Bob Nutting, the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Ogden Newspapers
Taking "baseball on the cheap" to a new level
Baseball on the cheap (a continuing story)
Robert Nutting owns the Ogden Newspaper chain and he's the principle owner of baseball's Pittsburgh Pirates. Editorials found in his papers regularly brag about his company's commitment to journalism. In his media interviews about his baseball team, Nutting repeatedly asserts his commitment to bringing winning baseball to Pittsburgh. Once you get beyond what he says to what he does, it doesn't take much analysis to realize that Nutting's only concern, in both cases, is the bottom line.
For example, my Sunday post documented the near total lack of current news in that day's paper. While it was perhaps a new low in news coverage, it was not that significant a departure from the norm -- a news bar that was already set near the floor. Beyond the cost of paper and ink, it costs Ogden very little to produce a Sunday "newspaper" and they get $1.50 for this minimal effort.
I've written previously that Nutting's baseball game plan is similar to its newspaper plan: get by as cheaply as you can even if the product you produce is terrible. For those not familiar with the plight of this year's Pittsburgh Pirates, management has traded away good players and gotten little in return. Fans complained earlier in the year but to no avail and consequently, now show their displeasure by staying away. Attendance is down 28% from last year and 44% from their last good year (2015). And as a final kick to the whatever, their general manager, Neil Huntington, recently threatened that the Pirates won't be looking to add to their roster if attendance doesn't improve. (That a sure-fire way to build interest in the team: "The beatings will stop when morale improves!")
Here's sportswriter Mark Madden, writing yesterday at Pittsburgh TribLive about the team's likely baseball future:
With the Pirates under .500 and attendance swooning, it's easy to imagine owner Bob Nutting indulging his insatiable greed and slashing expenses to the bone Chicago White Sox-style. Grind out profit by any means necessary. This year's .474 winning percentage might ultimately be a relatively pleasant memory.
How bad will it get for Pirate fans? How good will it get for Pirate ownership?
Nutting looks to new profit enhancers: Pennsylvania's sports betting
John Steigerwald wrote an opinion piece last weekend about the president of the Pittsburgh Pirates recently writing a letter to Pennsylvania's gaming board asking for a share of the sports wagering revenue. What does he want the money for? From the letter:
“It stands to reason that a portion of the revenue collected from sports wagering should be allocated to the maintenance and upkeep of PNC Park and other sports based facilities in Pennsylvania which provides (sic) for sports wagering in the first place. We are concerned that no such provision is included in the current law or regulation.”
If my memory is correct, public financing and not Nutting money paid for the building of the stadium and now his organization wants the state to kick-in on the cost of maintenance. Amazing. As Steigerwald points out:
It’s good to be the Nuttings. Do you think they care that you don’t like them because the Pirates stink? Fortunately, fewer and fewer fans are using their money to make them a little richer.
But Steigerwald misses another possible revenue stream for Nutting: the integrity fee. That same letter to the gaming board makes the case for why the Pirates and other major league clubs want an integrity fee:
“We believe an ‘Integrity Fee’ is essential to fund programs educating our players, fans and the general public regarding the potential involvement of unsavory characters and organizations that may attempt to alter the outcome of these sporting events.”
(Shorter version: despite being against sports wagering for years, we now want a cut of the action.)
Given Pirate management's attitude toward their fans and their singular pursuit of profits, the irony of their asking for an "integrity fee" was probably lost on them. (And don't get me started on those "unsavory characters" they don't want involved in baseball.)
Mark Madden nicely sums this up in the title for his column that I referenced above:
Pirates' Bob Nutting is incredibly, distastefully greedy
Using your papers to boost your baseball revenues
Here's a short definition of "full disclosure" as it applies to journalism from Wiktionary:
The disclosure of any connection between a reporter (or publisher) and the subject of an article that may bias the article.
Regular readers of Ogden Newspapers probably know that this is a foreign concept to the chain. (Have you ever seen a "full disclosure" mentioned in our papers?) Both of last week's Wheeling papers, for instance, carried a very positive article on the upcoming Food Truck Festival at Seven Springs Resort. (See here.) Nowhere in the article did it mention that the owner of the newspaper is the owner of the resort (Bob Nutting) -- something, out of fairness to the reader, that most newspapers would surely note.
But let's get back to sports wagering and the proposed integrity fee which would be paid to the various leagues and organizations to insure the "integrity" of the sport. Our local papers have covered it. But how?
One of the earliest articles on West Virginia's proposed sports wagering legislation was a front page story on February 13 by Joselyn King:
NBA, MLB Say West Virginia’s Sports Betting Bill Is Flawed
Can we guess how?
In late February, Mike Myer devoted part of a column on sports wagering to supporting it.
Another story by Casey Junkins followed on March 1:
MLB: West Virginia Sports Betting Bill Could Mar the Integrity of the Game
This pro-integrity fee article gets all of its information from baseball's senior vice president for league economics and strategy. No other sources are cited.
On May 19, the Intelligencer ran a long (by their standards) editorial that West Virginia's sports betting needed to
Get Integrity Plan in Place
The fee is mentioned in a number of other articles/editorials but none of them explains why Nevada, where millions are bet annually, has never paid a penny to insure any sport's integrity.
We know where the local "newspapers" stand on the integrity fee. A simple question: who stands to make the most money if a sports integrity fee is put into place?
Legal Sports Report recently crunched the numbers and concluded that $2 billion would go to the leagues if integrity fees were in place of which Major League Baseball would get $480 million. Here's their conclusion:
Quite simply, the leagues stand to make a lot of money if “integrity fees” are copied everywhere. And that profit would likely far outstrip any costs associated with integrity the leagues would incur.
Wheeling's newspapers have supported the integrity fee from the beginning and at no point have they explained that one of prime beneficiaries of the fee would be the papers' owner, Bob Nutting. Forget full disclosure on this one. Once again, this is no disclosure.