Garth Snow and Mark Cuban are Right

New York Islanders General Manager Garth Snow has come under some white hot criticism for the flowing quote after losing his best player John Tavares for the remainder of the National Hockey League season because of a knee injury suffered at an Olympics contest between Canada and Latvia.

“Are the IIHF or IOC going to reimburse our season ticket holders now? It’s a joke. They want all the benefits from NHL players in Olympics and don’t want to pay when our best player gets hurt,” said Snow after the injury occurred.

Snow should have also added marketing partners along with TV partners.

John Tavares main job is playing for the New York Islanders not the Canadian Olympic Team. Snow complained and got criticized. Normally Snow flies under the radar among the New York City area’s 10 pro teams and various college basketball programs. For the most part the Islanders franchise is ignored by the New York sports media. But Snow may have some supporters privately who cannot speak out.

The problem is that someone from the NHL thinks it is a good idea for players and the league to get exposure at the two week corporate bazaar that features some athletic events. The players want to go also because someone it has been instilled in them and fans that these games really matter. The league wants to sell more T-shirts and caps in places that may discover hockey because it is in the Olympics. But Snow is correct, he lost his best player and other players have been hurt in what is really a meaningless tournament or maybe as meaningful as winning a Gold Medal in tennis after winning Wimbledon, the French Open, the Australian Open or the US Open.

The International Olympic Committee, a bastion of European aristocracy, likes big names at their corporate bazaar which features some athletics. The group added golf in 2016 because Tiger Woods was available. At least that was the thinking some five years ago when golf was added to the Games with baseball and softball cut. Baseball was a rather easy elimination for the group that holds a permanent observer status at the United Nations. Neither Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig nor the Major League Baseball Players Association Executive Director Don Fehr back in the late 1990s and early 2000s could cut a deal that would have allowed Major League Players in the Olympics in 2004—MLB wisely did not want to interrupt the championship season for a meaningless two week tournament—and the IOC fired back by complaining to United States Senator John McCain that they didn’t like Major League Baseball’s drug policies. The International Olympics Committee President Dr. Jacques Rogge actually wanted the United States Congress to look into the baseball drug agreement.

The IOC really wants the Tiger Woods and Major League Baseball Players to get an opportunity to talk to their sponsors and see if those sponsors would commit money to quiet the earls, barons and other out of work aristocrats happy in their chalets in Europe.

The group decided not only drop baseball but to further punish the sport it picked on women athletes and eliminated softball. That’s the true spirit or spite of the Olympics, punish another group to get even with Major League Baseball. The girls from the US were winning too much for the aristocrats’ taste. Oddly enough, the United States didn’t win the gold medal in the final softball tournament played in 2008.

Snow has been panned by writers who claim he isn’t spending money to improve his team and people following the Snow comments on various boards that have posted Snow’s rant. They also have called Snow a hypocrite because he played for 1994 US Olympic Hockey team and in the 1998 World Championships. The Islanders organization was also dismayed when Kyle Okposo was left off the 2014 US Olympic team.

Snow joins Mark Cuban in questioning why pro players need to participant in the Olympics. “I think it’s the biggest mistake the NBA makes,” Cuban said in April 2012 “If you look up stupid in the dictionary you see a picture of the USA Dream Team playing for free for corporate America so the U.S. Olympic Committee can make billions of dollars. So if you come up with something that you own that you can give to me for free so I can make billions of dollars, I want it.”

Cuban wants the NBA to come up with an equivalent to the World Baseball Classic.

Cuban opined in 2012 what Snow is experiencing right now. If one of his players got hurt, Cuban would be left holding the bag and the International Olympic Committee would sail off into the sunset counting their money.

Before Tavares’s injury, it was doubtful that Snow’s Islanders were going to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. One ESPN reporter Katie Strang actually wrote the following with apparently zero knowledge of how NHL leases work and how teams get money from revenue streams that are not available for the Islanders franchise went after Snow not knowing all the facts.

“For one, Snow’s complaints ring a little hollow considering how many times he has disappointed the fan base with his unwillingness to spend money and failure to put a competitive product on the ice. The 22 games the Isles will play without Tavares won’t be the first time the fans have questioned whether spending money to watch a struggling team in an antiquated building is worth it.”

For the education of writers who should not ever venture into why a team doesn’t spend without background, here is some background.

The New York Islanders present lease with Nassau County is perhaps the worst agreement in all of North American sports. The Islanders get very little of the revenue generators such as luxury box money, concessions and parking thanks to a 30 year agreement signed by then owner John Pickett and Nassau County in 1985.

Pickett inked the deal a year before the sports earthquake known as the 1986 Tax Code Reform was signed by President Ronald Reagan. The sports dynamics between owners and communities had changed significantly. Under the tax code change, a municipality could offer an owner 92 cents out of every dollar generated in a stadium or an arena and the community would use the remaining eight cents to pay down the buildings’ debt. There was no way that a community could get away with taken in eight cents and paying off bonds so the communities had to raise taxes on car rentals, hotel and motel rooms, on water, sewers, properties or layoff workers.

The revision also ushered in a major wave of expansion in the NHL, and a slew of relocations in the NHL, NBA and the NFL. Baseball finally moved a team in 2005 with the Montreal franchise shifting to Washington.

Somehow the Islanders franchise fell through the cracks. Neither the Millstein brothers nor present owner Charles Wang could get a building approved in Nassau County. Millstein tried to break the lease in 1998 with Cleveland as a possible destination. Millstein eventually sold the team to Wang. Finally in 2012, Wang signed a deal to relocate the Islanders to Brooklyn.

Presumably Wang in 2015 will finally live by 21st century sports economics rules and have major revenue streams available to spend on players. The New York Islanders franchise has played by 1985 rules and has seen the world pass the team by in significant leaps and bounds.

Wang’s Islanders franchise is the textbook example of how a franchise will bottom out without a constant revenue stream flowing into the team. The Nassau Coliseum revenues mostly went to SMG, the  arena/stadium management group.

The Islanders season will end in April, Tavares will return in the fall and the team will play one last season in a building that was plopped in the middle of a field that was sometimes used as an airport and a military base. The gold medal winner of the 2014 Sochi Olympics will be forgotten soon enough. The Stanley Cup Playoffs will start and last two months. In June some team will win and the captain of that team will be called to center ice and loft the 121 year old Cup (or a reasonable facsimile of the real thing) and that will signify the world’s best team or the National Hockey League’s best team. T. J. Oshie will fade into oblivion being a footnote in the 2014 Olympics for scoring a shoot out goal that allowed the United States to beat Russia.

At some point, the aristocracy, the International Ice Hockey federation, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and NHL Players Association Executive Director Donald Fehr will decide if it is worth to shut down the season for two weeks in 2018 in order for players to compete in the Pyeongchang, South Korea games.

Evan Weiner can be reached at [email protected] . His e-book, “The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition” is available ( ) and his e-books, America’s Passion: How a Coal Miner’s Game Became the NFL in the 20th Century, ( ),  From Peach Baskets to Dance Halls and the Not-so-Stern NBA (  )  and the reissue of the 2005 book, The Business and Politics of Sports ( ) and reissue of the 2010 e-book The Business and Politics of Sports, Second Edition ( ) are available from e-book distributors globally.
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