Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal is at it again. This time he’s talking about that horrible, disgusting word that I loathe, the one that makes my skin crawl, the C-word.
That’s right. Contraction.
Rosenthal notes that some of the big market owners are grousing about having to send money to low revenue franchises such as the Rays and A’s, who conveniently don’t have new ballparks to help their revenue cases. Both teams should be the likeliest candidates because of this. However, all is not as it appears to be! Rosenthal walks back the threat in the context of upcoming CBA negotiations. To wit:
Such a threat would, however, change the tenor of the upcoming labor negotiations, raising the tension considerably. Yes, the owners always could pull back to extract other concessions, but if the A’s can be saved, why risk a work stoppage to eliminate one troubled franchise?
Naturally, he pivots to an A’s move to San Jose, which could (and should) resolve the A’s poor revenue position. In the grand scheme of things, improving the A’s financial stance may bump up total MLB revenue 1% on annual basis. That’s not enough to make Joe Fan notice, but if the game is as also about getting more owners to sign off on the financial model for the next 5-10 years, it’s an important battle to not have to fight.
Right now, MLB and MLBPA are set to go into CBA negotiations with several draft related items such as bonus slotting, a potential international draft, and the possibility of trading draft picks (yes please). Competition matters include increased replay and that extra playoff round. These items are only peripherally related to how the revenue pie is split, so the tension regarding those matters is projected to be minimal at best. That makes the biggest struggle not between players and owners, but rather between owner haves and have-nots. It has building to this ever since revenue sharing was introduced, and the financial document leaks of last summer only added fuel to the fire.
For a while I’ve been talking about how revenue sharing isn’t going to be expanded. It faces a rollback, strange as it seems, and the big market teams are pushing it. Bud Selig is listening, as his response to Hank Steinbrenner’s comments from earlier in the week shows:
“We have more competitive balance than ever before,” Selig said. “We have more competitive balance than any other sport.
“Now, look, is the system perfect? No. I didn’t say it was perfect, but I said that I think what exists today is pretty darn good. In the next labor negotiation, we have to tweak it in some areas, and it’s significant tweaks.”
What kinds of tweaks are we talking about here? There might be a tweak to the luxury tax, but that would only really satisfy the Yankees. Revenue sharing is defined as 31% of revenue minus expenses. Which means that teams keep more than 69% of their gate, local TV and radio money thanks to the ability to deduct stadium costs. Forbes had the Yankees 2009 revenue at $440 million after expenses and revenue sharing. By reducing the required share from 31% to 25%, the Yankees could see their net revenue approach $500 million, half of that excess likely going to yet another free agent pickup.
On the other end of the spectrum, a have-not team like the A’s could see its revenue go south by only a few million. It also means that other have-nots would take similar hits. In practical roster terms, this means not signing some like Grant Balfour. For a team that tends to hoard revenue sharing like the Pirates, it simply means they have less to hoard since they are forever playing the waiting game until their competitive window opens.
(You can stop your laughing now.)
Thankfully, the have-nots and middle class teams outnumber the big markets. They’re not going to take this lying down and they can lobby Selig just as effectively as the Steinbrenner brothers or John Henry (who once owned a have-not team in the Marlins). What to do then? As Rosenthal suggests, getting one team off the dole – namely the A’s – could be a big difference maker. The Twins are already there. The Marlins will be healthier starting next year. The Royals have a greatly renovated ballpark and a fantastic farm system which could literally pay dividends over the next several years. The A’s will be once they have a ballpark built (and they have the revenue streams to pay for it). That leaves the Rays as the only team that can’t lift itself up by its proverbial bootstraps. Knowing that the Rays probably won’t have anything done at least through this next CBA means they are the only team to worry about instead of four or five should the A’s situation be resolved. The sooner the owners make this happen, the sooner they can end this major internal distraction and rally in solidarity against their real enemy: the players union.
P.S. One other thing that Rosenthal touches on is debt or legal issues facing certain owners like Fred Wilpon, Frank McCourt, and Tom Hicks. It would seem that owning a team is a license to do some seriously crazy things, like investing with Bernie Madoff or buying a bunch of other franchises that one can’t afford. While Selig may look to enforce debt rules better, his reach doesn’t go as far as telling owners how to run their own personal finances. Is this recent history of individual owner financial troubles simply a remnant of the economic downturn or something else? I don’t know that any additional “screening” of potential owners would help. It’s not like choosing owners is going to become an open, democratic process overnight. They don’t call it The Lodge for nothing.
P.P.S. Ray Ratto also dismisses contraction.