Wednesday, September 15, 2010

It's Not Personal, It's Business

As sports fans, we love our team.  We live with their successes and die with their failures.  We spend money, time, and effort supporting our team and the organization.  The players feel like a family, our family.  The entire franchise feels like a tight-knit group that truly cares about one another.  We love this team so much, how can they not love each other the same way?

The fact is, fans mainly live in that delusion because we love it.  Sports is, first and foremost, a business.  The organization is a business.  The league is a business.  The stadium is a business.  Every aspect of the team is created to maximize profits.  Giving more fan access to the players makes the fans more loyal.  They are then more likely to buy jerseys, shirts, etc.  Every decision that is made is made for business reasons.

As cold as that sounds, it’s the only way a business can succeed.  Most who are involved in the sports industry understand that.  No one is trying to intentionally hurt anyone else, but there is serious money at stake for all involved.  Players generally understand that, and the oddest part of this whole Eric Belanger fiasco is that he seems to be the only one who doesn’t.

The Capitals made a good business decision in not signing Belanger right away so they wouldn’t lose any leverage on an impending trade.  If Belanger (or more importantly his agent) was thinking in business terms, he would have put a time limit on it. Say, “I’ll wait 3 weeks, and if the trade is not done by then I’m moving on.”  I understand he feels betrayed by the organization.  I would too.  But he and his agent didn’t have a backup plan in a situation where they had nothing in writing.  He got screwed, but he could have avoided it.

Where Belganer’s argument comes off the wagon is when he starts to bring up his family.  The Capitals’ decision had nothing to do with his family.  Quite frankly, the Capitals probably feel screwed to a certain extend as well with the trade falling through.  Both sides were adamant about wanting to be reunited, so the Caps can’t be happy with the way things went down.

Belanger and his agent forgot this was a business, and his agent didn’t do his job in looking out for his client.  They now have no legal standing to bring to the Capitals.  Belanger’s agent making a personal email to George McPhee public is not going to solve anything.  The deal can’t be salvaged, the agent looks bad for not having a plan for his client, and it burns unnecessary bridges.  As the daughter of a lawyer, I’ve always been told “Get it in writing, get it in writing,” because otherwise it means nothing.

Belanger said on a radio station that it will be hard for him to trust anyone in this business again.  My question is, after 10 years in the league, why do you still trust anyone?  Getting to the top in any area is cutthroat, why would the world’s best hockey league be any different?  Patrick Elias of the New Jersey Devils said this, regarding what the reaction will be if a teammate is moved to make room for Ilya Kovalchuk, “It's a business. Sometimes it's cruel. At one point in your career you have to realize it's a business and you're just a product. But it's hard to accept that.”  Those are the words of a guy who has been around the block a few times.

I’m not saying that Belanger had it coming, nor am I saying the way the Capitals let things unfold was right.  What I am saying is that in a business, nothing is guaranteed unless it is on paper.  Belanger should know that.  His agent absolutely should know that, and their camp should have acted accordingly.  Belanger is now taking a business decision personal, but success in business means you can’t let it get personal.  In the immortal words of the Godfather, “It’s not personal, it’s business.”  If Belanger and his agent had thought of that, they probably wouldn’t be in this situation now.

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