I’ll give baseball’s owners some credit, since they are actually going to
come somewhat clean on the money they make. How clean they come will
determine how well they fare in the next round of labor negotiations, and to
what degree they seize the villain’s throne in the eyes of the fans. reported yesterday
that 11 major-league
teams showed an operating profit in 2001. They were led by the Yankees, who
are so profitable not even Enron’s ex-CFO could screw them up, with a
claimed operating profit of $41 million. Why "claimed?" add it up:


Gate receipts: $98 million Local TV revenue: $57 million National TV revenue: $12 million Merchandising Concessions Parking

TOTAL: $167 million


Player salaries: $110 million Everything else

TOTAL: $110 million

So what the Yankees expect you, gullible reader, to believe is that they
blew $16 million PLUS the total of all of their revenues from those other
sources–which runs into the tens of millions–on other expenses. It is very
possible that they did so, but if they did, it’s because they wanted to do
so, not because baseball’s economics are somehow out of whack. George
Steinbrenner may have paid himself a $5 million salary for being Mr.
Boss-man, which is hardly a reason to go begging to Congress for absolution.

Behind the Yankees on the operating profit chart were a trio of new-ballpark
clubs, the Mariners, Giants, and Brewers. The Brewers came in at $14.4
million in profit, despite earning just $5.9 million in local broadcast
fees. This means that baseball wants you to blindly accept that 26
major-league clubs earned less than that in operating profits, even though
28 teams earned more from local TV. Let’s consider who, exactly, we’re
talking about:

  • The Mets, who may currently be #2 in the hearts of New Yorkers, have
    been #1 many times before, and won the NL pennant in 2000. The Mets earned
    more than $46 million in local broadcast revenues, drew more than 2.6
    million fans (600,000 fewer than the Yanks), and spent $93 million in player
    salaries. They clearly earned at least $20 million in operating profit, even
    with conservative estimates for their other revenues.

  • The Braves, who drew 2.8 million fans and spent $91 million on player
    salaries. The Braves regularly claim almost no revenues from local
    television, because they’re owned by the same company that owns WTBS.
    However, fairly valued, those TV rights would make the Braves insanely

  • The Red Sox, who took in more than $89 million in gate receipts this
    year, and paid out about as much as the Yanks did in salaries. The
    difference? The Sox and New England Sports Network are both majority-owned
    by the Yawkey Trust. That entity, if you didn’t hear, is selling its 52%
    share in the team, the park, its 80% stake in NESN, and some land in the
    Fenway area, with bids expected to top $400 million. I would bet that those
    bidders aren’t expecting an operating margin of about 8%.

  • The Pirates, who drew 2.4 million fans this year to their new ballpark,
    despite its expensive tickets; earned about $10 million in local broadcast
    rights; and spent $52 million in player salaries. You can just imagine what
    they would have earned had they not poured $14.5 million into the pockets of
    Kevin Young, Pat Meares, and Derek Bell.

And so on. In other words, baseball’s owners aren’t truly coming clean,
they’re just coming cleaner than they’ve come before. That might be good
enough for Congress, but it’s not going to be good enough for the Players
Association, and it’s clearly not good enough for the fans. Baseball has to
stop lying about its finances if it wants to stop alienating its fans.

Keith Law is an author of Baseball Prospectus. You can contact him by
clicking here.

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