Thursday, November 12, 2009

For the New York Times Sports section, an easy story about the Nets--and two suggested tougher ones

In a soft feature today headlined A Net Reaches Out to Fans, Wherever They Are, New York Times sports business writer Richard Sandomir writes about the unusual willingness of guard Devin Harris to meet with fans (in this case in Newark).

Easy story. (It also omitted disclosure of the ties between the Times and Forest City Ratner, though a column yesterday by columnist George Vecsey included such disclosure.)

I think Sandomir should follow up on a couple of real sports business stories that the Times has flubbed.

Mayoral support

On 12/12/03, two days after the project was announced, in an article headlined Developer Wants His Project, and Buying Nets Hinges on It, Sandomir wrote:
The competition harks back to the 1980's tug of war over the Yankees (stay in the Bronx? go to the Meadowlands?) and to the departure of the Dodgers from Brooklyn to Los Angeles after the 1957 season. One difference is that on Wednesday, beside Ratner, bringing enthusiasm but carrying no bags of subsidies, stood Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg.
(Emphasis added)

Ah, but the subsidies have since arrived: $205 million in cash, a push by Bloomberg appointees to renegotiate the MTA deal, and unending rhetorical support, despite a New York City Independent Budget Office analysis that the arena would be a money-loser for the city. (No, the Times hasn't followed up on the IBO's response to the critique by the NYCEDC and the ESDC.)

Critiquing Zimbalist

And, of course, the big sports business story regarding Atlantic Yards concerns developer Forest City Ratner's use of sports economist Andrew Zimbalist. In 2004, Zimbalist wrote that "there appears to be no rationale whatsoever for the federal government to subsidize the financial tug-of-war among the cities to host ball clubs" but he omitted that from his Atlantic Yards analysis. (The IBO estimates the federal subsidy at $194 million.)

Remember, the Times let Zimbalist have the last word when it came to his dubious report, even though the newspaper has pushed for peer review in contested hoops issues of less import.

Now that Zimbalist's testimony has been discredited in court (or thrown out) four times since 2006, doesn't the role of the "sports economist for hire" (according to the Times hockey blog) deserve another look?

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