Late Night At The Lot

Yesterday, Kish had a horrendous travel day, with flight cancellations, delays, and multiple layovers. As a result of the mishaps, I found myself spending some quality time hanging at the John Glenn International Airport cell phone lot at about 2 a.m.

In the wee hours, the cell phone lot is a pretty quiet place. Unlike earlier in the day, there aren’t a lot of people moving in and out due to the arrival of flights they have been waiting for. There were perhaps three other vehicles in the lot at 2 a.m.–the Columbus airport isn’t a round-the-clock venue, unlike some larger airports–and my guess is that we all were waiting to make pick-ups for passengers on the same, delayed flight.

There’s a certain etiquette in the cell phone lot during the off hours. For one thing, there’s lots of open territory, and you want to make sure that you give the other cars plenty of room by parking multiple spaces away. If you were to drive up and park right next to another vehicle that has been waiting, the other driver probably would turn on the ignition and move to another spot. Whether you intend it or not, you would be sending an unnerving personal space message. Parking right next to another car at a vacant cell phone lot late at night is like violating the “two-urinal” rule at a not-very-busy men’s public restroom.

There’s also not really much to do at a cell phone lot while you’re waiting to get the text or the call that it’s time for the pick-up. It’s an ideal time for playing games on your phone. I’m a bit surprised, frankly, that airports haven’t installed one of those rolling advertising billboards at the front of their cell phone lots and offered businesses the opportunity to peddle their wares to the captive audience that is cooling its heels and waiting for a call. A news crawl would be a nice touch, too. When all you’re doing is passing the time, I guarantee you that people would look at the ads and follow the crawl. It could be a nice additional revenue source for JGI, and I bet the cell lot parkers would appreciate it.

If they have videos and advertisements on gas station pumps, why not at the cell phone lot?

The $6 Billion Team

Yesterday the parties to the transaction announced that a new ownership group would be buying the Washington Commanders, a National Football League team. The announced price tag for the transaction is a staggering $6.05 billion–a new record for the sale of a professional sports team. The proposed deal now goes to NFL owners for approval,

The Commanders have been pretty dismal lately. The team hasn’t won a playoff game in 18 years, and the franchise, and its owners, have been mired in controversy. Nevertheless, the eye-popping $6.05 million price tag for the team blows the previous record for an NFL team–set by the 2022 sale of the Denver Broncos for $4.65 billion–out of the water. If you’re an NFL owner, you’d presumably be highly motivated to approve the proposed sale, if only to establish a new comparable that can be cited when you decide you are ready to cash in and put your team on the market. If an underperforming team like Washington commands that kind of price, just imagine how much might be paid for more successful franchises, like the Kansas City Chiefs or the New England Patriots?

In case you’re interested, the group that is selling the Commanders paid $800 million for the Washington pro football franchise in 1999. In less than 25 years, the market value of their ownership interest has increased by a factor of more than six–and that doesn’t account for any amounts the ownership group has received from TV contracts, ticket sales, and merchandising deals during the period of their ownership. Seeing the market value of an investment increase more than six times is a pretty good return.

It’s not just NFL teams that have been gold mines at the auction block lately, either. The $6.05 billion price tag for the Commanders edges out the prior record for a professional sports team, which was $5.3 billion paid for the Chelsea F.T. club in the English Premier League last year. Billions of dollars also have been paid for teams in the NBA and Major League Baseball over the past few years.

So, there’s no doubt that professional sports teams have been a pretty good investment recently–but you wonder how long this can last, and whether we’re simply witnessing a huge sports franchise bubble, like the crazed spike in home purchases that helped produce the sub-prime mortgage collapse that led to the Great Recession, or the infamous Dutch tulip market bubble in the Netherlands in the 1600s. It’s not as if sports franchises have lots of tangible assets or obvious intrinsic value, and the continued success of the NFL, which has been bedeviled by concerns about concussions and general player safety problems, among other issues, is by no means assured.

At some point, will liability concerns cause regulation of the sport that changes it so significantly that its current broad appeal falls off–and the owners who paid billions to sit in the owners’ box and wear gear with team logos are left with a stadium, some player contracts, and logos for merchandise that no one wants to buy? If that happens, the ownership of the Commanders could end up being like possession of a fistful of costly and unwanted tulip bulbs in Amsterdam centuries ago.