The Beer Hot Stove: The Role of Rumors in Beer Media

Eno Sarris, February 11, 2016

The Full Pint has news, sort of

The Full Pint has just learned that Cigar City Brewing of Tampa Florida may be the next craft brewery to be acquired by AB-InBev. This comes to us from three independent, unnamed sources within the industry close to the situation.  We reached out to Cigar City Brewing owner Joey Redner, who is often asked this question, and he declined to give a public statement.

I guess this could be a flimsier report. It could be from one source, hanging out in a bar in Schenectady, I guess. The wording is a little weird, but it gets that way when you're trying not to out a source. They could work for Cigar City, or AB-InBev, or for lawyers that are ready to facilitate the deal -- though if it's a third party, you'd think it was so far along that we could get more substantial news out of it. For what it's worth, the report was almost immediately repudiated by the owner of Cigar City. 

There was some choice reaction from the beer media world. 

I'm sympathetic to this line of thought. And yet... my day job has an immediate corrolary that comes to mind: baseball's Hot Stove. 

In the offseason, most of baseball readership is interested in knowing what their team is doing to get better. Trades, signings, hirings, firings, that sort of thing. The Hot Stove keeps us all warm over the winter, as we hope and dream on our team's future. 

I broke some news this year. Nothing big, just the terms that the San Diego Padres handed to Alexei Ramirez, their new starting shortstop. "Sexei" is not that good, so it was minor news: four million dollars for one year with a mutual option. It did help color the analysis of the deal early on: any more money and you might wonder why the Padres are bothering with an old stopgap. But for four million, eh. 

In any case, I had two sources, not three. My sources were close to the situation, but not signing the deal. It's hard to speculate on the quality of The Full Pint's sources, but we do know that they had me trumped on quantity.

From what I've learned for baseball coverage, my experience was about par for the course in baseball. I've seen -- actually literally watched -- a beat writer tweet a salacious rumor that must have come from one source because it was immediately repudiated, withdrawn, and mocked for having so little behind it. A totally different deal followed close behind, though, and nobody remembered the silly tweet. 

Maybe the velocity of Hot Stove news -- especially at the Winter Meetings, where I saw the tweet happen in real time -- changes things. There's pressure on the writers to come up with something, and the boost you get from a hit far outpaces the blowback anyone would get for being wrong. When you're wrong, you shrug, you say, I got it from a good source, and you move on. Ten minutes later someone else has a rumor. 

Here's where I think that perhaps baseball shouldn't be a model for the behavior of other markets. It's sort of juicy to dream on Javier Baez if you're a Braves fan, or Shelby Miller if you're a Cubs fan. But these aren't publicly traded companies, and nobody's job is on the line. It's a little less 'juicy' to dream on a Cigar City acquisition of you're a Cigar City employee, maybe. Or maybe it is great, but it's also more frought with heartburn. 

And we wouldn't want to read a live stream of rumors about these buyouts, would we? Maybe 'we' would -- there are 15k facebook likes on the rumor, and 430 on the repudiation of the rumor. Clearly there's an interest for this. People want to know, and he had three sources he trusted. I shrug. 

Some of the hot and heavy about this seems to be about the final paragraph of The Full Pint's piece, where they attempt to frame the piece as reporting a 'credible rumor.' Here's Chris Furnari on Adam Schefter:

He's right and he's wrong. He's right that there's almost never a retraction or apology. He's wrong that anybody cares when the rumor is wrong. Sports moves pretty fast, if you get a good portion of your rumors right, people will still follow. The best in baseball, at least, get it wrong occasionally. Sometimes they even got it right, but things changed quickly and they looked wrong. Maybe the Braves actually did get close with the Cubs on a deal around Javier Baez for Shelby Miller, even if the GM of the Cubs says they didn't. 

The point is, the tweeter I saw still has over 2o thousand followers, and I doubt many remember that he got that one wrong. There's little accountability on this sort of stuff, because there's little accountability on both sides -- do we know how far the meeting went between Cigar City and ABI just because the owner said 'we take a lot of meetings?' He's not saying they didn't get close are they aren't close, he's saying it isn't likely, which can be parsed a whole lot of ways, really. They could have been close, once. 

In the end, people will read the rumors. And there's little accountability on either side of the business of reporting these things. Again, I shrug. I'm not personally going to keep track of who was right and who was wrong, so it'll come down to whatever I remember of a website or writer. 

But me? Eh. I only dabble in that sort of thing. There's a fun feeling in it, as your story spreads, but I'd rather analyze the heck out of something than be the first to report it. The business of maintaining and assuaging sources is icky enough as it is. You could cost people jobs by being right (your sources), and you could cost yourself a job by being wrong, should accountability find you. 

So my takeaway from this? Don't worry about the reports of something that might happen. Read the analysis of the thing once it does happen. That's where the heavy thinking is happening.