Jim Crane

But it’s not their money. This is a private company, even though it’s got a public flair to it.

Jim Crane

Jim_CraneJim Crane—owner of the Houston Astros—was discussing fan displeasure with his “scorched earth” plan to rebuild the team. He went on to add that he knows fans want him to spend more money, so anyone with $10 million bucks was free to give him a call. Frustration with the Astros has a lot to do with the 213 losses over that last two years. When the 2013 season opens, the roster will include only two players who were with the team in 2011.  This means the Astros will have slimmed their team payroll to about $25 million. This is by far the lowest of any team in Major League Baseball and provides the opportunity for growth but it also makes another losing season a distinct possibility. Coupled with the fact that the Astros are moving from a weak division to one of baseball’s toughest, fans are anticipating the dreaded 106 losses. That would make them the first team to lose 100 or more games in three consecutive seasons since the Washington Senators did it in 1963. For Astros fans, there will be no joy in Mudville this season.

Crane accurately noted, however, this is business. Like any good business man, he has a plan. The plan is simple: slash near-term expenses by cutting veterans and simultaneously revitalize the farm system to consistently produce downstream talent. He’s also increasing income where he can. The Astros’ new deal with Comcast SportsNet Houston doubles the team’s TV revenue for 2013. It’s a gutsy move to treat the 2013 season as an extended spring training, but Crane rightly assesses that when the strategy pays off in a few years, no one will care what happened in 2013. But this is professional sports and as such, it engenders a disproportionate degree of passion among the public. Because the team’s identity is also linked to the city’s identity, even non-baseball fans feel pride in in a victory and despair in a loss. After all, the Astros are the home team and home carries some emotional baggage for all of us. It’s the emotion that makes Crane’s strictly business approach hard to handle. The professional sports business model needs us to be emotionally connected to the team, yet the intangible fan enthusiasm takes a back seat when it comes to dollars and cents. The business side of sports assumes that, like spurned lovers, we’ll always come back. Or if not the original fans, a new generation will fill the seats and buy the gear.

Most of us experience home team loyalty through association with sports, schools, churches or clubs. We make an emotional connection that keeps us engaged in good times and bad. But we also experience it at work. We tend to be loyal to our employers. We do more than what we’re paid to do. We sacrifice personal and family time for the best interests of the firm. In fact, we often come to think of our workplace as an extended family. But it’s not family; it’s business. When you’re downsized out of a job two years before you’re retirement eligible, it’s business. When layoffs wreck your financial well-being, it’s business. When a new strategy shoves you off your career track, it’s business. When these things happen we feel angry, cheated and conned. But we’ve done it to ourselves. Work should never be confused with family. You might have a great job that is financially and intellectually rewarding and you might work with wonderful people, but it is transitory. One way or another, you’ll leave that job or that job will leave you. If you’ve made it a part of your life and not the focus of your life, you’ll be ok.  Keep a healthy perspective on what’s really important.  You’re the home team. Start rooting for yourself.     —Ebert

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