Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Our Man Elli: Israel Baseball League is running out of time, doesn't have the money, and may not have its momentum-keeping mini-season after all!

The new and improved Israel Baseball League is what? Eighteen days away from the first pitch of its four-team, 20-game, three-week, momentum-keeping mini-season, and everyone's still standing around with their fingers up their creamcheese-filled bagels wondering what's going on.

We praised player-turned "in-coming president" Dan Rootenberg for actually speaking with Our Man Elli in Israel, and for putting his reputation on the line when he promised that checks are in the mail to some players still owed money from last year. Today, despite our advice, the IBL site still hasn't taken the "in-coming" off his title and some checks that were supposedly in the mail a week ago have still not landed in mailboxes.

Behind the scenes, we're hearing the machers behind IBL Mach 2 are talking about delaying the mini-season by a week. But again, nobody's talking and all the anonymous commenters who were quick to say we were wrong in being the first to report there won't be any professional baseball in Israel this summer may have been, as they are in bed, premature.

But who knows? Time to wake up Our Man Elli.

Tabloid Baby: So?

Our Man Elli In Israel: Yes and good morning-- is it morning?-- to you. There's a a lot going on. Lots of news. Hard to keep up.


You wanna play that way? Fine. First off: Gezer has been promised again that the money was wired to their account, but as of yesterday – Tuesday – no money has arrived. Which means that as of now, the IBL can’t play on their field.

What’s the problem?

Money. Duh.

We thought the IBL was paying off all debts from last year.

Yes. That’s what they're trying to do. And they're racing the clock to do it. Because if they don’t get the money soon, it's pretty much over. I don’t know about any drop-dead date yet, but c'mon! The season is supposed to start two weeks from Sunday. This can’t go on for much longer.

But what about David Solomont? Isn't he the moneyman who’s paying the tab?

I never said, and you guys never reported, that he was picking up the debts. We all said he was fronting a little money to make some payoffs needed to get the league off the ground or licensed by the IAB. And that he could be raising the bulk of the money from other investors.


So it looks like Solomont hasn't been willing yet to put in much of his own money.

He's not stupid, you're saying.

He's definitely not stupid. And because of that it's looking less and less likely that the IBL will be able to conduct a season this year. I've heard that Solomont or Larry Baras retained an investment banking firm in Boston named Baker and Company to help raise money for the IBL. That probably means that the bulk of the money they need isn't committed.

They're soliciting.

Yeah. The important point is whether they're giving investors full disclosure of the IBL's history of the IBL and the risks of investing in it.

Okay. Hold on a minute. You mentioned Baras. Larry Baras. I thought he wasn't involved. Remember the AP reported--

I have it here. Last line of the story says that Baras, quote, “is not expected to be involved in day to day operations.”

So it depends on how you define "involved.”

My sources say that both Solomont and Baras would be involved in ownership, with Baras as a minority partner. They say Baras would continue to own part of the league, but he wouldn't be an executive, if Solomont can move things forward.

So we’re back where we started.

You were expecting maybe something new and improved?

"Sources tell me
that no team uniforms
have been purchased."

What about the players?

The same sources tell me that some players won’t be paid, at least not for a while. There’s a hierarchy on payment:

The ones coming over here to play will get paid first.

Americans owed money will be paid second.

Other foreigners, third.

And players who intend on playing this summer have to make their way to New York-- and only then will their airfare to Israel be paid. And they better bring uniforms. My sources tell me that players have been told that no team uniforms have been purchased.

Sounds like there's no money to buy them.

The IBL is scrambling. They need cash, and they don’t have enough of it.

"I've sent Rootenberg
a list of 20 questions.
I'm awaiting his response."

What about Rootenberg? Hero or puppet?

So far, neither. He’s certainly trying his hardest to do the right thing, but it’s still not clear that he'll be allowed to do it. Indications are they the new, and still, “in-coming” president, is not being fully informed. Sources tell me that Rootenberg recommended that "small creditors"-- like players and field workers-- be paid in full, especially the ones who'd be needed for a second season.

I don't know if this has happened or will happen. It could be that creditors are being offered much less than what they're owed. And it's not clear whether they'll have enough money to do even that.

In any case, I'm also hearing that Solomont and Berger are in charge of settling the IBL's debts, and that Rootenberg has little say. All he can do is recommend.

I've sent Rootenberg a list of 20 questions. I'm awaiting his response.

Any news about the IBL itself?

Well, their website hasn’t been updated since they made their dramatic announcement on June 19th. And that means ticket sales page is still listing Ra’anana Express and Tel Aviv Lightning as teams. And its very first sublink, a description of the IBL, still lists the original six teams (Bet Shemesh Blue Sox, Modi’in Miracle, Netanya Tigers, Petach Tikva Pioneers, Ra'anana Express and Tel Aviv Lightning) and still states that “among the managers of the IBL’s teams are former Major League stars Art Shamsky, Ken Holtzman, and Ron Blomberg," which must be a bit of a shock to Ken.

So now the good news.

Good news? I've got lots of it. The All-Star game next Tuesday at Yankee Stadium features three Jewish players. Well, one full and two half-Jews. We have Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox first baseman who'll start for the American League. The two half-Jews are Ryan Braun, the sensational outfielder for the Milwaukee Brewers-- he'll be starting for the National League, and Ian Kinsler, the Texas Rangers second baseman who made the American League team as a reserve. Both Braun and Kinsler have Jewish fathers. Braun’s dad is Israeli.

I mean good news about baseball in Israel.

Of course. The European Championship Qualifiers are going on right now. There are five tournament locations,featuring national teams vying for a spot at next year’s championship tournament between national baseball teams. It happens in Europe every other year in odd-numbered years. And it’s on this week through Saturday. Israel plays in Karlovac, Croatia. And incidentally, they're one-and-two in the tournament, but still have a chance to qualify for the finals. In one of the losses, the team lost an 8-0 lead.

And as I do the IBL, I wish the Israeli team much success.

As do all of us. But what about--
Gotta go.

Click. Brrrr...


Anonymous said...

Is this what you were soooo excited about 007?

Anonymous said...

Dan Rootenberg is a seasoned businessman. He runs a well-regarded physical therapy practice in NYC and makes a good living. It's not anyone who can throw down $25K in a fledgling baseball league, right?
Dan also loves baseball and has been immersed in it for years. He is one of many that would like to see pro ball take hold in Israel. He may be one of the few in that group that can actually contribute to making it happen.
There are questions out there though that are still unanswered. Some have been posed on this blog about who else besides players are being paid.
Paying some of the players is a good start. Understandably, Dan has a strong allegiance to the players having been one of them. Yet, one might well wonder how it was determined which players get paid first...the ones Dan wants to come back (apparently that is a qualification based on the latest Elli post)? the ones who are owed the most (some were owed $500, others supposedly as much as $1500, maybe even $2000 for the full summer fo 2007)? What about the managers? Some time ago, it was noted that at least 2 of the managers were owed a lot of money. Have they been paid? And all the vendors? The overall number was reportedly over $1 million. That leads to other questions.
Like, what about the financials from last year. For Dan to accept the reins of this enterprise and for him to be able to engage new vendors, one would think that the accurate financial statements for last year now exist and were prepared by a certified, licensed financial professional of unquestionable reputation; as well, it would make sense that a statement about new funding would have to be in place. After all, he has now reportedly sent out a bunch of checks to players. So, what about the source of the funding for the venture Dan is looking to head up this summer. Who are the new investors? Were they vetted and, if so how? Are the rumored investor problems that have appeared accurate or a nasty rumor? What's up with Solomont? Is he another Larry Baras? Do birds of a feather...? With all the distrust flowing from last year's experience, why not firmly dispell the rumor if the latter is true?
And who are the new vendors? Have they been paid even before the debts were paid to the 2007 vendors, without whom last year might not have happened. And if the financials for 2007 have been done, why haven't they been summarized for the public to create a better sense of trust going forward. Even more importantly, why is it that original investors have not received any financials yet although they were entitled to them in early April.
Then there is the decertification by the IAB for the IBL's breach of contract, as stated in the IAB's letter that made it's way to the public. Where is a joint statement from the IBL and the IAB that they've ironed out their differences, if in fact they have done so?
It would be great to see a full press release providing meaningful answers to these questions and would go a long way towards creating a broader base of trust based on a transparency that was non-existent with the 2007 leadership (when their attempts at transparency later proved to either shade the truth or simply be false).
Lastly, here, word is getting around that the documentary Holyland Hardball is stirring up (significant?) interest in new investors, perhaps with the assistance of this Boston-based investment firm Elli heard about. However, the video, while apparently very well done, only documents the creation of the IBL through its opening day. It does not address the major league problems of last summer's then brand new league...from the lack of a the IBL website-reported "marquis"playing field at Sportek Park upon our arrival and it's hasty, sub-par construction to the sub-par room and board to the near work stoppage in mid-July (which would have been the end of the IBL only shortly after it started) to the broader financial problems that almost led to the travel agent pulling the return flight tickets of league players and personnel and did lead to bounced checks (that have reportedly had serious impact on some league participants) and unpaid debts of over a million dollars. Which begs the question, what broader disclosure about the inaugural/only season is being made to the prospective investors who are being lured in with the Holyland Hardball film? What promises, if any, are being made and what is truly behind those promises that will ensure that they can be kept. Or, are the people who were more prominent last year but seem to be almost publicly invisible right now up to what some, and perhaps many, would say are the same questionable business practices? This is pointedly not a suggestion that Dan Rootenberg would be involved in this type of behavior; rather, it is a question of what information does he have about how the now silent leadership behind the scenes is going about their business. Remember that Mr. Baras' investment firm quit on him last winter after they discovered he'd been less than honest with them, having failed to mention to them his being sued for securities fraud in Boston Federal Court.
All of these are very valid questions given the debacle that was year one. No doubt the players made the league the success that it was. And no doubt, the founder and his close allies quickly ran that success into the ground.
Baseball is a magical sport. It is intoxicating to player and fan alike. Find a bunch of like-minded people with some bats, gloves and a ball, a large grassy area and a baseball game can break out almost anywhere.
But a professional baseball league is a whole different world. And speaking of worlds, doing business in Israel is a far different world in many ways than doing business in other places. Everyone I know wants a professional league to take hold and grow in Israel. That means making the Israelis fans, making the Israel vendors happy and really selling the game to the local population. It means having a meaningful PR and advertising strategy. It means having a field development plan. It means connecting with a feeder system of talent that will build the talent level and status of the league in the baseball world.
All the power to Dan if he has a real plan for getting pro baseball to stick in Israel. One wonders whether a three week long tournament, some clinics and playing catch, without much more on the league's part, can accomplish that goal. It would seem to be appropriate to hear some more from him (and, perhaps, the others in the current IBL hierarchy) about his/their plan of action, particularly given the unfortunate prior history of the IBL. Hey, if it sounds good and has some teeth to it, it might well interest investors he never knew had in interest in funding this attempt at reincarnating the original venture.
Ball's in your glove, Dan. Talk to us.

Anonymous said...

Great email.
And thanks Tabloid for staying on top of the story.

And Larry Baras should not be left off the hook. Now that it is clear that he is just trying to pull the strings from behind the curtain he should be held accountable.

It is not acceptable that he is trying to defraud a whole new group of investors.

Anonymous said...

Dan -

Why are you allowing your name to be associated with these criminals?