Business of Baseball Reportby Brian Borawski
May 24, 2006
Carl Pohlad Finally Gets His Stadium
For those of you who have never read "The Tortoise and the Hare,” the moral of the story is slow and steady wins the race. After a handful of lawsuits, the possibility of the Minnesota Twins contracting, a threatened relocation and over a decade of time, Twins owner Carl Pohlad finally secured a stadium deal with the Minnesota government. It all went down Saturday, and the proceedings lasted well into the night. The bill passed the Senate by a razor-thin majority, with 34 votes for the bill and 32 votes against.
The bill is basically the same bill that was pushed and then lost in the budget battle the state had last year. The $522 million that will be used to build the new open air stadium will be mostly paid for with a sales tax increase on sales located within Hennepin County, and the bill will go through without a public referendum.
A public vote would have most likely killed this deal, so as usual we have diverse opinions by the county’s residents. Most baseball fans will applaud it because the Metrodome is one of the ugliest stadiums around, and I’m sure they’re happy. The residents of the county not only get hit the most with the tax, they'll also never get their say as to whether or not they approved of the increase. In addition, you had congressmen from outside of Hennepin County voting for the bill, while those inside of the county voted against it. Not sure if I’d call it all “fair.” Throw in the fact that Pohlad is one of the richest major league owners and the whole deal begins to smell. Unfortunately, this is how baseball works these days.
For even more information on the Twins' fight for a new stadium, be sure to check out John Brattain’s column here at The Hardball Times. This is a great read, as always, from John, with a ton of wit and passion. In addition, be sure to check out Maury Brown’s rundown of the deal at his website, The Baseball Journals.
Owners Approve Sale of Nationals, House Cleaning Begins
Last Thursday at their meeting, the baseball owners approved the sale of the Washington Nationals to the Lerner group for $450 million. It’s expected that the sale of the team by the league will happen sometime in late June or early July, but we all know what deadlines mean to these people. It also appears that the lines are being drawn in the sand with regard to the upcoming negotiations on the Collective Bargaining Agreement. Revenue sharing and the luxury tax appear to be the hot tickets with small market teams and larger market teams picking sides; this was a hot button topic at the owners' meeting.
In other Nationals news, incoming president Stan Kasten, began meeting with team officials as early as today. The plan is to see who the new regime wants to keep and who will get the boot. Kasten won’t be able to make personnel changes until the sale actually closes, but the evaluation process has begun.
Mariners' Attendance, Television Viewership Down
In 2001, the Seattle Mariners won 116 games during the regular season, and they followed that up with record attendance of over 3.5 million in 2002. Since then, they haven’t made a playoff appearance and they’ve failed to win even 70 games the last two seasons. They’ve started 21-25 this year, but that was only after a recent four-game winning streak.
All of the losing has the fans discouraged. Attendance is down almost 7,000 from last season, and even in 2004, attendance only topped 2.7 million. They then had their smallest crowd ever at Safeco Field on May 8, 2006, in which only 16,102 fans paid to see the Mariners play. Just as discouraging is the fact that television ratings are way down. During that historic 2001 season, the average rating for a Mariners game was 14.9. This season it’s all the way down to 6.3%.
Fox Sports shows 111 Mariners games, and there’s some concern that Fox won’t be able to pull the same amount of ad revenue that they have in the past. What this could equate to is a lower annual television fee that Fox will want to pay the Mariners for rights to the game. The good news is that no major advertisers have left, but it’s becoming more certain that putting Mariners games on television isn’t as valuable as it once was.
George Steinbrenner Doesn’t Like Giving Away His Money
I touched on this in the section about the Nationals, but as Maury Brown has talked about in his article in the 2006 Hardball Times Baseball Annual, the real battle in the upcoming labor negotiations won’t be between the players and the owners, but among the various factions of owners. George Steinbrenner has coined the phrase “socialist state” when talking about the current revenue-sharing rules, and I’m sure no owner would love to see the percentage of revenue that's shared shaved down, if not eliminated all together.
And oddly, the union is on Steinbrenner’s side. They’re worried that the teams receiving the revenue-sharing payments aren’t churning the money to boost players' payrolls. In fact, by some estimates, the Florida Marlins' revenue-sharing payment might actually exceed the entire team’s payroll.
The idea of revenue sharing is sound, especially in MLB’s monopolistic environment. Without any real outside competition, the teams in the league are then in direct competition with one another. The stack is decked if your team is in Kansas City, while you have an inherent benefit if you’re in a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles or New York. The question is, how much is enough, and by December when the current CBA expires, we’ll be finding out exactly what that is.
Brian Borawski is a member of SABR's Business of Baseball Committee and writes about the Detroit Tigers at his own website, TigerBlog. He welcomes comments, questions and suggestions via e-mail.