The Bottom Line: Observations and Arguments On The Sports Business, by Andrew Zimbalist
I must admit I was a bit disappointed with this book. The fact that this book was painted as being an academic work that features observations and arguments led me to think that it would have a sustained narrative and deep reflections. Instead, this book is a collection of short articles that the author has written about a great many incidents in sports, none of them examined in any particular depth. This book is what one would expect from a collection of blog posts from an intelligent sports commentator but not one who had sat down and written something more in-depth than the immediate responses to news stories written with a sense of humor and written for the moment. Obviously, as a blogger myself, I do not find this particular book to be bad in any way. It merely seems like the sort of book that I could have written myself out of blog posts if my beat was mainly trying to talk about the accounting shenanigans of sports team owners and the problems of labor relations between owners and players. I enjoyed the material, but I wish it had been a bit deeper, personally.
This book is about 300 pages long and is divided into six sections that are further made up of smaller articles that range between one and four pages (roughly 500-2000 words apiece). After an introduction, the author writes about team management, finances, and value, pointing out the bad deals of community shares of franchises as well as the numbers and accounting for franchise profits as well as the relationship between ticket prices and player salaries (I). The author then discusses league structure, design, and performance, with a discussion of competitive balance, the folly of threats of contraction, and even matters like talent compression and the problems of fairness (II). The author provides some essays on stadiums, including their financing and the relationship that stadiums have with the economic development of areas (III), arguing that while the payment for stadiums is regressive that there is a great deal of genuine economic value there, even if it an be distorted by the priorities that it forces on municipalities. There is a lengthy section on matters of antitrust and labor relations including strikes and player salaries and lockouts (IV). After this the author turns his attention to college sports (V), where he writes mainly about Title IX and the dilemmas of paying students to play college basketball for revenue sports and how it might distort further a college sports world where few sports are profitable to few universities. Finally, the book ends with a few articles that discuss media, the XFL, and the problem of doping and steroids (VI), after which there is an index.
What this book does, and does well, is demonstrate beyond any reasonable doubt that a great deal of the rhetoric that goes on about sports is highly defective and that there are definitely some political angles that can be taken here. The author notes the difficulty in getting the public to support millionaire players against billionaire owners, comments on the way that stadiums are typically paid for via regressive means that make the poor pay for stadiums that tend to profit mainly the rich, and that dodgy accounting tends to make teams look unprofitable on paper while being very profitable to their owners, as evidenced by the sale and expansion value of teams in the major sports leagues. The author has a lot to say on subjects like competitive balance and Title IX (which he appears to greatly support) and there is a lot of writing here that one can use as research material if one wants to comment on the reportage that exists for various sports matters over the course of the last 20 years or so. If this is not an amazing book, and if there is a lot that I would disagree with here, there is also a lot that tends to make one think about why it is that there is such shadiness in sports.