Friday, December 14, 2012

Why The Deck Is So Stacked Against The Braves

Like everyone else, I hear other Braves fans consistently complain that Liberty Media, Frank Wren, and others are simply putting money in their pockets by not spending big dollars on free-agents and having a payroll that ranks right up there with the big boys. The simple fact is they can't possibly compete on that level given today's circumstances.

What in the world would ever make someone think the organization could ever compete with large market franchises? According to the Wall Street Journal (via SNL Financial), while this "large TV market" fans refer to might be reflected in the number of cable subscribers, it certainly has nothing to do with the revenue produced by those viewers. SportSouth is indeed second only to the YES Network in subscribers, but the network's monthly revenue per subscriber lags FAR BEHIND those other "large markets" - almost 6 times less than the revenue per subscriber generated for the Red Sox via NESN.

If you calculate those 2011 numbers, it's easy to see just how bad the Braves' deal is.

Yankees - $33,600,000 per month
Rangers - $21,546,000 per month
Angels - $18,886,000 per month
Mets - $17,612,000 per month
Red Sox - $13,735,000 per month
Dodgers - $13,514,000 per month
Phillies - $9,393,000 per month

Braves - $4,959,000 per month
That doesn't take into account the Dodgers' new deal or the fact that the revenue generated by those other deals increases over time. 

Further limiting spending are the ever-dwindling ticket sale numbers. The Braves ranked 21st - yes, 21st - in home attendance percentage in 2012, drawing 2,420,171 fans (29,878/game) according to ESPN's 2012 MLB Attendance Report that can be viewed here  

The Brad Pitt as Billy Beane line from Moneyball  comes to mind when looking at those numbers (you even know the line even if you are the biggest scouthead vs. stathead there is) -  "The problem we're trying to solve is that there are rich teams and there are poor teams. Then there's fifty feet of crap, and then there's us."

What should this tell Braves fans who continually whine about the decisions Frank Wren makes when it comes to building the team into a contender? That he's doing an awfully good job given the resources at his disposal. Other organizations keep making splashes and headlines, and the Braves keep winning. They've done it without much money to throw at free agents, and without being able to add many of the "can't miss" high-end prospects because they constantly pick long after those future impact players are off the board. There's little question that even though there's been turnover in the scouting and player development departments over the years that these guys know what they're doing. The only times in the last ten years the Braves drafted higher than 23rd overall (Jeff Francoeur in 2002) they landed Jason Heyward at number 14 in 2007 and Mike Minor at number 7 in 2009. They continue to produce impact talent WITHOUT the opportunity to select the "no-brainer" kids like the Harpers, Strasburgs, Prices, Uptons, Mauers, Adrian Gonzalezes, and Josh Hamiltons.

Here's holding out hope that someone will finally be able to pry the team away from corporate ownership and buy their way out of the Braves' dreadful TV contract, because with the exploding revenues in other markets it will only become tougher moving forward. Some organizations are playing with Monopoly money and it will become increasingly tougher to compete consistently without it no matter how good Wren & Company are. We're used to hearing Arthur Blank and even cries for Ted Turner to come back mentioned when this is discussed, but I've got a little different idea that would hopefully help to drive attendance even more. I'd love to see someone organize an investment group somewhat like the Dodgers' crowd and get some of the local heroes involved. How much support might result from including say Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, and Chipper Jones as minority owners and mouthpieces like Magic Johnson is for Los Angeles? That would be a great Christmas present for the organization and city that would keep on giving for years. 


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