InDirecTV: A battle over television access to NFL games continues

Yesterday, the United States Supreme Court sat with a full bench for the first time since the passing of the long-tenured Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Among other actions on Monday, the Court (Justice Amy Coney Barrett not participating) released an order in the antitrust lawsuit challenging NFL teams’ collective arrangement with DirecTV in which the former permit the latter to be the sole provider of live, out-of-market game telecasts through the NFL Sunday Ticket package.

On its face, the order is good news for those challenging that arrangement, because it allows their lawsuit to continue, letting stand a lower-court order that reversed an even-lower-court order that would have dismissed the challengers’ case.

But while the media coverage of yesterday’s order also noted the portion of the statement included with the order from Justice Brett Kavanaugh that the Supreme Court’s decision “should not necessarily be viewed as agreement with” the lower court’s decision to revive the case, I have not seen any further discussion of the entirety of Justice Kavanaugh’s statement, which goes much farther than what that out-of-context quotation might suggest.

More than a neutral, “we’re not saying one way or the other” comment, Justice Kavanaugh’s statement pours cold water on the hopes of those who saw this lawsuit as a vehicle to break up the NFL’s antiquated, frustrating, and expensive approach to delivering television access to its product. Most fundamentally, the statement suggests the possibility that the challengers may not have a right to bring their lawsuit at all: “This Court’s case law authorizes suits by direct purchasers but bars suits by indirect purchasers. The plaintiffs here did not purchase a product from the NFL or any team, and may therefore be barred from bringing suit against the NFL and its teams.” (Citations and internal quotation marks omitted.) And even if the challengers do have a right to sue, their claims may fail in substance if the NFL and its member teams are organized and operate as a cohesive legal unit:

Under the existing contract, the 32 NFL teams have authorized the NFL to sell the television rights for out-of-market games to a single buyer, DirecTV. The plaintiffs argue, and the Court of Appeals agreed, that antitrust law may require each team to negotiate an individualized contract for televising only its own games. But that conclusion appears to be in substantial tension with antitrust principles and precedents. The NFL and its member teams operate as a joint venture. And antitrust law likely does not require that the NFL and its member teams compete against each other with respect to television rights.

(Citations omitted.)

To be sure, these are the preliminary views of one justice on a nine-member court that might never see this case again. If the case does return to the Supreme Court, Justice Kavanaugh’s expressed concerns might not be relevant to the questions at issue for the Court at that time, or, if they are, they might not be shared by a sufficient number of his fellow justices to be consequential.

As the case heads back to the trial court, however, Justice Kavanaugh’s comments could prove influential and find their way into the analysis of a judge who already has shown some disinclination toward the challengers’ claims and, more certainly, the arguments of the league and teams.

DirecTV’s NFL Sunday Ticket package may survive this legal challenge, but the service separately is facing financial difficulties that could render the lawsuit practically moot. Five years after buying it for $49 billion, AT&T has been trying, unsuccessfully, to sell DirecTV as it hemorrhages subscribers, the rate of losses recently slowing only because it’s running out of subscribers to lose. With the NFL’s agreement with DirecTV set to expire in the next year or two, attrition rather than litigation might be the most fruitful course for those seeking more football-viewing options on Sunday afternoons. Stay tuned.

MLB’s proto-gambling app is a managerial pace-of-play simulator

If you’ve been following the 2020 MLB playoffs, you likely have seen or heard advertisements for the MLB Rally app, through which fans may access a free-to-play contest with the possibility of monetary prizes. Contests are organized around individual MLB games and run before and during a game. Before first pitch, participants might be asked to predict the game’s winner, whether a particular player will hit a home run, or which of a selected group of players will have the most total bases. During the game, participants may make predictions about the outcome of each plate appearance. The options for each prediction opportunity have different potential values, and a correct prediction adds the associated number of points to the participant’s total points for the game. At the end of the game, a handful of participants who accumulated the most points during that game win cash prizes.

Continue reading

Might as well Jam

Eddie Van Halen was, until this week, a living legend. Cancer erased the first part of that, but he forever will have a prominent place in the pantheon of popular music, his monumental guitar work an essential element of rock music. While the lineage of his sonic legacy flows into harder rock and metal artists, his own music retained a melodic accessibility that helped maintain his mainstream appeal.

I’m too young to have experienced the phenomenon of Van Halen as it was happening, but I still can remember the time in middle school when I first heard “Right Now” and “Jump,” which, together, are this week’s Jam:

Smile and play the hits, of which there are many.

LEAKED: ALDLAND’s list of the most boring professional sports teams

Since the sports world ground to a halt this spring as the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the actual world, sports fans have been waiting with great anticipation for the return of sports. Now, the return of sports has arrived, but with it has not come, I don’t think, a full delivery on the anticipation with which sports fans had been waiting. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, sure, but sport is spectacle, and without the full-scope resumption of the sporting surround, satisfaction escapes us. It’s one thing to watch a telecast of regular-season baseball in an empty chamber. Quite another for playoff hockey, playoff basketball, or even the circumstance of regular-season NFL or college football, or so I would assume; I haven’t mustered the mustard. Especially meaningful team sports, it turns out, really are team events. It’s difficult to summon the scene in solitude.

It’s particularly difficult to do so when the teams involved are boring. I wasn’t going to release this list of the most boring professional sports teams before it was ready, but then the list leaked out, so you might as well view it, in its current state, here, presented in descending order of boringness.  Continue reading

Reggay Jam

Toots Hibbert, founding father of reggae music, died this week in Jamaica at the age of seventy-seven. Along with his band, the Maytals, his words, voice, and sound are essential pillars of the genre he named, dubbed “reggay” in his spelling. Hibbert’s longevity and creative prowess are remarkable. With longstanding hits to match the caliber of those of fellow legends Bob Marley and Jimmy Cliff, he continued to create. Notable late-career efforts include 2004’s True Love, a star-studded update to some of the best parts of his catalog, and Got to be Tough, released just two weeks before his passing.

In 1972, the soundtrack to the landmark film, The Harder They Come, with Cliff acting in the starring role, established an enduring, widely distributed touchstone of this music. It includes two Hibbert-penned tracks– “Sweet and Dandy” and “Pressure Drop”– that Cliff sings along with the Maytals. The following year, Toots & co. released the wonderful Funky Kingston, which, in addition to a series of strong originals, presented two very fun covers: “Louie Louie” and “Country Roads.” 

Funky Kingston was maybe the second record I ever bought, and catching a glimpse of its wonderfully colorful cover still instantly transports me to the backyard of the house in which I grew up on a too-rare sunny summer evening in Michigan. To my untrained ears, this group brought a more present, earthier reality with jauntier rhythms than, for example, Marley’s familiar, philosophizing, pontoon-sailboat lilt. In short, Hibbert’s music is authentically irresistible, and it will stand forever as a sonic cornerstone. Do the reggay indeed:

RKB: The Candy Man Can, But for How Long?

How in the world is Jeimer Candelario the Detroit Tigers’ best hitter in 2020? Like so much this year, it isn’t a reality anyone would have predicted a year ago, but the hard facts are undeniable: Candelario leads all qualified Tigers batters in AVG/OBP/SLG (.313/.371/.519), wOBA (.379), and wRC+ (140). Candelario is a career 93 wRC+ hitter, and he posted a 72 wRC+ last season. How did he swing from thirty points below average at the plate in 2019 to forty points above average in 2020?

To be sure, this is not a J.D. Martinez fly-ball revolution situation. In fact, last week, FanGraphs highlighted Candelario as a batter with one of the largest year-over-year decreases in fly-ball rate. What he is doing, though, is making better, harder contact than he has in the past, with significant increases in barrel and hard-hit rates. Changes like that are very encouraging, even if he’s bucking trends and finding success on the ground instead of through the air.

There is one other hitting category in which Candelario leads the Tigers this season: batting average on balls in play. He’s currently running an insane .407 BABIP, making it a near-certainty that his offensive production rates drop off before too long. Even if real changes in his approach mean he can establish an expected BABIP higher than his current career level (.297), a .407 BABIP simply is not going to last no matter who Candelario is or has become. Since 1998, the highest single-season BABIP is Yoan Moncada’s .406 in 2019, one of only three total times during that span that anyone finished a season with a BABIP above .400. Perhaps that’s why Baseball Prospectus sees Candelario as a merely average hitter in 2020 (101 DRC+), rather than someone actually hitting like Mike Piazza, Larry Walker, Jason Giambi, or David Ortiz (all career 140 wRC+ batters). The highest career BABIP among that group of sluggers? Walker’s .332.

To this point in this short, strange season, Candelario’s production has been real. He really hit those forty-one hits, nine doubles, three triples, and four home runs, and he really drove in nineteen runs for the Tigers and drew eleven walks. No one is trying to take any of that away from him, and detected improvements in the quality of the contact he’s making with the bat provide a reasonable basis to believe he will continue to hit better than he has in prior seasons. A reasonable basis to believe he will not continue to hit quite as well as he has thus far in 2020 going forward also exists, however.

Thinking back to the end of the 2019 season, the idea of Candelario making a jump just to “merely average hitter” in 2020 would have felt like a major achievement. Even at a more modest outlook, that as his new floor would go a long way toward making Candelario a lasting part of Detroit’s rebuilt roster.

______________________________________________

Previously
RKB: Shifting the D to See Whether Analytics Drives the Motor City’s Baseball Team – 9/3
RKB: A Second Look at MLB Pitcher Casey Mize – 8/30
RKB: 2020 is the Season: Turn, Turn, Turnbull – 8/18
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – UPDATED PECOTA Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Spring Training Ed.
RKB: 2020 Detroit Tigers Season Preview – Payroll Ed.

RKB: Shifting the D to See Whether Analytics Drives the Motor City’s Baseball Team

The Detroit Tigers have the reputation of being a team late to baseball’s new analytical revolution, but they quietly have been making front-office hires (no, Brad Ausmus did not count) purportedly to try to catch up in that area, and there’s evidence that it’s happening. For example, two weeks ago, something occurredfor what I believe to be the first time in Tigers history, when manager Ron Gardenhire cited input from the analyitics department– excuse me, “analytic department”– as the reason for a decision he’d made:

If you’re excited — or angry — about seeing Jeimer Candelario in the lead-off spot Wednesday night, then feel to credit — or blame — the Detroit Tigers analytics department.

Tigers manager Ron Gardenhire said the recent spate of roster changes prompted a consultation with the club’s analytics and research department in an effort to find an ideal batting order.

“We did some research and the analytic department put all the data in there to try to see what gives up our best opportunities,” Gardenhire said. “(Candelario’s) name came up first as lead-off.”

Just the one analytic so far, but it’s a start. Now that we know the Tigers have sabermetric analysts and those analysts convey strategic input to the coaching staff, it’s fair to inquire into the quality of that input. As it turned out with respect to the above example, Candelario only hit leadoff for two games, and while he performed well (four hits, including a double and home run, and two strikeouts in eight plate appearances), it did not seem to be a part of Gardenhire’s long-term plan. Very likely coincidentally, the team lost both of those games, and Gardenhire moved Candelario back to fifth, where he’s hit for most of the season, for the next game, a win. As Lindbergh and Miller’s The Only Rule Is It Has To Work reminds, it’s one thing to develop sabermetrically informed strategies and another to implement them with coaches and players. (And, as beat writer Evan Woodbery pointed out in the article quoting Gardenhire, Detroit didn’t have many good options for the leadoff position anyway.)

More recently, Tigers observers and fans have cited with excitement a data point on defensive shifts an FSD producer pointed out over the weekend as more good evidence in this area, even suggesting that the team was becoming a leader (first place!) in the realm of new analytics-based strategy:

The irony of the timing of this was that it came as lead Baseball Prospectus writer Russell Carleton was in the process of dismantling the notion of the shift as a useful defensive strategy.  Continue reading

RKB: A Second Look at MLB Pitcher Casey Mize

The week of August 16 was as exciting a stretch of days as fans of the Detroit Tigers have had in a couple years. After sleepwalking through an aimless rebuilding process with lows as low as those of Houston’s famous tank job but without the Astros’ supercharged turnaround to competitive status, concern was growing that the organization might be starting to feel a little too comfortable in the increasingly populated sub-mediocre wilderness. Yet, to fans’ surprise and pleasure, General Manager Al Avila treated everyone to a one-two-three punch of debuts, allowing everyone an up-close look of the future of Detroit baseball. On Monday, Isaac Paredes, whom the Tigers received from the Chicago Cubs along with Jeimer Candelario in the trade for Alex Avila and Justin Wilson, started at third base following Candelario’s move to first after the injury to C.J. Cron. On Tuesday, left-handed pitcher Tarik Skubal, the Tigers’ ninth-round pick out of Seattle University in the 2018 draft, got the start. And on Wednesday, right-handed pitcher Casey Mize, the first overall pick in that same 2018 draft, had his turn.  Continue reading

The Big O and the Merry Prankster

Oscar Robertson is an NBA champion, MVP, and twelve-time All-Star, and he was the first NBA player to average a triple-double over the course of a season. In college, he averaged 33.8 points per game for the Cincinnati Bearcats, and he left school as the all-time leading scorer in NCAA history.

The 1957-58 season was Robertson’s sophomore year at Cincinnati and the first in which he saw playing time for the Bearcats. Robertson immediately made his presence felt, to the tune of 35.1 points and 15.2 rebounds in 38.8 minutes per game, helping Cincinnati to a 25-3 record and a Missouri Valley Conference championship.

Meanwhile, up the road in Oxford, Miami University was on a run of its own. Behind future NBA player Wayne Embry, the RedHawks finished a respectable 18-9, but notably went 12-0 in MAC play, the last team to accomplish that feat and only the second-ever team to complete an undefeated conference schedule (the 1949-50 Cincinnati team was 10-0 in the MAC before leaving the conference). One of Miami’s reserves was Ken Babbs. Listed at 6’3″, the Mentor, Ohio native contributed eleven points and four rebounds in the ten games in which he appeared for the RedHawks that season.

On January 30, 1958, the RedHawks traveled to Cincinnati for a matchup with Robertson’s heavily favored Bearcats. A box score is not readily available, but Babbs recounted his memories of the game in a live interview streamed last night. According to him, Miami coach Richard Shrider, who was in his first season with the RedHawks, thought his team had no chance against Cincinnati and told his players as much, which rubbed the competitor in Babbs the wrong way. Miami planned a box-and-one defense against the Bearcats, with Babbs drawing the assignment of the “one” to mark Robertson. Determined to put up a fight, he said he planned to guard Roberston aggressively, “like stink on shit.” Then laughing, Babbs confessed: “I fouled out in two minutes.” Cincinnati won by twenty.

Both teams reached the NCAA tournament that spring. With their first-round win over Pitt, Miami became the first MAC team to win a tournament game. The Bearcats did not win any tournament games that year, but they made deep runs in Robertson’s two remaining seasons there, finishing third overall both times.

Robertson, of course, went on to professional basketball fame. Babbs, meanwhile, found fame of a different sort. That fall, after graduating from Miami, he pursued graduate studies in creative writing at Stanford. There, he befriended fellow student Ken Kesey, with whom Babbs and others soon would form the Merry Pranksters, whose culturally influential escapades with sound, film, and LSD were in part memorialized in Tom Wolfe’s memorable book, The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test and would help propel the career of the Grateful Dead.

You can watch Babbs discuss his 1958 on-court encounter with Robertson and a later, off-court reunion here. A film of a Grateful Dead benefit concert supporting a Kesey-family creamery the Pranksters helped produce is available for a limited time below.

Wowy do baseball players ever miss their fans

Fox says it will fill empty baseball stadiums with virtual ...

Everyone knows that MLB is playing the 2020 season without fans in the seats because of the way our country has responded to the COVID-19 crisis. It’s made for a strange, uncomfortable atmosphere in and around the game, which was to be expected.

Not to be expected, at least by this writer, was that the absence of warm bodies in the bleachers might affect on-field performances. While I enjoy cheering at games as much as the next person, it’s been some time since I’ve been under any delusion that noises I and my fellow spectators might produce from our in-house spectating positions influence the game itself in all but the highest of leverage scenarios. Despite players’ lip service to their teams’ respective “greatest fans in the world” issued upon a local reporter’s commanding prompt, we all recognize that they wouldn’t really miss us if we were gone, right? Maybe in the playoffs, but certainly not on a mundane, mid-season Monday night.

Maybe I’ve been too cynical. As MLB.com’s Mike Petriello noticed, home-team win percentage in 2020 is just .505, which would be the lowest-ever rate for a full season.

What’s different this year? A lot, obviously. Petriello’s article mentions travel as one variable, and teams certainly are doing less travel this year as a result of schedule modifications designed to keep teams playing games against geographically proximate opponents. But that’s the only obvious out-of-stadium factor that might affect home-road splits this season. And that leaves us with the fan factor.

This unfortunately unusual season has presented itself as a natural experiment. By comparing the difference between the magnitude of ordinary home-field advantage and 2020 home-field advantage, we can begin to quantify fan contribution to team winning.

Since 1998, when MLB expanded to thirty clubs, home teams have a .536 win percentage. Using that mark as a baseline suggests that home fans contribute about 0.031 points of winning percentage, a rate corresponding to about five games over the course of an ordinary 162-game season (and a bit under two games in a sixty-game season).

Does the presence of a team’s fans really contribute an average of five wins a year? That seems like a lot, and there of course are other factors at work, but it looks like there might be something here. If nothing else, the next time someone criticizes you for describing the accomplishments of your favorite team using first person plural pronouns, you can send them a copy of this post.