the business of baseball, the illusion of sport stewardship

“Players play. Fans watch. Owners are uniquely charged with being stewards of the game. It’s a task that they have failed to perform in spectacular fashion.” – Dave Zirin

This week, Deadspin.com has been publishing leaked financial documents from several Major League Baseball teams, including the Florida Marlins, Tampa Bay (Don’t Call Them Devil) Rays, Seattle Mariners, (Los Angeles) Angels of Anaheim, Pittsburgh Pirates and Texas Rangers. The documents confirm sports fans’ worst suspicions: that owners are in it for the money, first, the prestige, second, and care about winning third, or maybe even not at all.

The documents paint “a picture that shows clubs at the low and middle level of player payroll spending are, for the most part, pulling a profit,” notes Business of Sports columnist Maury Brown. Despite the fact that many of these so-called “small market” teams are chronically uncompetitive, and complain compulsively about their inability to match the team salaries of the “big-market” clubs.

Seems the owners of the “small-market” teams are doing just fine, thank you. And it appears that losing pays far better than one may have thought it did. Who knew that owning an absolutely awful team like the Pittsburgh Pirates or Kansas City Royals could be so profitable? 

“While there may be a financial imbalance in Major League Baseball, competitive imbalance is a myth … [because of] the “luxury tax” imposed on the big-market clubs,” writes Edge of Sports columnist Dave Zirin in his recently-released book, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining The Games We Love. “Every time the Yankees engage in one of their “only the Yankees” spending sprees, [Kansas City Royals owner David] Glass gets richer. He is the welfare queen of Major League Baseball.”

As the documents obtained by Deadspin.com show, Glass isn’t alone in his poor-me “small market” royal treatment.  (For an in-depth examination of these documents, check out Maury Brown’s excellent post from the Business of Sports Network.)

The fact that “our modern athletic industrial complex,” as Dave Zirin calls it, is a big-time business is not news. (Most folks don’t get a primetime television special to announce where they will be working.) (Nor are they the beneficiary of several days of media coverage when they decide, again, to un-retire.)

But if it is indeed owners who are charged with being stewards of the games so many love, and those stewards are businessmen (I think they are all men), capable of turning a profit regardless of how successful their team is, than that is indeed a concern to all who care about the future of big-time organized sports. What does the future hold for an institution built on the timeless tenets of competition that is run according to the finances of the next quarter’s get-rich-quick scheme?

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Filed under Accountable Wealth, Consumerism

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