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Wait 'Till Next Year? Not with the Right Owner

“Wait ‘till next year” is a phrase commonly employed by fans of teams that did not win the championship. Fans always cling to the hope that their team will be hoisting the trophy at the end of the season, having risen above the pack in a thrilling playoff run. However, the probability of realizing their dreams depends largely on their team’s owner.

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Does the owner run the team solely to turn a profit? Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling does not seem to care about his team’s results, given that the Clippers have finished below .500 for all but three of Sterling’s 29 seasons in charge of the club. Owners in the Sterling mold require especially good public relations, as those owners sell tickets through false promises and gimmicky promotions, not on the premise of a winning team.

Or do the owners go to another extreme: do everything to win? The Steinbrenners of the New York Yankees and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder fit this mold. As other owners and general managers talk about “getting good value,” owners like the Steinbrenners and Snyder utilize their seemingly endlessly deep pockets in free agency. They will throw money at problem areas on the team, even if the contracts they dole out go a year or two too long, or are worth more than “experts” consider reasonable. However, this freewheeling philosophy does not guarantee success. While the Yankees have won seven World Series since Steinbrenner purchased the Yankees in 1973, they recently underwent an eight-year “dry spell”, and the Redskins have won only two playoff games since Snyder took over the organization in 1999.

Or does the owner provide sound support and stability without interfering in decision-making? The Rooney family of the Pittsburgh Steelers is an example of team owners who create a positive image. These owners usually field a good team while maintaining high moral standards. For example, current Steelers owner Dan Rooney was instrumental in requiring NFL owners to interview minority candidates for head coaching and football operations jobs. On the field, these teams typically succeed through effective scouting and solid draft picks, not via headline-grabbing free agent signings.

Most owners are a combination of styles. They are willing to spend money, but may not spend enough. They are willing to hire good coaches, but may meddle. They are willing to support a player development system, but may be impatient.

In my opinion, the best type of owner is one who puts knowledgeable people in positions of authority and lets them do their job without interference. The owner would not put monetary limitations on player contracts, draft picks, or any other facet of the organization. However, just throwing money at the biggest-name free agents on the market is not a good way to win. To win consistently, a team must draft and effectively develop young players. That onus is on the general manager and the coaching staff. A good owner will provide the funds necessary for the general manager to complement the team with free agents.

If an owner takes these steps, the days of their fans bemoaning the end of another season with the “Wait ‘till next year” chant may be numbered.