Selling High

by Ryan

Nothing surprises me anymore.

We watch sports with the hope that something incredible will happen, something we’ve never seen before that justifies the hours and hours we put into watching. It’s a system that very rarely yields fruit here in Buffalo, but that only makes many put that much more time and feeling into it. Now I’m still pretty young compared to others, but today I feel like I’ve seen pretty much all there is to see. Why? Because when I heard about this I didn’t bat an eye.

I mean, why should I? After that monstrosity in Toronto I’m done having any faith in owners and loyalty and all that wishful thinking nonsense. It’s clear that for fans sports are a hobby, and for owners and players sports are a business. There is no such thing as a “hometown discount” or charity cases in sports, the business is defined through dollar signs and stadium deals and signing bonuses.

Do I think Larry Quinn is lying? Of course I do, but that doesn’t mean I think Tom Golisano is wrong. Selling the team at this point would be a smart business move. He said it himself, buying the Sabres was not a charity case. If he was going to purchase the team it would be with the intent to make money, and that’s exactly what he did.

Golisano is a Rochester boy who did Western New York a favor and kept the Sabres in Buffalo. From that point on he didn’t owe us jack squat. He isn’t a hockey mind, he isn’t a native son, he’s a businessman. Businessman make money, and if you can’t make money with this team or deem it too much effort, you cut your losses and move on. His involvement with the franchise is minimal to begin with; who was the one releasing statements for the team when the questions came?

When you think about it a change in ownership could be a good thing. What has Tom Golisano done to help the Sabres since he bought the team? Here’s my running list:

– The Sabres stayed in Buffalo
– ?

That’s about it from my point of view. He lowered ticket prices initially, which was a smart business move. They invested some money in the Arena, and gave the organization a level of stability. But other than that what has he personally contributed to the franchise? Has he put in the money to make a big playoff push? Sort of. Has he gone out and obtained a big name free agent? Has he made a splash in any way that shows a commitment to winning in the long term? Has he answered the questions posed by the local media, or even pretended to be involved with the day to day operations of this team?

In that regard, Tom Golisano’s usefulness to this organization has come and gone. He was the savior, he swooped in and saved a lowly franchise from outsourcing and the evils of Paul Allen. But that window has come and gone. He will do nothing in his tenure but maintain a profit margin and continue to remain hockey illiterate. His visits will be infrequent, his influence minimal, and the team’s performance will continue to be mediocre. Worst of all, this will be seen as okay because he doesn’t care. He doesn’t have to. He has a company to run, a political spectrum to influence, and a pet project in a hockey franchise that lets him watch Ronan Tynan one a year for free.

After what I saw yesterday, I have zero expectations of any sports franchise remaining in this city. Perhaps this is a good thing; Ralph can die so the Bills can move, and Tom can cut and run so the Sabres can go north as well. Both teams will flourish and perhaps we all can move away and do the same. I am so disillusioned by it all I can’t even describe what I’m feeling. All I know is that it hurts a lot more than any missed field goal or skate in the crease can or ever will.

If I have learned anything over the past few years it is this: no matter how badly you wish it would, sports will not love you back. You can give them everything: money, idol worship, and every spare second of your time and effort; none of it will change anything. Ralph Wilson does not love you back. Chris Drury does not love you back. The logos and jerseys and hockey sticks will not love you back. All those hours of watching and playing will only leave you with stories and bumps and bruises. The amount you put in is never equal to what you receive, and lately all we’ve gotten back is another kick in the teeth.

Maybe having nothing left to love will be for the best.

9 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    If you are expecting sports to fill a void in your life, you are looking in the wrong place.

  2. Ryan

    I didn’t exactly say “void”, is that really all you got out of it?

  3. Jonathan

    All this was to pump up news on WNY Hockey magazine. Say the Sabres are being sold and you have instant free advertising.

    Yes Sports won’t love you back. But its entertainment. When does TV or Movies love you back. They just want more from you and give you less.

  4. dave in Rocha

    True, sports wont’ love you back or do things to justify the investment you make in them, but the memories, friends and events you make do. A city of Buffalo without an NHL team won’t take away your memories of the Winter Classic. Nor will it take away the times you’ve had with your dad/siblings/family/friends that were because of sports. That’s what it gives you.

    As for what has Golly done for us?
    – turned the team into a financially viable entity
    – brought back blue and gold (and hopefully the REAL blue and gold, soon)
    – introduced the variable pricing
    – reinvigorated WNY when it comes to hockey

    I agree that if a new owner were to keep the team in Buffalo, then I wouldn’t shed too many tears about losing Tommy as an owner. But I think he has been far more valuable to the team/city/region than you do. And BTW, he IS a native son. Native to WNY, not Buffalo. He gets it that we’re all in this together. Sure the drive to the Arena is (a lot) longer, but it’s still the home team out here in Rocha.

    And I don’t know why you have zero expectations of the Sabres remaining here. If Bettman will bend over backward to ensure that NASHVILLE will keep their team, he sure as hell is going to make sure the Sabres stay put too. This market brings in too many US dollars and too many US eyeballs to lose. He made sure the Sabres stayed back when they were missing the playoffs and playing to 10,000 people a night. Why would he allow a relocation now that we’re packing the house and buying a shitload of swag?

  5. Anonymous

    Someone’s let JP Losman turn him into Chicken Little.
    Look, the Bills and Sabres aren’t moving anytime soon. I’m not saying that I disagree that Golisano will sell, but if politics are truly important to him, and they obviously are, he’s not going to jeopardize that by being the guy who sold the Sabres out of the area. The NHL earns money from Buffalo because, even though it is a “small market” it is one of the biggest markets in the USA for TV revenue. Why do you think they’re on Versus 8 times this year? If this isn’t just Jim Kelley blowing smoke, then I legitimately believe there might be some other buyer out there. Even in the story, where did anyone say anything about anyone who would move it out of town? I love your blog, but I think you’re just letting the suckiness of both our teams get you down into a bad place.

  6. dani

    Oh my god, whatever, etc. to that rumor. And if I haven’t heard it, it’s not true. 😛

  7. Ryan

    Someone’s let JP Losman turn him into Chicken Little.

    …I think you’re just letting the suckiness of both our teams get you down into a bad place.

    I completely agree on both accounts, and I’m glad you’re honest enough to say so. That it itself is a bit embarrassing, but that’s just the kind of month it’s been for me. You all made some good points, though, so we should talk about those.

    Anon,

    Chris and I both thought about Jim Kelley’s credibility if he is just blowing smoke. I don’t think he is, but I agree that another local buyer could be out there nonetheless. I sort of got caught up in all the Bills bile I have from yesterday.

    Dave in Rocha,

    I agree with your take on memories as well as that Golisano has done more for the Sabres than I let on. My “zero expectations” were a bit of hyperbole I suppose; the Bills really do have me pretty depressed. However, you make a great point about a franchise like Nashville. Buffalo has done a lot to prove they can not only be viable but a shining example of a small market doing well by itself. It has proved much more then some other markets that it can survive, so it is well down the list for relocation, and very unlikely the team lets it go anywhere. Perhaps Golisano should get credit for that, too.

    Jonathan,

    Like I said, I’m not so sure this is Kelley blowing smoke, but that’s a good point. The name “WNY Hockey” has been thrown around a lot because of this.

    Great input, guys, and nice Ryan Adams quote, Dani…

  8. Zach

    This isnt the first time that we have had this discussion. Didn’t we talk about this in May as well. So there has to be some clout to this story.

    I believe Golisano when he says that when he sells the team that there will be a provision in the contract that the team can’t be moved. And honestly, if this is the only way that Balsille can get a team and we have to forgo a few games to play in Hamilton, I will take that in a heartbeat because I know that he isn’t buying the team as a business venture but more as a play toy. Owners with teams as play toys usually will spend more money and field a better team.

  9. dave in Rocha

    Zach, your last point about owners using the team as a play toy can often be true (i.e. Detroit), but it can also end up like this year’s Tampa team. Ugh. I’d rather have the fiscal restraint and trust in the farm than what they’re having.

    Anon, I like your point about Golly’s political interests also barring him from letting the team leave. I hadn’t even thought of that.

    As for Balsille, I’m very unsure about what he’d do if he owned the Sabres. Sure he’d want to move Nashville/Pittsburgh/Miami/Phoenix to Southern Ontario, but would he want to move Buffalo when he can drive to all the games anyway? Plus any effort to move any team closer to Toronto would encounter stiff resistance from the Leafs. Would he bother fighting that just to move a team ~40 miles? I agree that if anything he’d want a game (maybe two) up in Copps. That and I think he’d be more aggressive in marketing the team in S. Ontario. He’d probably be able to build up the Sabres as being essentially a 2nd Toronto-market team and play up that rivalry. That sentiment isn’t there (much) now because it’s an American team owned by an American guy. But if a nice boy from Hamilton/Kitchener owned them, it might be a different story.