Contracts, Contrasts & Contests: John Spano on the Run

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(Editor's note: This week we introduce a new column, "Contracts, Contrasts & Contests." This column, part of our growing weekend fare, will focus on the intersecting worlds of sports and business. Veteran sports business writer Steve Vuiker, whose work has appeared in USA Today, Barron's, Newsday, The New York Times and The Daily Racing Form, will share his insights every Saturday. As with all our new features, we welcome your feedback. Let me know what you think in an email to dkansas@thestreet.com.)

Sports is a business. It has been a business since the days when Augie Busch named the

Cardinals'

ballpark after his beer company; has continued to be a business through the era of the "Ballantine Blast" after a

Yankees

home run; and remains a business today, when some cynics have renamed the Atlanta Olympics the "Coca-Cola Games" due to the tremendous dollar clout of the soft-drink giant.

Yes, sports means and has meant dollars. But sports should still remain, at its core, fun and games.

Contrasts: Slippery Spano

John Spano

, the would-be owner of the

Islanders

, is in the news again. Spano -- who scored a financial hat trick when he scammed the

National Hockey League

,

Lloyd's of London

and

Fleeced (nee Fleet) Bank

-- was scheduled to appear in Boston on Thursday to plead guilty to a bank-fraud charge. This was supposed to be the final step before a three- to five-year jail sentence was to be imposed. But Spano didn't show. Now he'll likely make his plea later this month or in early December. His attorney claimed "logistical reasons" for the delay. Let's hope Mr. Spano enjoys what appears to be his last turkey dinner on the outside for a while.

Contracts: Bowling for Dollars

The Marquee Group

(MRT)

, the sports marketing firm headed by former

MSG

head Bob Gutkowski, inked a deal that ought to bowl you over. The company brought together

Brunswick

(BC) - Get Report

and the

PBA

in a three-year, $3.1 million package that all concerned hope will bring the sport some badly needed public appeal.

ABC

recently axed the long-running PBA show and didn't spare long-time announcer

Chris Schenkel

. The deal calls for Brunswick to be the "Official Lanes of the PBA" and to sponsor the "Tip of the Week" on

CBS

telecasts. Where are you, Dick Weber?

Contracts: Two-Faced in Twinsville

Republican Minority Leader Steve Sviggum of the

Minnesota House of Representatives

is a die-hard

Twins

baseball fan. Still, he led an effort that defeated a new, publicly financed stadium. And now, an institution more beloved to Minnesotans than

Mary Richards

and WJM-TV may be leaving the Midwest. Calling Lou Grant.

The fans in the birthplace of

Hubert Humphrey

and his

Metrodome

are not alone in their rally against using tax money for a new stadium. Last week, voters in 11 Pennsylvania counties spurned a sales tax initiative that would have included financing for new stadiums for baseball's

Pirates

and football's

Steelers

.

Contests: Breeders' Cup Runneth Over

One sport that I've always enjoyed is horse racing -- both harness and thoroughbred. Yeah, I know the "Sport of Kings" has lost some luster and so forth. But it received its annual dose of good news last week with the running of the

Breeders' Cup

, the end-of-year championship day. Staged at

Hollywood Park

in Inglewood, Calif., and witnessed by 51,000 on-track fans and a world-wide television audience, the Cup produced a handle of more than $74 million, including $1 million from France.

Skip Away won the $4.4 million classic and is now competing with one other horse for the Horse of the Year. Owners Sonny and Carolyn Hine, who put up $400,000 to enter the horse, cleared more than $2 million with the victory. People always talk about racing and the stock market as they both relate to gambling, at least in some people's minds. Listen to Sonny Hine: "I lost my shirt investing in

Kiwi Airlines

. They gave me a free pass but the airline never went where I wanted to go. We purchased Skip Away for $22,000 and he's earned over $6 million."

Enough said.

Quote of the Week

First Tee

announced a program to develop minority golfers in urban areas.

PGA Tour

Vice President Mike Starks: "Blocks of time need to be set aside for kids and minorities. We don't want fee-paying golfers taking time away from kids." Huh?

Finally

The

Marv Albert

autobiography apparently has a working title: "Oh, What a Tangled Web We Weave." Yes!

See you next week.

Steve Vuiker is a Brooklyn-based sports business journalist. He welcomes your feedback at

feedback@thestreet.com. His column appears every Saturday.