Baseball "A Mess" and Needs Fix, Former Mariners Owner Tells DePauw Class

Baseball "A Mess" and Needs Fix, Former Mariners Owner Tells DePauw Class

January 22, 2002

January 22, 2002, Greencastle, Ind. - Major league baseball is considering contracting, or dropping teams, to improve its fiscal health, but Jeff Smulyan thinks that's the wrong medicine for the game's ills. Smulyan, chairman of the board of Emmis Communications Corporation, owned the Seattle Mariners from 1989 to 1992 and spoke this afternoon to David Bohmer's Winter Term class on Baseball as History and Literature.

Smulyan firmly believes baseball owners and its players union must take joint responsibility for fixing what he calls "a mess." As he advocated while manning the Mariners, Smulyan says owners must agree to a profit sharing plan, so that the revenue gap between big and small-market teams is narrowed. Video Link [DOWNLOAD VIDEO: "Can't Continue" 400KB] Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Can't Continue" 191KB] "And then I would say to the union, 'this is the plan and we've now gotten our house in order so you can take this or we're not gonna play baseball until you do, 'cause the game cannot continue this way," Smulyan told the DePauw students.

Video Link [DOWNLOAD VIDEO: "Leveling the Field" 700KB] The broadcasting magnate says, under the current arrangement, 95 percent of major league baseball teams don't make a profit, nor do they have a chance of ever making a profit. Football and basketball, which do have profit-sharing agreements, don't have the same impact on bottom lines and fan attitudes. Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Sports=Hope" 765KB] "Sports is nothing but hope," Smulyan explained. "I'm a Pacer fan and a Colts fan and we had a horrible year with the Colts this year, but... I just heard driving over that Tony Dungy is the new coach. So I'm real happy... I've got hope. But if I knew that no matterwhat Tony Dungy did that the Colts were never going to win more than five games, why would I care? ... The fact is that I think we have a chance to win every time we play. But if I lived in a lot of these (baseball_ cities, and I saw it first hand in Seattle. If you don't win and you don't get a miracle and win and turn things around, you're a loser for 40 years," Smulyan said of small-market teams, adding "the bottom ten teams going to have trouble ever competing."

Smulyan says the leadership of the players union is engaged in a "holy war" against thee owners and would take 100% of each team's revenue if it could. Big-market owners, who can negotiate much larger TV and marketing packages than their smaller colleagues wind up with more money to spend on players, and don't fancy the notion of giving up that money and clout in a profit-sharing arrangement. Smulyan says even if the union and the owners agreed to change, Video Link [DOWNLOAD VIDEO: "Fabric of the Game" 621KB] Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Fabric of the Game" 304KB] "my guess is you wouldn't play baseball for a year or two, and that would be awful and I know no one wants to hear that... but until you change the dynamics... unless you like the situation where the Yankees are almost guaranteed of being in it every year, and George (Steinbrenner, Yankees' owner) likes that situation, I don't blame him. But I think it does a lot to harm the fabric of the game." Smulyan continued, Video Link [DOWNLOAD VIDEO: "Worst Sign" 473KB] "the worst sign I see for baseball is Detroit in the second year of a new ballpark drawing 15,000 people... it's falling further and further away."

Despite his gloomy assessment of the state of the game and the challenges ahead, Smulyan told the class, "I'm an optimist... I think they'll solve it." He also won't rule out a return to baseball ownership someday, although he says, it wouldn't take place until the financial playing field is more level. Smulyan says it's always been his dream to bring a major league team in his hometown of Indianapolis, something he says he considered a few years after selling the Mariners. Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Indianapolis Baseball" 834KB] He puts the odds of Indy getting a pro baseball team at "100 to one," due to its smaller market status and lack of a large corporate base to draw from. (BONUS CLIP-- Smulyan on cities building new stadiums for their teams: Audio Link[DOWNLOAD AUDIO: "Stadiums" 705KB])

Jeff Smulyan's company, Emmis Communications (NASDAQ:EMMS) is an Indianapolis-based, diversified media firm with 20 FM and three AM radio stations that serve the nation's largest markets of New York, Los Angeles and Chicago aswell as Phoenix, Denver, St. Louis, Indianapolis and Terre Haute. In addition, Emmis owns two radio networks, 15 television stations, regional and specialty magazines, and ancillary businesses in broadcast sales, publishing and interactive products.

Jeff Smulyan has received a myriad of honors for his work, his vision and his community service. On Oct. 5 at DePauw, he was presented with the Robert C. McDermond Medal for Excellence in Entrepreneurship (seen at right). In 2000 alone, Smulyan was honored with the American Women in Radio and Television's Silver Satellite Award, the National Association of Broadcaster's National Radio Award, and as Radio Ink's "Radio Executive of the Year". Other honors include the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation's Breath of Life Award; the Jewish National Fund's Tree of Life Award, the Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Ernst and Young, the Leukemia Society Diamond of Hope Award, and has been inducted into the Indiana Business Hall of Fame. In 1994 he was named by the White House to head the U.S. delegation to the Plenipotentiary Conference of the International Telecommunications Union. As a United States Ambassador, He represented America in various bilateral meetings, negotiating a landmark agreement between Israel and the PLO.