Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Some thoughts on this Astros lawsuit

So by now you know that Jim Crane is suing Uncle Drayton, Comcast, NBC Universal, you, your mom, the neighbor's dog, and Jimmy Kimmel for fraud, alleging that the above parties misrepresented the value of the RSN that was a part of the deal.

If you remember, the price that Jim Crane paid - $680m (before the AL discount) - included the Houston Regional Sports Network, of which the Astros control 40%. David Barron reminded us at the time that, at least in 2002, the Astros' portion of the HRSN was valued at $213m. NESN said that the Crane group bought their part of the RSN for $93m. 

But CSN Houston wasn't paying the Astros its rights fees for most of the season, because of the mess with the (lack of) carriage deals. Crane said last week:
We now face a situation where either we accept millions of dollars in loss each year, with the damage to this franchise and this city for next 20 years, or we fight back. I did not buy this team to have a low payroll and be mediocre. We bought this team to win championships and we bought part of this network so our fans can watch the games.

Comcast responded:
It appears that Mr. Crane is suffering from an extreme case of buyer's remorse, and aiming to blame the network's challenges on anything but his own actions.

And Drayton released a statement:
This was one of the most complex and scrutinized transactions of my business career. The accusations that have been reported are hollow and appear to be an attempt to recreate the facts.

So of course everyone is going to stick to these positions. And we're going to hear about it, because this is the media we're talking about. Might as well get ready for only hearing about the Astros in terms of the lawsuit.

But there are a couple of things to which I keep coming back:

*There are two possible resolutions here: (1) Either Jim Crane didn't do his homework on a $680m deal or (2) Drayton McLane tried to screw Jim Crane.

Neither is a fun scenario. Remember Drayton didn't like Crane for backing out on a deal to buy the team in 2008. But the choice seems to be between Crane being dumber than Drayton or Drayton screwing Crane, which in turns screws the baseball team we all like more than the other baseball teams.

What's the best-case scenario here? Probably that this will result in a highly entertaining Old Rich White Guy Slapfight, with David Barron refereeing, and the Astros getting a new carriage deal worth so much money that the Dodgers and Rangers weep with despair as the Astros buy All The Players. Worst-case is that Crane loses in court, and we fans are stuck with a payroll hovering around $2.13 an hour plus tips.