Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Shadowy Phillies Owners Profiled In Philadelphia Magazine — Not Exactly The Feel-Good Read Of The Summer

Kudos to Philadelphia Magazine for the insightful article in their June issue about the phantom owners of the Philadelphia Phillies.

A few excerpts.
The conventional wisdom about the Phillies owners is wrong. The source of their continuing failure isn’t that the baseball team is run too much like a business — it’s the reverse.

In the Phillies boardroom, the mantra isn’t “You’re fired!” — it’s “We’ll get ’em next year, fellas.” “Play it safe” has replaced “Play ball!” as the rallying cry. The Phillies’ front office is a place where jobs last forever, everyone’s chummy, and no one is held accountable, starting with the owners themselves, who refuse to talk to the media or to accept responsibility for failing to bring home a single championship during their 26-year reign.

At best, they’re cowardly. What’s more, they’re violating the civic pact you make when you buy a professional baseball team, and the quasi-public trust you create when you ask the city and state for $260 million in funding to build your new ballpark.
One of Team President Dave Montgomery’s main responsibilities is to reflect criticism and blame away from the ownership group and to keep them safely in the shadows.
Asked if he's made a conscious decision to be less outspoken than [Bill] Giles, his predecessor, Montgomery says, “I just believe the organization needs an image that's not directly tied to wins and losses.”

Dave Montgomery is a mild-mannered guy, but it’s hard to imagine a more radical statement. After all, what we’re talking about here isn’t your kid’s tee-ball league or your niece’s Division III volleyball program. This is professional sports, where athletes are paid tens of millions of dollars to perform, and where loyal fans invest their time, money and passion in a team with one singular hope: to see them become champions. If this isn’t about wins and losses, then what exactly is it about?

That attitude — winning would be nice — has infected the Phillies organization for decades now. And it trickles down from the very top, from the owners themselves.
[…]
The front-office turnover rate is amazingly low, despite tales of incompetent employees who appear to get pass after pass. “It’s a very collegial, friendly culture, and sometimes you need a bit of the other kind of medicine,” says a source close to the team. “It’s not a place where a general manager has a bad four-year run and you know he’s going to get fired.”

That's a nod to Ed Wade, who may be Exhibit A when it comes to the organization’s lack of accountability.
These owners purchased the team in 1981 for $30 million. The franchise is now worth $481 million. That's a 1,600% return on their investment.

And then an excerpt contrasting the Phillies owners with those of the Red Sox.
But think of where the Phillies could be today if the owners treated it less like a hobby and more like a Fortune 500 company. The proof lies in Boston, where the Yawkey family spent 68 years running the Red Sox with the same lack of courage and vision that the Phillies’ owners possess.

In 2002, three successful businessmen with baseball-ownership experience bought the team, and in just five years, they’ve become a dynasty — and not just on the field. Owning 80 percent of Boston’s regional sports network helped, but so did an aggressive marketing plan that made Red Sox Nation a global brand (did anyone even use that phrase before 2002?), as did investing in the real estate surrounding Fenway Park.

What did the Phillies do in that time? In exchange for public aid for Citizens Bank Park, they let themselves get bullied into the safest, most economically limited location for it, at the deserted tip of South Philadelphia.
The Phillies do good by their community, but do not prioritize winning.
By contrast, the Phillies are best known as the team that every charity, local business and City Hall wants to work with. Each week, it seems, the team sponsors another civic good deed, from green initiatives backed by Michael Nutter to Wiffle ball games for underprivileged kids. Chummy chamber of commerce parties and friendships with the Mayor and the MLB commissioner don’t lead to championships, though.

Since the Phillies moved into Citizens Bank Park, their payroll is finally competitive, but in baseball, the only major sport without a salary cap, that only looks good in comparison to decades of woeful under-spending.

When you buy a team in Philadelphia, there’s a pact that comes with the perks — especially when you’re handed more than a quarter-billion in city and state assistance to build your new home, complete with an owners’ box high above the third-base line, where losses are much easier to handle. Montgomery and his decades-long friends in the front office and the Phantom Five are playing with some serious house money. It belongs to the tax-paying, seat-buying, jersey-wearing fans. Accountability to them is long overdue.
Which is then followed by a fairly disheartening close.
The Phillies were selling NL East Championship hats and tees as fast as they could make them last fall, but months later, they rewarded All Star Cole Hamels with a paltry $100,000 raise, and strong-armed Ryan Howard into arbitration that they lost. In an eyeblink, fan optimism gave way to portentous nightmares of Howard jacking home runs in a Red Sox jersey and Hamels no-hitting for the Yankees in the next few years. Who will be held accountable if this team is a shell of itself by 2012?

The answer is, no one. If you stop buying tickets, they’ll simply lower the payroll. If the Phillies fall into the MLB cellar, the league’s revenue-sharing plan will keep them afloat. If a newspaper columnist or sports-radio provocateur leads a campaign against them, Gentleman Dave will take the heat, smiling all along, while the owners he protects stay silent, hoping everyone will focus on something besides wins and losses and a 1,600 percent increase in the value of the team since they bought it. That’s the way the business of baseball is done in this town.

Dare to dream of the day when change will come, Phillies fans. But as always, don’t get your hopes up.
Note: Dave Montgomery is alright. He is not the problem. After all, it's admirable for the franchise to aspire to contribute to the city and the region in ways other than simply winning games. But being a good and responsible corporate citizen certainly should not preclude the team from winning. In fact, the two should go hand in hand, rather than one or the other.

The owners on the other hand, aside from John Middleton and Bill Giles, appear to be completely and utterly worthless.

And evidently there is absolutely nothing that can be done about it.

Just one more example of why owning a professional sports team is the best racket anyone could ever ask for.

Related:
The Phantom Five - The Phillies' (very) silent owners [ Philadelphia Magazine ]
Phillies might not want to play as players' salaries escalate [ Philadelphia Daily News ]
Ed Snider will leave when Ed Snider says [ Philadelphia Daily News ]

1 comment:

urbnexus said...

Yep. Pretty insightful alright.