My only regret is that nobody unleashed any insults along the lines of Mark Crawford's crack about Scotty Bowman and the steel plate in his head. Now I would have paid to hear something like that.
Well, Leonsis has gotten his Irish up again -- I know he's of Greek descent, but stick with me here -- and this time the object of his ire is ESPN's own Bill Simmons. The trouble started when Simmons fielded a question in his Sports Guy column from a reader who was astonished that the Washington Mystics had raised not one, not two, but three banners to the rafters of Verizon Center touting their league-leading attendance (1998, 1999 and 2002).
It was the following answer that drove Leonsis to the keyboard:
I don't consider those three WNBA attendance titles valid because half of those crowds were made up of Pittsburgh Steelers fans. But I mentioned your e-mail to my buddy House (a D.C. fan and resident) and he shamefully passed this tidbit along: Apparently last month during a Capitals game, the Caps raised a banner to commemorate their 2007-08 Southeast Division title.
Not to break in here, but NHL teams all over North America regularly make a big deal about raising banners. Anywhere you go in the league, you'll see the rafters covered in banners for regular season division titles and the like. Kind of makes you wonder why he's so shocked. Maybe those Boston fans are just jaded after all that recent success they've enjoyed -- except with the Bruins.
Back to Sports Guy:
If you came up with some sort of formula to determine the worst four-sport city in America that included things like "sweeping lack of success," "general apathy," "ability of opposing fans to overwhelm your home crowd," "lack of tradition," "most transplants living in the city and rooting for other teams" and everything else, wouldn't Washington and Atlanta end up battling it out for the title like Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett in the '80s, like, they'd be so far ahead of the pack that it would be foolish to even mention the other contenders?Having lived here for nearly 25 years, it's hard to argue with a lot of what Simmons is talking about. I've been at Verizon Center for more than a few games over the years when what he describes above is exactly what happens -- usually at the hands of fans from Buffalo and Pittsburgh.
Then again, a lot of that in recent years during Caps games could be attributed to one incontrovertible fact: the team was near the bottom of the league and attendance was low -- something that made it all too easy for fans of out-of-town teams to grab tickets at the last minute and make plenty of noise in an empty arena.
But around halfway through last season as the team began its charge to the postseason, life here changed a lot inside Verizon Center. Powered by Alex Ovechkin, the league's reigning MVP, the team started to win -- often in dramatic fashion -- and the fans began to return. By the time the playoffs rolled around, fans from Philadelphia were exiled to small knots in the far reaches of the upper bowl.
In short, life is a lot different around here, something Simmons wouldn't really understand granted that he relies on second-hand reports from local readers. And here's where Leonsis chimed in, quoting numbers that show the Caps moving in the right direction attendance-wise and financially. But as is his wont, Leonsis turned the tables on Simmons and ESPN's parent company, Disney:
Last quarter, Disney earnings were down 13 percent. The outlook is sobering. One analyst said it was "an ugly, ugly quarter."This is a tactic Leonsis has used before, and it certainly says something valuable about the mainstream media: while reporters will often look at the NHL's financial situation with a jaundiced eye, and more often than not act as if they're ready to dump the first shovel full of dirt into the league's grave, it isn't very often that they turn their investigative instincts onto their own financials. Maybe that's because if they look too closely, they might not like what they find.
Overall revenues grew only six percent. ESPN ad revenues were down. Stock price is way down. Analysts are growing concerned about outlook. Layoffs are coming, big cuts everywhere. Now Sports Czar, what is it that you want to say about our team; our fans; and our outlook again? Your move.
Then again, perhaps the ultimate irony of all this is that Simmons may very well agree with Leonsis and his take on Disney/ESPN. After all, Simmons has been taking not-so-veiled swipes at his own employer for some time now. And it was impossible not to notice that Simmons had set up his own blog outside of ESPN.com, one that features a picture of actor Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne in The Shawshank Redemption.
Looking at that, might one get the impression that Simmons would like to escape? And considering that Leonsis is a minority investor in SB Nation, might he just have exactly the kind of place that Simmons could escape to?
It sounds like these two guys should talk.