July 26, 2002
Where competitive balance is really needed

In the wake of the big money signings of star free agents Rick Reilly and Gary Smith, Major League Sports Magazine Commissioner Larry "Bud" Smellig has reiterated his plea for a salary cap on sports scribes.

"Our industry cannot survive this kind of rampant salary inflation," Smellig said. "How can small-market magazines hope to compete with the likes of SI and ESPN for writing talent? Fans of small-market magazines have no hope and faith that they can go up against the big guys and win."

Smellig believes that the only solution to the rapid rise of sportswriter salaries is to impose a salary cap and revenue sharing.

"SI and ESPN are owned by Ted Turner and Disney, for chrissakes. How can you expect a mom-and-pop magazine like the Milwaukee Sports Journal and Fishing Report to retain talent when gazillionaires like Turner can wave his bank statements around? The only solution is to force the successful magazines to share their revenue with the less successful ones," said Smellig.

Smellig longed for the days when writers started with a magazine and stayed with that same magazine for the rest of his career or until he was fired. "Writers today have no loyalty. They go wherever the big money is. It's just un-American that a writer can choose where he wants to work and negotiate his own salary, and it's ruining the sports magazine business."

Smellig forecast dark days for the sports magazine industry if spiralling salaries weren't artificially capped. "Look, everybody knows that sports magazine owners are mouth-breathing idiots who'll throw millions at any over-the-hill hack with a smidgen of of name recognition. We need to impose rules to prevent them from spending their money in an unwise fashion. It's just the way of capitalism."

If things don't change quickly, Smellig warned, some magazines might not survive. "In fact, I know of at least two magazines that won't make payroll this week. They may have to auction off the secretaries to pay the ungrateful writers' salaries or they'll have the writers' union all over their asses. Is that what you want to have happen?" When asked to provide the names of the magazines that might not make payroll or for a look at those magazines' books, Smellig drew back in horror. "What, don't you trust me? We let a blue-ribbon commission of magazine owners look at our books and they wrote a blue-ribbon report saying that everything I've ever said about the state of our finances is totally true, including things I haven't said yet. And did I say that two magazines might not make payroll? I meant four magazines. Maybe five."

(Inspired by this Mac Thomason post.)

Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 26, 2002 to Baseball