In February I wrote about a potential revenue sharing rollback in the new MLB collective bargaining agreement. While today’s joint announcement didn’t produce a percentage rollback (or contraction for that matter), there is a sort of rollback coming for revenue sharing. And the way it’s constructed, it’s targeted at one team in particular – the Oakland Athletics. Here’s the relevant text (courtesy of The Biz of Baseball):
IV.. REVENUE SHARING
a. The net transfer value of the Revenue Sharing Plan will be the same as the current plan. Net transfer amounts will continue to grow with revenue and changes in disparity.
b. The fifteen Clubs in the largest markets will be disqualified from receiving revenue sharing by 2016. The revenue sharing funds that would have been distributed to the disqualified Clubs will be refunded to the payor Clubs, except that payor Clubs that have exceeded the CBT threshold two or more consecutive times will forfeit some or all of their refund.
c. The Commissioner’s Discretionary Fund will increase from $10 to $15 million per year.
Again, no percentage rollback (A). It’s item B that has enormous implications for big market teams. The revised revenue sharing system effectively shuts the big market teams out of the program by the end of the CBA, gradually losing 25% of any revenue sharing receipt annually until 2016 when it’s eliminated entirely. The Bay Area is the #4 media market and is #6 in population, so neither Bay Area team would be eligible for revenue sharing in the future. Sounds like a deadline and a decision for the A’s, right?
Not so fast. SI is reporting that a provision in the new CBA allows the A’s continue on revenue sharing past 2016 if there is no resolution. So what does this all mean?
The A’s are in a unique and unenviable position among the 30 MLB franchises. They are both a big market team and a low budget team. In the long run, they can’t be both. No other big market team operates on revenue sharing, year after year. When Lew Wolff and I talked two years ago, I mentioned that the A’s were the only two team market where one franchise pays into revenue sharing while the other receives it. He replied that he hadn’t heard the Giants-A’s dynamic phrased in such a manner. I joked that he could take that up to the league office if he wanted at no charge.
MLB appears to be taking the steps to ensure that the A’s are positioned to become a full-fledged big market team. Getting a stadium deal in place is only the first step. Vastly improved media and sponsorship deals are just as important. That doesn’t mean the A’s will reach the Red Sox or even the Giants in terms of revenue, but if they can achieve the medium revenue levels of the Nationals or White Sox, they’d be considered self-sufficient. Both Wolff and Billy Beane are aware of this.
One explanation for the provision may be that the A’s might not be able to open a new ballpark in San Jose until after 2016, though there has been no indication that this is the case. If Wolff isn’t given the go-ahead to move to San Jose, there’s no telling what will happen down the road. It should set up the A’s for a sale at some point. The problem with this is that we know that an Oakland-based buyer with knowledge of the area’s low revenue generation would have to buy the team at a discount, whereas other buyers looking to move the team elsewhere would be willing to pay full price. Hopefully it never gets to that point. MLB is not going to approve Oakland’s continued stay on welfare. They’ll move the team out of the area instead.