Wednesday, December 30, 2009

One for the Home Team!

After reading the Dec. 22 dispatch in the Houston Chronicle by Bernardo Fallas, the reporter who covers the Houston Dynamo for the daily newspaper, our first thought was, “This Bernardo Fallas must have a sister who works for the Dynamo organization.”

No, no. We’re the ingenuous, naive sort, and such a connection wouldn’t naturally occur to us, at least during our waking hours. We just thought Fallas’s story was overly generous in detailing the arguments of the Dynamo management and Major League Soccer as to why “soccer-specific” stadiums and the necessity of the franchises “controlling revenue streams” are the keys to growing the domestic MLS to “compete with the best leagues in Europe and South America.” But that’s just our opinion, and opinions are like ... well, you know what they say.

The timing of the story also struck us as a bit suspicious, coming just 10 days after a mayoral election in which Dynamo president Oliver Luck and the team ownership, in the individual and corporate persons of California billionaire Philip Anshutz, Brener Sports and Entertainment of Beverly Hills and ex-boxing champ Oscar de la Hoya, put their money on the wrong pony. As Fallas himself put it:
...the Dynamo — whose move to Houston in late 2005 was due, in large part, to local government’s receptiveness to the idea of a public-private partnership for a soccer stadium in the Bayou City — wait for negotiations with the city of Houston and Harris County to resume after the recent mayoral election brought them to a standstill.
A cynical sort––not us, though––might believe that a little prodding in the daily paper would help move matters along.

As it turns out, of course, Fallas does have a sister who works for the Dynamo, a connection first brought to our attention by eagle-eyed Anne Linehan of blogHouston, who pointed to the similarity in the last names of the Chronicle reporter and Ana B. Fallas-Scarborough, listed as the Dynamo’s executive assistant/HR rep (true, not a high-level, policy-making position). Benardo Fallas confirmed the relationship for us, assured us it had no bearing on the story in question or his coverage in general, and told us it that “to insinuate otherwise would be both imprudent and an insult to my professionalism as a journalist.”

OK, imprudent is our middle name (actually, our middle initial is M. and our last name is Prudent, which is German, so heavy accent on the first syllable), but since Mr. Fallas promptly and graciously responded to our inquiry, thus freeing us to get on with the business of returning ill-fitting Christmas gifts, we’ll turn this space over to him for extended elaboration:
I informed my superiors the moment I learned my sister was being considered for a job with the team. Since the decision was to keep me on the beat, we have strived to maintain a healthy professional distance.

I sense you (or some of your readers)* may have an issue (and understandably so) with MLS' and the team's argument that teams need to control revenue streams in order to "make it."

The argument that MLS teams need to control revenue streams to become financially viable enterprises is one made time and again by teams and league (as well as teams in other pro leagues). It is the first answer you would get if you called Oliver Luck or Don Garber and asked them why an MLS team needs a stadium.

What I did is I presented that argument while noting that there's opposition to the idea of the Dynamo having public help in their pursuit of a stadium.

I was asked by my superiors to write about the emergence of MLS stadiums and how that relates to the Dynamo, and I think I did just that.
Mr. Fallas strikes us as an earnest and thoughtful young man trying to make his way in the world, but these unnamed superiors of his are doing him and their newspaper a disservice if they are aware of the sibling connection and are still assigning him to do a story on what essentially is a political issue that arouses considerable hostility on both sides. (As we noted to Fallas, even his reporting of games, team personnel moves and other non-political matters might come into question if he and the daily newspaper actually had any competition and there was another reporter from another organization assigned as a Dynamo beat reporter. Fallas later informed us that he doubles-up at the Chronicle as both a copy editor and soccer reporter; we’d caution him against over-excelling at either of these jobs, lest he wind up also shouldering the paper’s transportation beat while passing his off-evenings as a part-time society columnist.)

On a semi-related note, since the negotiations over the new soccer-specific stadium appear to hinge on Harris County’s agreement to participate in a Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone, the Chronicle reported on Wednesday that the outgoing City Council voted expand the Midtown TIRZ by 8 acres to include “the Asia House, the Buffalo Soldiers Museum and the Museum of African-American culture.” Kind of an interesting farewell of sorts, since we were under the impression that the departing mayor was not exactly a fan of the TIRZ mechanism (one of the good things about him, in our inconsequential book) and the incoming one most pointedly made an issue of not expending tax dollars, or too many tax dollars, on “museums” and “stadiums” and the like in this time of, um, fiscal austerity.

The version of the story in our damp home-delivered edition was all of 3 paragraphs and unbylined, but the online version included this seen-it-comin’-a-mile-away graf:
Councilman James Rodriguez, while supporting the changes, said he wanted to see plans for development of a Latino heritage museum within the same zone in Midtown.
We only hope that we can raise the money, and find a suitable and affordable location within the Midtown TIRZ, to get our planned Museum for the Study and Furtherance of Peckerwood Culture up and running in time to take advantage of the “$5 million in improvements to cultural and public facilities.”

By the way, possibly because of some apparent oversight neither this story nor Mr. Fallas's Dec. 22 work included a quote from Bob Stein.

*Mr. Fallas here makes the probably unsupportable supposition that we have readers, plural.


Rex said...

I don't think Fallas expressed the positives of the stadium strong enough. A simple graph comparing the public/private financing for stadiums built all over the nation would work. Most any city in the nation would love to get a 75% privately financed stadium.

Doug said...

Due respect to one of my favorite bloggers, but this strikes me as a stretch. If his spouse worked for the team or he otherwise stood to financially gain from this story, he shouldn't have touched it. But if his sister - whose hyphenated name implies she probably doesn't share a household with the reporter -- works in a goober-smooching office job for the team he's writing a story about, I don't think it rises to the level of conflict of interest. A curiosity, perhaps, but hardly a scandal.

Slampo said...

Doug: I didn't mean to suggest it was a scandal, or anywhere near one, but if I did mea culpa. More of a curiosity, as you say. I'm not sure what constitutes a "goober-smmoching office job," but I do relish that phrase and will steal it as soon as possible.

Doug said...

Plagiarism by Slampo is high praise indeed.