Saturday, August 26, 2006

Winter sports debate in Toronto

One assumes that with training camp still off a bit that the key board pounders for the Toronto newspapers have exhausted all possible angles of off season hockey and basketball. So what do you do when you hit the wall, you try to start a sports fan brawl.

The Toronto Sun’s hockey and basketball writers have squared off to stake a claim for their sport, this after The Sun’s Al Strachan wrote an article suggesting that the Maple Leafs would be much better off (as would the Southern Ontario hockey fan) if only the folks at MLSE would unload that dinosaur of a basketball team.

Strachan suggests that the Leafs are being weighed down by NBA salaries, a poor draw and poor ice due to the need to lay down the basketball floor at least 41 times a year.

His argument was countered by Steve Buffery, who pooh poohed the idea that the Purplish b-ballers were the cause for all that ails the Leaf Nation. Buffery reminded Strachan that MLSE pulls in a fair hunk of change from the NBA’s various television contracts, a far more rewarding deal than that which the Leafs will receive from the OLN package that the NHL has in the USA, and don’t even get him started on the NBC plan of purchasing time to show hockey.

It makes for a lively point/counter point in the dog days of summer which have seen the Blue Jays fall on their sword before the Labour Day weekend, leaving the Toronto sports fan with only the Argos to tide them over until the hockey pucks and roundballs begin to show up at the Air Canada Centre.

You can view both sides of the debate and see what’s getting all of Toronto excited in that hot Southern Ontario summer sun.

Dumping Raps frees up cash for Leafs
Al Strachan
The Toronto Sun
August 25, 2006

The Maple Leafs never tire of telling us about the reverence with which they regard their fans.

They insist their priority is to win a championship "for our fans" and they take pride -- as they should -- in the work that their players do for the community.

As Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment chairman Larry Tanenbaum said last year, "We are the No. 1 franchise in the NHL. As far as I'm concerned, we will always continue to be the No. 1 franchise in the NHL."

If that is the case, it is the fans who deserve the credit. Without the fans, the Leafs would be nothing more than the Florida Panthers, a team with a nattily attired coach playing in a mostly empty building.

It is the Leafs fans who pay the freight. They're the ones who buy the sweaters and all the other regalia. They're the ones who purchase the subscriptions to Leafs-TV. They're the ones who shell out the exorbitant prices to see their heroes in the flesh.

So isn't it about time the Leafs did something to reward those fans? And wouldn't that be doubly true if MLSEL were to make a profit in the process?

The answer is simple.

Dump that money-losing aggregation known as the Toronto Raptors.

For starters, the Leafs could lower their ticket prices by about 10% because they would no longer have to cover the Raptors' annual losses.

Furthermore, the United States is full of self-centred idiots with money. It is a virtual certainty that someone with deep pockets and a lust for media attention would buy the team and move it to his home town.

That would put at least another $200 million into the MLSE coffers, enough to satisfy the corporation's lust for profit yet keep Leafs' tickets at a reasonable price for years to come.

And think how happy hockey fans would be. Everyone who whined during the National Hockey League lockout that no one should earn a million dollars a year for playing a sport can wave goodbye to the people who truly are overpaid.

Curiously enough, while hockey fans were complaining about million-dollar players, the Raptors were coughing up $12 million a year for Jalen Rose. And no one spoke out.

The Raptors spend more on defunct coaches and acquisitions who never played a minute than the Leafs have ever paid a player in their history.

And to make it worse, none of that money stays in Canada. Most hockey players live in Canada and pay taxes here. The basketball players get out of the country as fast as they can and pay American taxes.

On the hockey side, the ice in the Air Canada Centre, notorious throughout the league, could be improved because it wouldn't have to be covered at least 41 times a year to convert the building to a basketball facility.

(The use of "at least" in the above paragraph refers only to the addition of pre-season games to the schedule. It would be wrong to interpret it as an inference that the Raptors will ever make the playoffs.)

And think of the radio air time that could be returned to hockey fans.
Instead of listening to a bunch of American hosts drone on about things like small forwards (apparently anyone under eight feet), zone presses and other esoteria, we could listen to hockey talk like the rest of the country.

Once you're outside the Toronto environs, no one cares about basketball.
In fact, other than radio hosts, there aren't that many people in Toronto who care. The building is usually half-empty, even though tickets are so easily acquired they are given away with pizza.

The people of Vancouver had the good sense to ignore their team to the point that it went somewhere else.

If the people of Toronto were to follow that course of action, they'd be doing a favour to Leafs fans, hockey fans and even Canadian taxpayers.

It's a slam dunk, so to speak.

Selling Raptors won’t help Leafs
Steve Buffery
Toronto Sun
August 25, 2006

Al, my good friend, you make me laugh.

You're not the first angry hockey guy to argue the Raptors are dragging down the Maple Leafs.

Your premise, however, that the folks at MLSEL would voluntarily cut the cost of hockey tickets if they sold the Raptors is, well, almost too funny for words.

Al, buddy, pal ... have you seen what they charge for Leafs tickets these days? Or, for that matter, a hot dog at the Air Canada Centre? These are people who care about putting money back in the pockets of hockey fans?

I digress.

From his bunker somewhere in beautiful New Brunswick, our esteemed hockey columnist Al Strachan argues that by selling the Raptors, MLSEL would be doing Leafs fans a big favour. His argument is that the Raptors are losing money and that drags down the Leafs.


Al, you know this.

The teams operate as two separate businesses and the selling of the Raptors would not affect the financial viability of the Leafs in any way. As it is private operation, MLSEL does not release specifics on how much, if any, money the Raps lose. But consider this -- the NBA signed a $4.6 billion US TV deal in 2002, worth approximately $765 million annually. The Raps receive a lot more money from TV than the Leafs ever will. What does each NHL team receive from that OLN package? A box of Sudafed and $37? Or has it reached the point where the NHL has to pay TV to televise their games?

Another reason Al believes it's a good idea to get rid of the Raptors is that the ice is poor because they have to put in the floor for at least 41 basketball games a year at the ACC.
True, I suppose.

But Al, what do you tell the hundreds of workers at the ACC: "Sorry gang, in the name of better ice, we're getting rid of the Raptors, so count on working 41 fewer nights a year. But hey, Darcy Tucker's happy."

Al says the ACC usually is half-empty for Raps games. I guess that means the ACC holds 35,000 people. The Raptors averaged 17,057 fans last season, which is pretty good for a team that hasn't made the playoffs in four seasons.

The Raps have cracked the top 10 in NBA attendance in eight of 11 seasons.
As for giving back radio time to hockey fans? Al, I assure you, the Leafs are well represented on the airwaves in this city.

Didn't you catch those updates on Nik Antropov's tennis game? Wasn't that fantastic?
And Leafs Lunch. I mean, wow. Not only did we get to rehash the Hal Gill signing a million times, we get hourly reports from the Bill Watters holiday compound in fabulous Orillia.
"Looks like Wilber's barbecuing chicken breasts this afternoon. Nice goin' Bill."

No one's arguing the Leafs don't outsell the Raptors.

But so what?

Every city has its most popular team. In Toronto, it's the Leafs. The Raptors, however, have a very loyal fan base. And unlike Leafs fans, they don't sip martinis and nibble on sushi all night and clap when the scoreboard tells them to.

However, Al is right about some of the ridiculous signings the Raptors' braintrust have pulled off over the years. But a dopey general manager is no excuse to sell a franchise.

I hate to break this to you Al, but the 1960s are over. The next time you're back in Toronto, take a look around.

This ain't the Toronto I grew up in. (I was going to say the Toronto you grew up in, but you're a Windsor boy).

Many -- I would say most -- new Canadians relate to basketball more than hockey. You may not like it, but there it is.

Al, this rebuttal comes from a guy who loves hockey, a guy who lost his front teeth, broke two shoulders and suffered numerous other ailments playing the game we love.

But it's time to take give your hockey helmet a shake.

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