Hal — not Hank — on SBJ’s most influential list

The sports industry’s trade publication Sports Business Journal has unveiled their list of the top 50 most influential people in sports business. As is only appropriate, a Steinbrenner occupies a prime spot on that list, but it’s not the one people might expect.

Hal, the younger of the Steinbrenner children and the team’s current head, earned himself the 28th spot on the list. SBJ writes rather glowingly of Hal, who is making his debut on this list:

Several years of gradual but historic change within the Yankees camp were codified last month when Hal Steinbrenner received official designation as the team’s controlling executive, trumping his older and louder brother, Hank, who will remain overall head of baseball operations.

Much more calm and measured when compared with Hank or their father, George, but still a firm negotiator, Hal provides a rather different face to the Yankees as they prepare to move into their new stadium in the spring. That ballpark, a $1.3 billion edifice packed with revenue-generating opportunities, gives Hal ample room to put his own stamp on the franchise.

We have covered this territory as well, but it’s clear that people inside the industry regard Hal as the real executive holding the reins of power inside the Yankee organization now. Hank may garner the back pages, but all he seems good for right now is a quote. He can talk and talk and talk, but when push comes to shove, the ultimate decision will be Hal’s. That should be very good for the Yanks indeed.

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Hal talks about … everything

For those of you whiling away this July 3 afternoon looking for a Yankee fix, Barry Bloom, MLB.com’s national reporter, totally has you covered. He sat down for a very extensive chat with Hal Steinbrenner this week, and the resulting article is a tour de force on the everything from the new stadium to the state of Yankee economics to their approach to free agents in what may be relatively leaner times for the Yankees. It’s a good, long read for a holiday eve, and it delves extensively into an issue surrounding the new stadium that we’re tackling this weekend.

Hal ‘shocked’ by the rising sun

Hal Steinbrenner told Yankee reports that he was “shocked” by the Mets’ firing of Willie Randolph. Call it inept; call it embarrassing; one thing it ain’t is shocking. Meanwhile, Hal says that, once the firing blows over, the Yanks will figure out how to honor Willie this year. “Willie’s been a Yankee for a lot of years and he’s a great man,” the younger Steinbrenner said. “We need to let all the dust settle and see what happens here and go from there.”

The quiet counterbalance to bloviating Hank

While Hank Steinbrenner can shoot off his mouth all he wants these days, every now and then, a piece comes along that reminds us of the checks and balances in the Yankee organization. This time, we’ve got Kat O’Brien talking with a measured and calm Hal Steinbrenner. Hal, who noted that the season is a 162-game “marathon,” also said, “There’s nothing that makes me regret [not getting Santana].” Good thing, as BBTF notes, these two share equal power in the Yankee organization.

The other Steinbrenner son speaks

As we well know by now, Hank Steinbrenner has become the new Voice of the Yankees. He’s not shy with his opinions, and he often, according to some fans, may be speaking too much. While Hank may be the outspoken guy who enjoys getting his name in the papers, the truth is far more complex: The two Steinbrenner brothers share duties, and they seem to know what they’re doing.

This weekend, Newsday’s Kat O’Brien, often the Official Beat Writer of Hank Steinbrenner, sat down with the other Steinbrenner son. Hal, not known for sharing much with the press, agreed to an interview, and the resulting piece further illuminates the balance of power within the Yankee organization.

Hal on Hank:

“That’s what Hank’s for. He’s perfect. He’s everything you guys want. How many more papers can you sell?…Nobody’s going to have my cell phone number. Nobody’s going to be calling me at night. That’s just not going to happen.”

It’s a telling quote. Hank is the de facto face of the Yankees, but who’s pulling the strings? Considering the postmortem news we’ve continued to hear about the lack of firm offers for Johan Santana, it’s certainly believable that Hanks’ schtick is just that. It’s an act designed to get teams to question whether or not the Yankees are involved in negotiations. It certainly kept Santana out of Boston.

Hal on George:

“Working for George was not the easiest thing in the world, and one would get the impression that you really weren’t needed sometimes.”

If that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about George Steinbrenner‘s current position within the organization, nothing well. For all intents and purposes, George Steinbrenner is not in charge of the Yankees. He may still be the Principal Owner in title, but in practice, it doesn’t sound as though Hal, the team’s General Partner, is working for his dad anymore. We have truly entered the post-George Era, and the transition seems rather seamless.

Meanwhile, fans who like the Steinbrenner’s invest-to-win approach can breathe easy; the family has now reiterated their position to hold on to the their $1-billion asset. They won’t be selling the team anytime soon.

But as far as I’m concerned, the money came in O’Brien’s outtakes. Hal on the new Stadium:

“I think the exciting thing about this stadium is it looks more like the original stadium than the stadium we’re in now, much more like the original stadium than the one we’re in now. So I think when you walk into that stadium, walk into the great hall and walk in gate four … it’s going to be nostalgic even when it’s brand new. It’s going to take you back.”

That is an intriguing take on a stadium chock full of martini bars, premium seating experiences, steakhouses and state-of-the-art museums. But in a way, Hal is tapping into the sentiments of the fans who didn’t try to save Yankee Stadium; the renovations in the 1970s destroyed the heart and soul of the old Yankee Stadium.

Of course, to me, the new Yankee Stadium will always seem like some other ballpark. It will be this new place across the street that the Yankees play in, and the only nostalgia I’ll feel is for the memories I have of the House that Ruth Built.

It’s a new era for the Yankees; it’s the era of the Steinbrenner sons and daughters and a new Stadium. Right now, everyone is saying the right things. How long this peace can last, no one really knows.

Appreciating a dedicated owner

While Yankee blogs were all atwitter this weekend discussing the Steinbrenner brothers article in this quarter’s edition of The Times’ Play magazine, a different story with New York parallels caught my eye.

Joe Nocera, one of the paper’s top business columnists, explores the idea of the Bad Owner. Using two basketball owners — our Knicks’ own James Dolan and the Los Angeles Clippers owners Donald Sterling — as examples, Nocera explores how sports franchise owners get rich without really trying. Outside of real estate, he says, it really is the easiest way to free money.

“To own a franchise in any of the three major sports — football, baseball or basketball — is to enter a club in which it is nearly impossible to come away a financial loser,” he writes.

Nocera’s premise is a sound one: Each sports league has a limited number of franchises and significant barriers to entry. Namely, an interested buyer or group of investors has to come up with a lot of money and find a franchise owner who wants to cash out. Meanwhile, league officials — whether David Stern is behind the helm or Bud Selig is steering the ship — are always trying to improve the league’s image, and teams will rise to the top.

More important to a team’s bottom line than even success is geography and media market. “Certainly a good owner can do things that add value to a franchise. But far more important is whether the team is in a big media market and plays in a stadium with modern, high-priced luxury boxes,” Nocera writes.

Sterling bought the Clippers for $13.5 million in 1984. The team has been terrible since then, and now Nocera figures Sterling could command in excess of $400 million. In New York, the value of the Knicks continues to increase, and as the team struggles and more potential investors make noises about buying the team, the value of the franchise will climb even further. They don’t win on the court, but they win where it counts for the Dolans.

Baseball, of course, has its fair share of bad owners. Some — Peter Angelos comes to mind — seemingly want to win but are too meddlesome; others — Nocera cites Carl Pohlad of the Twins — don’t care to spend an iota of their own copious amounts of money to churn a better product on the field. Yet, when Carl Pohlad or his heirs decide to sell the Twins, they will more than recoup their initial $36 million investment in the team. Why bother working to win if simply owning the team is an obscene money-maker?

Enter the Steinbrenners. As Jonathan Mahler’s article notes, the Yankees have indeed been an obscene money-making venture just like any sports franchise. King George bought the team in 1973 for a pittance: approximately $10 million. Now, the team is valued at around $1 billion with a $300 million cable franchise a part of its global entertainment network. With a new stadium with those high-priced luxury suites in the world’s biggest media market, the Yankees are a money-printing machine.

As tough as it is to embrace the Steinbrenners, then, as tough as it is to overlook George’s shortcomings and his blatantly illegal activities, it’s tough to ignore the impact the family has had on the team. The Steinbrenners have a burning desire to win; mostly, as Mahler intimates, it stems from some tough love issues the men in the family seem to have with their respective fathers.

No matter though; the fans benefit from the owners’ desire to win. The Yanks would still be a very profitable franchise if the team was merely okay. The team would still be worth nearly $1 billion if they won every few years instead of every year.

In a way though, the Yankees are in a unique position in the game. Because they are so successful both on the field and on paper, because they have owners who are willing to invest and spend to win, they have emerged as the leader in baseball. For better or worse, the Yankees, through their revenue sharing contributions, are funding their opponents. They set the bar for player salaries; they set the bar for coaching salaries; they, much to the dismay of everyone else in the game, can set the agenda.

But as I look south from Yankee Stadium to Madison Square Garden and watch the 18-42 Knicks slump away another season, I wouldn’t want it any other way in the Bronx.

The Hal Steinbrennger GQ interview

Hal Steinbrenner recently sat down with GQ reporter Nate Penn for his first interview in over 20 years. What comes out of it is a picture reminiscent, as Penn and later Cliff Corcoran at Bronx Banter noted, of Michael and Sonny Corleone from The Godfather.

The highlights:

  • Hal became more involved when Steve Swindal left the picture. Hank joined him a few months later when it became clear that the younger Steinbrenner could use some help.
  • He doesn’t hate the media: “Am I comfortable dealing with the media? Probably not as comfortable as Hank is. Definitely not as comfortable as my dad was. Have I had disagreements with them in the past, disagreed with things they’ve written and the reasons they wrote them? Yes, of course. But again, I understand what the deal is.”
  • The brothers always assumed that Swindal would lead the team, and Hal wanted to be with his family. He’s happy with the way he’s balancing his duties now.
  • George really did want to get rid of dental benefits in 2003, but Hal talked him out of it.
  • Brian Cashman‘s job is not on the line over the Santana deal.

To me, the most important part of the interview is Hal’s understanding of the Yankees’ situation with regards to their young pitchers. “The Super Bowl this year was unbelievable, and the one thought I took away really has a lot to do with us this year, with these three young pitchers. Eli struggled a bit his first couple years. I think New York fans might realize now that if you give a young kid time, great things can happen,” he said.

There really is no better analogy. Now, I’m not saying that the Yanks’ pitchers are going to struggle, but good things come to those who wait. The Yanks can’t trade years of future success for instant gratification. Hal recognizes what the Yankees have in their young arms, and he won’t quickly surrender that advantage.

Meanwhile, in news that should warm the hearts of Yankee fans, the Steinbrenner sons are just as dedicated to winning as their dad has been, and the two don’t plan on selling the team anytime soon. Sounds good to me.