George Will, on the OpEd page of tomorrow's Washington Post, continues the recent spate of Post stories that unquestioningly accept the owners' position on the current state of the game.
Major League Baseball's labor negotiations involve two paradoxes. The players' union's primary objective is to protect the revenues of a very few very rich owners -- principally, the Yankees'. The owners' primary objective is a more egalitarian distribution of wealth.
Yes. Again, we read that it's all the Yankees' fault. Of course. And the rest of the owners, and the saintly Buddy Selig, want nothing more than fairness for all.
I'm not buying the swampland in Florida, either. This is complete and utter garbage. What many of the owners, like Carl Pohlad of Minnesota, want is to be handed money from George Steinbrenner, and maybe Ted Turner, and maybe Rupert Murdoch, and be allowed to pocket it, and continue to field mediocre teams that they don't bother to market or attempt to improve, while having their profits subsidized by owners who actually do try to win.
That's certainly what Selig, owner of the small market Milwaukee Brewers, wants.
The union believes that unconstrained spending by the richest three teams pulls up all payrolls. Most owners believe that baseball's problems -- competitive imbalance, the parlous financial conditions of many clubs -- result from large and growing disparities of what are mistakenly treated as "local" revenues.
Come on, George! Even the most Chicken Little-esque of the owners says it's a "big six" teams, not three that are driving up salaries.
And "mistakenly treated as local"? Um...they are local, because they're negotiated by each team, and the games are generally only shown in their own local area. Hence the descriptive word "local" in the first place.
These disparities largely reflect differences in teams' broadcasting revenues. The Yankees' broadcasting revenues ($62 million) are more than those of seven other teams (Kansas City, Minnesota, Oakland, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, Florida, Milwaukee) combined.
Geography lesson, George: there are more people in the New York metropolitan area than in those seven other cities combined. And hence more viewers of Yankee games, and hence more advertising money paid, than in those seven other cities combined.
Unlike the NFL and the NBA, both of which adopted their basic economic arrangements after (and because of) the advent of television, baseball's economic model predates radio. And flight. And the internal combustion engine. Today, as when the National League was founded in 1879, locally generated revenues stay with the local owner.
Comparing the NFL and MLB is absurd. The NFL plays a 16 game season, where all games are broadcast nationally. There are no local TV contracts (well, except for pre-season games). There is much more interest in each game, because each NFL game is far more important to the overall season than an individual baseball game (1 out of 16 vs. 1 out of 162).
While there is potential national interest in every NFL game, a mid-August matchup between any two given baseball teams is of primary interest only to the two cities involved.
The nature of the two sports is so different that any meaningful comparison is impossible.
But the concept of "local revenues" is problematic, because no team sells a local product. To buy a team is not to buy an entitlement to all dollars generated by games in that market.Rather, it is to buy an association with MLB. All revenue streams of all teams flow from that association.
And 20% of the revenue is now shared. And I would agree that some more sharing is necessary, because it is true that it doesn't serve the game well to have disparaties of $80 or $90 million in payroll.
However, one more time, rather than simply saying "the Yankees are the problem", baseball should be telling other owners to be more like the Yankees and to market themselves agressively. As I noted in a posting on this subject yesterday, look at what Seattle is doing. Why can't other teams be more like them?
And in any case, until the owners are honest about their books, it's all irrevelant; they are proven liars who lie habitually and without remorse, and do not deserve to be trusted. Why, for example, as noted yesterday, did the new owners of the Boston Red Sox pay $660 million for a franchise that the league's formula itself valued at less than half that. Why did they buy in at all if baseball is such a mess? When they can give a straight answer to that, maybe we can start to take their concerns seriously.
I'm not holding my breath.