new money

So your favorite cable operator is going to take over control of your team. Is that good? Now of course, we all hate the type of monopoly that a company like Rogers represents. From the beginning, those that held the rights to broadcast and charge cable fees, had a license to print money. Or at least suck it right out of our pockets. These guys are the new robber barons, but instead of needing a California in which to send passengers and goods along the rails, they need sports teams to fill their channels with content. With the internet and cell phones added into the mix, a billion and change is going to loop back upon itself in a hurry. So it’s definitely good for them. And in the sense that it is such an easy equation, it is likely good for us as fans, in that our team will not be beholden to formulas ensuring a safe financial return before wins and losses are ever considered. Losing will mean that the initial investment does not feed on itself as well. Winning will mean the returns just keep getting fatter. The dynamic in play is quite different in that sense, and welcome.

A Rogers ownership would mean something on an entirely different level in terms of financial interests. Over the last decade in this country, the top one percent in terms of wealth doubled their earnings. The teacher’s pension fund likely looked to tap into that as much as possible, and could do so with MLSE holdings, without ever having to be concerned about how teams performed. They only needed to know that seats could be sold, and that those profits could be converted to safe bets in real estate or whatever. Eventually, they would look for the best time to sell altogether. It’s about the money, and keeping it piling up reliably. Rogers does not have the same concerns. Remember that they basically have that license to print money. They do not need to look for safe bets to invest in. They need to find the content that will make their fountain of coins resemble a mushroom cloud. Over the last decade the top .1 percent of wealth has increased their earnings four-fold, and the top .01 percent has increased their earnings by five times what they enjoyed previously. You have to think that “earnings” ends up being used very loosely. And that is not what Rogers is “tapping into” – that is the wave they are riding.

Now that hardly ensures a winning Raptors team. The cable money shoveled into the Knicks franchise is a testament to that. And another concern for myself, as a fan, would be how much of a priority basketball would represent alongside hockey, baseball and soccer. What if a lack of certainty over the necessity of acquiring a basketball team is part of what is holding up the transition? What if they end up looking at basketball as just an add-on that they might just as gladly see sold and moved to another locale? There’s your big possible downside. And for all the inherent safeness of MLSE, they did a nice job of keeping basketball operations separate and important in its own right. It would not be good if the Raptors just ended up being defined as a weaker sister in the Toronto sports fairy tale, remaining as long as they scrubbed the floors while the other mean fatties went to the ball. Ratings would mean as much as anything in that scenario, and it’s hard to say what that might mean. If this team is given an honest chance to become a winner, then there’s no foreseeable problem. It’s just a matter of whether that honest chance materializes, like a glass slipper, or is held off while the other teams hog all the attention. This is a media conglomerate we’re talking about, and the media hasn’t exactly put basketball front and center to this point. Hopefully the value to a niche market will be evident and they go from there, building a winner and becoming all that much more valuable to a wider market.

In any case, this news goes a long way to explain some of the odd behavior of Bryan Colangelo over the last year. Certainly, he can not be well-served by this process being ongoing. He has likely been biding his time more than anything, with any real moves having strings attached to them, and questions hanging overhead. He has not been all that autonomous a figure as much as he’s been a pitchman, and it would be nice to see a real return to the former ideal. As much as I’d like to be critical of him, it’s just not fair to do so until this thing gets finalized one way or another. I hope that happens soon. In the meantime I am looking forward to calling Rogers and spitting out “PROB-LEM with BASKET-BALL TEAM” to their speech recognition calling service. Hello? Yes – I was hoping that Andrea Bargnani could be traded, and if not, then I am really going to have to look at switching to Bell…

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