Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Sports-newspapers conflict of interest: the bottom line

How can newspapers truly claim to cover sports impartially, when you have a media-sports team ownership conflict of interest lie this:
(Being a director of the Boston Red Sox) was not the first time (former Senate Majority Leader George) Mitchell would have a financial stake in a baseball team. At the same time he joined the Red Sox, Mitchell was a member of the board of directors of the Walt Disney Co., the parent company of the Anaheim Angels and eventual 2002 World Series champions. He has been on the Disney board since 1994, and was chairman at Disney from 2004-06.

But from the beginning, the Red Sox sale was a particularly sensitive issue for Selig. The commissioner was accused of engineering the $660 million Red Sox transaction to the Henry group, while various other competitors to buy the Red Sox, such as HBO and CableVision founder Charles Dolan, believed the Henry group's bid had not been the highest. Dolan reportedly believed he had outbid Henry by nearly $100 million, and a bid by Miles Prentice was said to be the highest, at $755 million. Selig denied any involvement in managing the sale of the team or that he favored Henry, who had owned the Florida Marlins, or Werner, who endured a turbulent experience as owner of the San Diego Padres during the early 1990s when baseball was embroiled in a rift between large- and small-market franchises. Selig, who was fond of Werner, watched the bitterly divided owners push Werner out of the game in 1993 and told him he would run a team again one day.

In the days following the sale, Massachusetts Attorney General Thomas Reilly announced an investigation of the transaction on the grounds that the Yawkey Trust, the charitable foundation that held the team following the 1992 death of Jean Yawkey, was entitled to the highest bid. Reilly threatened a lawsuit against the Red Sox and Major League Baseball, depending on his findings. The Boston Globe, which holds a 17-percent stake in the Red Sox through its ownership by the New York Times Company, referred to Henry's purchase as "a bag job." The Boston Herald called the sale, "the fix." Ultimately, Reilly did not take legal action after the Henry ownership group agreed to increase its charitable contribution to the Yawkey Trust.

So, you have Disney, with multiple media ownerships, above all, ESPN, controlling the Angels. You then have the Boston Globe, via the New York Times Company, with an interest in the Red Sox, which not only raises Red Sox conflicts of interest, but, given the Times is in New York, Yankees conflicts of interest as well.

But, it’s not just MLB. The Dallas Morning News at one time owned a share of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks.

If major professional sports leagues, above all MLB, had any guts at all, they would ban media ownership of sports teams, period.

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