Sunday, March 27, 2011

Sacramento Kings to move?


Over the past two decades, the big 4 sports leagues have seen 11 franchise relocations. Four of these 11 have been from Canada to the US, with the moves of the Vancouver Grizzlies and Montreal Expos being the most painful for me. I always feel empathy for the fans who have invested their time and money in following their hometown franchise, only to have it ripped out from under their feet by an owner who has found a better deal elsewhere. The most recent example took place in 2008, when the Seattle SuperSonics move to Oklahoma City, where they have become one of the league's most exciting teams.

Now comes word that the fans in Sacramento are going to lose their beloved Kings. There have been rumours of a move for several months and things are now reaching a head. The owners are the Maloof brothers, who have been great for the city and the team, but the recession and an obsolete arena have made it difficult for them to compete. Without a deal to replace Power Balance Pavilion (formerly Arco Arena), the Kings cannot generate the additional revenue streams required to keep pace with other teams in the league. In 2006, there were talks to use a sales tax increase to fund a new arena, but the voters of Sacramento rightly voted that down, and last year a plan to swap land with the Cal Expo was rejected. With no local options remaining and suffering in other business ventures, the Maloofs are considering moving the team to Anaheim, which has the Honda Center and a local government that is willing to help.

Who Pays and Who Benefits?

The Anaheim city council says that taxpayers will not be affected by this deal, which is good news if it turns out to be true. I mentioned above that Sacramento taxpayers vetoed a quarter-percent sales tax increase which would have funded a new arena. Sacramento is the capital of the state and a very political city from what I've read, so many of the voters are naturally wary of being forced to pay for something which brings them little personal benefit. It didn't help that the Maloofs withdrew their support because they weren't happy with certain provisions limiting the amount the government could spend.

In general, sports franchises help only a few people. When cities use scarce public funds to build state-of-the-art stadiums, the big winners are the owners (already very rich), the players (mostly rich), and businesses who can use luxury suites as tax writeoffs. There are some ancillary jobs as well, but many of those are just part-time and pay barely above minimum wage. Meanwhile, fans suffer in the form of higher ticket prices while the general public, who are often not even serious fans of the team, see their tax dollars go toward subsidizing those who are already very wealthy.

So although I do feel for fans who see their team relocate, I can't defend an ownership that holds the local community hostage. Unfortunately, cities with new arenas are desperate to find tenants to take up 41 or more dates, and there are far more new arenas than pro sports teams to fill them. So when an owner runs into a local community who would prefer to allocate their cash to initiatives that help the entire population, he can just phone up a more agreeable city and then play them against each other. The claims that sports franchises add untold millions in value to a city are false. Only those who are roadtrippers (like me!) are bringing money that might be spent elsewhere; most fans are local and would simply spend their cash on theaters, restaurants or other local businesses. That's the key phrase: local business. Pro sports teams are ultimately a local business, and not one that should be subsidized by the government.

Naming Conventions

With the move to Anaheim, the Kings will have to change their nickname to avoid confusion with the NHL team in Los Angeles. The Maloofs have already trademarked a number of possible names, all with the moniker Royals, which is what the franchise was known as when they played in Rochester from 1945-57 and Cincinnati from 1957-72. Ironically it was moving to Kansas City, home of MLB's Royals, that forced the initial name change. The franchise moved to Sacramento in 1985, so if they pull up stakes again, it will be their fifth city.

Future Expansion?

Sacramento is the 25th largest metro area in North America, and will have no teams in the Big 4, which is rather surprising. Los Angeles already has 6. So the rich get richer yet again.

In the past, some cities that have lost teams have been granted expansion franchises (Houston and Cleveland in the NFL, Charlotte in the NBA) but that is unlikely to happen in Sacramento. The populace has spoken and will be punished for standing up for their beliefs. There are other towns who want pro sports and already have new arenas, so if there are new expansion teams to be granted, those places will be at the front of the line.

That's not to say that all hope is long in California's capital city. The NBA has to approve the move and it is not clear that it been properly considered. Is having 3 LA-area teams in the league's best interests? Can another arena proposal be found? Is the Honda Center, which is only 5-years newer than the Power Balance Pavilion, really that much of an improvement? According to this article, there are 19 reasons to keep the Kings in Sacramento for another season. Let's hope that the Maloofs decide to agree.

There are a number of good articles being written on the situation; this post barely touches on the complexities of the tax proposal, land swap, or the potential deal between the Maloofs and Anaheim Ducks' owner Henry Samueli. I encourage you to do some reading of your own over the next 3 weeks as the situation reaches a climax with the NBA owners voting on April 18th. It really provides a fascinating look at the way pro sports works these days, with the league, the owners, and the government all playing their part. The big losers, as usual, will be the fans.

For Me

I'd like to see the Kings remain in Sacramento, as it adds one more sports road trip destination to the winter schedule. It is the one city in the top 50 metro areas where I've yet to see a sporting event; both the Kings and the AAA River Cats always seemed to be on the road when I was in Northern California. I'm going to rectify this oversight next month, checking out two games at Raley Field (with Toronto's AAA team visiting no less) and one at the PBP. I actually began planning this trip back in January, before I got wind of the move. Unfortunately, it turns out that the Kings' game might be their last one ever and tickets are going to be tough to get, particularly with the Lakers in town. But I hope to get inside, as it might be my last chance to finally see a pro basketball game in Sacramento.

Best,

Sean

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Updates on the Disaster and the Effect on Sports


Life in Tokyo is pretty much back to normal, with the exception of fewer trains and far fewer foreigners. I'd say about 75% of my non-Japanese friends have fled, some of their own accord and others because their companies offered them a free trip to another location. Those of us that stayed are happy we did now that things here have stabilized (not that there was ever any real danger in Tokyo) and we look forward to their imminent return.

There is an air of optimism in Japan, despite the horrific tragedy that occurred just 9 days ago. It has been fascinating to watch an entire nation move from shock to acceptance to hope. The death toll will exceed 20,000 but the Japanese are moving on. It was not the first disaster to befall the country and there is almost a sense of "it could have been worse" that allows them to keep things in perspective. To be sure, there is an incredible amount of work to be done in the northeast and the Fukushima nuclear situation is by no means settled, but an incredible amount of progress has already been made on both fronts.

The stoicism and resilience of the Japanese has impressed those overseas and should lead to increased respect on the international stage. Japan has a history of using large events to change direction (the 1923 Tokyo earthquake led them to militarism while the atomic bombs led to the industrialization and subsequent economic growth for the country). There is no doubt that change was needed to revive a moribund leadership and declining population; it may be indelicate to say so but this disaster may be the spur to get Japan fully into the 21st century and beyond.

That's all I'm going to say on the matter. With a potential war in Libya breaking out, Japan's disaster is already old hat. Such is the life in the modern news cycle. If you want to continue to follow this story, I encourage you to find some trusted journalists who report based on facts rather than alarmism. Remember, there's no danger from radiation in Tokyo and certainly none overseas; find a reporter or newspaper who reports that and you should be fine.

Before I go, a few sports updates to get this blog back on topic.

Basketball

The bj League season is continuing but without the Sendai 89ers, Tokyo Apache, or Saitama Broncos. Sendai had no choice after their hometown was destroyed, but rumour has it that Tokyo and Saitama used the threat of radiation and reduced electric power to pull the plug on money-losing seasons. Ed Odeven has a good article on the politics behind the decision. No doubt that a better solution could have been found to keep Tokyo going at least. This news pretty much ends the bj League as a viable sports alternative for me.

The Japan Basketball League canceled the remainder of their season.

Baseball

The Pacific League (which has a team in Sendai) has postponed their season until April 12 while the Central League will start just 4 days later than scheduled, on March 29th. (Update: bowing to government pressure, the CL has now postponed its opening day until April 12th as well). There are some modifications as teams try to save electricity; no extra-inning games is the main rule change (and games will be limited to 3.5 hours), but there will also be more day games and reduced scoreboard use among other incentives. I'm going to see some games as part of my Stadium Journey work and am looking forward to seeing how fans react.

Minor league games are going on now though, which is fine as they are played during the day and don't use that much electricity.

Soccer

The J League has postponed all games in March. Several stadiums were damaged by the quake and there is still some work to be done to determine where games can be played, but the season will get underway in April.

The Asian Champions League postponed games in Japan, but allowed Japanese clubs to play their overseas fixtures. Both Osaka teams travelled to China last week and lost in what must have been a difficult situation.

New Zealand were scheduled to play Japan in a friendly on March 29th but they have pulled out in a rather short-sighted decision. The friendly will now pit Japan's national team against a J League best 11 in a match to raise funds for those affected by the disaster.

Ice Hockey

The Asian Ice Hockey League had scheduled their championship series between the Tohoku Free Blades and a Korean team on March 12. The first 3 games were to be played in Koriyama, a city in Fukushima prefecture. Tohoku means northeast in Japanese and was the area that was mostly destroyed by the earthquake and tsunami, which hit on March 11th. With the nuclear power plant nearby, the entire series naturally was cancelled.

There were many other events cancelled or postponed, but those are the major ones, at least for me.

As for my next trip, I'm still planning to fly to San Francisco on April 12th. Ironically, California is where all the radioactive fallout from Fukushima is landing, so I just can't get a break! But I'm still going to take the risk and put myself in danger, if only to keep reporting to you about the beauty of taking a sports road trip.

Best,

Sean

Thursday, March 17, 2011

We're All Going to Die!!!!! Scaremongering in the media


First, happy St. Patrick's Day everyone! Don't worry, I'm not glowing green in celebration.

Now, onto the topic at hand. I should note that this post is mainly for those overseas who are worried about the situation with the nuclear power plant in Fukushima. Unfortunately, much of the non-Japanese media has focused on this story at the expense of covering the actual disaster: the earthquake and tsunami that killed over 10,000 and left nearly half a million homeless. Poor science and alarmist tendencies have combined to create misleading reports that have my friends and family contacting me wondering if I'm still alive. It pains me that they don't check my blog to determine my status more regularly but that's beside the point.

Here in Japan, ex-pats are fleeing for their lives as embassies ratchet up the hype. Canada's diplomatic corps is notably more calm, suggesting that you avoid travel within 80 km of the nuclear reactor. Fine with me, I had no plans to go there anytime soon.

In Tokyo, which is about 200 km south of the nuclear cloud of death (sarcasm intended), things are quiet. Rolling blackouts have been instituted (my office shut today at 2:50) and train service is reduced, but there is no panic. This evening, Tokyo may have a city-wide blackout for a few hours but it is still not determined exactly where and when (update: no blackout was necessary). It's also tough to find certain items such as batteries and flashlights; prepackaged bread and instant noodles have sold out, while gas stations have long lines. People are preparing for the worst but are generally going about their lives with the same detached demeanor that marks Tokyoites.

I've done quite a bit of reading on the effects of radiation and how far it will travel and how quickly I will turn into a quivering ball of cancer, and the risks as reported overseas are really overblown, at least here in Tokyo. If there was a serious leak of radioactive material, the biggest worry would be consuming too much contaminated food over the following months. Otherwise you can protect yourself by staying inside and sealing windows and doors and taking other basic precautions, in the event that dangerous amounts of radiation actually make it to your area.

The radiation levels at the plant are relatively small again today and Tokyo has no more radiation than normal. So I'm staying. If you are overseas, try to focus on the victims of the tsunami. It is truly unbelievable what is happening there and sad that the international media is more concerned about frightening everyone.

There's so much misinformation that people in the western US are now worried about the radioactive plume reaching them. Meanwhile, they smoke, drive too fast, have too many guns, and are excessively obese. Humans are terrible at understanding risk. We fear what we do not know and cannot control; we know about the dangers of smoking and obesity, and believe that we can control driving and guns, so we are fine. But a single radioactive particle is an unknown and sends us screaming into the streets.

There are some good articles on the whole thing, including one by my favourite sports columnist, Gregg Easterbrook, who writes Tuesday Morning Quarterback for ESPN. Finally, do your own research and reach your own conclusions. Just don't trust the media who want to sell papers or increase viewership at the expense of journalistic responsibility and simple facts.

Best,

Sean

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Earthquake, Tsunami, Radiation. What did Japan do to upset God?


First, let me say that I'm fine. The international press stated that Japan was devastated by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami, but in reality, it is three prefectures in the northeast that have suffered incredible loss. Tokyo and the surrounding area experienced some damage and several fatalities, but life has more or less returned to normal here. Trains were stopped overnight, forcing commuters into long walks (mine was just 10 km), but are mostly running again. Restaurants and supermarkets are open where I live, although some people are panic shopping, buying all the instant noodles they can. Further south in Osaka or Fukuoka, there has been no impact that I've seen on TV. Of course, exploding nuclear power plants might change all that, but for now, things seem safe here at least. Rolling blackouts are anticipated from Monday as people return to work, making the demand for power exceed the limited supply but that is not much of a burden.

Up north though, it will take years to recover, but not from the earthquake directly. Instead, it was the tsunami that wreaked havoc, with some coastal towns being completely wiped out. It's very sad to see the death toll rising by the hour, and there are reports of 10,000 people missing from one town in Miyagi prefecture. It will be weeks until the total extent of damage is known and it is not going to be easy for anyone there. Please keep those people in your thoughts.

It has become a cliche to state that disaster puts the triviality of sports in perspective. Well, any tragedy puts the triviality of everything that is unnecessary into perspective. But we still want those unnecessary distractions to make us forget about the difficult world we live in. So although all major sports events in Japan were cancelled over the weekend, life will go on, the Japanese baseball season will be played, and I'll start complaining about it again. It's not clear how the Sendai sports teams will cope but Japan is a very resilient nation and a solution will be found.

In the meantime, I'll be pretty quiet here with nothing of interest to write about. The Cricket World Cup has been fascinating to follow (Canada even won a match!), and the NHL season is in the stretch run, so there's lots for me to do at home. I'm still hoping to take the trip to California next month, and will keep you posted on how that comes along. For now, stay safe everybody!

Best,

Sean

Sunday, March 6, 2011

California Dreaming Road Trip


It has been a trying two months for me, stuck in the land with not a single good televised sport (without cable at least) and no worthwhile winter sports to watch live. Yeah, I did attend a couple of Apache games, but just two events over two months is not conducive to a healthy and happy sports fan. To fight the boredom and get some cash for another trip, I took a 6-week temp job doing translation and proofreading. Conveniently, the job ends on March 31st, which is just when the baseball season begins stateside. Turns out my brother and his wife are visiting Las Vegas in late April, and as you all know, Las Vegas is the home of the Blue Jays' AAA affiliate. That's how the trip idea was born.

From there, it was the usual. Check flights to nearby airports, check other team and league schedules, and find events in venues that I've yet to see. I had done LA and Southern California last year, so this year, it has to be San Francisco and the northern part of the state.

One wrinkle is that April 29th-May 8th is Japan's Golden Week, where there are four holidays in 6 working days and hordes of Japanese take advantage by flying overseas. Flights leaving around the end of April or returning in the first week of May are often double the price of those just a few days earlier or later. With this in mind, I had originally planned a trip from April 19th until May 10th, but eventually found a flight returning May 2nd at the same price. This allowed me to move the trip start date to April 12th, which gets me to the last game of the NBA regular season when the Lakers visit Sacramento on the 13th.

Overall, there's 20 baseball games on the schedule (4 MLB, 7 PCL, 5 California League and 4 NCAA), my first Arena Football League game, as well as the NBA tilt. The San Jose Sharks should have a home playoff game around that time as well. So I'm hoping for 23 events in 20 days, a good way to break out of the winter funk.

Here's the full schedule:
Apr 12 Los Angeles Dodgers at San Francisco Giants 7:15
Apr 13 Las Vegas 51s at Sacramento River Cats 12:05 (PCL)
Apr 13 Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings 7:30
Apr 14 Las Vegas 51s at Sacramento River Cats 7:05 (PCL)
Apr 15 Oregon State Beavers at Stanford Cardinal 5:30 (Pac 10)
Apr 16 Santa Clara Broncos at St. Mary's Gaels 1:00 (WCC)
Apr 16 Detroit Tigers at Oakland Athletics 6:00
Apr 17 Sonoma State Seawolves at San Francisco State Gators 12:00 (CCAA)
Apr 18 Inland Empire 66ers at San Jose Giants 7:00 (Cal League)
Apr 19 Stanford Cardinal at Santa Clara Broncos 6:00 (NCAA)
Apr 20 Boston Red Sox at Oakland Athletics 12:35
Apr 20 Visalia Rawhide at Stockton Ports 7:05 (Cal League)
Apr 21 Rancho Cucamonga Quakes at Modesto Nuts 7:05 (Cal League)
Apr 22 Atlanta Braves at San Francisco Giants 7:15
Apr 23 Chivas USA at San Jose Earthquakes 1:00 (MLS)
Apr 23 Philadelphia Soul at San Jose SabreCats 7:30 (Arena Football)
Apr 24 Reno Aces at Fresno Grizzlies 2:05 (PCL)
Apr 25 Visalia Rawhide at Bakersfield Blaze 7:15 (Cal League)
Apr 26 Inland Empire 66ers at High Desert Mavericks 7:05 (Cal League)
Apr 28 Sacramento River Cats at Las Vegas 51s 7:05 (PCL)
Apr 29 Sacramento River Cats at Las Vegas 51s 7:05 (PCL)
Apr 30 Tacoma Rainiers at Reno Aces 6:05 (PCL)
May 1 Tacoma Rainiers at Reno Aces 1:05 (PCL)
It's going to be a great way to start the season. As usual I'll have posts on every stop, so check back often.

Best,

Sean

Update: In an ironic twist, I've just discovered that the San Jose Earthquakes of Major League Soccer are home on April 23rd in the afternoon. I'm not a big fan of earthquakes but I'll have to check out this game. It means that I'll attend my first MLS game as well as my first Arena Football League game on the same day! Can hardly wait.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Canucks Cup Contenders


Unlike Charlie Sheen, I've had a rather quiet week. I've watched with increasing disinterest as the Canadian media dissected the rather tedious NHL trade deadline, the US media decried the end of the NBA as we know it, the Japanese media went on and on about rookie pitcher Yuki Saito, and the NFL owners continue to fritter away their future. In the meantime, I've left the commenting to those who think they have something insightful to say, which is why it has been a bit quiet here.

I'm also working a couple of temp jobs to save up for the next big trip. Not sure exactly where and when that will be, but there will be something posted here shortly. But two jobs means little time to post. I'm sure you are all heartbroken, but you need not fret any longer. The NHL has passed the 3/4 pole, and so it is time to look at the standings and forecast the Stanley Cup winner. I know just how much all my readers look forward to these prediction posts like Leaf fans anticipating their team's playoff run. You'll likely be similarly disappointed, but here goes anyway.

As usual, I take each team's record at exactly the same point and then run the playoffs with some simple rules: the team that is winning the season series will win the playoff series (with overtime wins less valuable than regulation wins but more valuable than shootout victories), and if the season series is tied, the better team advances. When I did this back at the halfway mark, I made a mistake on the tiebreaker rules. If teams are tied in points, the first tiebreaker is now total wins excluding shootout wins. After that, head-to-head results matter, and then goal differential.

Here are the standings at the 62-game mark:
East GP W  L  O Pts
Phil 62 40 16 6  86
TB   62 37 18 7  81
Bos  62 36 19 7  79
Pitt 62 36 20 6  78
Was  62 32 20 10 74
Mtl  62 32 23 7  71
NYR  62 32 26 4  68
Buff 62 30 25 7  67
-------------------
Car  62 29 24 9  67
Tor  62 27 27 8  62
Atl  62 25 26 11 61
Flo  62 26 29 7  59
NJ   62 27 31 4  58
NYI  62 23 31 8  54
Ott  62 21 32 9  51

West GP W  L  O Pts
Van  62 39 14 9  87
Det  62 38 18 6  82
SJ   62 35 21 6  76
Phx  62 33 20 9  75
LA   62 35 23 4  74
Minn 62 33 23 6  72
Dal  62 33 23 6  72
Chi  62 33 23 6  72
-------------------
Nsh  62 31 23 8  70
Cal  62 31 23 8  70
Ana  62 32 25 5  69
Cmb  62 31 24 7  69
Stl  62 28 25 9  65
Col  62 26 29 7  59
Edm  62 20 34 8  48
I won't bother going over the predicted playoffs - Philly defeats Washington in the East and Vancouver knocks off Phoenix out West to reach the finals with the Canucks taking the Cup based on their victory over the Flyers back in late December. Nothing too shocking there.

Instead, I'd like to look into the numbers a bit more closely. What amazes me about these standings is just how close these teams are. With only 20 games left, just 7 points separate teams 3 through 12 in the West. The bottom three playoff teams have identical records, with Minnesota taking 6th due to only having 2 shootout wins while Dallas takes 7th due to a superior head-to-head record.

In the East, there's 7 points between teams 5 and 9 with Carolina, Buffalo, and the Rangers the only teams fighting for the playoffs. But that was then! In the ensuing two games, the Leafs managed to notch 3 points and are still in the running! Unfortunately, the Sabres and Hurricanes have three games left against each other which hurts those teams behind them. It's going to be a great 6 weeks of hockey, which I'll be mostly missing due to those aforementioned jobs.

Next Up

Nothing. I did see a Tokyo Apache game last week which was mildly entertaining, but also the last game I'm going to watch until the bj League playoffs. At 3,000 yen, it's just a bit overpriced. I'm already bored with the 2011 Japanese baseball season so let's forget about that. That leaves only the J League, and I might try to check out a game or two there. Otherwise it will be quiet until I plan my next journey to somewhere warm. Stay tuned, there'll be something posted here soon.

Best,

Sean