Tuesday, November 4, 2008

The Criminal Side of Ticket Sales

Whether it's Aussie rules football, hockey, rugby, cricket, Major League Baseball playoffs or of course, the Super Bowl, seems like someone, somewhere is scalping – or "touting" as the Brits say – tickets, earning a quick buck and depriving real fans of being able to get seats to big games.

Free market advocates love to tell us how the sale and resale (and resale and resale) of tickets at prices well beyond their face value is really a mechanism for determining the real value of the ticket. What they don't tell us is the adverse effect this has on sporting events as well as the general entertainment industry, including the proliferation of fraudulent operators who are often part of wider criminal operations.

The recent monumental study by the British Parliament (House of Commons Committee on Culture, Media and Sport) of well over 200 pages and dozens of interviews draws a gloomy picture indeed. The report clearly outlines how the resale of tickets at inflated prices puts them beyond the reaches of audiences for whom they were intended, including team supporters or fans who follow a particular artist.

Profits taken by the secondary market also have direct and indirect effects on the organizers and promoters of sports and entertainment events: they rarely see one penny of any of the resales of tickets, and real fans and supporters also then become discouraged from even trying to get tickets to major events in the future. Tickets become in this well-known scenario the purview of only the wealthy and connected.

And there are the counterfeiters…the latest victims were 500 Texas Tech football fans who were scammed this last weekend at perhaps $200 each, (that's a quick $100,000 of almost pure profit), depriving them of the opportunity to see their beloved Red Raiders beat for the first time in nine years hated rival Texas 39-33 in an unbelievable last-second finish.

While the free market advocates have an interesting theoretical argument regarding the most efficient way to allocate tickets, the fact is that many if not all college and professional sports teams are for the most part also public entities – they most often play in arenas and stadiums that are financed in part or in whole with your tax money and mine, and they almost always also enjoy other benefits granted to them through the public domain.

Many states in the US have simply thrown up their hands in despair as to what to do with regards to the secondary market, while many other countries are looking for new and innovative ways to deal with the problem. The growing criminal activity around the sale of tickets to major events only makes solutions to this issue more pressing.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Not Good Enough!

Let's not get all overwrought about the most-watched basketball game in history. The US won easily 101-70 thanks to great defense - Coach K has the American team pressuring college-style all over the court - and a weak Chinese backcourt.

On the other hand, it wasn't lost on anyone that the US shot 7-24 (29%) from 3 points and the Chinese were left open for threes and hit 4-6 in the first quarter and 7-15 for the first half, exposing again the seemingly eternal US weakness against the 3-point shot. Clog the middle and make the US shoot jumpers...don't have to be a genius to figure that one out.

The "Redeem Team" has an easy one against Angola on Tuesday, but nothing simple after that. And the Croatians - who shot 12-16 from 3-points in their 97-82 win over Australia (who lost to the US by 11 in pre-Olympic play), Russians, Lithuanians, Greeks, Argentines and espcially the Spanish have backcourts that can compete with the Americans, and these teams consistently shoot 40% and more from long range. The US shouldn't count their gold medals before they hatch.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The Bubble

Oh my, everyone is all excited about Atlanta's Josh Childress signing with Olympiakos of Athens. Hey, $20 million over 3 years (tax free? enjoy, enjoy!) isn't bad by anybody's standards, particularly for a perennial 6th man. And that's not all: Brandon Jennings, a non-qualifier for Division I from Oak Hill Academy, is headed to Virtus Roma, where he will undoubtedly spend a mandatory one year before heading back to the NBA.

In a recent column, Fox Sports' (and Tacoma's - say hi to Mom and Dad!) Mike Kahn wrote about the new west to east direction of international basketball, citing not only the examples of Childress and Jennings, but a number of other examples (Splitter, Delfino, Nachbar, Navarro, etc.). He makes an interesting point that the ridiculous amounts spent on superstars that strangle the NBA salary cap for mid-range players coupled with tight restrictions on young players under the cap's rules (not to metion the strong Euro/awful dollar) are creating a more attractive atmosphere in Europe for signing quality players.

Unfortunately, I'm not sure Mike's analysis translates into a lot more Josh Childres's heading over to Europe for a very simple reason: the money being provided for these big contracts are coming almost solely from a few individuals/oligarchs with some very specific teams - and I can count them on one hand: Oympiakos and Panathinaikos of Athens; CSKA Moscow and maybe Dynamo Moscow and Kimchi (suburb of Moscow). The funding for European's professional basketball teams for the most part still comes from corporate sponsors whose ability and desire to subsidize what is still in almost all cases a losing operation, will ultimately always be limited.

For those few individuals and oligarchs who have endless reels of cash, sure, $10-20 million and a lot more is just a drop in the bucket, but ultimately even very rich people get tired of pouring money down a drain and moreover, these teams are ultimately often just playthings for them - and anyone with kids knows that people get tired of playing with the same toys all the time. I have seen these kinds of individuals come and go now in European basketball for well over 20 years, and ultimately the answer to increasing interest in basketball in Europe is not by finding more oligarchs, but by creating the commercial atmosphere that will encourage investors and companies to put money into creating an attractive - and profitable - product.

Whether that can actually ever happen in European basketball is still a big unknown. The Euroleague and FIBA have made some nice strides in visibility, television rights and merchandising, and the web site content and technologies are quite impressive, but the quality of the product suffers from poor infrastructure, i.e. basketball stadiums, across the entire continent. The subject of arenas is really a separate piece, but it is absoutely incredible when you stop and think that the biggest basketball gym in Russia is in Kazan (cap. 7,100) and that one of Europe's top 3 teams, CSKA Moscow plays in a gym that holds only 5,000. Olympiakos plays in the absolutely awful Peace and Friendship Stadium, which seats 15,000, but has a velodrome encircling the court and fans sit miles away. Basketball in Europe is also still competing with soccer and a host of other sports, as well as 45 top-level European players who have opted to play in the NBA. Needless to say, for every one Josh Childress going to Europe, there are dozens more who still want to go the other way.

As to Brandon Jennings, it could be that there will be a few more like him in the future, as players could opt for making a lot of money in Europe instead of going to college for one year before they can be eligible to play in the NBA; but it's not so simple to take an 18 year old and uproot him into a foreign country with a foreign language and onto a professional team, where they virtually have to take care of themselves, as opposed to a Division I school where they are coddled and taken care of in every way. I could be wrong, but I think we may see that Jennings will be the exception - and not the rule.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Who Killed JFK (the NBA Version)?

One of the dumbest things that I used to hear from coaches during my refereeing days was something in the realm of, "Hey Todd, look at the scoreboard - it's 7-1 in fouls!", or 6-2, or 5-0, or whatever, any time there was some significant difference in the number of fouls between the two teams. My usual retort was, "sorry coach - I just call 'em, I don't count 'em". And the truth is that over the course of a game, fouls sometimes even themselves out...and well, sometimes not.

Let's take for example this year's Minnesota Timberwolves, who committed per game an average of 5.5 more fouls (!) than their opponent, and on the other hand, Memphis, which committed on average 3.04 fouls less. Why? Maybe Minnesota was a poor defensive club; maybe they had some especially rough players; maybe they fouled a lot during the last couple of minutes when they were behind in close games (which was often)... and maybe Memphis was just plain soft?

In my own country, Maccabi Tel Aviv, the almost perennial champion, fouls a lot more than other teams. Is it because the referees in Israel don't like Maccabi? Or maybe, just maybe, because they have a deep bench and can afford to make more fouls, and because they teach players to stop the fast break and drives to the basket by fouling?

Which bring us of course to the big news of the week, which isn't of course Boston's great comeback in Game 4, or the Lakers' almost great comeback from 24 down with 7 minutes to go in Game 2, but the latest court submission by former referee and the now officially criminal Tim Donaghy who in his latest missive accused NBA executives and referees of broad misconduct and outright manipulation of game results (all as part of his quest to get a lighter sentence).

The main evidence for Donaghy's accusations (and what in fact would be a felony), revolves around Game 6 of the 2002 Western Conference Finals between the Lakers and Sacramento, won eventually by L.A. 106-102 and in which they shot 27 foul shots in the 4th quarter alone. I was of course not at the game, and only after reading about it again do I have some vague recollection (clearly Sacramento fans remember the game very well), but let's say for a moment that there was in fact a "conspiracy": how exactly would that work?

Fortunately, after "JFK", "Nixon" and "WTC", Oliver Stone's new movie, "NBA", is already in the can and ready to be shown at a theatre near you. I have, of course, recevied an advance script of a particularly revealing conversation that took place in 2002 at the Dallas Bergin Hunt and Gefilte Fish Club, between Commissioner David Stern, and veteran referee Dick Bavetta, who until now, was best known for kissing Charles Barkley on the lips after their charity foot race during the 2007 All-star weekend.

(Stern) "Hey Paisano, vus machstu" (Yiddish for "whassup")?
(Bavetta) "I wish you wouldn't call me Paisano - you're only a Jersey guy, while I'm from Brooklyn"
(Stern) "Yeah, well, I'm still the capo di tutti capo here - hey listen, got a little job for you.
(Bavetta) "Nu?"
(Stern) "We got LA down 3-2 and going back to Sacramento. We'd love some big TV ratings for a game 7 - think you could take care of this?
(Bavetta) "Yeah sure, but we gotta talk first"
(Stern) "Sure, no problem. Why don't you pop on down here to Dallas - I got Danny Crawford taking care of the Mavs as we talk. Did you know they are 2-14 in playoff games that he's reffed since Cuban took over? I never liked those young whipper-snappers from Pittsburgh anyways."
(Bavetta) "Where do we meet?"
(Stern) "I got this office over by the Texas Book Depository, nice view, but I think Cuban's got the place bugged. There's a little grassy knoll nearby - maybe we can talk about the game there. Oh yeah, and bring along Delaney and Bernhardt. They'll be perfect for what I got in mind."

And here's more fuel for the conspiracy fire: did you know that Bavetta went to Power Memorial High School, which is where of course, Kareem Abdul Jabbar graduated (8 years apart), and we know whom he used to play for! The LAKERS!! Ladies and gentlemen, case closed!

Charlie Sheen will be playing the title role of NBA commissioner, David Stern. Sheen's qualifications became apparent after 9/11 when he stated to Alex Jones, who has an Internet radio show on Infowars.com and Prisonplanet.com: "Call me insane, but did it sort of look like those buildings came down in a controlled demolition?"

By the way, has anyone ever really looked at the box score from the famous 2002 6th game? The Lakers had 40 total free throws (Shaq 13-17; Kobe 11-11) and Sacramento 25. In other words, a 15 free throw difference doesn't exactly seem to be the kind of stuff that would get Rudy Giuliani and the Southern District frothing at the mouth.

Now we come to 2008, and of course the Grassy-knoll Gang is having a field day fueled by Donaghy's court submission, the timing of which is no doubt hardly coincidental. OK, so in Game 2 the Lakers shot 10 foul shots to the Celtics' 38 - what exactly does that prove? Maybe it proves that the Celtics did a much better job of trying to get to the basket, and that Odom and Gasol and friends were soft on defense (as they have been most of the series), and that Boston did a great job on Kobe.

And what about Game 3? L.A. took the first 20 of 24 free throws and Kobe got to the line 18 times. The only noticeable item from this statistic is that the Celtics didn't whine about it after the game like Kobe and Phil did.

After reading so much of the crap - and that's exactly what it is - written by otherwise intelligent people, I realize (once again) that sportswriters and commentators have almost no idea as to what basketball referees do, or how they do it. You have to feel for a guy like Dick Bavetta and the rest of his colleagues in the NBA, who while they make mistakes (and generally not many), are the best at what they do in the hardest sport of them all to referee.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

FIBA Makes the Giant Leap - Adopts NBA Rules for International Basketball

It's been slow, sometimes almost imperceptible, but over the past 20 years, basketball has become nearly the same game the world over - but yet there were still some slight differences.

But no more. The International Basketball Federation (FIBA) took the giant leap yesterday at its meetings in Beijing, when its highest executive body - the FIBA Central Board - announced a number of rule changes, which in effect, will make the international and NBA game virtually the same.

Even FIBA's press release referred to "historical changes", and indeed in one fell swoop, FIBA did a "copy and paste" from the NBA rule book to its own:
  • Beginning October 1, 2010, you can forget about the "funny-looking" international court with the trapezoid 3-second area: it will be a rectangle just like the NBA's

  • 3-point line will go from 6.25 m (20'6") to 6.75 m (22'2"); the NBA line is 6.71 m (22'0") from the baseline to the foul line, and 7.24 m (23'7") on the arc connecting the 2 lines

  • Time-outs in the last 2 minutes of the game and in overtime: the ball will be taken out in the frontcourt at a point opposite the top of the 3-point arc (sound familiar?)

  • Ball knocked out of bounds by the defensive team in backcourt: the offensive team will get a new 24-second clock; if in frontcourt and there is more than 14 seconds, the 24-second clock will stay as is; if 13 seconds or less, the 24-second clock will be reset to 14 seconds (sound familiar?)

  • There will be a restricted circle underneath the basket where in most circumstances an offsenive foul cannot be called (also sound familiar?)
A number of other changes will go into effect beginning October, 2008 including:
  1. No t-shirts under uniforms in any circumstances
  2. A player who falls on the floor and slides while holding the ball will no longer be called for travelling
  3. A player won't be deemed to be in frontcourt until two feet and the ball are in contact with the frontcourt (another direct steal from US rules - NBA and NCAA)
  4. A technical foul can be called on a player for excessively swinging his elbows, even if no contact was made (another NBA rule)

The ONLY major difference that remains, as far as I can tell from the FIBA release, is that there is still no concept of a "cylinder" in international basketball, i.e. once the ball hits the rim, it's a free ball.

Given the innumerable Americans playing on teams in every league in almost every country around the world, this will certainly smooth the transition for everyone, and will also hasten the day coming soon when the NBA begins expanding globally.

For those who want to take a look at the FIBA press release: http://www.fiba.com/pages/eng/fc/news/lateNews/p/newsid/24352/arti.html

Thursday, April 10, 2008

Sometimes One Call Can Ruin an Evening...

Sometimes, it doesn't matter. You can have a great evening, making all the right decisions - and then one call ruins everything.

Such was the situation this evening at the Nokia Stadium in Tel Aviv in the quarter-final best-of-three third game between Maccabi Tel Aviv and Barcelona, eventually won by Maccabi 88-75.

Situation: third quarter, Vontego Cummings (ex-Pitt) is guarding Barcelona's hot-shooting Italian guard, Gianluca Basile. Cummings wraps him up under the basket and drags him to the floor- no call! Basile understandably reacts emotionally and kicks back somewhat at Cummings - the two of them engage in some silly slapping at each other while players from both teams separate them, including Maccabi's Derrick Sharp and Esteban Batista, who have come off the bench to intervene. There were no closed fists, and no one even tried to throw a punch.

The referees snap into action and overrreact: Cummings and Basile are ejected, as well as Sharp and Batista. Barcelona is of course the big loser in all of this as Basile, their top scorer (25 ppg in the first two games of the series) heads to the locker room.

Oh, and one other problem: the referees forget to make sure that Batista knows that he's ejected and they leave him on the bench until the begnning of the 4th quarter, when they discover their mistake and send him, too, to the showers. No one understands quite why he has been ejected - very embarassing.

The whole thing was unnecessary. Cummings should have been called for the initial foul, and if anything, he and Basile could have been assessed unsportsmanlike fouls. Sharp and Batista were rightly tossed from the game - but their ejections were administered poorly, to say the least.

The NBA has very clear directives regarding these situations and would have taken care of this very simply: regular foul against Cummings, likely technicals against Cummings and Basile, and they would have stayed in the game. Sharp and Batista would have been tossed for coming off the bench. The key to throwing a player out is whether or not the hand becomes closed in a fist and a punch is thrown (whether it connects or not thereafter is irrelevant). I know Europeans are always wary of American "imperialism", but on matters of basketball officiating, the Euroleague could sometimes try to learn a few things from their American cousins.