THE POLITICS OF SPORTS BUSINESS
It was not a good week for two Texas moneymen whose portfolios included separate ownerships of sports teams and a piece of the ownership of Clear Channel, a radio syndicator and outdoor advertising company. Thomas O. Hicks' Hicks Sports Group hit the financial skids sometime after the economic meltdown in September 2008. Hicks purchased the Texas Rangers along with the lease at the team's Arlington stadium and land that surrounds the park from a group that included then Texas Governor George W. Bush for a reported $250 million in 1998. The Hicks Sports Group started when he purchased the NHL's Dallas Stars in 1995 for a reported $82 million. In 2007, Hicks along with then-Montreal Canadiens owner George Gillett bought Liverpool FC in the English Premiership for about $430 million.
Hicks was finally relieved of his baseball team last week. Liverpool backers are hoping for the same outcome. In 2007, this reporter while in the U.K. spoke to some Liverpool fans and they said they feared Hicks and his partners would Americanize English football bringing with them luxury boxes and club seats. They did and local football supporters have rued the day that Hicks got the team. The hockey team has drawn some interest but the problem according to some in the know is that Hicks did everything right in Dallas but the team is a money loser.
Meanwhile one of Clear Channel board members, Red McCombs found out last week he may owe the Internal Revenue Service $45 million. McCombs was one of the founders of Clear Channel in 1972 when it was just WOAI radio in San Antonio and ended up owning the ABA/NBA's San Antonio Spurs, the NBA's Denver Nuggets and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings. McCombs sold the Vikings in 2002 after failing to get the Minnesota legislature to spend money on a new football facility in Minneapolis.
The Hicks Sports Group became an awful investment. In April 2009, Hicks defaulted on $525 million in loans when interest payments were missed. The Rangers franchise declared bankruptcy in May 2010 in an "effort" to speed up the process to get a deal to sell the franchise to a group led by former Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh investor Chuck Greenberg on track. The sale of the Rangers ended up in a bankruptcy court last week with the Ryan/Greenberg group battling Mark Cuban and his partner Jim Crane for the franchise.
Ryan and Greenberg group was the highest bidder for the team.
It is interesting to note that while Clear Channel's Rush Limbaugh was again playing the role of whatever is required of Limbaugh to make people notice him and hold attention between commercials that promise to pay off debt and push erectile dysfunctional remedies, Limbaugh made no mention of Hicks problems or the allegations against McCombs. Limbaugh trotted out the same type of lines that got him in hot water while he worked as a football analyst with Disney's ESPN when he complained about Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb being protected by the media but this time applied it to First Lady Michelle Obama. Limbaugh quit ESPN on October 1, 2003 three days after he said "McNabb was overrated because the media wanted to see a black quarterback succeed." Limbaugh took aim at the media (it must be hard for Limbaugh to figure out what the media is since he is not one of them nor did he every cover a story) because they were not criticizing Mrs. Obama's trip to Spain enough to meet the Limbaugh standard.
"As far as the media's concerned, Mrs. Obama deserves this. Look at the sordid past. Look at our slave past, look at the discriminatory past. It's only fair that people of color get their taste of the wealth of America too," he said on his Friday show.
Hicks was still part of Clear Channel in 2003 when the wrath of the NFL came down on Limbaugh. McCombs is still very much a part of Clear Channel. Silence is golden for Clear Channel executives when it comes to Limbaugh.
Limbaugh must be getting stale as he is recycling old thoughts instead of using that talent that was allegedly on loan from a higher authority. Limbaugh is heard locally on WABC in New York and WPHT in Philadelphia.
Hicks, as the Vice Chairman of Clear Channel, never stood in the way of Limbaugh's daily utterances. Limbaugh, the highly paid carnival barker, was putting a lot of money into Clear Channel's coffers or was he? Limbaugh was paid handsomely by Clear Channel but Clear Channel as a business which included Hicks and McCombs on the board was eight billion dollars in debt.
By all accounts, Hicks was a model owner with both the Rangers and Stars. He signed Alex Rodriguez to baseball's most lucrative contract ever in 2000. He literarily built a youth hockey program in Dallas by constructing ice rinks in the Metroplex while the hockey team became an NHL power. There will be players joining the NHL in years to come because of Hicks and his Stars President Jim Lites endeavors. Hicks was the 1996 co-chair of the "Dallas Jewish Coalition for the Homeless "Vogel Alcove" project, and received the 2000 "Henry Cohn Humanitarian Award" from the Anti-Defamation League.
Yet Hicks is one of the people who allowed Limbaugh and his tirades to fill up the airwaves on hundreds of stations nationally. To be fair, Clear Channel also employed Randi Rhodes who is just as distasteful from the liberal side. CBS (WFAN Radio in New York) and MSNBC fired Don Imus after some banal name calling about the Rutgers women's basketball team. It is hard to tell why someone gets fired for saying something stupid while others get suspended and others skate free. Limbaugh is the darling of the media in that he knows how to get attention and probably still has a sizeable portion of listeners while Imus was fading in the ratings. The question of why anybody takes any of these people seriously needs to be examined. Drug addicts, gamblers, adulterers, political operatives and yes, even criminals set the political discussion and most of these people have no basis to command that type of respect. Yet Limbaugh is given credit as the head of the Republican party. Limbaugh is a genius that he has fooled so many esteemed journalists and politicians or the esteemed journalists and the politicians are not very smart and fall for the circus performer(s).
Talk radio on the AM dial has been a savior for some radio stations that could not compete with the FM dial and then satellite radio. But most of AM talk radio is inane conversation featuring babblers whose sole job is to inflame people and hold their attention between radio commercials.
Clear Channel stations and programming have had a desultory impact on society. The strategy of narrowly targeting an audience is nothing new in radio but the problem is that other media take radio talk show hosts seriously when most of them are just performers with no journalistic background and play the role of courtyard bullies. Ironically, the Clear Channel sprint to the top of the radio industry was made possible by one of Limbaugh's most frequent targets, Bill Clinton. In 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Telecommunications Act which allowed Clear Channel and Infinity to gobble up as many stations as they could. Before the 1996 legislation, a company could only have 14 AM and FM stations and only one AM and one FM per market. The two companies did buy and buy and buy but neither company has had financial success and the two companies have put thousands of professional disc jockeys, reporters and other radio staff out of work by consolidating operations. Infinity, CBS or whatever name that CBS is using these days corporately owns New York's two news stations, WINS and WCBS, and WFAN along with a number of FM stations including WCBS-FM.
In terms of profitability, neither Clear Channel nor Infinity has done well. In truth, the entire 1996 Telecommunications Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton, was a fiscal disaster for all except a few like Limbaugh.
The still financially struggling Clear Channel and the company's partner Premier Networks have Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Sean Hannity, Jim Rome, Ryan Seacrest, Bob & Tom, Delilah, Steve Harvey, Blair Garner, George Noory, John Boy and Billy, Big Tigger, Dr. Dean Edell, Elvis Duran, Jason Lewis, Randi Rhodes, Kane, Nikki Sixxon the roster and distribute FOX Sports Radio. Clearly, this is a company that only cares about selling commercials to numerous demographics more than content. Critics contended that Clear Channel was too close to the Bush Administration and pushed for support of the Iraq War. But the truth is, Clear Channel has no ideological agenda and just like Rupert Murdoch, the company was looking for a niche were they could get the most money from advertisers. There is one ideology in radio and TV.
Get as much money as possible in ad sales.
Hicks' baseball legacy will not get him into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown. Despite having Alex Rodriguez on the roster (and paying him $252 million to boot---some of ARod's money was deferred and may be in play in the aftermath of the bankruptcy), Texas was never a major player for a title. Hicks never developed the land around the Arlington baseball stadium while ARod was with Hicks' Rangers as planned. Part of the reason ARod signed with Hicks besides the money was that Hicks would develop the acreage around the stadium with ARod as his signature employee and possible spokesman. It never panned out.
Hicks' hockey team won the Stanley Cup in 1999 and he is reviled in Liverpool.
Hicks has left MLB and had Alex Rodriguez wondering about his back pay. Limbaugh and Beck never talk about the people who give them a platform. They should show they are more than just one dimension cartoon characters whose sole purpose is to fill time between selling your gold and sleep deprivation spots. But if they did, they might blow the cover on what radio talk shows are all about, no nothings who scream the loudest and call people names like schoolyard bullies.
It wasn't a good week for Hicks and McCombs, two people who are never in the spotlight but should never be ignored as they are the deciders of how we think and how we are entertained whether it is in sports or on the radio.