Digging into the BP vault, here’s Doug Pappas’ Q&A on MLB’s drug-testing and steroids policies (originally ran March 4, 2004).
The fifth installment of the series tours the majors’ largest division, the NL Central. Four of the six clubs in the division have moved into new ballparks since 2000, yet the one that’s virtually sold out for the season is the one that plays in a 90-year-old park built for the Federal League. The Reds, Brewers and Pirates are Exhibits A, B and C for the proposition that a new ballpark doesn’t ensure on-field success.
Once again, I shopped the clubs’ Web sites on MLB.com to see which seats a fan could hope to buy two or three weeks in advance, and how much a typical fan, or a typical family could expect to pay. That didn’t work for the Cubs, who were sold out three months in advance, but everywhere else, typical fans are likely to pay less than Team Marketing Report’s Fan Cost Index suggests they would.
Average ticket price: $26.08 (3rd in majors). 2003 attendance: 46.9% of capacity (24th in majors).
All season: “We’re Finally Out Of The Vet.” No discounts, but plenty of reasons to celebrate.
In the third installment of this series, I review the ticket options for fans in MLB’s smallest but most geographically dispersed division, the AL West.
If you’ve read the first two installments (Part I, Part II), you know the drill. To simulate the average fan’s experience, I pick a mid-week game, then shop for tickets on MLB.com a few weeks in advance. (I made an exception for Anaheim, choosing their next available mid-week series–since their next two mid-week visitors are the Yankees and Red Sox, I thought the earlier date would still be more representative.)
First I shop for my imaginary family of four, whose ideal combination of price and view is usually behind the plate and towards the front of the upper deck. Then I pretend that my imaginary family just won the lottery, shopping instead for the best available block of four seats (as determined by MLB’s ticket computer) anywhere in the ballpark. The seats available for the family of four serve as a rough proxy for the club’s season-ticket and advance sales. Then I play Stranger Visiting Town, looking for a single seat. My expense-account alter ego shops for the best seat available through MLB.com, while his starving-student counterpart heads right for the cheapest seats in the park.
Next, I scan the club Web sites for promotions that could reduce the cost of my hypothetical fans’ attendance, as well as unusual promotions and giveaway items. Finally, I write a snappy summary and prepare to start the process all over again with another division.
This is the second installment of my six-part survey of how much fans can actually expect to pay for tickets to major league games. I choose a mid-week game, then shop for tickets on MLB.com a few weeks in advance. First I look for a block of casual fan seats: ideally, four behind the plate and towards the front of the upper deck. These are usually, but not always, cheaper than the average price ticket used by Team Marketing Report to calculate the Fan Cost Index.
Then I repeat the process three more times. Twice I look for the best available seats, as determined by the MLB.com ticket computer–once for a family of four and once for a single fan. The seats available for the family of four serve as a rough proxy for the club’s season-ticket and advance sales, while the best single-seat option shows where a fan who doesn’t care about the cost can sit without paying scalpers’ prices. Finally, I look for the cheapest seats to find the lowest a fan using MLB.com could pay to get into the ballpark.
To complete the survey, I check the club Web sites for promotions that could reduce the cost of my hypothetical fan’s attendance, scan the club’s promotional schedule for unusual events, and put it all together in the form below…
Last week I identified some of the problems with the “Fan Cost Index” developed by Team Marketing Report. One of the biggest issues, TMR’s use of average ticket prices to calculate how much a typical family of four could expect to pay to see a game, has to be addressed on a team-by-team basis. This is the first of six articles that will do so. I’m starting with the AL East. My hypothetical customers decide a few weeks in advance which game they plan to attend, then shop for tickets on MLB.com. To keep the methodology constant, I’m ignoring any special knowledge I may have about a particular stadium’s seats, seating and ticketing policies, and relying entirely on what I can find on MLB.com.
Each year just before Opening Day, Team Marketing Report (TMR) releases the “Fan Cost Index” (FCI). According to TMR, the FCI “tracks the cost of attendance for a family of four.” This year, TMR says this hypothetical family’s day at the ballpark would cost an average of $155.52. The price would range from $108.83 in Montreal to $263.09 in Boston.
If this sounds high, you’re right. TMR defines the FCI to include two average-priced adult tickets and two average-priced children’s tickets–but also two small draft beers, four small soft drinks, four regular hot dogs, two programs, two of the least expensive adult-sized adjustable caps, and parking for one car. In short, while it might reflect how much a family that decides on the spur of the moment to go to their one game of the season might spend, it far overstates the cost for most fans, who can easily eat before the game, sit in the cheap seats and skip the souvenir caps.
After the 1991 season, Commissioner Fay Vincent used his annual State of the Game address to declare: “The present salary situation is out of hand and small-market franchises cannot compete in this environment.” This in a year when the Minnesota Twins won the World Series, the Pittsburgh Pirates won their second of three consecutive NL East titles, and the Yankees finished 20 games under .500! In fact, of the four division winners, only Pittsburgh had even the third-highest payroll in its division. Toronto and Minnesota ranked fourth, while Atlanta ranked fifth.
As the owners and players jockeyed toward another mid-season labor showdown, the owner of one of MLB’s least efficient teams sought to set the record straight. Bud Selig announced: “The fact is, there are staggering cash operating losses in major league baseball today. …The enormous cost increase in player salaries is, by far, the biggest reason baseball has dire economic problems. Any charge other than that is clearly and totally unsubstantiated by the economic facts as they exist today.” MLB figures released after the season put the total of those “staggering cash operating losses” at less than 1% of revenue. In fact, player salaries had doubled since 1981. So had MLB’s revenue, as cable TV became an increasingly important source of income. Owners who reinvested their rights fees in payroll helped create a $300,000 gap between the major league minimum and the average salary. As the Braves and Pirates demonstrated, badly-run franchises could now waste more money than ever before.
In the wake of Commissioner Selig’s latest declaration that the 36-year-old Oakland Coliseum “cannot produce enough revenue for [the Athletics] to be competitive,” more attention should be paid to another perennial contender in a similar plight. If recent trends continue, the New York Yankees will soon need a new ballpark to remain competitive.
The 1980 season opened under the cloud of a threatened mid-season labor stoppage. In March the players voted 973-1 to strike if the owners persisted in their demand that a club losing a free agent receive a major league player from the signing club as compensation–in effect converting the signing of a free agent into the equivalent of a trade. Hours before the strike deadline, the parties settled all other issues and agreed to revisit the compensation issue the next year. On the diamond, the Philadelphia Phillies rode their league-leading payroll to their first (and so far only) World Championship. Owner Ruly Carpenter blames himself and his fellow owners for rising salaries, noting that “no court can compel you to spend millions on players.” For proof, Carpenter needed to look no further than Oakland’s Charles O. Finley, who rode the majors’ lowest payroll to an 83-79 record in the year of Billyball.
The oft-recited assertion that “small markets can’t compete” in Major League Baseball is usually supported by a table showing that “winners” like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Red Sox spend far more on players than “losers” like the Devil Rays, Pirates, and Brewers. This argument is misleading in at least three respects. First, “small market” is often mistakenly used as a synonym for “low revenue.” A team’s revenue, and the size of the payroll it can support, is far more dependent on its recent success (and the terms of its stadium lease) than on the size of its market. According to MLB’s official revenue figures for 2001, the Seattle Mariners took in more money than any other club except the Yankees–over three times as much as the Florida Marlins, who play in a larger market. Playing in a 35-year-old stadium, the Cardinals outgrossed Baltimore, Philadelphia and Detroit, all of which occupy markets at least twice the size of St. Louis. Cleveland and Minneapolis-St. Paul are almost exactly the same size, but the Indians grossed $100 million more than the Twins. Second, a snapshot of one season’s “winners” and “losers” ignores the ebb and flow of team fortunes. If Major League Baseball had proposed contraction 10 years earlier, the Indians and Mariners would have been among the leading candidates for extermination. The Oakland Athletics, heroes of Moneyball for doing more with less, had the majors’ highest Opening Day payroll in 1991, the same year the Pirates won their third division title in a row. Over the past 20 years, the Padres and Twins have played in more World Series than the Dodgers or Red Sox. Most tellingly of all, the original list of eight clubs considered for contraction, prepared in December 2000, included all three of the clubs which have won the World Series since then. Third, and most importantly, some teams are better run than others.
Rather than just adding another thousand-or-so words to the million which have been written this week about Alex Rodriguez’ negotiations with the Boston Red Sox, the Texas Rangers, the MLBPA, Scott Boras, Bud Selig, and a bunch of angry Red Sox fans, I’ll focus on a few specific issues which often seem to be misunderstood.
The Cleveland Indians think they have found a loophole in the CBA which will allow them to reserve Danys Baez while still cutting his salary by more than the maximum percentage allowed by the CBA.
In November 1999, the Indians signed Baez, a Cuban defector, to a four-year, $14.5 million contract covering the 2000-03 seasons, with an option for 2004. International players like Baez are anomalies in MLB’s salary structure, earning free agent money from their first day of major league service Through the 2003 season Baez has only two years and 102 days of major league service time, not even enough to qualify him for salary arbitration, yet he was paid $5,125,000 in 2003.
On November 15, the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported that the Indians were buying out Baez’ 2004 option for $500,000. This left Baez in the same position as any other unsigned player with his seniority–except for his salary. Because the CBA forbids clubs from cutting the salary of a player under reserve by more than 20%, the Indians appeared to have the choice of offering Baez a 2004 contract for at least $4.1 million or non-tendering him.
As I’ve previously written, a good way to judge the efficiency of a team’s front office is to compare the amount it spends on players to the number of wins it registers beyond that which could be attained by fielding a replacement-level club on which everyone earned the major league minimum salary. To compute this, I’ve assumed that a replacement-level club would play .300 ball, which translates to 48.6 wins in a 162-game season. A club’s “marginal wins” thus equals ((winning percentage -.300) x 162). For marginal payroll, the baseline assumes a 25-man active roster and three-man DL with everyone earning the major league minimum of $300,000, which would produce a payroll of $8,400,000. As several people have reminded me, the 2003 Tigers broke the formula. Their 43-119 record is worse than I had thought possible–the first team in 40 years to finish with a sub-.300 winning percentage. How bad were the Tigers? Compare them to the last two clubs to lose as many as 110 games: the Montreal Expos and San Diego Padres, who both finished 52-110 (.321) in their inaugural season of 1969.
After the 2003 regular season ended, the time before the divisional series was filled by “experts” forecasting the outcome of the four divisional series. This phenomenon will be repeated before the League Championship Series, and again before the World Series. These same pundits will look back after each series to pat themselves on the back, make excuses or explain how they went wrong. They believe, or at least pretend, that postseason results can be accurately predicted. Others believe that the postseason is essentially a crapshoot, that any club can win a succession of short series among eight clubs which all finished within 10-15 games of one another during the regular season. This group includes Billy Beane, quoted in Moneyball as saying: “My s*** doesn’t work in the playoffs. My job is to get us to the playoffs. What happens after that is f****** luck.” Those in the first group have criticized Beane’s Oakland A’s and Bobby Cox’s Atlanta Braves as teams that “can’t win the big ones”; those in the second think “clutch postseason performance” is as real as “clutch hitting,” or the Easter Bunny. Who’s right? Let’s look at the past century of postseason play. Since 1903, there have been exactly 200 postseason championship series of best-of-five or longer. This includes 94 best-of-seven World Series, four best-of-nine World Series (1903, 1919-21), 34 best-of-seven League Championship Series (LCS), 32 best-of-five LCS, 32 best-of-five divisional series, and four best-of-five divisional playoff series following the 1981 strike-induced split season. That’s a sizable data set.