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Sports Beat

Close, but no Cup

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Posted: Thursday, June 19, 2014 10:30 am

Since few expected the Rangers to go very far in the NHL playoffs, it’s easy to rationalize their five-game loss to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup Final. That’s cold comfort, however, to both Rangers players and fans, who will undoubtedly ruminate on three overtime losses preceded by blown third-period leads and punctuated by questionable referees’ calls.

Two particular referee calls may have been the turning points in the series.

After losing the first game of the series, the Rangers were up 4-2 in the third period of Game 2 when LA’s Dwight King tipped in a shot past Rangers goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. There was considerable physical contact and it appeared to everyone but the ref that Lundqvist was the victim of interference and that King’s goal should be disallowed. It counted, however, and the Kings went on to win.

Fast forward to Game 5 and the Rangers were up 2-1 in the middle of the third period when Blueshirts right winger Mats Zuccarello was called for a tripping penalty, though in fact he appeared to be the victim of a trip. The Kings went on the power play and quickly scored to tie it up, and then of course won the game and the Stanley Cup in double overtime.

As livid as Rangers fans may be over those calls, one has to assume their frustration is nothing compared with how NHL Commissioner and former Forest Hills resident Gary Bettman and Comcast CEO Brian Roberts feel. I am not saying Bettman was pulling for the Rangers, but I think it’s safe to say he was rooting for a long series, as was Roberts, whose company owns NBC Sports. More games between teams from the country’s two biggest markets mean more ad revenue and greater exposure for hockey in the sports marketplace.

The Stanley Cup Final always overlaps the NBA Finals but the NBA always draws far higher ratings. The NBA places all of the games on broadcast television (ABC is the rightsholder) while the NHL curiously lets Comcast put a number of Stanley Cup Final games on the hard-to-find cable NBC Sports Network, and this year those were Games 3 and 4, played at Madison Square Garden.

NBC Sports executives told me that they were willing to trade off ratings points in order to bring awareness to their cable outlet, which badly trails the self-dubbed Worldwide Leader in Sports, ESPN. “You have to have live games in order to bring eyeballs to your network,” one NBC public relations official told me.

The next NHL action in our area will be the annual Islanders’ rookie “Blue & Orange” scrimmage at Nassau Coliseum on July 10.

Last Tuesday I asked Mets manager Terry Collins, whose team was in the midst of a six-game losing streak, if he took any comfort in the fact that fewer people were aware of his team’s slump since both the Belmont Stakes and the Rangers’ appearance in the Stanley Cup were dominating the sports pages.

“The short answer to that is ‘No!’” Collins quickly replied. A number of Mets players whom I spoke with that day did express gratitude for those distractions, however.

I once joked with former Met and now Toronto Blue Jays catcher Josh Thole following a two-hour, 2-1 matinee loss a few years ago, “If you are going to lose, lose fast!”

“You got that right!” Thole laughed. There is a lot of truth in that philosophy.

I asked Collins on Friday if he was concerned that the inordinate amount of extra-inning games as well as four-hour regulation games would create fatigue later on in the season.

“Absolutely,” he replied. “We won four out of five from the Phillies in Philadelphia and yet when we boarded the plane that took us from there to Chicago, it was deathly quiet. I am convinced that the Phillies series was a key reason that we got swept in both Chicago and San Francisco.”

Michael Milken, along with Ivan Boesky, was the prototype for Michael Douglas’s iconic Gordon Gekko character from the 1987 film “Wall Street.” He was convicted of violating insider trading laws and spent four years in prison as well as paying over $600 million in restitution to investors and fines to the Securities & Exchange Commission.

Milken has devoted a great deal of his time and energy since being released from prison in 1993 working with the Prostate Cancer Foundation. That organization has raised over $900 million to fund research that has led to breakthroughs in cancer-fighting drugs as well as providing invaluable support to those who are battling the disease.

Major League Baseball teams up with the Prostate Cancer Foundation every June, when funds are raised through a home run contest as part of the “Keep Dad in the Game” campaign.

Milken was at Citi Field last week and I had a chance to chat with him. I asked him if could ever have envisioned the skyrocketing value of sports franchises during his financier days in the go-go ’80s.

“Cable television was in its infancy and the DVR hadn’t been invented, of course, which meant that while entertainment shows could be watched anytime, the live value of sports programming increased exponentially,” he said. “So the answer would have to be no.”

Milken then talked about former Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer’s $2 billion bid to buy the Los Angeles Clippers.

“High sports team franchise values are a function of interest rates,” he said. “Ballmer can borrow money at probably 1 percent, which means that he is paying about $20 million per year. The Clippers probably throw off about that amount of cash annually through multiple revenue sources.” He added that if interest rates start rising, sports teams’ prices, like bond prices, will fall.

Milken then talked about how technology is changing consumer spending habits. “Teenage girls are buying apps instead of jewelry,” he said with a laugh.

Mets centerfielder Matt den Dekker inadvertently made news last week when a runaway horse crashed into a cab that he was about to depart from near Central Park. Fortunately, Matt was unhurt. He was also unaware of Mayor De Blasio’s crusade to rid Manhattan of horse carriages.

“I am neutral on this since I don’t know all of the details. I don’t hold a grudge against the horse,” he told me with a smile.

Boxing has a new local sensation as Huntington, LI’s Chris Algieri, who graduated with a degree in biology from Stony Brook and has plans to attend medical school, defeated Ruslan Provodnikov in a 12-round split decision for the World Boxing Organization 140-pound title at the Barclays Center Saturday night. Algieri also has a matinee idol looks, which certainly has to excite HBO Sports executives, who need a marketable boxer.

Life and style

The death of legendary disc jockey Casey Kasem, host of the syndicated “American Top 40” radio show for the 1970s and most of the 1980s, combined with the New Music Seminar that was held last week in Manhattan and has been around for nearly 30 years, reminded me of how the music industry has changed — and not for the better in my opinion.

Back in the day, there were retail record stores as well as major recording labels such as Capitol, Warner Brothers, Atlantic, Elektra, MCA, Mercury, Arista, Motown, United Artists and A&M that helped develop talent by following Major League Baseball’s blueprint. Record companies were able to ferret out talent and nurture it by letting artists learn their craft by sending them out on the road and financing albums that would, they hoped, lead to bigger sellers down the road — just the way that MLB teams start out most players in their low-level minor league affiliates and then hope they will progress all the way to the majors.

These days the major labels are a shell of their past glory and it is getting a lot harder in this digital age to find physical music recordings. While there are certainly younger artists worth following, such as Pharrell Williams, Foster the People and Sam Smith, it’s a lot harder to learn about artists and follow their careers without a solid recording industry infrastructure.

At the New Music Seminar a number of veteran talent managers actually claimed that artists are better off with the way things are now. I respectfully disagree.

Reality television has a ton of team competition series in a variety of topics, but Turner Entertainment’s Tru TV is turning to an industry which has surprisingly been overlooked until now by network executives, the American automobile industry. On June 24 Tru TV will debut “Motor City Masters,” in which teams will compete to design a better car. The winning team will be hired by General Motors.

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