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Articles & Opinion
Written by Various Authors   
Sunday, 15 June 2008 23:04
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State of Major League Baseball - 2008
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Jonah KeriJonah Keri
Writer for ESPN.com, a contributor to YESNetwork.com and the New York Sun and recent blogosphere entrant at JonahKeri.com

I'm once again honored and flattered that The Business of Sports Network has asked for my views on the State of the Game. Doubly so given the other names in this illustrious panel.

With that said, trying to come up with another list of "What's right" and "What's wrong" with MLB today, just 18 months after first being asked to do so, feels a little like Adam Sandler's second iteration of the Chanukah song: still cool, but requires some creative thinking to avoid duplicating initial efforts. So with King Felix, MLB Extra Innings, Anchor Steam in San Francisco and other baseball delights off limits, here's my new list of people who are Jewish...err...list of what's right and wrong with MLB today.

What's right:

Tim Lincecum. Jay Bruce. A view of the Pittsburgh skyline from PNC Park. Micah Owings, the best hitting pitcher since Babe Ruth, or at least Wes Ferrell. Old-timey minor league ballparks. Baseball's next dynasty, the Tampa Bay Rays. The 4 p.m. "I've got an extra ticket at Fenway" phone call. Cooperstown. Edinson Volquez's changeup. A friend randomly giving you a 1969 Montreal Expos schedule. Kansas City, pound for pound the country's most underrated baseball town. The enthusiasm and infectious smile of Howie Kendrick. Chris Coste, the 33-year-old rookie who made good.

What's wrong with MLB today:

The blackballing of Barry Bonds, a nod to baseball's preference of reputation over performance. Baseball writers who dismiss the outsider's view. Ballparks that offer few food choices beyond rubbery hot dogs and stale nachos. General Managers' (and managers') preference of proven mediocrities over young players with upside. Marvin Miller and Bill James still waiting for a Hall of Fame call. Patriotism forced down our throats during the 7th-inning stretch. Saturday afternoon out-of-market games blacked out by FOX. Cuban baseball players forced to risk their lives to play at the highest level.


Jordan KobritzJordan Kobritz
Regular contributor, Business of Sports Network; Professor, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. Former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner.

What’s right with the game is what’s always been right with the game: It’s the greatest game that man has ever invented. I’ve always believed that and I don’t see it changing in my lifetime, regardless of how the game evolves.

Is it perfect? I don’t think anyone truly believes that, although we may differ on the specifics. For example, I think the DH has been a great boon to the game. But many fans who vilify the DH can’t work up a sweat over artificial turf (which, thankfully, may soon be relegated to its rightful demise, at least at the Major League level). To those so-called traditionalists, I say artificial turf changed the way the game is played - offensively and defensively - more than the DH ever has.

Among the business aspects of the game that are right:

1. Average ticket prices, although on the rise, are still the lowest in Major League sports.

2. MLB Advanced Media is a winner. The eventual returns on MLBAM will make Warren Buffet envious.

3. Many of the lower revenue teams are competing with the big boys on the field of play. It takes more than money to win, just ask the Tigers, Mets and Yankees.

4. The higher standards - see the use of performance-enhancing drugs – to which baseball is held compared to other sports is a badge of honor, rather than a curse.

5. The Baseball Network will be far and away the best and most accessible sports-specific network on the planet.

6. MLB’s international efforts – especially the WBC - are second to none.

Going forward, what needs tending to:

1. MLB must keep ticket prices as affordable as possible. The $2,500 seats in the new Yankee Stadium are understandable on a number of levels, but a certain number of seats should remain accessible to families.

2. The revenue discrepancy between the haves and have-nots will grow, not narrow. That’s not a phenomenon limited to MLB. In the NFL, the revenue discrepancy among teams exceeds $100 million. In MLB, the revenue discrepancy can exceed $200 million. If it continues to expand, we may see a return to the times when fans of certain teams had no “hope,” which is the essence of professional sports.

3. Major League Baseball in Florida is in trouble. That’s been the case since MLB expanded to the Sunshine State, and new stadiums for the Marlins and Rays – both in jeopardy - won’t be the panacea some expect.

4. MLB’s association with gambling is troublesome, to say the least. The money available from gambling interests is tempting, but accepting it creates a double standard and is potentially detrimental to the game.

5. In its efforts to protect its brand, MLB should be less confrontational with its fans. As someone with a legal background, I understand the necessity of protecting intellectual property. But the heavy-handed approaches with Little League Baseball and the Cape Cod League, the black out rules, as well as MLB’s actions that precipitated the Fantasy Sports Case, are all examples of confrontations that may have been better addressed through negotiation and consent decrees.

6. Revenue sharing should be designed to create incentives for teams to generate revenue locally. Teams should be prohibited from participating in revenue sharing until they achieve a certain revenue threshold.

Lastly, Bud Selig never passes up an opportunity to decry the present as the “Golden Age” of baseball. And from a financial perspective, he’s probably right. I’ve always believed that the person at the top is ultimately responsible for what happens in an organization. On that basis, Selig, although a justifiable target of criticism on many fronts, deserves to bask in MLB’s success.

Rich LedererRich Lederer
Founder and lead writer for Baseball Analysts

Despite major differences in revenues, the competitive balance in baseball has improved of late and is likely to tighten up even further over the next several years. This is great news for Major League Baseball.

The primary reason for this sea change is that more teams are signing younger players to multi-year deals than ever before. This new philosophy should prove advantageous for smaller market franchises and less advantageous for larger market teams because lower payroll clubs will keep their best players for a longer period and organizations that have relied heavily on free agents in the past will have fewer quality choices in the future.

Since the beginning of the year, more than a dozen young stars have been signed to long-term contracts that buy out their arbitration years and one or more free-agent seasons. To wit, the Colorado Rockies made history this year when they signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a six-year, $31 million deal, the biggest contract ever given to a player with less than two years' experience. The Milwaukee Brewers topped that deal by giving Ryan Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, an eight-year deal worth $45 million. Sandwiched between those two contracts, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a six-year deal worth $17.5 million, an unprecedented agreement for a player with less than a week's experience in the big leagues.

But that's not all. Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Justin Morneau, Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rios, and Chris Young have all signed extensions that should keep them with their current clubs for at least the next five years.

Although these contracts are not without risk, there are valid reasons why clubs and players are entering into such deals. Given the historical salary inflation of approximately 10% per year, many of these deals will turn out to be at discounted prices at the back end as long as the players stay healthy and perform as expected. The players benefit by earning more money in the early years and have the peace of mind of long-term financial security for themselves and their families. As I like to say, the first ten or twenty million dollars are much more important than the last ten or twenty million.

Participating teams, players, and fans should reap the rewards of this new trend and that should be a major positive for the long-term health and competitiveness of Major League Baseball.


Tim LemkeTim Lemke
Sports business reporter, Washington Times

Prior to this season, I would have argued that baseball's biggest problem is still the gap in revenues and payroll between the big and small market clubs. But then the Tampa Bay Rays decided to start winning. So I don't know. Maybe Bud Selig is right when he says the game doesn't need a salary cap.

What's clear is that overall, baseball is still in terrific shape. I would expect attendance and revenues to dip a little this year, simply because the economy is making it harder for the average family to head to the ballpark. But it appears the baseball has managed to get through the drama of the Mitchell Report with little damage, and if anything, the steroids scandal has forced fans to lay off the hero worship of certain players and just appreciate the game itself. And that's healthy.

You could always find chinks in the armor. Attendance at the new ballpark here in Washington is somewhat disappointing. Baseball in the state of Florida is still kind of a question mark. The whole television blackout thing still has yet to be resolved. And the Phillie Phanatic still struggles with obesity. But none of these are problems that will create any wide-scale or long-term headaches for the sport.


Tim MarchmanTim Marchman
Baseball writer, New York Sun
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Tim Marchman)

Baseball is in great shape, probably healthier than ever, but it’s also coming up on a time of change, and I don’t know whether the sport’s leadership will handle it well.

Mainly that’s because I don’t know who will lead the sport. Bud Selig and Don Fehr are going to retire sooner or later, and while anyone who’s reading this site will surely have some ideas about who might succeed them, we don’t know how well those people will do once they get their chance.

Whoever takes over is going to face some big issues. The big two, I think, are whether baseball can overtake football and the evolution of baseball coverage.

The first isn’t likely; football is the national game largely because of demographic and cultural shifts and settlement patterns over the last 50 years. America is more suburban and, honestly, more violent than it once was, which gives football an advantage. If we’re coming up on a time of broad economic dislocation, and profound demographic changes, though, there’s probably a chance for baseball to become even more popular than it is now, central to people’s lives the way it once was and no longer is. With strong leadership, baseball just might seize that chance.

The second is tricky. With ballclubs owning and more fully integrating their own distribution platforms, with a 24-hour news cycle, and with the instant availability of raw information on all sorts of hardware, the traditional model of sportswriting, based around game recaps and columns working off the rhythm of those recaps, is looking increasingly irrelevant. If readers are getting the type of coverage they once relied on newspapers for from the teams themselves, that raises all kinds of issues, ranging from the editorial integrity and independence of the house organs to the actual purpose of journalists not affiliated with teams.

I think that team outlets will prove fairly reliable, that independent writers will increasingly serve as filters for widely available open source information, and that being able to obtain unique information will be less important than being able to make patterns and narratives out of what’s right out there in the open. But we well could end up with a really bad situation, where house organs will hoard access and independent outlets will continue to function as they always have despite not having access. I don’t know how that would affect the popularity of the sport, but I think it’s something baseball leadership should be aware of as a danger, and something they should work to prevent.


Michael NeumanMichael A. Neuman
Founder & President, Amplify Sports and Entertainment, LLC

More than a third of the MLB season is behind us and a few issues have our attention. As an agency that negotiates, activates and measures our client’s sponsorship investments with MLB franchises, these are the topics we are closely watching.

For Amplify, measurement is the central issue we’re focused on. We are experiencing the “dawn of a new day” as franchises better understand their role in the ROI equation. In one case, a 2007 post season analysis, using our proprietary measurement tool, the Sponsorship Amplifier™, was significantly enhanced when the franchise provided us with third-party TV visible raw media data. The data was procured and paid for by the franchise upon the insistence of Amplify (and other corporate partners, I’m sure).

After many years of providing corporate partners with top-line ratings and impressions, this enhancement allowed our measurement team to isolate branded TV visible signage and deliver a robust, comprehensive media valuation. We utilized a proprietary algorithm to ascertain the value of our client’s signage, something previous team reports were void of. In 2008, teams have demonstrated a keen interest in understanding our clients’ objectives and have shown a genuine passion in working as a true partner to help attain the lofty ROO/ROI goals we’ve established for our clients.

As a New York based agency, another issue is the geographical development of new baseball stadiums in our DMA. In addition to new stadiums in the Bronx and Queens, we have new venues on the horizon for the NFL, NBA and NHL franchises. Escalating raw materials and construction costs, coupled with run-away player salaries have put the bulls-eye squarely on the back of corporate partners and fans to fund these venue upgrades. A flood of pricier, new sponsorship inventories and economical pressures are forcing multiple team corporate partners to pull back sponsorship and activation budgets to the lone team that best impacts ROI. We see multiple Mets and Yankee sponsors having to make a choice for the 2009 season.

Finally, in the steroid era, it was the long ball that put fans back into the seats after the 1994 strike and with attendance records in 2007 I’m interested to see if these numbers are impacted since the release of the Mitchell Report. Will the current legal woes of Clemens and Bonds match fan and baseball writer’s apathy enough that they join McGwire as Hall of Fame caliber players who spend the rest of their lives on the outside looking in? The jury is still out…..


Jeff PassanJeff Passan
National baseball writer, Yahoo! Sports

I wanted to focus on something. I wanted to laud teams resisting the devil on their shoulder whispering Barry Bonds' name or castigate players who shave the handles on maple bats and endanger fans or marvel at all the phenomenal young talent today or wonder how in an age of open communication we still get blacked out from games or fawn over the data gifted to us all by Pitch f/x and Inside Edge or wax on about the singular perfection that pairs Rick Ankiel and a baserunner with hubris.

And then David Murphy said something I won't soon forget: "Watching Josh Hamilton is a privilege."

What he said dripped of innocence, the same kind anyone who passes though a ballpark's turnstiles knows. Murphy is 26 years old. He stands 6-foot-4. He has a businessman's handshake and an honest man's comportment. He wasn't going to be anything more than a fourth or fifth outfielder for Boston, the organization that drafted him, and then he got traded to Texas. Now he might win Rookie of the Year.

He plays in the same outfield as Hamilton, whose talents reveal themselves like an Advent calendar. Hamilton was a prodigy, then a junkie and now he's something altogether different: a star, the kind so easily admired because of baseball's nature. For six months, Hamilton is a history exhibit playing out live, and the greatest part is that no matter who we are -- David Murphy, the man who plays next to him, or the fan scraping together nickels to buy an double-nosebleed seat -- all of us get to partake.


Dayn PerryDayn Perry
Regular contributor to FOXSports.com and Baseball Prospectus. He's presently at work on his second book, a biography of Reggie Jackson.

For the most part, things are going swimmingly in MLB. Let's consider this a happy accident.

It's impossible to opine on the state of the league and not get around to the Mitchell Report and its many fallouts. First, the obvious truth: Commissioning the Mitchell Report was idiotic in the extreme. Baseball had already changed its testing policy and meted out strict punishments to every offender. What purpose, other than keeping frothy, terminally aggrieved columnists in business, did the Report serve? There's a time and place for righteous truth-telling, but when it comes in spare doses (which was all the Report was ever capable of giving us) and disinters an issue that's better left, well, interred, then it serves no useful purpose.

Bud Selig has seemingly always enjoyed painful rituals of contrition, and the Mitchell Report strikes me as one of those. Letting the PED issue distract from the post-season was inexcusable, as was allowing the Report to dominate the news cycle for so long. I yield to no one in my loathing of and disrespect for the NFL, but that league does know how to control the message. So learn from them. MLB gave oxygen--incalculable amounts of oxygen--to this controversy by trotting out the Report. That mistake has already been made. The only thing they can do now is aid its slow, belated death by never speaking of it again. Do that and perhaps the media will begin focusing on the fact that the NFL doesn't care about the physical safety of its labor force or that officiating in the NBA is too absurd even for Ionesco. Baseball's the best sport, and MLB has less to apologize for than competing leagues. The game's leaders should behave accordingly.



 
 
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