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Kai Ryssdal: The New York Yankees won seven World Series titles and 11 American League pennants in the 37 years that George Steinbrenner owned the team. Steinbrenner died this morning having turned a $10 million partnership into a franchise worth $1.5 billion. It’s tough to argue with the proposition that Steinbrenner’s impact on the business of sports went far beyond the Bronx.
Marketplace’s Jeremy Hobson reports now from New York.
Jeremy Hobson:When George Steinbrenner took control of the Yankees, there was no such thing as a free agent in baseball. But when free agency started in 1975, Steinbrenner stacked his roster by throwing money at the league’s best players.
Andrew Zimbalist is a sports economist at Smith College.
Andrew Zimbalist: Steinbrenner realized that he had the largest entertainment and the richest entertainment market of any professional sports team in the United States, and that he could take advantage of that by spending money, putting a great team on the field and promoting it like it was another Broadway play.
George Steinbrenner also monetized baseball broadcasts like never before. In the 80s, he signed away the Yankee’s TV rights to a cable channel for a half a billion dollars. But that deal wasn’t good enough for him. So in the 90s, he started his own channel, the YES network, for Yankee games.
Zimbalist: So it’s not simply that money fell into Steinbrenner’s lap, but that there were opportunities that Major League Baseball had that people were not exploiting, and Steinbrenner was the one to first successfully exploit those and show the way to the other owners.
And then there’s that ultra-recognizable Yankee brand. Harvey Schiller is the former chairman of the YankeeNets, which launched the YES network. He says Steinbrenner’s secret was taking all the bits and pieces of the Yankee empire and turning them into one global entity.
Harvey Schiller: George even claimed that he was one of the first people to have a hat day, giving hats away, because he says it’s not bad to have the New York cap floating around the world. And as you know, you can probably wind up in Bangladesh and there’ll be somebody behind the counter wearing a New York Yankees hat.
I asked Schiller what he learned about business from George Steinbrenner. He answered “perfection.” Either do it the right way or don’t bother.
In New York, I’m Jeremy Hobson for Marketplace.
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