...they will come.
And I'm not just talking about stadiums, ballparks, and sporting grounds. I'm talking about The Franchise. The Company. The Team. I'm talking about a commitment not only to winning now, but the future of your franchise. I am talking about starting right at the top - great ownership. Not a business man, ONLY looking to make money and turn an investment. I'm talking about an owner who either starts up a brand new team or takes over a team that maybe was going in the wrong direction. The reason that I am going all crazy on this subject, is because of the excitement I have had over the years with the Tampa Bay Rays ownership. I am reminded of that excitement and commitment to winning everytime I watch the product on the field. Today, I was again reminded of the feeling you get when you know that the owners want it as bad as you do.
Earlier in the week I had heard an interview with Steve Yzerman on a local radio show here in Tampa. I'll be the first to admit, I am not a very big hockey fan and even after the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004, I still was not a huge follower. It caught my attention, without a doubt, but it was not enough to keep me hanging around. Today, my favorite local sport talk show had yet another interview, this time with brand new CEO Ted Leiweke. You could hear it in his voice that he was not only committed to winning, but committed to sustained success. Committed to the fans, the city, and the people around him. I could tell he was being honest and his track record (the NFL's Seattle Seahawks for one) speaks for itself. It has created an excitement in me, that even 2004 couldn't muster.
The same goes for when Stuart Sternberg took over the Tampa Bay Rays. At the time, the product on the field had gotten stale, the ownership seemed less interested in the fans and more interested in the money. Sweet Lou didn't get what was promised in the beginning of his tenure and by the end of it, the new ownership wanted a youth movement. New ownership, basically started building these team from the ground up. They brought in a relatively young front office to handle personnel. At the time it appeared Friedman and Silverman knew more about MONEY and less about personnel, but over time we have seen these guys have not only an incredible business savvy, but fantastic eyes at prospects. And surely, it's not only them. The Rays are deep all the way down to the Minors where they have perennial Championship contending teams. They also have a fantastic scouting department, development department, coaches, etc. What good is it drafting first if you consistently draft busts? What good is it having young players, if you don't have a manager that can handle the young, different personalities? From the outside looking in, you would think that others around baseball were scoffing at what the Rays were trying to do. Consider that they brought in a new age, philosophical Joe Maddon as manager. You know, the guy with the famous hipster glasses, the gray hair, and oh yeah...no prior MLB managing experience. How has that turned out?
The team took steps to distance themselves from a utterly TERRIBLE past and history for what was still a YOUNG franchise. They did away with the silly DEVIL Ray. They did away with the indigo and purple (seriously?) uniforms. They revamped "The Pit" as Joe Maddon once affectionately called the Trop. This was only the beginning as over the next few years, the team's new owners, led by Sternberg, would slowly begin to increase payroll. They would find diamonds in the rough in the likes of Carlos Pena, Ben Zobrist and basically the entire bullpen. They would rid themselves of 'entitled' players like Delmon Young and Elijah Dukes. They took some gambles in letting go of players like Young and former face of the franchise Scott Kazmir, but got their returns in players like Matt Garza, Jason Bartlett, and Sean Rodriguez. This is a commitment to winning. You see players leaving, but you see returns. You see players coming and many that don't want to go. You see accountability from young players and their young contracts. You see a team constantly trying to keep pace in their tough division, but constantly moving forward.
These are not your 'Devil' Rays of old. These are not your Lightning of recent.
For a different perspective, consider the other Tampa Bay franchise, the Buccaneers. The Glazers, owners of the Bucs for a few years now, came in with the same idea. The same philosophy of win, win win. They built the team a new stadium, they lowered ticket prices, they changed the team's uniforms, they locked up key veterans and future Hall of Famers. They emptied their pockets for one of the better coaches in the league and some of the better Free Agents available. They got their team, their fans, and their city a much needed Championship. The city was alive! The city was buzzing! They were the first to bring true Sports success to the city! We love them! They love us! ((Silence))
And then? The shut put locks on their bank vault. They released their veterans. They released their coach! Now they are going through a youth movement, which in itself is actually the best way to go about things, but they are not opening their pocketbooks for some of the key guys that are with the team. Young, yet proven guys. And what are the results? All the sell outs they had the eyars prior, the fans are turning away. Why? Is it the product? Partly, maybe. More so, it is the commitment. The Glazers have been some of the stingiest owners in ALL OF SPORTS, the past few years. It appears they have turned their backs on this franchise and with it, the fans. The fans notice these things. Where is the buzz? Where is the excitement? Why is it that the Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstotts, and John Lynchs aren't more involved with this team? Obviously, not only the fans see it.
And thus, as we look at the history of great franchises, we notice that it starts from the top. The owners and then trickles down. What do all of these franchises have in common?
San Francisco 49ers
New England Patriots
New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
Besides multiple championships, they all have owners who want to win and it shows. These owners know that like all good investments, when you put your money IN, you will get your returns! Another thing all of these franchises have in common...are the fan's support! Obviously, this is not to say that ALL other owners are simply in it for the money, but you can easily see the difference in what is considered 'small market teams'. Look at the history, that these teams above have. You have to start somewhere, but where? At the top. With the owners.