The season hasn’t quite ended, so who knows if there will be a historic postseason, but as it stands now, Major League Baseball will likely look back at the 2010 season and say, “This wasn’t one of our best.”
What are some of the reasons? Here are 5 to hang your hat on:
1 - The Texas Rangers Go Up for Auction
The year began with the sale of the Texas Rangers still up in the air. Tom Hicks, who had sunk himself $525 million into debt, was suppose to sell directly to the group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan, but creditors of Hicks had other ideas. Stuck in a stalemate, the Rangers put themselves in voluntary bankruptcy, thinking they could push through a “pre-packaged plan” to exit them from Chapter 11 to Greenberg-Ryan. Judge Michael Lynn had other ideas, and an auction was scheduled between Greenberg-Ryan and Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston businessman, Jim Crane. Along the way, financial information became public knowledge. And while Greenberg-Ryan eventually won the day, it was no sure bet, costing them millions more than they wanted to pay, and very nearly stuck the league in a precarious position over whether to approve Cuban and Crane, both of whom MLB had rejected for ownership bids prior.
2 - The Frank and Jamie McCourt Divorce
It was bad enough that MLB approved the sale of the Dodgers to Frank McCourt in 2004; the $420 million sale was highly leveraged. But just before Game 1 of the 2009 NLCS, news broke that he and his wife Jamie were divorcing, and with it, the fate of the Dodgers hangs in the balance. As had been the case with the Rangers sale, embarrassing financial information on how Frank McCourt has run the club has surfaced, most notably that Frank hasn’t paid down debt on the purchase, but rather procured even more (now to the tune of $430 million). You have to wonder if Commissioner Selig doesn’t scratch his head at night and say, “We couldn’t find a better qualified buyer for the club back in ’04?”
3 - Leaked Financial Docs Puts Revenue-Sharing in the Crosshairs
It’s one thing to see the financial statement for one of MLB’s clubs leak out to the public. It’s quite another when it’s six of them. That was the case in late August when Tommy Craggs and Deadspin rocked baseball by releasing docs for the Pirates, Rays, Marlins, Mariners, Angels, and Rangers. The documents, most notably from the Marlins, showed that some of the clubs that have rolled out notoriously skinny player payrolls over the years have been pulling in decent profits. The docs created a mountain of articles on whether the revenue-sharing system is, for the most part, an abject failure, or at least in need of tending. The one thing MLB didn’t want was (yet another) series of financial numbers out in the public where not only the average fan could take stock of sensitive financial info, but other clubs could size up how others were performing. The leaked docs could be a catalyst for change in the next CBA, most assuredly pushing an agenda forward to adjust the system for more accountability.
4 - Will Attendance Be Down?
It will be close, but the answer appears to be that attendance in Major League Baseball will be down for the second year in a row. Several key clubs are seeing steep declines, including the Mets who are down over a million from last year’s total, the Dodgers who are averaging over 2,000 fans less per game, and even the Cubs, who are seeing over an average of 2,000 less per game shows that MLB’s bottom line could be hit, and….
5 - Will League-Wide Revenues Be Down?
We won’t know for certain until well into the off-season, but there is a good likelihood that MLB’s total revenues will be down this year. Why, you ask? Last year, despite the down economy, the league reported total revenues of $6.6 billion, a new record for MLB, up from $6.5 billion the year prior. The reason for the uptick was the opening of new stadiums for the Mets, but more importantly the Yankees where the club pushed the limit on premium ticket prices (some were as high as $2,500 a game).It’s been reported that the Yankees pulled in a whopping $600 million in revenues last year. This season, the Yankees pulled back ticket prices, and attendance has been down for the Mets due to a poor showing in the standings. Throw in the fact that the economy still hasn’t pulled out of its doldrums and we’re betting that revenues, at best, will be flat, but will most likely be down for MLB in 2010.
Are Matters Really “Glum”?
To say that matters are “glum” for MLB, might be a bit of an overstatement. Things aren’t “great” but they’re far from terrible these days. The league can say that the PED issue seems to have taken a back seat this year, and there’s still the postseason to look forward to. Maybe the best thing you can say about 2010 was that it wasn’t rife with controversy. It’s not going to be the best year MLB’s ever seen, but it isn’t the worst. Selig needs to get the owners in shape and prevent some clubs from falling into bankruptcy. Given how much owners have made over the years, “bankruptcy” shouldn’t even be in their vernacular.
The last words?.... Let’s see what the postseason will bring.
Maury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.
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