Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog:

September 2003

September 30, 2003: The People's Owner . LINK

David Whitford of Fortune profiles new Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno, who's adopted fan-friendly policies to build the Angels' customer base. In the words of Robert Baade of Lake Forest College:

"In the minors you actually have owners and fans wooing players. What a novel concept! If you try that in the majors, who knows what you might be able to accomplish?"

Unfortunately, Whitford also quotes sports marketer Dean Bonham, whose one-note insistence that MLB's "economic model won't let you be successful" until MLB has the "cost certainty" of a hard salary cap suggests, at minimum, that his subscription to MLB's press releases ran out before the 2003 season.

September 30, 2003: Cubs Offer Aldermen "Courtesy" Playoff Tickets. LINK

The Chicago Cubs have asked the city for permission to add up to 2,000 outfield seats to Wrigley Field and to play 12 more night games each season. While these requests are pending, the club has offered each Chicago alderman the chance to buy two tickets for each playoff game at face value.

Alderman Tom Tunney assures the Sun-Times: "I don't think two tickets would sway any public official's mind. If it was more than two tickets, maybe."

September 30, 2003: The Gold in Baseball's Diamond. LINK

Writing in the New York Times, Andrew Zimbalist notes that in the first year of the new CBA, the standard deviation of Opening Day payrolls actually increased in 2003.

Zimbalist identifies two reasons for this phenomenon. First, between their payments into the revenue-sharing pool and the reduction in their own receipts, low-revenue clubs are effectively taxed on their increased revenue at a 45% rate. (I note that my own proposal from last summer would have eliminated this phenomenon by exempting clubs with less than 80% of the average local revenue from making any payments into the pool.)

Second, Zimbalist notes that the requirement that a revenue sharing recipient use the money "to improve its performance on the field" is vague to the point of meaninglessness. This is particularly true when the arbiter of what qualifies is himself the principal owner of a debt-laden small-market club that just happens to be due to receive the largest increase in revenue sharing money of any club.

In sum, the problem is not that low-revenue clubs "can't compete." The problem is that provisions added to the CBA at the owners' insistence eliminate their incentive to do so.

September 29, 2003: Average Game Time Fastest Since 1989. LINK

One of MLB's initiatives worked as planned: the length of a nine-inning game fell to 2:46. That's six minutes less than in 2002, 12 minutes less than in 2000. (Here's more information on the pace of games.)

With divisional playoff games scheduled to start at three-hour intervals, MLB's next chore will be to speed up the postseason. Last year's postseason games averaged 3:25, with the World Series averaging a ridiculous 3:38.

September 29, 2003: MLB attendance rebounds; Fox ratings up 6%. LINK

This is the MLB.com press release announcing final, unofficial attendance of 67,667,670, an average of 28,055 per game. The Angels, Red Sox, Cubs and Yankees set all-time attendance records, and 15 of the 30 clubs posted increases.

The AP puts the press release in context: the average is down 0.4% from 2002's 28,168, and the lowest since 1996.

Fox's regular season ratings rose from 3.2/8 share to a 3.4/9 share.

September 29, 2003: World Series Ad Buying Sets New Records LINK

According to Advertising Age, Fox is getting an average of $325,000 per 30 seconds for spots during the first five games, an increase of 8% over 2002. Divisional series spots cost about $90,000; LCS spots, $115,000.

One media planner calls a possible Cubs-Red Sox World Series "the biggest World Series in a century." I prefer to think of it as a sign of the Apocalypse.

September 29, 2003: Playoff-Bound Marlins Have Won Back South Florida's Fans. LINK

Sarah Talalay of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel summarizes the 2003 Marlins' progress on and off the field:

"Since last season, attendance is up more than 60 percent; viewership on Fox Sports Net has risen more than 60 percent; merchandise sales have doubled; and the number of companies sponsoring the team has soared 300 percent."

Similar wrapups should be forthcoming in other cities. If you spot one I haven't linked to yet, drop me a note.

September 29, 2003: Predicting the Playoffs (BaseballProspectus.com). LINK

I summarize the results of the 200 postseason series played since 1903, finding that the team with the better regular-season record wins only 54% of the time. The playoffs aren't quite a coin toss, but they're close enough that no one can predict the outcome in advance to any degree of accuracy.

September 28, 2003: Baseball "Renaissance" Still on Hold. LINK

Eric Fisher of the Washington Times puts a negative spin on MLB's attendance figures and decides not to believe the Commissioner's hype.

September 28, 2003: Tigers' 119 Losses Show in the Stands. LINK

Even the Comerica Park McDonald's has closed. Owner Mike Ilitch even sold concession rights to SportService, which had run them in Tiger Stadium, rather than continue to operate the concessions through one of his own companies. When an owner abandons a related-party business with considerable potential for hiding income, you know it's bad.

September 28, 2003: Morsani, Baseball Settle Long, Bitter Fight. LINK

The end of a lawsuit with its origin in the Bowie Kuhn era. Yes, really.

In April 1984, Tampa businessman Frank Morsani and his partners bought 42% of the Minnesota Twins from principal minority investor Gabe Murphy, who had bought into the club when it was still in Washington, D.C. Morsani's group wanted to buy control of the Twins from the Griffith family and move them to Tampa.

Soon thereafter, according to Morsani, Kuhn urged him to back away from the Twins by promising him first crack at an expansion franchise. Morsani's piece of the Twins was sold to Carl Pohlad. Morsani subsequently tried and failed to buy and move the Athletics and Rangers, and was shut out of the expansion process. He sued in 1992, but procedural wrangling tied it up for years. It was finally going to trial this fall.

Terms of the settlement are confidential.

September 25, 2003: Stinky Sports Deals Cost city Big Bucks. LINK

The New York Observer notes that New York City's two minor league ballparks will cost the city $6 million/year in debt service for the next 30 years, and that both the Mets and Yankees are receiving $5 million/year to "study" construction of new major league parks that won't be built anytime soon.

The taxpayers of New York can thank former Mayor Rudy Giuliani for these giveaways.

September 24, 2003: Under New Management. LINK

A nice article by Darren Rovell of ESPN.com about the revival of Major League Baseball in Miami, where the combination of Dontrelle Willis and a contending team has undone most of the damage caused by Jeffrey Loria's arrival as part of Bud's scheme to contract the Expos.

Unfortunately, over the long term the Marlins still desperately need to get out of the oppressive stadium lease former owner Wayne Huizenga wrote himself, and into a smaller, domed park closer to a downtown area.

September 24, 2003: Minor League Attendance Hits 39 Million; 2nd Largest Ever. LINK

Minor League Baseball's attendance rose 1.1% in 2003 to top 39,000,000 for the first time in 54 years. This figure is even better than it looks: the attendance increase was achieved despite 236 fewer playing dates than in the 2002 season, thanks to bad weather in the eastern U.S.

The Pacific Coast League, Texas League, Midwest League, South Atlantic League and Pioneer League all set all-time attendance records. The only year in which the minors attracted more fans was 1949, the peak of the minors' post-World War II, pre-television renaissance. That year, 448 clubs in 59 leagues played before 39,782,717 fans; this year's figure of 39,069,707 was achieved by 176 clubs in 15 leagues.

Note also that these figures do not include the independent minors. The Atlantic League drew almost 1,800,000 fans; the Northern League, over 1,900,000. When these and the other independent leagues are added, it's clear that minor league baseball has never been more popular, even though in Organized Baseball, the minors are operated as player development programs in which winning is secondary.

And it doesn't hurt that not one fan in 50 could name the president of Minor League Baseball.

September 21, 2003: Safeco Field Photos Online. LINK

I've added some shots I took at Seattle's Safeco Field on September 10 to my ballpark photos section. Enjoy!

September 19, 2003: Expos Want Assurances on Payroll, Personnel. LINK

The Montreal Expos players have voted to reject MLB's request to split their 2004 home games between Montreal and another city. Todd Zeile, who joined the club in August, spoke for his teammates:

"I think they still feel that they made a lot of sacrifices, and [there were] some hollow promises that came with those sacrifices. It just seemed like most of the guys were tired of the possibility of being manipulated when they just didn't feel good in their heart about doing it."

Jayson Stark of ESPN reports that the Expos were willing to split their home games, but only in return for three assurances from MLB: (1) that the Expos' 2004 payroll would rise at the same rate as other clubs'; (b) that the Expos would be allowed to call up minor leaguers in September, like everyone else; and (c) that their 2004 travel schedule would be less onerous.

Expos players wisely asked for these assurances in writing. To no one's surprise, MLB refused. Instead MLB Chief Deputy Weasel Bob DuPuy responded to the players' decision by announcing:

"Playing all of the games in Montreal will have a negative economic impact and will also have an negative economic impact on the operations of the team, including the makeup of the roster.

"This will have no impact on our deliberations or decision on relocation. We'll wait to determine that now until next year."

At least there's a certain symmetry: MLB is treating the Expos and their fans with the same contempt it has showed the cities bidding to become the Expos' permanent home, and the same contempt it showed in rigging the sale of the Red Sox to acquire the Expos in the first place.

September 18, 2003: Baseball Proposes Moving 22 Expos Games Again. LINK

MLB has officially asked the Montreal Expos to shift 22 2004 home games to either San Juan or Monterrey, Mexico. As a threat/incentive, Expos players have been told that the club's 2004 payroll will be determined by expected revenue, which will probably be higher if some games are moved.

This year, Expos players complained about the burden of splitting home games between Montreal and San Juan. Splitting games with Monterrey would be far worse: Monterrey is about 275 miles south-southwest of San Antonio, Texas, a hellish commute for "home" games unless all the series scheduled for Monterrey were against NL Central or West teams.

September 18, 2003: New Minneapolis Stadium Plan Unveiled. LINK

The new proposal calls for a $250 million, 40,000-seat open-air ballpark to be constructed near the Target Center in downtown Minneapolis, to be surrounded by $650 million of new housing and retail shops. The housing can be privately financed, but there's no financing plan in place for the ballpark. The Minneapolis Planning Commission will consider the proposal next Monday, September 22.

September 18, 2003: Angels the Hottest Ticket Ever. LINK

New owner Arte Moreno isn't resting on the afterglow of the Angels' World Series win. He's reduced the price of beer and souvenirs, instituted discount packages for concessions and offered cheap weeknight seating.

Angels' executive Kevin Uhlich: "We're not going to be raising prices. We're going to be looking at concessions and souvenirs to see what new things we can do there. We're going to continue to make this affordable for the fan. Anybody who comes here two or three times a year, we want to get that to three or four times."

The Angels play in a brutal division, but with Moreno in charge, the club should continue to do well at the gate.

September 16, 2003: The Centennial of Modern Organized Baseball. LINK

A look back at the National Commission, Organized Baseball's first modern governing body, from the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

September 16, 2003: Summer 2003 News Update. LINK

My summary of business of baseball developments from June through August, 2003, from the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter.

September 16, 2003: The Voices of Summer. LINK

Here's my article on the longest-tenured Major League Baseball broadcasters, written for the SABR Business of Baseball Committee newsletter. A related article focused on the Red Sox, which appears in the September 2003 issue of Boston Baseball, is here.

September 16, 2003: Review: Zenon Zygmont and John Leadley, “When Is the Honeymoon Over? Major League Baseball Attendance 1970-2000". LINK

The fourth in Larry Hadley's series of reviews of recent economic scholarship on the business of baseball.

September 15, 2003: Can You Say Portland Twins, A's or Marlins?. LINK

John Hunt of The Oregonian notes that even if Portland doesn't land the Expos, its stadium financing plan could prove attractive to an owner seeking to relocate -- or at the very least to extort a new park from its home market. With so many clubs already having done so, the best remaining candidates include Minnesota, Oakland and Florida, each of which is actively looking for a new park.

September 15, 2003: It Could Be Good Buy for Stone. LINK

Long-time Cubs broadcaster Steve Stone is part of a group, headed by Chicago businessman Lou Weisbach, which is trying to move the Expos to Las Vegas. Even apart from concerns over gambling, Las Vegas would be a terrible place for a major league team.

The Las Vegas market is a fraction the size of Washington, DC. Moreover, a disproportionate number of its residents work nights and weekends, limiting their ability to attend ballgames. While Las Vegas is a prime tourist destination, the casinos don't want their visitors spending their evenings at the ballpark. Moreover, Las Vegas doesn't even support AAA baseball well: its Pacific Coast League club was 13th of 16 clubs in 2003 attendance, trailing the likes of Des Moines, Edmonton and Fresno.

September 11, 2003: Cubs' Ticket Scam of '03 Looks Very Familiar. LINK

Greg Couch of the Sun-Times revisits the last big Cubs ticket-scalping scandal: tickets to the 1908 World Series. He also notes that if the Cubs don't make the postseason, season ticketholders who have paid in advance for playoff tickets will be, in effect, floating a $10 million interest-free loan to the club.

September 11, 2003: Selig Stars in a Sitcom. LINK

Expos beat writer Stephanie Myles is mightily unimpressed by the Commissioner's press conference to discuss the Expos' continued state of limbo: "more unintentionally hilarious than a bad Saturday Night Live spoof, and more about absolutely nothing than a classic episode of Seinfeld." Myles also notes that at a press conference held in Puerto Rico and attended by predominantly Spanish-speaking reporters, MLB failed to provide a translator.

MLB.com's Barry Bloom has a different take on this press conference, with many more quotes from Bud.

September 11, 2003: Suite Deals at the Ballpark. LINK

As though the Detroit Tigers don't have enough problems on the field, 30 to 40 of their suite leases come up for renewal after the season. Unsurprisingly, it's a buyer's market...

September 11, 2003: Brewers Planning for the Long Haul. LINK

Sorry for the delayed updates; I'm on vacation this week. Thanks to Barry Evans for sending along this article, in which Brewers president/CEO Ulice Payne, Jr. admits that the Brewers are using a chunk of their revenue sharing money to pay down the club's sizable debt.

According to Payne, MLB's revenue sharing rules require that "[a]t least one-third [of revenue sharing funds] must go into your baseball operations." Since the new CBA increases the percentage of shared local revenues from 20% to 34%, if only 1/3 of a club's income from revenue sharing need be put back into operations, the owner of a low-revenue club could theoretically pocket more revenue sharing money under the new CBA than under the old CBA.

In an earlier article, Selig insisted, "[c]lubs that have received revenue sharing have put it back in baseball operations. There isn't a scintilla of doubt because we've been keeping track of it. It's easy to trace." But with enforcement of this provision in the hands of the Brewers' principal owner and his personal attorney, what are the chances the Brewers would ever be punished for violating this rule?

September 6, 2003: Expos Would Approve Two Home Sites. LINK

Reversing themselves, the Expos players are now willing to consider playing up to 22 home games in either Puerto Rico or Monterrey, Mexico, with the remainder in Montreal. They still oppose playing more than 22 games in a city other than Montreal. MLB President Bob DuPuy says that Bud will assign the Expos a 2004 home sometime in the next week to 10 days.

More troubling, the Expos are the only contending club which has not called up any minor leaguers for the September stretch drive. Expos president Tony Tavares says, "We're not going to be allowed to get any callups because we're substantially over budget,"

Pardon my skepticism, but how did the Expos get "substantially over budget" without anyone at MLB stepping in -- and how did this problem surface for the first time just when the Expos were battling a half-dozen of their co-owners for the NL wildcard? In case anyone needs another reason why the Expos' ownership situation stinks, here it is.

September 5, 2003: Selig Tricked Into Chat About Expos. LINK

A Montreal disc jockey fooled Bud into thinking he was actually talking to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Cretien. During the 12-minute conversation, later aired on Montreal radio, Selig described saving the Expos for Montreal as "mission impossible" and condemned the "appalling" conduct of the Expos' former limited partners.

Rich Levin, head of public relations for MLB, huffed that the interview was "a reprehensible example of journalism."

Hee hee hee...

September 5, 2003: Cubs Nearing Agreement on Night Games. LINK

The Chicago Cubs are currently allowed to play only 18 night games at Wrigley Field. They're hoping to increase this number to 30 over the next few seasons. In return, inhabitants of the residential neighborhood around the park want the Cubs to help address sanitation and parking issues resulting from the club's presence.

Lobbying for the change, Sammy Sosa says that more home night games will keep the club fresher during the summer months and reduce the risk of late-season fades. I still think the Cubs are on course to celebrate their Centennial of Futility in 2008, when accounts of their last championship season will compete with Keith Olbermann's extra-special Merkle Centennial commentary.

September 5, 2003: Expos, Orza Will Talk Over Schedule. LINK

Gene Orza of the MLBPA reveals that in addition to the draft schedule with all Expos home games in Montreal, MLB gave the union alternatives including all 81 games in Puerto Rico and several scenarios for another split home schedule, and seems to prefer another split schedule. Orza will be talking to Expos players today, as the Expos prepare to start their last "home stand" of the season in Puerto Rico.

September 4, 2003: Expos' Home Games Again May Go on Road. LINK

Latest developments:

The MLBPA has received a draft 2004 schedule which calls for the Expos to play all their home games in Montreal.

MLB remains interested in a split schedule, with Bob DuPuy "willing to represent to the union" that MLB will try to find the Expos a permanent home for the 2005 season.

September 2, 2003: A Year Later, Deal Gets Mixed Vote. LINK

Jeff Blair of the Globe and Mail surveys the state of baseball one year after adoption of the new CBA. Count me among the "too early to tell" crowd.

The luxury tax may as well be renamed the "Yankee tax," because no one else will ever pay it. Increased revenue sharing has leveled the playing field a bit, but a lack of resources isn't why Pittsburgh, Detroit and Milwaukee stink despite their shiny new parks.

Recent downward salary trends may also be unrelated to the CBA. When revenues remain flat while the minimum salary jumps 50% and players in the later years of their guaranteed contracts get automatic raises, something has to give, and that something is discretionary spending on the rest of the roster.

All otherwise-uncredited content on this page is copyright © 2003 by Doug Pappas. All rights reserved.