February 18, 2005

NYC Sports in Danger of Corporate Mishaps

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The Metropolitan Transportation Authority disappoints me.

I used to admire this massive agency. It’s charged with the nearly impossible task of helping millions of people navigate the confusing maze that is the New York metropolitan area on a daily basis. It amazed me how it was able to keep all services it manages under control. The MTA used to be a tremendously well-run state agency, which is pretty rare in New York. And it probably still is.

But earlier this week, the MTA gave into corporate pressure and opened up the bidding to purchase the long-abandoned West Side railyards, which city officials envision as the site of a stadium for the New York Jets. A stadium that the Jets have always planned to fund predominantly by themselves.

In opening the bidding for its West Side real estate, the MTA has essentially become bedfellows with Cablevision. Once a pioneer in the cable television industry, Cablevision is now a disgrace. The cable systems it operates are overpriced and underwhelming. It has failed in just about every other business venture it has entered into — electronics stores, cable networks, sports and entertainment facilities. Though Optimum Online is probably the best broadband service on the market, don’t even get me started on Cablevision-owned professional sports teams.

Now, the latest pet project for Cablevision and its self-impressed and incompetent chief executive James Dolan is scuttling the city’s plans to host the 2012 Olympics and to provide a facility in which the New York Jets would actually be first-class citizens for the first time in their history. All of this for personal gain, with disregard for any public benefit.

How would the Jets’ move into a building within the New York City limits hurt Dolan and his company? Well, it wouldn’t really. While a stadium on the west side of Manhattan could cause plenty of hardship for plenty of people and businesses in the neighborhood, Cablevision is clearly not among them. Dolan doesn’t care about the public money being spent on this project as his commercials would lead you to believe, he’s just afraid that such a facility would draw attention and events away from his nose-diving Madison Square Garden. This is simply preposterous. First of all, the West Side stadium, if anything, would lure events away from Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., not Madison Square Garden.

Second of all, most of the damage done to the Garden has been inflicted by Cablevision itself. What the New York Knicks, the New York Rangers, and the very building itself have become since Cablevision took control a decade ago is an affront to every single New Yorker.

The Madison Square Garden Network, another Dolan “success” — it used to be the top regional sports network in the country — is now in critical condition. Under Cablevision’s stewardship, MSG Network has lost the rights to the New York Yankees and New Jersey Nets to the YES Network. It will lose the rights to the New York Mets next year. It let Marv Albert walk because he dared to tell the truth about the underachieving Knicks last season. Soon, all MSG will have is the woeful Knicks, the even more woeful Rangers, and the fan support-poor duo of the New York Islanders and the New Jersey Devils — that is, of course, if the NHL ever returns and the Islanders don’t jump to YES or the new Mets network. Not exactly worth my two-bucks-a-month.

Anyone who has seen Cablevision in action knows all of this. Why on earth, then, would the MTA accede to Cablevision’s greed?

In its purest form, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the MTA trying to get as much money as it can for 13 acres of land on the island of Manhattan. Plus, there are people out there who have legitimate reasons to oppose construction of a huge stadium along the Hudson River. But none of them have anywhere close to the financial wherewithal to compete with the bids either Cablevision or the Jets will put forth for that property — Cablevision is offering $600 million for the land, according to The New York Times. There is nothing productive that Cablevision could possibly do with that land. A close look at Cablevision’s plans for the area reveal that the cable giant plans primarily residential development in an area zoned for commercial property, as noted in a Feb. 14 editorial in Crain’s New York Business. This from a company that has never expressed any interest in real estate before. In reality, Cablevision would do nothing but pass the cost on to its subscribers and work to perpetuate the monopoly it has on big-time sports and entertainment in Manhattan. It is unadulterated greed, pure and simple. The MTA shouldn’t fall for it.

Owen Bochner is the Sun Sports Editor. In the O-Zone will appear every other Friday this semester.

Archived article by Owen Bochner