the Cubs visit, and they pack the park to see their Cubbies. The Cubs have always made money for the Tribune Company. Why complicate things by making a winning ballclub?
But here's the deal: what's good for the Cubs isn't necessarily what's best for baseball. The NFL owners learned long ago that the league is only as strong as its weakest franchise. In baseball, the weakest franchise is the Kansas City Royals. The league isn't very strong.
Yes, baseball does have a modified type salary cap. Teams that spend over a threshold amount in salaries pay a salary tax, with this money being distributed between the lower revenue-generating clubs. In other words, George Steinbrenner subsidizes David Glass in Kansas City. There is, however, no requirement that these low revenue clubs use this money on player salaries — there is no minimum amount which a team must use on salaries. Thus, David Glass, who made a fortune off of Wal-Mart, makes even more money by fielding lousy product, and he's got no incentive to improve his product.
That's why Mark Cuban is good for baseball. Cuban's not going to be content with the Cubs making money. Cuban's a fan. He wants his team to win. And he will spend money to see that it happens. And unlike Steinbrenner, who's been kind of quiet about this, I can't imagine Cuban being content to pay David Glass to sit on his ass. Cuban's going to make damn sure that at some point, David Glass has to use some of that money to try and improve the Royals.
And Cuban's aware of the math. The more money Glass spends the better the Royals become. The better that the Royals become the more people that attend the games. The more people that attend the Royals games the more revenue that is generated from tickets, food, beverage, and merchandise sales. And the better the Royals get the more money the team is able to generate from media rights until the Royals are no longer a low revenue club dependent on scraps from the Yankees.
The better the Royals get means the better that the Pirates should get. And the D-Rays. And the Pirates. And the Nationals. Which means that the revenue generated by each club increases. And the better these clubs get means that the other clubs will generate more revenue as more people will come to Minute Maid Park to see the Pirates and sold-out games will become more common. Thus the stronger the weakest club, the stronger the league.
But the main reason I want Cuban to buy the Cubs is that it will be fun. He drives David Stern nuts, and Stern is a far superior commissioner to Bud Selig. Just imagine what he'll do to Selig.
I already know that I won't like everything that Mark Cuban will try and do. I hate going to NBA games because it's not about the game now, it's about the experience. But I think the good will far outweigh the bad.
Besides, it'll give me another reason to root against the Cubs. The I-hate-them-because- they're-the-Cubs excuse just isn't cutting it anymore.
Postscript: One further thing. Making teams spend the money that they get from the Yankees or from a Cuban-owned Cubs won't necessarily make the teams better. There's nothing that will stop Tom Hicks from throwing money at Chan Ho Park, or the Rockies from spending millions on Denny Neagle. But if teams don't improve, don't make smart moves, then the revenue won't improve.
Yeah, I know, it's all just a pipe dream. But a man's gotta dream. — John Royal
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