MLB News: Fall 1995

Attendance: 25,257 per date, down 20% from 1994

Player Salaries (projected to full season): $893 million in 1995, down 1.8% from 1994

Estimated Operating Loss: 1995: $300 million (AP), $250 million (Andrew Zimbalist).

1994: $350 million (Business Week), $150 million (Zimbalist)

World Series Nielsen Ratings: Up 13% over 1993

Labor Negotiations, Real Commissioners, Fans of The Baseball Network: 0.

Ownership Changes:

(1) Atlanta Braves: Parent Turner Broadcasting tentatively agrees to merge into Time Warner.

(2) California Angels: Disney buys 25% of the team from Gene Autry, with an option on the remainder, and becomes managing general partner. No terms disclosed.

(3) Kansas City Royals: Title passes from Ewing Kauffman's estate to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation and Affiliated Trusts. The Foundation will operate the estate for six years or until a purchaser can be found who promises to keep the team in Kansas City; if no local purchaser emerges during this period, the Royals can be sold and moved.

(4) Oakland Athletics: Sold by the Haas family for $85 million to a group headed by developers Steve Schott and Ken Hofmann.

(5) Pittsburgh Pirates: At press time, on the verge of being sold for $85 million to a syndicate headed by Kevin McClatchy, who has vowed to keep the team in Pittsburgh if a new stadium is built.

Possible Ownership Changes/Threatened Franchise Move

(1) Houston Astros: Owner Drayton MacLane has talked to William L. Collins III, apparent loser in the Pirates auction, about selling him the Astros for an estimated $150 million. The team would then move to the Washington, D.C. area, playing in RFK Stadium until a new park can be built in northern Virginia. Since any such move requires the approval of 11 National League and eight American League franchises, and the Astros haven't complied with MLB rules governing franchise relocation, MacLane has now accepted that this won't happen in time for the 1996 season. Bill Gilbert, who attended MacLane's press conference, says, "MacLane prefers a solution that keeps the team in Houston. If that doesn't work he will sell the team and get out. MacLane said he has no interest in taking the approach of another major league team (Montreal?) Who showed a profit with a payroll of $14.6 million and a non-competitive team. MacLane only wants to stay in if he can compete."

(2) St. Louis Cardinals: Anheuser-Busch, which has owned the Cardinals since 1953, stunned the St. Louis sports community by putting the team and its stadium up for sale as part of a broader corporate divestiture program.

New Stadium Deals:

(1) Detroit Tigers: Owner Mike Ilitch and the City of Detroit have announced plans for a $235 million, 42,000-seat natural-grass stadium in downtown Detroit. According to the Associated Press, the State of Michigan would contribute $55 million for road and infrastructure improvements; the City of Detroit would issue bonds for $35 million more; and Tigers owner Ilitch would pay $145 million to build and own the stadium, assuming responsibility for cost overruns. The plan still requires legislative approval, with taxpayer groups and the Tiger Stadium Fan Club expected to lead the opposition.

(2) Milwaukee Brewers: Thanks to a 5 a.m. switch by one state senator, the Wisconsin legislature voted on October 6 to build the Brewers a new $250 million stadium. Residents of five counties will foot $160 million of the bill through a 0.1% sales tax increase, while the Brewers will contribute $40 million and borrow another $50 million from a state economic development authority. Allegedly modeled on Brooklyn's cozy Ebbets Field, the 42,000-seat park, with retractable dome and 75 skyboxes, will be constructed in County Stadium's center-field parking lot and is scheduled to open in 1999.

(3) Seattle Mariners: After King County voters narrowly rejected a 0.1% sales tax increase to fund a new stadium, the Washington state legislature came up with the funds. For the gory details, see John Pastier's essay on pp. 7-8.

New Stadium Negotiations/Plans/Threats:

(1) Cincinnati Reds: Demanding a new baseball-only stadium from Cincinnati and surrounding Hamilton County. Meanwhile, in early September city authorities claimed that owner Marge Schott was $3 million behind on rent payments for Riverfront Stadium, having paid nothing since the abrupt end of the 1994 season. UPI reports that Reds officials admit withholding the rent to increase their leverage in negotiations for a new stadium.

(2) Minnesota Twins: Asking for $13 million/year in lease and other concessions in return for signing a new 30-year lease. The current lease allows the team to move after 1998 if attendance falls below 80% of league average or the team sustains a net operating loss. The team blames much of the shortfall on a football-oriented stadium design which leaves the Twins with relatively few desirable seats.

(2) New York Yankees: Preliminary negotiations for a new stadium in Manhattan, The Bronx or the New Jersey Meadowlands; may also "settle" for extensive renovation of Yankee Stadium and surroundings. Current lease expires in 2002.

(3) New York Mets: Considering a new baseball-only stadium near Shea Stadium, in eastern Queens or on Long Island.

(4) Pittsburgh Pirates: Kevin McClatchy's tentative deal for the Pirates lets him move the team unless construction for a new baseball-only stadium begins by 1999.

Public Sentiment Toward Baseball

AP Poll, taken 9/22-9/26:

(1) "Do you normally consider yourself a baseball fan, or not?" 28% Yes, 5% Somewhat, 67% No.

(2) Which side do you support in the labor dispute? 27% Players, 37% Owners, 26% Neither

(3) Effect of the strike on interest in baseball: 2% more interested, 43% less interested, 52% no change

(4) Positive or negative effect of recent changes in baseball:

Wild-card team: 23% good, 10% bad, 24% no difference

Higher player salaries: 10% good, 49% bad, 23% no difference

More teams: 36% good, 14% bad, 29% no difference

(5) "How closely do you plan to follow the World Series in television?" 14% very closely, 24% somewhat closely, 19% not too closely, 42% not at all.

Copyright © 1995 Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.
Originally published in the Fall 1995 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

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