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Old 02-07-2005, 08:04 PM   #1
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Default [Sports Central Newsletter] #121 - The Richest Sports Owner You've Never Heard Of

The Sports Central Newsletter
February 2005 - Issue #121

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|-- IN THIS ISSUE... --|

- Words From the Editor
- SPONSOR: Game Day Ritual
- The O-Files: "Sports Potpourri"
- SPONSOR: Home-Team-Sports
- Editor's Pick: "The Slant Pattern Sports Bar"
- Shots From the Lip: "The Richest Sports Owner You've Never Heard Of"



Hello folks,

In today's Super Bowl Sunday edition of the newsletter, we touch on other things going on in the sports world. Brad touches on everything from A-Rod to Emmitt Smith to the other A-Rod in his "Sports Potpourri" column. Then Mike, who just spent 10 days in deepest Russia, 1,000 miles southeast of Moscow on the cusp of Kazakhstan, reports on the grim and depressed landscape he found there, while relating it all to sports. It's a rare and unique account you don't want to miss.

Enjoy tonight's Super Bowl and see you again in March as another month of Madness looms in the future!

Until next time,

Marc James
Sports Central Founder
mailto:[email protected]


|-- THE O-FILES -- |

"Sports Potpourri"

By Brad Oremland

As the United States celebrates its favorite sporting event, the O-Files casts a wide net over the entire sports landscape. From A-Rod to Emmitt Smith to the other A-Rod, this month's O-Files is a tour of all things sports.

* Congratulations are in order to ESPN2 for its coverage of the Australian Open. I know some good matches slipped through the cracks or were ignored in favor of big names in blowouts, but for two weeks, the Deuce devoted a lot of programming time to the Open, and most of the top singles matches were on more than once.

* Lleyton Hewitt's "C'mon!" cries are extremely off-putting. Tough guy to root for.

* Slightly less off-putting, but still bothersome, were ESPN2's announcing crews, who seemed to have a favorite in every match. Their dislike of Hewitt and preference for Maria Sharapova over Serena Williams were pretty apparent and pretty unprofessional.

* Andy Roddick appeared in almost every commercial shown during the tournament. He's been in each of the last three SportsCenter ads. Too much, Andy.

* Anyone wanna give me odds on an ACC team winning the men's basketball tournament this year?

* Last month, I lamented the "sports winter" without hockey. After today, it's here: no tennis major, no more football ... I may have to leave my couch.

* Michelle Wie missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii by seven strokes, finishing in a tie for 128th. I think it's wonderful that Wie and Annika Sorenstam have competed in PGA events, but Wie should win at least one LPGA tournament before she makes PGA appearances anything more than a once-a-year novelty.

* This Saturday the Pro Football Hall of Fame announced its Class of 2005. This year's class didn't have any surprise inclusions Bob Brown and Carl Eller both surprised me in 2004 but the stingy four-man class in a pretty strong year caught many people off-guard.

* Another year, another snub for Art Monk. It's not a surprise at this point I would have been shocked if he'd made it but it's wrong. Everyone except the selectors knows that Monk should be in. Len Shapiro and Michael Wilbon, both Washington-area representatives on the Board of Selectors, should be ashamed that they haven't been able to swing enough votes in Monk's direction.

* Canton has been cruel to the Joe Gibbs Dynasty. Washington went to four Super Bowls in less than a decade, winning three. San Francisco may have been the Team of the '80s, but Washington wasn't far behind. John Riggins is the only player from those teams in the Hall, and he played in only one of the three victories.

* I have come to hate Pardon the Interruption. Is it just me?

* Sammy Sosa to Baltimore? What's next, Roger Clemens not finishing his career in Boston?

* Last month, Darth Steinbrenner summoned Alex Rodriguez to his office (Darth's, not A-Rod's) and ripped him for not being more of a leader and according to some reports, for being too chummy with the team's official leader, captain Derek Jeter. Somehow, I doubt that Jeter was responsible for Rodriguez's worst season in seven years, and I don't think A-Rod's lack of leadership was a factor in the postseason meltdowns of Gary Sheffield and Mariano Rivera.

* The over/under on the Super Bowl halftime show is 3 days. I'm going to see if I can watch last year's game all the way through without missing the second half kickoff.

* Emmitt Smith, the NFL's all-time leading rusher, announced his retirement recently. He may not have gone out on top, but he wasn't totally washed-up, either. Not a bad exit. See you in Canton, Emmitt.

* My most vivid memory of Smith came on the sidelines, when he was hugging Daryl Johnston and sobbing into Johnston's shoulders after breaking Walter Payton's rushing record. Maybe that's still fresh in my mind, and a few years from now, I'll think of Super Bowl XXVIII or Smith running for 168 yards with a separated shoulder. But Emmitt's an emotional guy, one who loved his teammates and loved Payton, and I think that image of Smith and Johnston is the one I'll always remember. And that's not a bad way to be remembered.


Brad welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=O-Files
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)



There have been 13 new articles posted on Sports Central in the last week. Check them all out at: https://www.sports-central.org. The Editor's Pick is:

The Slant Pattern Sports Bar
By Kevin Beane

Hard day at work or school? Then unwind a bit at the Slant Pattern sports bar, which is a sports bar unlike anything you have seen before. Never again will you have to suffer through Duke vs. UNC when you really want is Youngstown State vs. Duquesne. Step inside!




"The Richest Sports Owner You've Never Heard Of"

By Mike Round

The frozen bleak tundra, temperatures at rock bottom, meat and cheese for every meal, a poverty-stricken population that speaks in a strange tongue, and yearns for a life elsewhere. No, not Wisconsin Russia. While Russia slowly sinks into the abyss, a handful of its citizens are living a life beyond the dreams of even the wealthiest few. And one man in particular is in the process of dominating the European soccer scene like never before.


Forgive me if I'm a touch out of the sporting loop this issue. I've just spent 10 days in deepest Russia, 1,000 miles southeast of Moscow on the cusp of Kazakhstan. It's not easy down there to find Tony Reali and Woody Paige debating the big issues of the day. In fact, it's not easy to find much of anything, sports-wise, on Russian TV.

Sixteen hours by train from Moscow is the remote outpost of Samara, the home to my guide for the trip and her younger sister. Both were walk-into-a-pole-beautiful. In fact, Russia seems to be universally populated by staggeringly gorgeous women under the age of 40.

My guide, Natasha, spoke little English and my Russian isn't what it was 20 years ago when I studied it at university. She did manage to tell me it was her dream to meet a handsome Englishman and marry. I considered enquiring whether an aesthetically-challenged and married Englishman would suffice for a week, but thought better of it, as her father was a particularly large former Red Army officer and my wife was turned down by the Marines for being too strong.

Samara is, culturally speaking, a lot more than a thousand miles away from Moscow, which has, sadly, degenerated into a generic Western city. It's Berlin, with more beggars, homeless, hustlers, conmen, thieves, and tower blocks. The only good thing left about Moscow is the occasional piece of spectacular architecture, the art galleries, and the metro system.

The city of Samara, formerly Kuibyshev in Soviet times, was home to the nuclear missile industry, and as such out of bounds to everyone, including Russians without special dispensation to be there. Consequently, the locals aren't used to blundering, overweight, and overbearing Englishmen wandering the streets in clothing wholly inadequate for the climate.

That said they couldn't have been friendlier. Actually, they could, but that's an area I should stay away from in case the wife's reading.

Whilst I was in Russia for non-sporting reasons, obviously I was interested in the local sporting landscape. Given that the mercury never got above -16 C (3 F) during my entire stay, sports in Russia during January is dominated by snow and ice. For a hardy Russian, the AFC and NFC Championship games took place from balmy, tropical Pittsburgh and Philadelphia. The only thing on the sports channel that was played in temperatures above freezing was Marit Safin's Australian Open games.

Ice-skating or maybe it was ice dancing as I'm not sure of the distinction and skiing totally dominate the Russian sporting landscape at this time of the year. Anything that involves judges (including boxing) is dubious as a sport in my book, so I gave ice-skating a wide berth.

I tried to watch the skiing, but it was hopeless. It was some sort of cross-country skiing event, which was scheduled to last over four hours. Around half way through the race, the leader was at least half a mile in front of the second-placed competitor. The commentator talked incessantly a sort of Russian Paul McGuire though about what I'm not sure. I figured it must be along the lines of, "I wanna tell ya, he's still miles in front; I gotta tell ya this, he's miles in front; I wanna say this, is there any better sight in skiing than this?" It was pretty desperate stuff, but maybe you had to be Russian to appreciate it.

Russia, in stark contrast to its days as one of the world's two superpowers, is in total disarray. The Russian Gross Domestic Product is now lower than Costa Rica's. Its citizens suffer incredible poverty. Yet Moscow boasts 23 billionaires, a figure only surpassed by New York (31). These 23 men control 60% of Russia's wealth.

One of those billionaires, though he now lives predominantly in London, England, is Roman Abramovich. He is a staggeringly wealthy man, said by the Sunday Times in England to worth a minimum of $7 billion, which puts him just outside the world's 20 richest people.

Abramovich made his money following the break-up of the Soviet Union and the decision by Boris Yeltsin to sell off the nation's assets, notably its gas and oil. A handful of Yeltsin's close associates became billionaires overnight, as huge companies were literally handed to them on a plate. It was a case of knowing the right people at the right time, rather than any serious, hard work, that made Roman Abramovich so wealthy.

With millions upon millions pouring into the family coffers, Abramovich went on a spending spree that George Steinbrenner can only dream of. In 2000, he got himself elected as governor of Chukotka, just across the Bering Sea from Alaska. It's a desolate place with an impoverished population of 70,000. Abramovich spent $300 million dollars of his own money building hotels, houses, cinemas, roads, hiring workers, supermarkets, and improving the quality of life.

Not content with his wealth, an oil company, a stake in the Russian airline Aeroflot, a governorship, and a wife and five kids, Abramovich decided soccer was his new hobby. He flew to England to purchase Tottenham Hotspur, a fallen giant in north London. Flying back to Heathrow in his helicopter, he passed Chelsea Football Club below. He liked the view, so purchased that team instead, for an estimated $270 million, including debt assumption.

This is where the real spending started and staggered the soccer community in Europe. Chelsea hasn't won the English Championship in almost 50 years and Abramovich made it clear that had to change. He fired the head coach, the popular Claudio Ranieri, and replaced him with the successful (and arrogant) Portuguese Jose Mourinho, who had guided underdog Porto to the 2004 UEFA Champions League title.

Head coach in place, he began replacing players. In soccer players aren't traded they are purchased for straight cash. Abramovich spent over $500 million purchasing new players from across the world and that is before he'd paid them a dime in salary. The wage bill is Steinbrenner-esque at $200 million a year. Last season, the club lost $150 million on a turnover of less than $300 million. Abramovich personally loaned the club $200 million. His Chief Executive, Peter Kenyon, is paid over $5 million a year, over three times more than the next highest earner in a similar position at another club.

The sums involved are staggering but so is the man's wealth. He can literally buy whatever he wants and English soccer is trembling at the prospect of a wealthy-beyond-comprehension Russian rendering its game moribund. Currently, Chelsea sits at the top of the English Premier League with an unassailable lead. They are in pole position to win the Champions League. There are four trophies available to English soccer clubs in a season and Chelsea are likely to win at least three and possibly all four.

Meanwhile, back in Samara, pensioners protest that they are expected to live on less than $50 a month. In Moscow and the other major cities of Russia, there are hundreds of deaths every year involving homeless people who literally freeze to death in the plummeting temperatures. The Sibneft (Abramovich's oil company) workers on the Western Siberian oil rigs earn less than $4 an hour for working in temperatures of -35 C.

Whilst Roman Abramovich spends hundreds of million of dollars in England on his pet soccer club, the state of sport in Russia reflects the economy in general dismal. The Russian Football (soccer to North Americans) Federation is in crisis and any one of its teams would do anything for his charity. Only CSKA Moscow receives an Abramovich handout, courtesy of sponsorship that falls way short of his bankrolling Chelsea. He owns a hockey team, too, but mostly Russian sport struggles along from one crisis to another. Facilities are a pale comparison to the sport-obsessed Soviet times. The emphasis today is on survival, not sporting excellence.

Anybody who is anybody in Russian sport lives abroad. The host of female tennis players, led by Maria Sharapova, live predominantly in Florida. Marit Safin, the new Australian Open Champion, lives in Monaco. Alexander Popov, the four-time Olympic swimming gold medal winner, left Moscow for Australia after being stabbed in Moscow in 1996. Every decent hockey player lives in North America. The glory days of Soviet sport, whether chemically enhanced or not, are long since dead.

Is post-communist Russia a better place than the austere and militaristic Soviet Union? Well, to Roman Abramovich and a handful of others, it certainly is. He has his billions, his mansions around the world, his soccer team, his hockey team, and a life beyond comprehension to most people.

Yet to a beautiful young woman in Samara, life in modern Russia is so bereft of hope she has registered herself on a Russian bride website, hoping to attract a suitable man from Western Europe or the United States to take her away from the daily grind of making ends meet. It seems a sad and slightly tawdry thing to do considering the woman is spectacularly pretty and of impeccable morals, yet it is a perfect summary of how desperate life in post-communist Russia has become for the many who couldn't get their snouts into the new capitalist trough and fear a life of poverty on the street.

I was left wondering if this is what Ronald Reagan intended when he broke the communist system by his vast military spending and incessant political pressure. Did "The Great Communicator" really want to see a situation in Eastern Europe where a handful of people with vast wealth controlled a huge country to the complete exclusion of the rest of the people? Of course he did that's exactly what he saw and approved of at home.


Mike welcomes your feedback: mailto:[email protected]?subject=SFTL
(Copy and paste the address if it isn't clickable.)


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(Thanks for reading! Next issue is set to come out on 03/06/05.)

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