About those “unprofitable” franchises, continued

Freddie Freeman

Freddie Freeman—here hitting his World Series Game Six home run—is really more affordable for the Braves to re-sign than you think . . . but that’s not the only reason the Braves’ disclosed financials should give pause while the owners’ lockout continues apace. (Fox Sports screen capture.)

The answer is: $564 million dollars. The correct question: How much revenue did the world champion Braves generate in 2021? “Where the you-know-what did you come up with that figure?” I can hear you ask. Allow me to steer you toward Forbes contributor Maury Brown.

“Liberty Media reported their 2021 year-end financial report,” Brown tweeted Friday, “and with it the Braves posted $20 million in operating income and adjusted [operating income before depreciation and amortization] was $104 million. Baseball revenues per game over the 12 months was $6 million.”

Per game. Just multiply $6 million by 79 home games (the Braves had one such game postponed last year) and, unless your math is wrong or your calculator is on the proverbial fritz, you get $474 million. “For the uninitiated,” Brown tweets further, “operating income is a form of profit.”

Now throw in the Braves’ postseason march of sixteen games: winning the National League division series in four, the National League Championship Series in six, and the World Series in six. They played eight at home and eight, including that breathtaking World Series clincher, on the road. So that’s another $48 million for them.

Throw in, too, what Liberty Media calls the Braves’ “development revenue”: $42 million. Now you should read $564 million. And the foregoing is available only because, as a publicly-traded company, Liberty Media is required by law to disclose its financials in reasonable detail every year.

“Baseball revenue,” Liberty’s disclosure says, “is comprised of (i) ballpark operations (ticket sales, concessions, corporate sales, retail, suites, premium seat fees and postseason), (ii) local broadcast rights, and (iii) shared Major League Baseball revenue streams, including national broadcast rights and licensing.”

Never mind that, as The Athletic‘s Jeff Schultz writes, “the [Braves’] numbers only amplify what an absurdity it is that [franchise face Freddie] Freeman remained unsigned before the [owners’] lockout,” though it’s certainly worth pondering. It’s worth pondering that, the next time you hear any Braves administrator or pro-ownership observer say they couldn’t possibly afford to make Freeman a Brave for life, you should duck so you’re not knocked  over by their growing noses.

Freeman evinces substance above and beyond the pure baseball ability and sensibility that’s bound to have suitors willing to give him the sixth year he seeks if the poor Braves aren’t. A decade before he became president of the National League, A. Bartlett Giamatti wrote of such substance in Hall of Famer Tom Seaver, when Seaver was purged unceremoniously from the 1977 Mets: “[A]mong all the men who play baseball there is, very occasionally, a man of such qualities of heart and mind and body that he transcends even the great and glorious game, and that such a man is to be cherished, not sold.”

Technically, Freeman won’t be sold, not by the Braves, anyway. A free agent sells himself, assuming the market isn’t rigged. But sold out by the team for whom he’s performed enviably and, yes, quite profitably for both sides in his career is something else entirely.

What’s worth pondering is what’s taking the Major League Baseball Players Association so long to demand the rest of baseball’s owners open their books and prove what commissioner Rob Manfred has pleaded to be their “unprofitability,” to be their franchises’ inability to increase in value annually.

“[O]n the broadest scale,” Yahoo! Sports’s Hannah Keyser wrote a little over a fortnight ago, “they don’t want to make all the economic concessions that the union is asking for and one of the reasons they’re citing is that they can scarcely afford it.”

Remember: This lockout was the owners’ idea entirely. They could very well have said to the players, “Look, the CBA’s expired, but we can continue operating baseball under the terms of the expired deal while we work together to hammer a new one out.” Each side might have been hotter than hell to make sure the next CBA was more reasonable as they saw it, but nobody put a gun to the owners’ heads forcing them to impose a lockout.

Remember, too: The players have offered several compromises from their original positions and the owners, in effect, have told them to go fornicate themselves. Which amounts to saying, as well, “Leave us alone to continue suppressing your cumulative compensation, allowing teams to tank for fun and profit instead of playing competitive baseball, monkeying around with your major league service time, jamming our broadcasts with commercials taking longer than pitching changes do, finding ways to rig your legitimate employment market, etc. etc., blah-blah, woof-woof . . .”

Dodgers pitcher Walker Buehler tweeted last week, since deleted, “This isn’t millionaires versus billionaires. This is workers versus owners.” A critic quoted one and snorted, “But it’s also millionaires vs. billionaires, right, Walker?” citing Buehler’s current deal concurrently. My Internet Baseball Writers Association of America colleague Daniel Epstein shot that one out of the park faster than Eddie Rosario’s division series Game Five-making three-run homer off Buehler flew into the right field seats.

No, it isn’t. Only 31.4% of MLBPA members earn more than a million. 28.2% are minor leaguers on the 40-man roster earning $40,500. Walker Buehler just happens to be one of the millionaires (bc he’s great and he earned it). His career net worth is 0,002% of the average owner’s.

Think about that, too, the next time you forget that fans don’t pay their ways into ballparks to see their teams’ owners, all but two of whom are not bound legally but ought to be bound—by amended baseball rules and by plain, ethical sense—to open their books and allow the players to see what is, as opposed to what’s propagated.

With his bosses’ approval, Manfred says unless the deal is done by the close of business 28 February (that’s tomorrow, ladies and gentlemen), Opening Day isn’t guaranteed and neither is a full 162-game season. (Fair disclosure: I have skin in that game, tickets for myself and my son to the Angels’ home opener.)

Forget his former free cookie on second to begin extra half innings. Manfred and his have run this thing to where they open the ninth with the bases loaded. Compared to that, the 1919 World Series was played straight, no chaser.

2 thoughts on “About those “unprofitable” franchises, continued

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