Hank’s constant comments and the business of baseballBy
We all know what Hank Steinbrenner has been up to this off-season. Not a day goes by without Hank’s name appearing somewhere in the newspapers.
Part of this constant attention stems from the New York sports media’s tendency to write about anything — literally anything — no matter how mundane in an effort to fill the space between the playoffs and Spring Training. Once-a-week football games and the pathetic Knicks can only draw so many readers.
The other half of Hank’s ubiquitous presence comes from his inability to keep his trap shut. At every turn this off-season, Hank has issued a comment. Joe Torre gets fired? Hank fires back. A-Rod opts out? Hank won’t talk him until he changes his mind. A deadline for Johan Santana? Well, only a little bit.
Fans and bloggers have enjoyed poking fun at Hank, but we’ve also grown wary of his comments. Last week, at the Fast Company FC Now blog, Jason Del Rey delved into Hank Steinbrenner’s tendency to publicize his every move in the Johan Satana dealings. Del Ray wondered if Hanks’ approach represents a good business strategy for a billion-dollar business such as the Yankees.
His answer — with an assist from New York Times beat writer Tyler Kepner — is probably not:
Is this any way to run a business? Commenting to the media on every twist and turn of negotiations for a major acquisition that will greatly affect the product on the field — the product that is directly correlated to the team’s billion-dollar valuation?
The business of sports, in many ways, is unlike any other sector of the business world. But, at the same, time, could you imagine a big-time financial or tech CEO holding court for the press every time there is a development in talks for a takeover of a large competitor? Maybe it wouldn’t crush the negotiations, but couldn’t it make them unnecessarily more difficult?
“I think the Twins were puzzled early on,” The New York Times Yankees beat writer Tyler Kepner wrote to me in an e-mail.
“I don’t get any sense that it’s part of a business strategy,” he added, speaking of Hank’s general vocal approach…”It complicates the job of the baseball operations staff, but all general managers would rather keep almost everything secret.”
It’s often easy to forget that baseball is very much a business. Teams sign players for a myriad reasons, but chief among those is return on investment. How can a general manager justify a multi-million-dollar signing of a player who may not deliver? Howcan a chief executive bank the next ten years of success on one player?
On the surface, fans see it as a simply calculation that includes wants, needs, desires and movable pieces, but it’s rarely that simply. In business negotiations as in baseball, it’s better not to show all of your cards. Hank has yet to demonstrate that he can do this, and as Del Rey notes, Hank’s big mouth could derail negotiations or it could drive up the price of a desired commodity. The New York Yankees, a successful business valued at around $1 billion, would be better of if their new chief executive kept some company secrets to himself.