Editor’s Note: Doug believes baseball is broken and would like to fix it. He plans to discuss an issue a week for the coming weeks. Read here for the topics he plans to help baseball fix.
Baseball has hundreds of problems. In an era dominated by the NFL, one of the problems is an untrue perception. Major League Baseball does not have a problem with competitive balance. There is a Boston and New York problem, not a league-wide competitive balance problem.
As we prepare for a Steelers vs. Packers Super Bowl, baseball’s critics like to associate these teams as an indictment on baseball. Since there would never be a World Series between the Pirates and Brewers (yes, I know they’re in the same division but you get the point), MLB haters like to point to that as proof the NFL is a better league.
It’s a fight that baseball’s PR arm is terrible at fighting because they won’t say the truth. The reason why the Pirates are terrible as a team is because they’ve been terrible as an organization. When owners are bad, they hire bad GM’s who hire bad players who learn from bad managers. It’s amazingly simple why MLB doesn’t have the Steelers: MLB doesn’t have the Rooney’s.
To prove the point, look at the Brewers. There are college students of legal drinking age that don’t know the Brewers were a well-run franchise before they were born. An entire generation of Brewers fans didn’t even know Milwaukee was allowed to be in pennant races. The recent version of the Brewers consistently competing is due to Mark Attanasio. He’s a great owner. He put millions into the scouting department and built the team through great drafts and international scouting. The Brewers are better than the Pirates because they have better ownership. Football fans can talk about the genius of the salary cap as much as they want but a salary cap wouldn’t save the Pirates from themselves.
Over the last 6 years, the American League has had 6 different champions. The American Football Conference has had the same champion 3 times in six years. Where are the screams that no one else can compete because the Steelers have a competitive advantage? If the Yankees win 3 of 6 AL pennants, I’m sure that’s what fans and media would be saying.
Hopefully I’ve been able to dispel the myth of competitive advantage. Obviously, it’s true that money helps fix problems. I admit there is a problem. Just because the baseball antagonists act like the NFL is perfect and MLB is evil, it doesn’t mean there isn’t an elephant in the room. The mother elephant is the New York Yankees with two adult children in the Red Sox and Mets.
It is way too easy to write a column on fixing baseball and say, “Get a salary cap.” Let’s deal in reality for the moment. There will never be a time the MLBPA accepts a salary cap. The players will go on strike before they would ever accept a salary cap. In order to fix the problem, the problem has to be identified. The problem is eye balls and ears.
New York City simply has too many eye ball and ears. Television and radio are driven by advertising. Advertising is driven by ratings and potential customers. When a company runs an ad on a Yankees game, they have the chance to reach 22.1 million people—that’s just the NYC metro area and does not include the entire eastern portion of the state in which many consider themselves Yankee fans. An advertiser on a Brewers game can only reach 5 ½ million people in the entire state with only 2 million in the greater Milwaukee area. The more people you can reach, the more expensive the advertising and the more money the Yankees make.
The way to dramatically change the landscape is to alter the number of potential consumers for Mets and Yankees advertisers. I’m not advocating floating Long Island to Florida—so the Marlins could finally sell tickets—as a way to lower New York’s population. There’s a better way to divide the population.
Divide the loyalties of the baseball consuming public in New York. Give advertisers a third choice for their advertising dollar. Have a new network broadcasting a third New York team. Bring Major League Baseball back to Brooklyn. Brooklynites would come out en masse to support their new team. The tickets would sell easily. Give the rest of the city another choice which would force Yankees and Mets revenues down.
Milwaukee has one team for the two million people in the city. New York has one team for every 11 million people. If you want to lower the power of the Yankees, increase the supply of baseball to the city. Brooklyn is bigger than Milwaukee. There are 2.5 million people in Brooklyn. If Milwaukee supports baseball with their 2 million, it seems to make sense Brooklyn could with their 2.5 million.
The average MLB team draws from an area of 5 million people. The New York teams draw from 22 million. A three team New York City still allows the teams 7 million residents a piece. The problem is not the Yankees payroll, it’s the Yankees revenues that allow them to have that payroll. The Yankees fix their mistakes more quickly than other teams. Dividing the pot of potential revenue forces the Yankees to share in ways they’ve never done and makes it harder for them to fix mistakes in the Yankee way.
It’s not just about dividing revenue. It’s also separating them from resources. What if the Brooklyn “Cyclones” (there’s a Mets farm team with the name so we’ll go with it), took away the best group sales representative from the Yankees. They could take the number one advertising sales person from the Mets. When the best people in their jobs have options, they go elsewhere. The great thing is they wouldn’t have to leave their homes.
Earlier I said the salary cap was a pipe dream so we shouldn’t even discuss it. I’m sure one of your first thoughts is the New York teams would never let this happen. With a strong commissioner, they wouldn’t have a choice. In order for a team to move to Brooklyn or to expand there, the owners would have to agree by a 75% vote. I’m very confident that number could be achieved simply by explaining to the owners what a team in Brooklyn could do for their revenues while lowering the Yankees and Mets revenues.
Whenever a team’s area is invaded (Expos to DC in the Orioles market), the local team has veto power. Obviously, the Yankees and Mets would use this veto power to block the move. Here’s why I put the onus on a strong commissioner. The charter that binds all teams to Major League Baseball clearly states the commissioner has the power to do whatever is in the “best interest of the game.” This supersedes everything in the game. It wields the veto power of the Mets and Yankees useless.
The Mets and Yankees would probably take an end around approach and go to court. Since the baseball offices are in New York, they could try to get a jury of Yankee fans to side with them. Here’s where our beloved Phoenix Coyotes come into the picture.
One of the main reasons why Judge Redfield T. Baum ruled against Jim Balsillie’s attempt to buy the Coyotes was his violation of the NHL’s rules in order to buy the team. Since Balsillie’s goal was to buy the team and move it against the league’s wishes, the league had every right to vote against his ownership bid. He challenged that the league was operating as a monopoly. Baum basically ruled you can’t ask to join a club with rules for membership while your plan violates the rules of membership. As long as a Manhattan Federal court upholds MLB’s rules of inclusion in the league—and MLB enjoys anti-trust exemption to make this even easier—the Yankees and Mets wouldn’t have a case.
Step one in fixing baseball is to hurt the Yankees and Mets. Get into their pocket without increasing revenue sharing. Revenue sharing, in the players’ mind, is a form of tax and must be collectively bargained. The Brooklyn Cyclones bring the Yankees and Mets back down to earth without getting the players involved.
The Brooklyn Cyclones solve the biggest problem hurting the game. As with many solutions, it does create problems. Should there be a team moved to Brooklyn or do you add a team in this economic climate? I’ll give you my answer next week.