Two Peas in a Decrepit Pod

The Vegas situation created a bit of a cottage industry of skin-deep analysis of the A’s, didn’t it? With little tidbits of news emerging from the desert every other day (site change, legislation, labor deal), the dwindling number of A’s fans breathlessly await the next morsel while cursing John Fisher and Dave Kaval under their collective breaths.

There’s a constant desire by the media to rationalize all of these moves, to make sense of it all. It doesn’t make sense on a local, deal terms basis because it all seems so chaotic and haphazard. Only when you pull back all the way to 50,000 feet does it start to make sense. 

It’s strange that the most useful reveal didn’t come from the Bay Area or Vegas papers, or their respective local news stations. The best commentary may have come Stuart Sternberg, the owner of the Tampa Bay Rays, to the Tampa Bay Times three weeks ago

The goal is to make the whole league healthier, Sternberg said. That is why Manfred waiving any relocation fee makes sense — even though the A’s would be taking a prime site for expansion which, at a time when regional sports networks are teetering, could bring owners $4 billion to split with two new teams.

“It’s in all of baseball’s interests to have the A’s and any baseball team on the firmest footing possible,” Sternberg said. “A fee to put them on the firmest footing possible makes it more difficult for them — to say ‘Look, we’re going to let you move and your revenues are going to go up but we’re going to take them all from you.’

“Everybody wants to see us, they want to see the A’s, on really good ground. Fortunately for us, we’re playing good baseball right now. The A’s had amazing runs over time and recently. You can’t hold that together. It’s hard to hold together even if you have a decent revenue team. It’s next to impossible to hold together if you’re a lower revenue; it’s impossible to hold together.”

Once I read that from Sternberg, everything started to make more sense. The A’s parallel paths strategy. The Rays’ failed split-home plan with Tampa Bay and Montreal. The A’s trying feigning interest in Laney while the Rays kept their fires going in Tampa, then both efforts dying.

The rationale is actually dead simple. Major League Baseball treats these two franchises as the weak links in the baseball’s economic system, and is apparently willing to bend some internal rules in order to get them in better shape. Maybe that means a move, or the split-home concept, or even something even more radical that the teams or the commissioner still has up his sleeve. I first saw an indicator of this when the dust settled after the lockout and a new CBA was ratified. After I started this blog, I opined on multiple occasions that MLB would cut back on revenue sharing to prevent teams from hoarding profits when they couldn’t field competitive teams. MLB actually strengthened and expanded local revenue sharing during that time from 34% to 48%, plus the growing national revenues that come from the various broadcast, streaming, and merchandise deals. After getting phased out of revenue sharing in the last CBA, the A’s were granted a 25% share and could get more if they get a stadium deal approved by next January. 

January 2024 was put out there as the next huge deadline. Make no mistake though, it’s entirely arbitrary in order to put pressure on the cities. If the A’s get the expected 50% local revenue sharing piece, it’s worth an extra $15-20 million. While that might sound impressive, it doesn’t make a huge difference in the A’s financial picture. Even the difference between 50% and 0% is nothing that Fisher wouldn’t be able to accommodate through his now notorious belt-tightening.

So maybe this whole exercise results in a rushed bill getting through the Nevada Legislature and Governor Lombardo signs it, clearing the way for the move. Then again, the legislature could see through this ruse and defer to a special session or even the next regular session in 2025. At this stage it is pointless to compare and contrast the Howard Terminal deal to whatever Southern Nevada is attempting. This isn’t about bridging a gap in public infrastructure funding, the narrative that emerged from Oakland City Hall two weeks ago. And it’s not about the overall value of the real estate that surrounds a ballpark, as that is entirely speculative. No, we are getting down to brass tacks, folks. This is simply about whether or not the parties can get a ballpark deal done, to ownership’s and MLB’s satisfaction. Baseball has time to work out the internal details after any deal’s framework is approved. If this can get done, or if this fails and the ball ends up back in Oakland’s court, it will be a matter of what kind of deal can be done for HT. Same goes for the Rays, who have a deal being hammered out for the Tropicana Field site as I write this. If that fails, that might be it for St. Petersburg as a MLB city the same way this may be it for Oakland.  

What about the fans in all of this? The floggings will continue until morale improves, unfortunately. You could make an argument that forces are aligned against those cities. But you can’t say they aren’t being given a chance. Until something definitively changes, Oakland and Tampa Bay will continue to have every concept thrown against the wall to see if anything sticks.

P.S. – We all know that Rob Manfred can’t be expected to save the A’s in Oakland. We shouldn’t expect Joe Lacob to either. If Fisher suddenly decided he wanted to sell the team, there would immediately be opposing forces weighing on him. Obviously, he’d like to get the greatest return on the club, whose value rose 8x since he bought it. The other MLB owners would also want for him to biggest sale price possible since it would boost their respective valuations. But the A’s poor local revenue showing makes it ripe for lowball offers, which I suspect Lacob tried to throw at Arte Moreno before Moreno pulled the Angels’ for sale sign earlier this year. MLB is still dealing with the coming fallout from the Bally Sports bankruptcy proceedings, which may result in MLB taking back control of local broadcast rights for several teams. It’s entirely possible that for the A’s, Rays, and even the Angels, that nothing gets settled until early next year.

One thought on “Two Peas in a Decrepit Pod

  1. “The goal is to make the whole league healthier..”. With this simple statement, the “best commentary” from Sternberg suddenly turned to nothing more than bull $h!t!! If the best interest of the entirety of MLB was truly the case the A’s would be playing in San Jose right now! Staying in the uber-wealthy Bay Area while keeping (most) of the existing A’s fan base. TWO healthy, financially solid MLB franchises located in SF and SJ; NOW THAT would have made the whole league healthier! The A’s may indeed be gone for the desert R.M., but let’s not start showering MLB owners with praise when they continue to speak out of their bottoms.

    BTW, drove through Diridon South this past Saturday to enjoy some Jo Koy comedy at The Tank. It’s beautifully cleared and fenced out, ready for some shovels to hit the ground. Unfortunately due to Google’s decision making it’s going to be this way for at least the next 10-20 years. Add to this all the news surrounding the A’s..well, it’s a heartbreaking sight..

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