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MOUNT ROYAL… I have just finished watching a couple of weeks of some of the best, purest baseball you will find anywhere on the planet. The Little League World Series has concluded this afternoon with international champion Japan besting the United States champion from Goodlettsville, TN, by a 12-2 score. This tilt concluded in the bottom of the fifth inning when the 10-run lead rule was invoked. The games were great folks; the stories off of the field of play were even better.
My favorite was the story of the team from Uganda. These young men come from a situation and standard of living almost unimaginable here. They actually won a spot in last year’s series only to be turned back due to age documentation and visa problems. They made it as far as Canada before the visa troubles forced them to go home without competing. Thanks to some compassionate adults, a team from Canada traveled to Uganda in January and they had a couple of games. Thanks to even more compassion in equipment donations and help to construct a decent playing facility, the Ugandan Little League is now one of the largest sources of pride for a nation that has had a nightmare of a recent past.
If you want to do some more reading on the remarkable group of players and adults behind the story here, get online and do it. You will be glad you did. One more piece of trivia: many of the players on the LLWS entrants befriend one another during the two weeks of the tourney. One such friendship has been between Japan’s pitcher Kotaro Kiyomiya and G-ville’s Brock Meyers. In a day and age where spoiled millionaire athlete- crybabies seem to rule the day, I had to fight back tears when Myers homered off of Kiyomiya and at the end of the handshake line of Myers’ teammates at home plate was… Kiyomiya! Talk about first class! If you have watched this tourney over the years, you know how great it is. If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?
By the way, Kiyomiya is listed on Japan’s roster at 6’0” and 206 lbs. And these are 12- and 13-year-old players. There were three other players in the tourney of a like size. Holy Wheaties, Batman! That reminded me of a few years back when in coaching a Mite game (7 and 8 yrs old), we played a team from Cloquet that had a young Native American lad playing defense who was bigger than me! Now, I’m not a big guy, 5’7” and a buck eighty five in my playing days, but this kid was big! In the post-game handshake line, I asked the opposing coach if I could see that kid’s driver’s license, and he laughed and said, “Hey, he won’t even show it to me!”
THE NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE has never had higher revenues in its entire history than it does right now. And the NHL has never appeared more financially unstable than it does right now. What is reality and what is fiction? Some of my research has found opinion that as many as 10 NHL clubs are big losers, financially speaking \It is also believed that another 10 are “break-even” clubs at best. That leaves 10 big market, big money clubs as the only possible financial success stories in the entire NHL. Okay, so how would you go about “fixing” this situation? In the last CBA go-around, the owners locked out the players, and the issue was their desire to achieve cost certainty, the owners’ terminology for a salary cap. And they eventually got that.
So, was the league on its way to financial security? Well, we know the answer to that now is that no, they weren’t. On top of that is the notion that their own fiscal irresponsibility is at the crux of their “alleged” problem. Did I just use the word “alleged”? Yes I did, and I’ll tell you why. Are these clubs really “fiscally irresponsible,” or just good businessmen taking advantage of the laws of the land? I am looking at this situation from a totally different angle than most folks would. Let’s posit that most team owners did not get wealthy from owning an NHL club. The vast majority of them, especially now, made their fortunes and then obtained membership into the “club.” These teams are either hobbies or play toys for these folks, in my opinion.
They will say to your face that they wouldn’t own a team unless they thought they could make money, or profit from it. However, most teams in just about all of the major sports run at annual deficits. Why? Because the ownership groups or individuals then get to reduce their tax liabilities in other areas of their financial lives. If I’m wrong, then why would the Isles’ owner, Charles Wang, who has lost an estimated $300 mil plus over his ownership, hang on to a loser like that? Easy—because it benefits him in other ways to do so. Or else he is the penultimate hockey maniac with way too much money to blow.
On top of that, although not on the scale of an NFL team, for instance, these teams for the most part have experienced vast gains in equity by owners holding onto them for many years, and when they do sell, the profits can be huge and are subject only to the minuscule capital gains tax. Mike Illitch bought the Red Wings in 1982 for $8 mil; today they are worth an estimated $336 mil. If he sold today, he would experience a $328 mil gross profit, minus the 15 percent gains tax. Yes, I’ll take that any day of the week, and so would you. And in the meantime, I will guaran-gol-dang-tee ya that the team lost money every year. Why? Because they wanted it to!
The evidence shows that in the pre-lockout season, the Wings had the fifth highest value of all NHL teams and posted a $16 mil dollar operating loss. So, NHL financial “crisis”: real or imagined? And if it’s real, how do you fix it? If it’s not, how do you call the owners’ bluff? More next week in the World Wide Duluth Reader Weekly! Until then… PEACE
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.