The economic mess leaves several stadium plans in disarray and widespread anger over public subsidies and naming rights-related issues.
If you've received your brand-new copy ofBaseball Prospectus 2009 this week, you'll have found an essay by yours truly on teams' plans for new stadiums. It's a piece that I filed back in simpler times known as "January," when we still shopped at Circuit City, the president was some former Texas Rangers owner, and A-Rod was only reviled in the press for his relationship with Madonna. The basics that are laid out in BP2K9 are still accurate, as the Marlins, A's, and Rays are all pushing for new homes, with the Marlins way in the lead; the Mets and Yankees, meanwhile, are preparing to open their new stadiums amid controversy over who's paying the $2.7 billion bill. Since then, though, there have been a few unexpected twists:
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Neil catches us up on what's happening on the ballparks front, as teams try to get new homes or renovate old ones.
The BP annual, as you may know, works on a crazy-short deadline, which allowed me to cover events up through mid-January. Naturally enough, in the few short weeks since, stadium news has busted out all over: some projects have lurched ahead, others hit unexpected roadblocks, and others just saw their price tags soar, which can't really be said to be unexpected given past stadium history. The scorecard so far in 2007:
A glib observation about the Pirates' booting big bucks leads to a more rigorous examination of the contracts that do real damage.
With the aid of Nate Silver's MORP formula for converting on-field performance into dollar value, I soon had the--well, an--answer. While the likes of Derek "Operation Shutdown" Bell ($9 million, -0.2 WARP) and Kevin Young ($24 million, 2.8 WARP) were deservedly infamous, the "winner" as the biggest waste of Bucs bucks turned out to be Jason Kendall. Despite being a solid five-wins-a-year player during the course of the six-year deal he signed in November 2000, the backstop with the busticated ankle still fell $28 million short of earning his keep.
Blowing $28 million with the stroke of a pen, as Pirates GM Cam Bonifay did back then, is pretty impressive. But as impressive as the Pirates' record of lousy judgment is, surely there are examples of other teams' deals that ended up being even more costly?
Neil responds to reader mail about last week's re-evaluation of Marginal Payroll and Marginal Wins.
The loudest gasps were prompted by the article's final conclusion, that by looking at teams' ROPE scores (Return on Payroll Expenditure, which is essentially the old Wall Street term "return on investment" with a cute acronym tacked on) we can determine that nearly every team in baseball is spending more on payroll than it gets back in new revenues, many by a factor of more than two to one. To be honest, this shocked me when I saw the numbers--I've long held to the position that sports team owners are in it to make a profit, first and foremost, and will only spend on players what they figure they can recoup from the increased ticket sales, TV rights deals, etc., that result from a winning ballclub.
That's not what ROPE shows, though. As I wrote last week, aside from the handful of teams that are getting a decent return on their investment, "Every other team in baseball would have been better off, from a revenue perspective, by fielding a minimum-wage team and taking their lumps on the field." That prompted reader W.L. to ask:
The great Doug Pappas' signature calculation gets an upgrade that integrates Nate Silver's research.
So it is, to some degree, for Doug Pappas. Of all the many and varied things that
Doug did in his too-short life, probably his best-known creation is
Marginal Payroll/Marginal Wins, a measure designed, as he explained
when he introduced it in the 2004 edition of the Baseball Prospectus
annual, to "evaluate the efficiency of a club's front office by
comparing its payroll and record to the performance it could expect to
attain by fielding a roster of replacement-level players."
The idea was both simple and brilliant: Take the amount of money a team
spent on payroll, subtract the minimum that it would take to field
a 25-man team, then divide this by the team's wins, less the number of
wins an all-minimum-wage team would be expected to rack up (calculated
by Pappas as a .300 winning percentage.) It was a metric that would go
on to inspire Michael Lewis' best-seller Moneyball (Lewis was impressed
with how the Oakland A's under Billy Beane continually ranked at the
top of the MP/MW charts), and become an annual feature of this Web site;
since Doug's death, the annual MP/MW tabulations have been carried on
by BP's Ben Murphy and Maury Brown.
Have the Moneyballers found a home? Neil ponders this latest field of schemes...
That said, yesterday's press event kicked off what's sure to be a
years-long public battle over the future of the A's. The bare bones of the
plan to cart the A's down I-880 to Fremont (as far south as you can go in
the East Bay without rounding the corner and finding yourself in the South
Bay, aka "Giants territory") had been public knowledge for a while now: the
team would lease a plot of land currently controlled by networking giant
Cisco Systems, and plunk down a stadium seating between 30,000 and 34,000 fans, accompanied by a hundred acres or so of condos. As for everything else--who would pay for it, how fans would get there, and so on--those details would be provided on another day.
That day was not yesterday. Between Wolff ("We are customer-oriented!")
and Bud Selig ("This stadium will not only reflect the latest in
everything, but it will reflect a unique sensitivity to fans"), there was
enough empty rhetoric to fuel the 2008 presidential campaign. Cisco execs,
meanwhile, showed off their latest technological gimcrackery,
demonstrating how the company's interlocking
land-and-naming-rights-and-fancy-shmancy-electronic-gear deal would provide fans
who were running late to the game with the ability to watch live game
footage on their PDAs--apparently unaware that unless current MLB
blackout rules are lifted, they'll have to settle for video of the
Padres-Rockies game. It was at about this point that a techie friend IM'd
me with the message: "Any sufficiently advanced technology is
indistinguishable from a rigged demo."
Now that some of the details of the new CBA are coming to light, Neil's able to look at a few of the finer points of how teams will now receive and spend money.
For anyone trying to analyze the new deal, though, the way it was
announced was less revolutionary. All that MLB and the MLBPA signed last
week was a "memorandum of understanding" sketching out the broad strokes
of the deal--and what was released to the press was even less than that,
effectively a summary of a summary. As a result, most of the reporting
thus far has necessarily been a mix of incomplete facts, rumor, and guesswork. Maury Brown began to untangle
the CBA's new revenue-sharing rules on Monday. My job today is to take
a deeper look at some of the implications of the new system for how teams
will actually be receiving--and spending--money.
First off, a quick recap of the rule changes, as we understand them so far. Under the old system, as Maury explained, revenue sharing consisted of two separate pieces: A "straight pool" that skimmed off 34% of every team's revenues and divided equally among all 30 teams, and a "split pool" that was levied only on the top-revenue teams and redistributed to the lowest-revenue ones. (This two-headed system was a compromise put into place during the last labor talks in 2002, when the owners wanted a straight-pool plan, and the players a split one.) The overall effect was that several hundred million dollars a year was shuffled around, mostly from the rich teams to the less-rich, but with the odd effect that teams at the top of the economic ladder actually got to keep a bit more of each dollar of new revenue (giving up 39%) than those at the bottom (who gave up 47%).
The Cardinals blaze a new trail to the public pocketbook with a gambit that might be ominous for taxpayers everywhere.
But for the public that fronted the other
third of the stadium money, this stadium, as the phrase goes, was to
be more than just a stadium. Part of the draw that led Missouri
legislators to approve public money for the project (St. Louis residents
to vote down the funds, but were ruled to have waited until after play
had resumed to file their appeal) was the Ballpark Village that the Cards
promised to build on the site of the former Busch Stadium: shops,
restaurants, condos, all the trimmings that are, according to legend,
supposed to suddenly bloom once a stadium is installed, boosting your city's
tax base, and revitalizing your dusty downtown.
After many years and many millions of dollars, the Twins will finally get a new open-air stadium. And, as usual, there's a lot going on with the deal.
If this sounds weird to you, you're not alone--it does to me as well. Not the delay of game
time--given that it's Liriano vs. King Felix, I'll forgo my planned quip
about how even watching sausages
being made is preferable to seeing a Twins-M's matchup--but rather
that the Twins, the poster children for futile stadium campaigns for a
decade or more, have suddenly hit the public jackpot.
This is Minnesota, after all, the state that had rejected public stadium
funding time and time again, all the way back to the Scott
Stahoviak era. Along the way, Twins owner Carl Pohlad had
promised to up and move to North Carolina, offered his team up for
contraction, tried to play a regular-season series in a temporary stadium
to hook fans on the lure of outdoor baseball--everything short of
threatening to play in the hollowed-out skull of Kent
Hrbek--all seemingly for naught. To a generation of baseball
fans, it seemed like the Twins would be fielding balls off the Hefty bag
beneath Teflon skies for all eternity.
As Zimbalist correctly observed on BP Radio, I'm a journalist, not an
economist--though I do consult with economists and other sports business
experts on a regular basis, to check both my reasoning and my Excel
skills. That said, he's an economist, not a journalist, and may not have
all the information on the nuances of the New York stadium deals. So I've
spent the last couple of weeks digging through the public record, and the
not-so-public record, to clear up the facts of the matter. The result is
going to take a bit to explain and will delve in places into economic
minutiae, but try to keep your eyes from glazing over for just the next
few minutes--this is worth getting right, not just for the sake of New
York taxpayers, but because it's an excellent lesson in the difficulties
of ferreting out the true costs of modern stadium deals.