Saturday, January 7, 2012

Qs, As with Maury Brown

Many of you are familiar with Maury Brown, founder of the Business of Sports Network (AC links here), mainly because he has been outspoken about Jim Crane for the past several months. In addition to his own site, he is a contributor to Baseball Prospectus, Forbes, and has been referenced for material by the New York Times, Time, USA Today, and a bunch of other publications with which you are already familiar. He also has a tendency to rile up Astros fans, so Maury was good enough to answer a few questions for us...

AC: You were perhaps the most prominent media member outspoken against the ownership of Jim Crane, while most were content to just sit back and let everything play out. What was the motivation behind the exposes on Crane?

MB: Looking at ownership background is something that I've done for over a decade, and doesn't include current owners, but them historically. My look at Crane was only different in the fact that he had been part of several bids (Astros, Cubs, Rangers, and then back to the Astros), and he'd always been portrayed as "unapprovable". I never fully understood that, so I went looking deeper. From there, it became a matter of seeing what had transpired to his businesses and how that fit in with owning an MLB club. I said this for my Forbes piece, but I passionately believe owning a sports club is different than any other business as they are a community asset. The local team instills great emotion in the fans, who have a vested interest. Myself and others, when looking at what had gone on with owners in the past, and now with Frank McCourt, was to say, 'Has baseball, and the fans of the Astros, really addressed everything they need to about who is the steward of the club, or has what has occurred something that can be explained away and was part of the past?' All, I'm sure, are hoping it's the latter.

AC: How would you address the (ad nauseum) comments that, if you're critical of a team, you must certainly hate them?

MB: Blind allegiance is something that's never healthy. Being critical of one aspect does not mean you are critical, as a whole. I've spent many hours researching the history of the Astrodome, the Colt .45s, and the Astros. Judge Hofheinz is one of the most incredible people in the history of, not just baseball, but sports as a whole. So, the "Astros" will continue on in history. Good and bad aspects are parts of all things over time, and that holds true of sports clubs depending on where you look at a snapshot. I certainly don't hate the Astros. If anything, I tend to be more caught up in the moment of what's happening in terms of some of the club's history that's going to be stopped (read: the move out the National League). Fans have a large interest in their local and regional teams. I often write what I do because they matter most.

AC: Who should Astros fans be mad at: Bud Selig, Jim Crane, Drayton McLane, or someone else?

MB: I don't know if "mad" is the right word. In the cold reality of business, there was a seller (McLane) and a buyer (Crane) and there were $680 million reasons for the deal to go through. Mr. McLane has been a perfect member of baseball;s ownership fraternity, and with it, the league surely wanted the sale to work out for all involved. But, I mentioned the situation with McCourt prior and that cast a pale over the owners. If you think about it, owners have run into problems after coming into the league, but few have had the problems Crane had in his background before being approved. McLane had been saying, "Don't trust this guy" after backing out of the sale in 2008, and here he comes saying, "He's great" when the money in the sale is so large. In the end, I'm not going to pass judgement on how Crane runs the Astros. He hasn't had enough time at the helm to be judged one way or the other. But, there are certainly a lot of people paying closer attention to him than some others that have been approved this early on. I believe that's a good thing for the Astros and fans of the team.

AC: On Twitter you said that you wanted to see the Astros get back to being a great franchise. When, do you think, were the "Glory Years" of the Houston Astros?

MB: It's a great question as "glory years" for the Astros comes in a couple of different forms for me. Certainly the creation of the Harris County Domed Stadium, later christened the Astrodome, is something that is one of the greatest feats in the history of sports business. It was full of so many firsts that are now commonplace... roofed facility, luxury suites, in-stadium restaurants, even the colored seating was revolutionary. In terms of the team, I so vividly remember that 18-inning, 7-6 win over the Braves in the postseason of 2005. That team "felt" as if it had all the parts, and the club was riding high. So, it's a little of both. The recent sell-down over the past couple of seasons to get player payroll more manageable for the sale from McLane to Crane was discomforting. It put some front office people in a difficult position, and, as last season clearly showed, it didn't help the Astros in the standings. But, there's a new regional sports network that will infuse the Astros with additional revenues. If the money is used wisely in free agency and wrapping up key talent, while player development is done soundly, there's no reason that the Astros can't be back in the thick of it sooner rather than later.

AC: Astros fans are obviously pretty upset about getting moved to the Kids Table, I mean the American League. As you cover the business side of sports, what's the financial impact of the Astros moving to the AL?

MB: I think the move to the AL, financially, is not as bad as it's being portrayed. I've spent hours speaking to those that are involved in television rights deals, and while this deal has a wrinkle (the Rockets and Comcast being partners with the Astros in the RSN), the fact is while having games starting later due to West Coast games can be partially off-set by saying, look at all the day games in the Eastern Timezone that the Cubs play. And while it's never good to say that the visiting team is a large part of the attendance and TV draw, the fact is, the Astros will be seeing more of the Yankees and Red Sox and as much as there is a large quarter that loathes them, television and attendance numbers will likely be up -- way up -- when they come to Houston. The biggest downside is having to pay for a DH, which often comes with a healthy price tag in the free agency space, and yes, having the late start time for games being played on the West Coast. The biggest thing for the fans is the loss of nearly 50 years of NL history. Coupling that with what Bud Adams did to the Oilers name, and it's just "one more thing". The one thing everyone can agree on is, good or bad, well.... 2013 is going to be a very, very different year for the Astros.

UPDATE: I know many if you are upset with me not asking about the Character issue. Fact is, there were things Maury Brown would discuss, and things he would not. His sources about Crane's character were not open for discussion, and I was okay with that. Sorry to disappoint you with this free service, I sincerely hope that you were not put out too terribly much.

Big thanks to Maury Brown for taking the time to answer these questions.