Just say no to Donald Trump
If the brash, self-promoting magnate buys Bills, it would be a disaster for the NFL
Earlier this week, Donald Trump spoke at the National Press Club in Washington. The topic was supposed to be the power of branding, something Trump knows well, but the billionaire real estate mogul and TV star veered off message to talk about his favorite subject: himself.
Trump alluded to a potential presidential run in 2016 if no other candidate meets his approval. He ripped the Obama administration for failures domestically and overseas. He criticized former president George W. Bush. He bragged about conquering Cher and Rosie O'Donnell on Twitter and about his 2.6 million followers. He talked about his hair.
And Trump reiterated his desire to buy the Buffalo Bills once the team officially hits the market, likely sometime this summer.
Trump as an owner of a team in the National Football League would be a colossal disaster.
The 67-year-old Trump is a classic self-promoter. He is a survivor. He is a shrewd businessman. But he is equal parts substance and style. Trump is in business to make money. Buy low, sell high and win the deal.
That's all well and good, but there is dignity that goes with being an NFL owner, or at least there should be. There are only 31 of them (the Green Bay Packers are a publicly owned company). It is the most exclusive professional sports club in the world. Every owner is super rich. Every owner prints money. No fewer than 14 appeared on Forbes' most recent list of the world's billionaires. No. 57 on that list, Seattle Seahawks owner Paul Allen, is worth $16 billion. Trump weighed in at No. 406 with $4 billion.
The best owners -- such as Allen and New England's Robert Kraft -- are seen and rarely heard. They do their research, hire competent people to run their teams and then get out of the way. They let their head coaches coach and their general managers manage. The results speak for themselves.
It is impossible to imagine Trump as anything other than Jerry Jones on HGH. How many Lombardi trophies have the Dallas Cowboys won under Jones without Jimmy Johnson? One -- but Johnson's fingerprints were all over it. Jones built an ostentatious cash cow of a stadium in Arlington, Texas, but under his leadership and guidance, the Cowboys have become consistently mediocre for nearly two decades. The fact that they make a ton of coin and draw huge ratings seems to alleviate any disappointment Jones feels about having become irrelevant in January and invisible in February.
Trump seems to be of the same ilk. Like Jones, he is a self-made man who proved his doubters in the business world wrong. There is something to be said for that, but the residual effects of having The Donald become The Owner are too many. This is a man who became synonymous with casinos, and while it is the height of hypocrisy (given how much is wagered, legally and illegally, on its games), the NFL desperately tries to distance itself from the gaming industry.
And forget for a minute that Trump had a hand in driving the USFL into the ground. Look how he behaved during his brief stint as owner of the New Jersey Generals. He spent lavishly on players, signing the biggest names he could find to what were then considered lucrative contracts. How many playoff games did he win? None.
In trying to explain his involvement with the USFL in advance of his pursuit of the Bills, Trump has said that the antitrust lawsuit the USFL filed against the NFL in 1986 was not his idea. Maybe that's true. But he was one of the owners in the league. He had a say. And the USFL wasn't going to act without the support of its owners, especially one with pockets as deep as Trump had even then.
Trump was 37 years old when he purchased the Generals in 1984. He was still evolving. He can be forgiven for some mistakes, but 15 of the 28 NFL teams that existed in 1986 are still owned by the same family. The wife of Ralph Wilson, the late Bills owner, likely has not forgotten that her husband was a defendant in that USFL lawsuit.
The USFL, as Trump has said, "won" the lawsuit when a jury agreed that the NFL was a monopoly. But it most definitely lost when the NFL was ordered to pay the USFL just $3 in damages.
It is great for the good people of Buffalo that Trump has said that if he buys the Bills, he will keep the team in Buffalo and help finance a new stadium. But the fact is that whoever owns the Bills -- and there will be plenty of suitors -- will come under heavy pressure from the league to stay put. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, a native of Jamestown, New York, has expressed his interest in keeping the Bills in the region, although he told reporters earlier this month a new stadium in Buffalo needs to be a priority.
Who knows whether Trump is willing to pay in the neighborhood of $800 million for a franchise not located in a major media market? Who knows whether the Bills can fetch that high a price? The real question is whether Trump could secure the 24 out of 32 votes necessary to get elected into the club.
Even for someone so accomplished at promoting himself, I don't see Trump winning that popularity contest.
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