Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Difference Between Baseball and Football

In the NFL, everyone insists that the commissioner works very hard. In baseball, nobody can do that with a straight face.

When Bowie Kuhn was fired as baseball commish, yours truly wrote a Phoenix column proposing my own candidacy for the position. It was meant to be humorous. In the event, however, I would have been a FAR better choice than the dignitary the owners hired instead, Peter Ueberroth. My platform for the office was a firm promise to do nothing and plenty of it. Never having heard the fable of King Log and King Stork, the owners went along with Ueberroth's collusion scheme on free agency, which wound up costing them a cool $3 billion in damages.

NFL commissioner Paul Tagiliabue is retiring after a most successful 18 year tenure. The old football saying is "don't replace the legend, replace the guy who replaced the legend." Tagliabue defied that maxim, succeeding Pete Rozelle, and making pro football even more profitable and, most important, peaceful than his sainted predecessor. The owners are preparing to vote on Tagliabue's replacement. Hard work the job may be. Nevertheless, I am again a candidate for office. If elected, I will serve.

If Bob Kraft and Gene Upshaw agree a job is difficult, it is. But close examination of Tagliabue's tenure and what the owners say they're looking for in his successor gives me hope. Let me put it this way. I couldn't do worse than rumored candidate Condi Rice, and would come to the job without any lost wars on my resume.

The first and most important task for the NFL commish is to keep the TV money tap flowing in an ever-wider stream. Since the networks lose money on the NFL, this looks difficult, but is actually not. Tagliabue didn't mess with the formula created by Rozelle when he invented Monday Night Football, and neither will I.

The NFL delivers a guaranteed audience. Monday Night on ABC was not what it once was, but still ranked in the Neilsen Top Ten. At any given moment, one of the four major networks will be sunk in the cellar producing a prime time schedule nobody watches. When the time comes for renewing pro football's TV package, that network will overbid wildly for the privilege of having one show with a pulse. Thus, less than a decade after walking away from the NFL in high dudgeon, NBC is back this fall with Sunday Night Football. Simple, no?

The owners have stated they'd like an owner who could expand the NFL internationally and in "new media", i.e., the Internet. And if his tears could cure cancer, that would be nice, too. Pro football is to the rest of the world as soccer is to the US. Folks tune into the Super Bowl (World Cup) to see what the fuss is all about, have a good time, then forget the sport until the next one rolls around. So despite the road trip benefits, the Bills won't be moving from Buffalo to Paris anytime soon. As for the web, well, if anyone figures out how to get folks to pay f0r Internet information, they shouldn't bother with the NFL, but should immediately run for dictator of Planet Earth.

The NFL wants more money? Fine. Here's an idea, an easy one, too. How about moving a team to LA? What with it being the second biggest city in the country and all, that might help the old balance sheet. All the commish needs to do is wring his hands helplessly when some rat bastard greedhead mogul abandons his home town for the City of Angels. I could do that.

So what does make the commissioner's job a hard one? That would the people who hired him, Alex. The 32 NFL franchise owners are not dummies by a long shot. They're all fabulously wealthy however, and wealth makes people willful. Also crazy. Owners are determined to get their way, no matter how demented that way might be.

For every nice quiet billionaire like Paul Allen of the Seahawks or Bill Ford of the Lions, the commissioner is confronted by an Al Davis, a Georgia Frontiere, a Dan Snyder. He must treat these beauties with respect, even deference, when in real life, he'd change subway cars if they sat down next to him.

That's not easy. Upshaw summarized the commissioner's job to the New York Times as "all politics." It is, too. American politicians spend all their time listening to rich people bitch, then asking them for money. In that sense, the commissioner's job is a little easier. He listens to rich people bitch, then helps make more money, a much ore satisfactory exchange.

As it happens, I do a superb job of listening to rich people bitch. The trick is, don't listen. Running the NFL is no chore for a dreamer. A daydreamer, however, is just the man it needs.


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