Monday, July 02, 2007

sports: ownership vs. performance

I caught a segment of a local sports talk show last week that was ranting on the state of the Pirates. The specific topic was a comparison of Penguins ownership to that of the Pirates, both small market franchises with similar challenges. The theme was pretty much that the Penguins ownership was far superior to Pirates management. This would be consistent with the disparate news blurbs of late: while the Penguins season tickets are selling at record rates, the Pirates fans tried to stage a fairly unique grassroots protest on Saturday. My question is, does this ranting against the Pirates and raving for the Penguins fairly reflect the difference in their performances over the last decade or something else.

I didn't need to think about that much myself. John and Jay's Sports Blog, had already compiled the numbers. Here is their summary of the records of the Penguins, Pirates and Steelers over the last 15 years. It seems to me that it would be hard to argue that the Penguins have vastly outperformed the Pirates in some time. Yet, you don't see the same visceral anti-ownership diatribe against the Penguins. A Mario effect?

One difference in the rhetoric seems to be the role of the the stadium. The public component of funding for PNC Park is the premise for some of the arguments I hear. Since there was public funding, the owners owe the public a better team. I am not sure there is any evidence that new venues actually produce better teams. Should the Pirates spend more on payroll is a question for others. I would point out that if local fans are unhappy, check out the current Ben Fry performance vs. salary graphic. Cincinnati spends almost twice what we do on payroll and is actually doing far worse.

Something I will comment on speaking of the Penguins. The latest budget wrangle in Harrisburg raised the spectre of a new delay in the construction of a new arena. I have no idea if that is true, but for both the arena and the casino it is clearly important to get construction started before the winter sets in. Could a delay push the early construction work into 2008 for either or both? The problem is not just the legal quagmires each project is facing. I posed this question earlier, but even if they both wanted to start immediately, can the local construction industry really ramp up both projects simultaneously? When does that boring machine get started?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Being a fan of both teams, this is my perspective and from my travels around the web to message boards and blogs this seems to be a pretty widely-held view:

When given the opportunity to make themselves a better team, the Penguins take advantage or do their best to while the Pirates outright refuse the idea. A perfect example is the MLB draft that just passed.

The Pirates had the #4 overall pick and could have taken what many baseball experts perceive as a franchise player in catcher Matt Weiters. The Pirates instead chose to take a middle reliever, a much less important position and a player that wasn't even the top left handed pitcher available at the time. The reason...Weiters wanted more money (because he's a better player).

Given an almost identical scenario each of the last three years the Penguins have taken full advantage each time, drafting players with huge on-ice potential but also huge salary potential (Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and this year Angelo Esposito).

To further explain the Pirates outright refusal to try to make themselves better, the MLB has a revenue sharing plan where tv contracts of big market clubs such as the Yankees and Red Sox are split among the small market teams. The Pirates received approximately $46 million from revenue sharing this year, but their player payroll is only $38 million from the year. So perception is that before the Pirates sell even one ticket, they are making $8 million this year alone, and yet they still say they can't afford a draft pick like Weiters who wanted $4 million per year. That is what makes fans hate Pirates ownership. It's not the losing, people understand that bad teams happen and players don't always develop the way you think they will. It's the way the Pirates go about losing.

Monday, July 02, 2007 7:38:00 AM  
Blogger fester said...

Chris --- I think that you are taking the wrong metric of average wining percentage of the Penguins and the Bucs. Instead I think if you take the median, and the quartiles, it shows two very different franchises --- one with the capability of at least occasionally being exciting, and the other that is just pathetic. Some of this is aided by the NHL's much more generous play-off system, but the Penguins have at least occasionally been able to provide hope of success while the Bucs are the same old Bucs.

Monday, July 02, 2007 11:14:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

all these things raise more questions than they answer.. I understand the different playoff structure. Does that mean the Penguins are just as bad as the Pirates but just happen to play in a league that has a lower threshold for tournament play.

The salary spending is a point taken, or at least I defer to those who know those numbers far better than me. It does raise a question of whether marignal spending increases really produce tangible playoff results. (is it a linear production function?) Or as you point out, is that not the right metric either. The problem is that it's a little subjective to quantify exciting play vice performance. I take that is really the issue: lack of exciting play due to low spending. That implies fans would be placated some if play was more fun to watch, but performace was just as bad in the end.

Note I posted that comment about Cinci before seeing the news that they themselves had just fired their manager.

Monday, July 02, 2007 11:48:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In baseball salary is almost always equal to performance within a division. John Steigerwald frequently shows this on his call-in show. If you just take baseball's 6 divisions and list their records and their payrolls in order, they match up almost exactly.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 10:01:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Just on the topic of salary.. it sounds like you may be interested in the Ben Fry salary-performace graphic I put up the link for:

I think that correlation between salary and performance is an awfully lot more complicated than that for sure. If it were, all those lines would be parallel and horizontal.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 1:38:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

Speaking of the penguins... Pittsburgh is such a small place.. I am actually sitting in the airport waiting for a flight sitting next to Michel Therrien. Mostly he seems to be getting by anonymously but once in a while a fan notices him.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007 1:43:00 PM  
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