News Briefs: Fall 1996
Attendance: 26,889/game, up 6.4% from 1995's average of 25,260 but down 13.9% from 1994's pre-strike 31,212. The strike set MLB back five years at the gate; average 1991 attendance was 27,002.
Finances: Owners estimate their 1996 losses at $150 million. They claim to have lost $305 million in 1995, though Financial World estimates they earned a collective $58.6 million profit last year.
Popularity: Sales of licensed merchandise rebounded from $1.5 billion in 1995 to $2 billion in 1996, but among teenagers, baseball's popularity has fallen well behind basketball and football.
Salaries: Average salary: $1,099,875, up less than 0.1% from 1995's $1,094,440 and 4.7% below 1994's $1,154,486. Median salary: $300,000, compared to $275,.000 in 1995 and $400,000 in 1994.
Television: ESPN's ratings fell about 6% from 1995. Fox's Saturday Game of the Week was down 29% from 1993, the last year with a similar regular-season network contract. The World Series earned a 17.4 rating -- down from 1995's 19.5 and the third lowest ever, behind 1989's "earthquake series" and 1993's Toronto-Philadelphia -- but Fox was quite satisfied. The Series brought Fox its highest-ever ratings; with Games 3-6 finishing 1-4 for the week, Fox averaged a 15.8 rating and 26 share, far ahead of second-place NBC's 9.6/16. The World Series still outdrew the NBA finals; the Michael Jordan showcase earned a 16.7 on NBC.
But the Peacock Network seems happier with the NBA -- it may sue to void its half of MLB's 1996-2000 network TV deal. With the top-rated prime-time schedule, NBC doesn't need baseball as much as Fox does; its West Coast head, Don Ohlmeyer, was quoted as saying, "If there's a way to get out, we should get out." NBC's relations with MLB were soured when Acting Commissioner for Life Selig promised to move the October 5 Yankees-Rangers playoff game into NBC's prime-time slot, only to back down when ESPN objected. Instead NBC aired the less desirable Padres-Cardinals game.
Milwaukee: The Brewers broke ground for their new Miller Park on November 9. The new 42,500-seat stadium will feature 75 luxury boxes, which the Brewers hope to rent for $75,000-$100,000/year.
Minnesota: Local officials have selected five potential downtown sites for a $300 million retractable-roofed stadium to house the Twins, who can exercise an escape clause in their lease after the 1998 season.
Seattle: The Kingdome's replacement is over budget and behind schedule. The original estimate of $320 million has ballooned to $365 million, and the retractable roof won't be ready by the Opening Day 1999 deadline. Tom Gibbs of the Public Facilities Board explained, "This isn't an overrun. This is just part of the design process."
Arizona: Surprise! The Diamondbacks' new stadium, Bank One Ballpark, is also experiencing massive cost overruns. From an original estimate of $279 million, the park is now expected to cost $347.8 million, with the club is responsible for all costs over $253 million.
Tampa Bay: The Devil Rays announced a 30-year agreement to name their stadium Tropicana Field. Better than the Thunderdome, anyhow...
Atlanta: Time Warner, new owner of the Braves, has announced that the team's new park will be named for Ted Turner. Of more concern to fans, Time Warner may convert WTBS from a superstation, which subsists on advertising revenue alone, into a cable channel, which charges local cable networks a fee. The plan would also reduce Braves' telecasts from 125 to 75 games/year. WTBS's Braves games averaged a 1.8 rating in 1996, more than 25% higher than ESPN's Game of the Week ratings.
Cincinnati: The Reds have resumed paying their rent. Perhaps in retaliation for Marge Schott's two years of withholding that rent, Hamilton County officials accepted $6 million from the local electric company to rename Riverfront Stadium Cinergy Field.
Florida: The former Joe Robbie Stadium is now Pro Player Stadium -- named for Fruit of the Loom's athletic-wear division, not the University of Miami football team. Marlins' owner Wayne Huizenga has hired HOK Sports Facilities Group to consider whether to renovate the stadium or build a new baseball-only park.
Houston: By a 51-49 margin, Houston taxpayers approved a referendum which will lead to the construction of a new 42,000-seat stadium for the Astros. The stadium will be funded by $180 million of public money (a rental car tax, parking assessment, ticket tax and special sales and mix-beverage tax surcharge in and around the stadium), $37 million from the Astros, $15 million from personal seat licenses, and $33 million from local businesses.
Philadelphia: President/CEO Bill Giles finished second in Wendy's nationwide contest to find the man most resembling its founder, Dave Thomas. Maybe the two could switch jobs? Dave Thomas knows how to handle unskilled labor, and free clubhouse burgers might lure John Kruk out of retirement...
Pittsburgh: Two of managing partner Kevin McClatchy's investors have withdrawn $10 million from the ownership group. Frank Fuhrer's $5 million stake was acquired by several other owners, while Kenneth Pollock's $5 million must be bought out by February. Meanwhile, a gubernatorial task force recommended that Pennsylvania raise about $70 million toward the cost of a new Pirates stadium by selling its state liquor stores.
San Diego: City officials approved concessions in the Padres' lease on Jack Murphy Stadium, which runs through 1999, and established a commission to study a possible new downtown stadium. The new agreement reduces the Padres' rent from 10% of ticket sales to 5% of the first $10 million, 8% of the next $7.5 million and 10% of any additional ticket revenue -- a saving of up to $650,000/year.
San Francisco: Chase Securities, Inc., a division of Chase Manhattan Corp., will finance $140 million of the projected $255 million cost of Pacific Bell Park in downtown San Francisco. The remainder will come from $100 million in naming, sponsorship and concession rights and charter seat sales, plus a pledge of expected revenues from future Giants games.
Major league rules require teams to tender contracts to their draft picks within 15 days after selecting them. Giants' executive Bob Quinn told Baseball Weekly that only one team out of 30 followed the rules -- and as a result, four of the top 12 amateur players in the country became free agents. When agent Scott Boras called the White Sox' attention to their omission, they renounced rights to #12 pick Bobby Seay. Subsequently the Executive Council made free agents of #2 pick Travis Lee (drafted by Minnesota), #5 John Patterson (Montreal) and #7 Matt White (San Francisco). The Arizona Diamondbacks, who have yet to play their first game, signed both Lee and Patterson. Patterson received $6 million; Lee, a four-year, $10 million contract worth five times what #1 pick Kris Benson received from Pittsburgh. Not to be outdone, fellow expansion team Tampa Bay signed Bobby Seay for $3 million.
Copyright © 1996 Doug Pappas. All rights
Originally published in the Fall 1996 issue of Outside the Lines, the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.