BY Art Thiel 04:14PM 12/06/2013

Thiel: Seattle sports most miserable? Hah!

Most miserable sports city in America? That was then, and the hires of Chris Petersen and Robinson Cano create a new now.

Chris Petersen, with the trophy after beating Washington in the Las Vegas Bowl a year ago, became the trophy for the Huskies Friday. / Drew McKenzie, Sportspress Northwest

To the good people at Forbes magazine who annually rank Seattle as the most miserable sports city in America, here’s a message from the left corner — please insert your rankings in a place where the sun never ventures. Then hide there yourselves.

Should the Seahawks beat the 49ers Sunday in San Francisco, giddiness is forecasted to go from tropical storm to Category 3 hurricane.

Nearly simultaneous news Friday morning of the signing of football coach Chris Petersen by the University of Washington and the presumptive acquisition of free agent Robinson Cano by the Mariners made for one of the most astonishing days in the history of Seattle sports — certainly in the Non-Game Outcome division.

If you’re a Seattle sports fan, you’ve have already been chastened by your non-sports friends to calm down, take a deep breath and chill because nothing has been won yet. To whom you undoubtedly retorted, “You putrid pile of compost! I know that. It’s about what can happen. I know what was — we always suck. These day is about what could be.”

Anticipation is the lifeblood of a sports fan. Event outcomes can turn good or bad, but anticipation, when created, is what sustains from season to season, and from generation to generation. By their annual natures, sports teams are accorded at least modest degrees of optimism by some fans every year.

And as longtime fans know, there is historically no place more anticipation-free in sports than Seattle, where championships come along as frequently as ice ages. The arrivals of major talents such as Petersen and Cano signal that moribund franchises — the Huskies have not been to the Rose Bowl since 2001, the same year the Mariners last made the playoffs — understand clearly that moves must be busted.

The timing is, of course, coincidental. But there is a connection between the moves — TV revenue. Boxcars of it.

Since the 2012 advent of the Pac-12 Networks, the demon spawn of the marriage among ESPN, Fox Sports revenue-starved colleges, each conference school is guaranteed at least $23 million annually, which is a decent upgrade from the $4 million to $10 million the various schools pulled before they conspired to become their own broadcast outlet.

That means funding for entire athletic departments can be removed from the universities’ operating budgets to become self-sustaining, and thus even more independent from the schools than they already were. So the ability of Washington AD Scott Woodward to offer Petersen substantially more than either the $2.3 million annually Petersen was receiving at Boise State, or the $2.9 million that Steve Sarkisian made before decamping to USC, should not be in question. A report Friday afternoon attached an average annual value of $3.6 million.

On top of the TV money, the athletics department is now pulling much greater cash from the gate at renovated Husky Stadium. So, Petersen, make sure to tip your purple cap on game days to the students, who were forced to give up their seats on the 50-yard line and accept the end zone to help pay you.

With the Mariners, the same TV asset prevails. In April, the Mariners purchased from DirecTV the majority interest in Root Sports, the marketplace’s lone regional sports network. The deal put a near-monopoly media operation in the hands of the monopoly MLB operator in a five-state region plus western Canada.

The Mariners and Root steadfastly refuse to disclose the value of the 17-year deal, but Forbes put the total sum at $2 billion. Even if it is half that, the Mariners will generate more than enough money to cover Cano’s reported 10-year, $240 million deal, the third-largest contract in baseball history.

Now on to the key question: Are these deals worth the cost?

Mariners: Yes. In the minds of most of the region’s sports fans, the Mariners have been dead so long that carbon-dating must be used to discover the last time a September game meant something another than another night of garlic fries.

CEO Howard Lincoln had little choice not just to overpay, but over-overpay, Cano. Lincoln’s stewardship has been rife with so many mistakes that he was forced to discard his industrial-strength caution and play the business game of baseball the way the rest of  MLB has to play it — not how a corporate lawyer would play it.

Of course it is ridiculous to commit to paying 10 years from now a 41-year-old second baseman $24 million. But this isn’t about 2024, this is about 2014. Which means that Lincoln cannot stop with Cano. If the Mariners fail to continue to invest in payroll to support Cano in the lineup and on the mound, they truly will be squandering $240 million.

Does this move smack of desperation? Panic? Insanity? Yes. But what else could they have done? The great fear among Mariners fans was that Lincoln was so disconnected from reality, he wouldn’t recognize that recklessness was the absolute minimum requirement.

As Otter said to his frat-house faithful in “Animal House”: “I think that this situation absolutely requires a really futile and stupid gesture be done on somebody’s part!”

Bluto: “We’re just the guys to do it!”

Think of Lincoln in a new way: A twin, separated at birth from John Belushi.

Huskies: Yes. The Pac-12 Conference is so big and so wealthy that it will soon be given a seat at the United Nations, a forum used to debating the arms race. Meanwhile, the fight goes on.

The university already mortgaged itself for 30 years to remodel decrepit Husky Stadium, so now is not the time to back off investment in the football program. Jumping off a fast-moving train rarely has a happy end.

Petersen has been asked to dance more than a drunken Kate Upton. Everyone wants him. His record at Boise State, 92-12, looks like a Harlem Globetrotters score. Yes, the caliber of the Broncos’ opponents was weaker. Tell that to Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl, when the plucky Spuds slipped a figurative stiletto into the Sooners, who had to see the blood on their jerseys before they knew they had been stabbed.

A veteran of eight years as a head coach, Petersen, 49, has the maturity and cool that Sarkisian lacked. His national cred figures to hold any wavering UW recruits, and perhaps induce a change of mind in a few others.

Huskies fans need to give a shout-out to Lane Kiffin, the former USC coach whose midseason firing set up the Sarkisian departure, and a second one to Woodward, who was at the right place and right time with the right school, right stadium and right pitch to draw away a coach happy where he was, to something better.

Now all Seattle sports fans need is an agonizing grimace Sunday afternoon from 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh after the “What’s Your Deal? Bowl,” and the storm surge of giddiness figures to fill all the bars in Pioneer Square.

 


YourThoughts

  • Eric K

    the way this week has gone (so much has happened it is hard to remember that the Hawks demolishing the Saints was just Monday night!) I expect an out of the blue report that The Kings arena deal fell through and they will be the Sonics next year:-)

    • art thiel

      Why not? The week still has two days left. Maybe Romar discovers Brandon Roy has two knees and one year of eligibility left.

      • Eric K

        I’d settle for miraculous recovery and signing with the new Sonics:-)

  • duk

    Oh my. Oh my. Art, baby…. when you in such high literary fashion inserted the reference to Animal House, I hope you were serious about your satire. Because if the satire that I sense is really brewing in there holds forth, then you have hit it once again. In short, Lincoln et al. will have to keep up the hijinx some more just to make this work. We all know that without certain changes and accommodations then there will be about a 55-80% chance that the sullen, pasty-face, attent-deficit-disorder feeling of baseball play and observation in Seattle will throw cold water on Cano and force him into a psychological canoe, paddling around for 3 yrs, batting medium, and not interested in anything… just like SOOOOO many others who have arrived and not thrived. Thus the “club” (one can only think of Spanky and Alfalfa) will have to wheedle and deedle to obtain at least two or three other smart-ass hot-shot players to keep him company. But will Spanky and friends do that? OR will they just plunk the Cano into the drippy water near the train tracks, with nobody for him to relate to, and then watch him flounder (or Otter), like another Beltre or Fuggins, etc.??? Cano’s personality is about as 180-degree opposite as you can get to that of Seattle. He must not have listened to advisers, who obviously must have told him how completely un-baseball it is here.

    • art thiel

      From 1995 to 2002, it wasn’t un-baseball. Management made baseball dreary with poor decisions. This may or may not work, but to keep doing what they were doing was guaranteed to fail.

  • SandlotSam

    It’s an absolute pleasure to see the M’s do something that’s swimming in decadence. I’m tired of the baseball equivalent of pork n’ beans. I want to feast! Who cares if the contract doesn’t pay off in year 10? Or year 9? Or year 8?. This is about 2014 to 2020. If the M’s get to the World Series (I contend that they don’t even have to win the WS, just get there) the effect of that will make this deal look like a bargain.

    Desperation? I’ll let Spock of the classic Star Trek TV show have the last word on that:

    “Quite simply, Captain, I examined the problem from all angles and it was
    plainly hopeless. Logic informed me that, under the circumstances, the
    only logical action would have to be one of desperation. Logical
    decision, logically arrived at.”

    Amen, Spock!

    • art thiel

      Swimming in decadence. I like that better than Spock’s quote, which is also apt. You’re right — the Mariners have numbed fans with micro-incremental efforts and five year plans. This is Lady Gaga in cleats.

  • Chris

    You can rag on Sarkisian all you want but USC hired him OVER Chris Peterson (when coaches who interviewed “withdraw” right before the announcement, it’s usually because they were told they won’t be chosen). Also, people compare Sark to Kiffin, well, let’s compare Peterson to Dirk Koetter and Dan Hawkins (former Boise St. coaches who flamed out after going to Arizona St. and Colorado respectively).

    • Eric K

      Koetter didn’t have as much success at Boise State and most people recognize that Hawkins’ success was due to his offensive coordinator, some guy named Petersen:-)

      As for USC, Petersen probably wasn’t a good fit at USC culturally, whether he recognized it, Haden recognized it or it was mutual doesn’t matter, bottom line is Huskies get a great coach who is a great fit with UW and Seattle.

      Also I think most people who compare Sark to Kiffin are pointing out that Sark is a better coach than Kiffin

    • art thiel

      Your skepticism is fair, but I think Petersen did pull away from USC first because he and Haden weren’t in agreement on football ops. USC is a unique job unfit for a lot of coaching personalities.

  • ss

    is that what happens with the Ms once Chuck is out the door? hmmmmm…

  • jafabian

    The M’s had little choice. Almost all the other sport teams in the area were getting more attention than they were. If they want Seattle’s sport dollar it was at the point where they had to do something drastic. I’ve wondered though what Eric Wedge thought when he heard about this. Or did he know and object because of his loyalty to the young players he worked with this past season?

    Prediction: the Sounders will do something comparable in the off-season.

    • art thiel

      Wedge may have been aware of the ambitions toward Cano, and could well have resisted.

      And the Sounders were the first to bust a move with Dempsey. Which offers a cautionary tale for the M’s about expectations.

    • 1coolguy

      Yes they did: Hire a qualified GM and get the ball rolling. LA, SF, Oakland, Philadelphia and Boston, all have fine GM’s: Hire away one of them (Beane turned the M’s down years ago) and move forward in an intelligent, sane way.
      Cano is a catch, but only one of 9 in the batting order, so he simply won’t see any pitches, as the pothers can’t hit their weight.

  • 1coolguy

    As Art mentioned in another post, hopefully Cano will be trade bait so we can pick up 3-4 decent starters. Otherwise, he’ll just be pitched around and then what’s the point?
    Petersen is the real deal as we know. I expect the Huskies to compete for the Pac-12 championship now and consistently be in the top 25. Didn’t have that expectation with Sark. I expect great recruiting classes now and hopefully Wilcox will want to re-join his ex-coach Petersen.
    Until Howard and Jack are gone I still won’t buy a Mariners ticket. the Cano deal is like putting lipstick on a pig.

    • art thiel

      In fairness to Sark, nobody after 0-12 was going to go after titles in five years. As I wrote earlier, Woodward had no choice in 08 but to hire a guy who came with training wheels.

      As far as the Mariners, no point in making predictions about your behavior until you see what the team looks like. The Cano deal blows away the dreary expectations.

  • Leon Russell

    “With the Mariners, the same TV asset prevails. In April, the Mariners purchased from DirecTV the majority interest in Root Sports, the marketplace’s lone regional sports network. The deal put a near-monopoly media operation in the hands of the monopoly MLB operator in a five-state region plus western Canada.

    “The Mariners and Root steadfastly refuse to disclose the value of the 17-year deal, but Forbes put the total sum at $2 billion.”

    Everyone always expects huge bucks from “regional sports networks.” But, it does not always work out that way.

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/mikeozanian/2013/11/02/csn-houstons-crash-and-the-potential-consequences/?partner=yahootix

    11/02/2013

    “CSN Houston’s Crash And The Potential Consequences

    “In late September, CSN Houston, the once-promising regional sports channel that launched last year and is owned by Houston’s Astros and Rockets and cable company Comcast, filed for bankruptcy protection. Astros owner Jim Crane vowed to fight the the bankruptcy filing, and last week the bankruptcy judge ruled that Crane can negotiate can try to save CSN Houston, which may lose over $60 million this year, by constructing a new business model for the RSN.

    “Crane said he will consult “with all the players–Fox Fox, DirecTV, AT&T, Time Warner. I will work to try to get something favorable so that we can move on with or without Comcast in the deal.” But DirecTV has already rebuffed Crane’s short term offer to let the satellite carrier show the games free of charge.”

    • art thiel

      Houston has been a mess from the git-go. You’re right, Leon, failure is possible. The difference is that in the Mariners/Root deal, the partners are the same; they’ve merely changed roles. The baseball/TV mechanism remains its very profitable self because of the monopoly status in this marketplace they both enjoy.

      • Leon Russell

        So, you think you know something that DirecTV does not know? Why would DirecTV sell their interest in Root Sports to the M’s if DirecTV could have made hundreds of millions of dollars of profits hanging onto it? Something tells me this deal is not all that profitable for the Mariners.
        I remember people saying that pro sports tea,s would make billions off of the internet.
        Still waiting.

        • Matt

          The main difference between the CSN Houston and ROOT Sports NW deals was that ROOT is already carried by TV providers. CSN Houston was/is starting from scratch and its only significant carriage agreement is with its own minority partner, Comcast. The M’s were wise to partner with an existing network rather than start one from scratch.

          Industry speculation has long held that DirecTV will spin off their 3 RSNs. The fact that the company even has RSNs is a result of a unique transaction amongst the then News Corp., Liberty Media and DirecTV a few years back (and the reason Fox Sports NW was renamed). Three RSNs is far from enough to be considered a serious player in that business against the likes of Fox, Comcast and now Time Warner Cable. One could look at the ROOT Sports NW/M’s deal as DirecTV’s first step in the eventual separation of those assets.

          • art thiel

            Matt, you know the biz. You’re exactly on point. The Seattle RSN is well established in five states, and has been owned by DirecTV, which as a satellite provider can reach a less populated, much broader geography than cable (Comcast) ever will.

            You’re right that the 3-RSN (also Denver, Pittsburgh) Root net is a bastard child that really can’t grow, and needs to be sold. My guess is that even though the deal is 17 years, there may be re-openers scheduled in so that changes in market and technology can be accommodated. But a sale is possible.

        • art thiel

          Regarding internet, MLB Advanced Media is a colossus, making huge money of internet properties an services. NBA.com and NFL.com are catching on.

          Regarding DirecTV, see below.

          • Leon Russell

            As you usually do, you missed the point.
            How much did the M’s have to pay DirectTV to gain control of the RSN? The M’s are not saying. You have any idea why? Isn’t that sort of key to how good of a deal that might or might not be for the M’s?

  • RunningRoy

    Art, you rightly recognize the Lane Kiffin dismissal as the wheel-greaser in the coaching merry-go-round, but you omitted another telling player. It was, after all, WSU’s stunning and nonsensical defensive gem on USC that really got the Trojan faithful placing large orders of pitchforks and torches. Husky fans thrilled with the Peterson hire should be on their hands and knees thanking the Cougs, right?

    • art thiel

      Excellent point, Roy. To take it one step further, The Cougs undercut Sarkisian’s tenure with the Apple Cup OT upset a year ago, exposing more of Sark’s weakness as a game manager. That loss, perhaps more than any other, was why many Montlake eyes were left dry upon his departure.

      By the way, Roy, happy third anniversary.

  • Jeff

    “been asked to dance more than a drunken Kate Upton.” Awesome, Art! Great read.

    • art thiel

      Thanks.

  • Jeff

    but that miserable sports town ranking actually penalizes teams that make the playoffs and lose as much as simply being awful, hence Atlanta being so high, above Cleveland, despite the pre-2013 repeated playoff appearances by the Falcons, plus postseason visits by the Braves… you’re more miserable apparently if you have hope and its dashed

    • art thiel

      Yes, their methodology accords more misery to the cruel tease than pure haplessness. I think that’s reasonable. Atlanta’s lousy attendance for such consistent baseball reflects that.

  • 3 Lions

    Poetic justice.
    Get rid of Sark, acquire Petersen & collect $1.5M in the process!

    • art thiel

      Half that goes to Boise State for pirating Petersen, but it’s still a net gain.

      • 3 Lions

        Kudos to Woodward!

  • tedsfrozenhead

    “Think of Lincoln in a new way: A twin, separated at birth from John Belushi.”

    That’s a classic line Art. Will you simply start referring to HL as Bluto from now on? Let’s give this line some legs!

    • art thiel

      Later-life regression to meathead frat boy. We’re all jealous of Howard.

  • giorgio547

    “The three most important things in real estate, location, location, location.” Seattle’s unparalleled natural beauty draws techies like a mouth to the flame, thank god. The Hawks have saved the day, temporarily, and without them it would be pretty bleak on the sports front. Art is compelled for many reasons to be a cheerleader’s cheerleader and I commend him for that, but until people get a handle on being used and abused by professional/amateur sports and big business there will be no peace in Peoria (AZ).

    Our current struggles with Boeing are a case in point. Washington voters have recently been “Schultzed”, “Sarked” and “Moraed”. Will we now add “Boeinged” to the list of perpetual jilting lovers?

  • Gary S

    A decade of irrelevance had my Mariner’s fandom firmly entrenched in apathy. Or so I thought. My biggest surprise following the Cano signing is that I am actually excited about the Mariners. Go figure.

  • Roslyndawg

    Art, you really outdid yourself on this one! Great read. The carbon dating bit had me laughing out loud! Keep ‘em coming.