BOB: Tough economic times

Depression era baseball

The economy as a whole is facing some unprecedented territory as we head into 2009 and this presents some interesting challenges for baseball. Many people are saying this is the worst economic environment since the Great Depression in the 1930s so with that, Ken Belson at the New York Times took a look at what happened to baseball during that time. There’s little surprise that attendance was way down, as were player salaries. The story is a great read and while it’s a little early to say we’re in the same boat as people in the 1930s, I’m fairly confident that this is going to be the deepest economic downturn for most of the people who read this column.

I know a lot of teams have kept ticket prices steady and some have even dropped prices, but I wonder if what has been done is going to be enough. Season tickets, in my estimation, will be way down but if the economy turns halfway through the year and people start spending money, you could see some full ballparks at the end of the season. Still, even that’s fairly optimistic based on what you read about in the paper. I’m most interested in seeing how teams adjust and my bet is, you’ll see a lot of late season deals on all of those seats that haven’t been sold yet.

Kevin McClatchy sells stake in Pirates

A few years ago, Kevin McClatchy stepped back from over a decade of mediocrity (at best) for the Pittsburgh Pirates when he left his post as managing partner of the team. Now, after 13 years of ownership, Kevin McClatchy has sold his stake in the team and he’s stepped down from his position as a member of the Pirates board of directors.

I couldn’t find anything about who bought his stake but if I had to guess, it was the remaining partners. For now, McClatchy’s seat on the board won’t be filled so that makes the Pirates’ governing body a five member board.

Mark Cuban speaks out on Cubs sale

Right now, the sale of the Chicago Cubs is a three pony race and the final bids are filtering in for what many expect will be a $1 billion transaction. The final deadline for bids was last Friday but it appears that the Tribune Company is allowing some flexibility with regard to the bids for the final three suitors.

A past suitor who most of us all know recently spoke out on his disappointment with the sales process. Mark Cuban recently blogged about his troubles with both the process and how he had a tough time finding financing, especially when the credit markets went south earlier this past fall.

Goodyear wants in on new Fall League

The Hawaii development league was folded at the end of its most recent season in an attempt by MLB to consolidate their winter leagues in the state of Arizona, where the Arizona Fall League is already played. This has opened up the opportunity for cities to host a second fall league in Arizona and one of the first suitors to line up for that is Goodyear, which is in the process of opening a brand new two-team facility this spring.

One concern is that the Arizona Fall League hasn’t developed an adequate fan base yet. This has tempered the possibility of a second Arizona league somewhat and MLB officials have even left the option open of returning to Hawaii next year. My bet is, with the economy being a recurring theme, that there is no second league in Arizona this year but in the next couple of years, you’ll see something spring up.

Baseball releases amphetamine numbers

For the first time since testing for amphetamines began, the league has disclosed some of the numbers on use around the league. Fourteen players had first-time positive tests but to go with that, there was a rise in therapeutic use exemptions for attention deficit disorder at the same time the league is trying to make it more difficult for an exemption to be obtained.

It seems like everyone on both sides are pleased with the numbers though. Rob Manfred, baseball’s executive vice-president for labor relations, indicated that the final numbers show that progress is being made and Henry Waxman, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, had a tempered reaction as far as the exemptions were concerned.

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