(L-R top row) Tim Marchman, Peter Abraham, Todd Radom, Dayn Perry, Tyler Bleszinski, Andrew Zimbalist
(second row) Ken Davidoff, Kevin Kaduk, Tim Lemke, Maury Brown, Ken Rosenthal, Jeff Erickson
(third row) Kurt Bandenhausen, John Brattain, Craig Calcaterra, David Pinto, King Kaufman, Jordan Kobritz
(fourth row) Joe Siegler, David Chalk, Jeff Passan, Jonah Keri, Alex Belth, Fred Claire
(bottom row) Michael Neuman, Charlie Wiegert, Jerry Crasnick, Rich Lederer, Kurt Hunzeker, Chuck Armstrong
(not pictured) Brent Gambill
What you are about to read is a mosaic – a multi-faceted, exceptionally broad view of Major League Baseball in 2008. As in 2006, we approached those that follow the sport at a professional level; be it bloggers from a fan’s perspective, sports economists, writers for large, mainstream outlets such as ESPN, Yahoo! Sports, and FOX Sports; analyst heavies from the likes of Baseball Prospectus, The Hardball Times, or Baseball Analysts; baseball writers for newspapers such as Newsday and the New York Sun; to executives that work in the sponsorship arena, or fantasy sports, or those at the highest levels of the front office in MLB franchises, we worked hard to run the gambit and get divergent perspectives.
Plainly put, we threw the net wide.
The criteria we gave was simple: Give us a few paragraphs on how you see the state of MLB in 2008. You, as a reader, have a different idea of how the game is doing. It's just that the interpretation is different. With that, we got the wide-ranging commentary you see here.
We wish to thank every one of those that provided material for this compilation. Every one of them has extremely busy schedules and responsibilities.
Entries are shown in alphabetical order, with a listing of those that contributed directly below. We hope you enjoy.
– Maury Brown, Founder and President, Business of Sports Network, Bizball LLC
- Peter Abraham - Yankees beat writer, The Journal News and LoHud Yankees Blog
- Chuck Armstrong – President, Seattle Mariners
- Kurt Badenhausen – Senior Editor, Forbes
- Alex Belth - Founder of Bronx Banter and editor of "The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan"
- Tyler Bleszinski (Blez) - Founder and author, Athletics Nation
- John Brattain – Columnist, The Hardball Times, MSN Canada, Baseball Digest Daily
- Maury Brown – Founder and President, Business of Sports Network
- Craig Calcaterra – Author, Shysterball
- David Chalk - Author, Bugs and Cranks. Contributor to Yahoo!'s Big League Stew and East Windup Chronicle
- Fred Claire - Former Exec. VP, and GM, Los Angeles Dodgers. Book author. MLB.com
- Jerry Crasnick - Baseball Writer, ESPN.com. Author, "Licence to Deal"
- Ken Davidoff – Baseball writer, Newsday
- Jeff Erickson - Senior Editor, RotoWire
- Brent Gambill - Senior Producer, MLB Home Plate, XM Satellite Radio
- Kurt Hunzeker - Director of Business Development for Active Marketing Group; Founder of Sparts Marketing; regular contributor Business of Sports Network
- Kevin Kaduk ('Duk) - Editor, Big League Stew, Yahoo! Sports
- Jonah Keri - Writer for ESPN.com, a contributor to YESNetwork.com and the New York Sun
- Jordan Kobritz - Regular contributor, Business of Sports Network; Professor sports management; former minor league team owner
- Rich Lederer – Founder and lead writer, Baseball Analysts
- Tim Lemke - Sports business reporter, Washington Times
- Tim Marchman - Baseball writer, New York Sun
- Michael A. Neuman – Founder and President, Amplify Sports and Entertainment, LLC
- Jeff Passan - National baseball writer, Yahoo! Sports
- Dayn Perry - Regular contributor to FOXSports.com; regular contributor, Baseball Prospectus
- David Pinto - Owner and author, Baseball Musings; author, The Sporting News
- Todd Radom - Todd Radom Design, (Logos - Washington Nationals, current Angels design, Super Bowl XXXVIII, World Series 100th Anniversary, more)
- Ken Rosenthal - Senior baseball writer, television analyst, FOX Sports; book author
- Joe Siegler - Author, Ranger Fans
- Charlie Wiegert - Vice-President, CDM Fantasy Sports Corp. (Fanball.com)
- Andrew Zimbalist – Sports economist, author
Select Read More to see this rountable article
Yankees beat writer, The Journal News and the LoHud Yankees Blog
Our game is in terrific shape. Most teams either have new stadiums or are building them. Exciting new players are coming from countries near and far and the issue of performance enhancing drugs is finally being addressed in a real way. You can follow the game on a variety of media platforms and a group of dedicated bloggers are bringing a unique perspective to how the game is chronicled.
But who will be sitting in the stands in 20 years?
Like World War II veterans, baseball fans are dying every day and nobody is replacing them. Late-night starts for playoff games virtually exclude children from participating in any meaningful fashion. Ticket prices are growing at a rate that make it almost prohibitive for families to attend. Black players are now an anomaly, leaving young black kids with no heroes to emulate. Baseball's RBI program and urban academy programs need to be strengthened.
Baseball has not marketed its star players properly. Think NBA and you think Kobe and LeBron. No last names needed. You can't turn on a television during football season without seeing Peyton Manning. The face of baseball is who exactly? A-Rod? He's the guy who opted out of his contract during the World Series. How to promote the game, Alex. Players and owners need to work together and put aside short-term gain for long-term viability.
Baseball has fixed a lot of what was wrong. But unless the sport is made more accessible to a new generation of fans, what's the point?
President, Seattle Mariners
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Chuck Armstrong)
Currently, Major League Baseball is enjoying its greatest financial success in history. In 2007, only two of the 30 Major League teams had negative cash flow; in 1992 when Commissioner Selig first took over on an interim basis, only two clubs had positive cash flow. Moreover, there is a chance that this year the total gross revenue of Major League Baseball may surpass the total gross revenue of the National Football League. What a dramatic turnaround. And the financial success has been shared/enjoyed by all segments of the game; ownership, players, business partners, and the communities in which the 30 MLB teams reside. The fans seem to enjoy this greater competitiveness as well with new attendance records being set each season.
On the playing field, success has been equally apparent. Over the past seven seasons there has been a World Series Champion from each of the six divisions; with only the Boston Red Sox repeating in 2007. This is a far cry from the so-called halcyon days from 1948-1964 when the New York Yankees won the American League pennant 14 out of those 16 years, and over in the National League, either the Dodgers or the Giants won more often than not.
There are, however, two problems currently existing which appear to only be getting worse and we should take steps immediately to address and redress them. Let’s discuss.
1) Broken Bats. As we have all noticed, over the past several years, not a game goes by without bats virtually exploding and sending shards of shrapnel cascading sometimes over 100 feet from home plate. The fact that no one has yet been seriously injured is amazing. Just wait until a catcher or an umpire takes a wood sliver in the eye or the throat. Why is this happening? Back in the 1920’s & 1930’s, players might go an entire season and not need any more than 10-15 bats. Recently, the favorite bat of Shoeless Joe Jackson, Black Betsy, which he reportedly used for more than a year, was put on the auction block for a large monetary sum. I have three primary reasons why there are more broken bats today. They are:
a. The wood is now second and third growth wood, not as strong and hearty as the wood originally used for baseball bats, which had endured many tough, but tree hardening, winters in the northern climes of the United States .
b.The biggest reason is that the modern-day player keeps wanting thinner and thinner handles, and bigger circumference barrels. With the force of the pitched ball coupled with the torque of the swing, these thin-handled bats just naturally break more. When I first started playing baseball at about 9 years of age, I used to save up my allowance to buy the Jackie Robinson model because it had the thickest handle and was therefore the toughest to break. Today’s kids grow up with metal bats, all with extremely thin handles and huge barrels. When they make the switch to wood bats, it is the thin handle that feels most comfortable. On my last visit several years ago to Hillerich & Bradsby in my home town of Louisville , Kentucky , I witnessed the ever fascinating process of baseball bat making. I was struck by how many bats are broken in the lathe solely because the players are specifying such thin-handled bats.
c.The third reason is not much discussed, but is also a major cause for so many broken bats: Today’s players do not know to keep the labels up. Amazing, isn’t it? When I mention this to our players, they just shake their heads like I’m crazy; and when I mention this to our managers and coaches, they also shake their heads and lament they are unable to get the players to believe this. I am truly baffled by this. Also, some of today’s bats are so heavily lacquered that the hitter can’t find the grain so as to hold the bat the proper way even if he wanted to. Some years ago I asked Bill Nye the Science Guy (an engineering graduate from Cornell, by the way) to come to our Spring Training and demonstrate why it was important to hold the label up and have the points of the grain in the wood absorb the shock of the pitched ball. Bill prepared an elaborate model of a bat in cardboard and went through an easily understood demonstration. The result was that perhaps a few of our players finally bought in; but not many.
However, none of these reasons is the cause for the exploding bats. The exploding bats are all maple, not the traditional northern white ash. I have been told that Joe Carter when he was with the Toronto Blue Jays was the first major league hitter to use a maple bat. The maple bat craze really picked up steam when Barry Bonds began using them and declared that maple bats were harder and helped him hit the ball farther and with greater velocity than a white ash bat. Now, I’ll bet over half the players are using maple bats. My view is that maple bats should be banned for use in Professional Baseball. Not only do the maple bats explode, but I have been told by knowledgeable major league hitting coaches that they can be broken on the inside and the hitter is unable to detect it. Perhaps that’s why the explosions are so violent when they occur; because the bat was already broken.
So for this problem, my recommendations are:
- i) Get/Use thicker handled bats;
- ii) Teach players from the lowest levels of wood bat use to hold the labels up; and
- iii) Ban maple bats.
2) The second problem that I would like to discuss is what I perceive to be the biggest problem facing our game today: The decline of youth baseball in North America. While we all certainly applaud the increased worldwide interest in Baseball and that Major League Baseball now sports players from countries literally spanning the globe, one of the reasons why this is occurring is because fewer players are coming out of North America . When I was a child first starting to play baseball over 55 years ago during summer vacation from school, my mother would make a sack lunch and I would leave in the morning to go to the nearest baseball diamond and literally play all day with my friends, knowing that I had to be home by 5pm for my family chores and dinner. We would often have as few as three players per side. (That’s why we all were primarily pull hitters because hitting to the opposite field was an out; not to mention that the star hitters of the day, Ted Williams and Stan Musial, were dead pull hitters.) As late as 25-30 years ago, when I would fly into cities I would look out the window of the plane and observe kids playing ball. Not any more. Now when I look out the window of the plane, either the ball fields are completely empty (usually the case), or the kids are uniformed and organized and playing structured games with adult coaches, umpires and some cheering parents. I have been told that after Little League age (12 years old), more than half the kids quit playing baseball. In addition, the growth of the so-called “select” teams starting as early as age 9-10 means that many boys who want to play are not chosen and left behind. Those that are chosen only play a lot if they happen to be the best players on that team. This causes even more boys to stop playing baseball. Make no mistake, baseball is a hard game to get really good at, and there are many late developing kids who quit before they have gotten proficient enough to play for these select teams. Compounding all this is that many coaches of select teams perceive themselves as baseball geniuses and are in it just to win and prove their self-perception as being correct. In order to achieve their selfish win-at-all-costs objectives they therefore overuse their players, especially the pitchers who often ruin their arms before they reach 17-18. Also, there has been a proliferation of other sporting alternatives that are not as hard, particularly – soccer and lately lacrosse, where if you work hard and hustle, you can be a decent player and a good teammate. And then there is basketball, which you can do alone. I think that Baseball can be the best team sport going, but unless we start working at the earliest ages and the lowest levels, the continuing decline of Major League players from North America will only be accelerated. Make no mistake, this will soon be followed by a decline in our fan base and interest in Baseball in general.
Senior editor, Forbes
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Kurt Bedenhausen)
Financially, MLB has never been healthier. Last year saw record attendance, revenue and profits. Five years ago Forbes estimated that 16 teams lost money. Last year we figured that only three teams (Blue Jays, Red Sox and Yankees) were in the red. Of course all three of those teams have media properties connected to the clubs that offset any losses at the team level.
Despite some dubious free agent contracts doled out the past few years, owners have gotten spending under control. During the past five years, player costs (salaries, benefits and bonuses) have fallen to 56% of revenue from 66%. The big market teams are prospering thanks to record attendance, soaring ticket prices and media properties tied to the teams. The low-revenue teams are doing well thanks to revenue sharing checks that can top $30 million. It is showing up on the field as well with high-revenue and low-revenue teams putting teams in the playoffs.
One problem that needs to be addressed is the lack of interest in baseball's two biggest events: the All-Star game and World Series. TV ratings are in the toilet for both events. MLB is making a big international push, but interest on a national level seems to have waned. Fans support their local teams passionately more than ever before as witnessed by huge ratings on regional sports networks and record attendance (NYC's two teams drew 8 million fans last year and LA's two franchises drew 7.5 million). But fans aren't showing any interest in games if their teams aren't involved. Baseball needs to improve its marketing efforts to draw in the casual fans to its biggest events.
Problem number two is related. Who are baseball's marketing stars? The game has a plethora of young stars on the field, but they are not stars on a national level where companies want to align with them. Tiger Woods, Peyton Manning and LeBron James are all part of multiple national ad campaigns. Why aren't companies interested in baseball's best? Dice-K, Ichiro and Hideki Matsui all pull in big endorsement money in Japan, but Forbes research shows Derek Jeter to be the only American born baseball player that earns more than $3 million a year from endorsements.
Founder of Bronx Banter and editor of "The Best Sports Writing of Pat Jordan"
In 1999, a close friend of mine was dying of cancer. I'd go to the hospice and visit with her and we'd watch the Yankees on a small TV. I was preoccupied with worry that labor trouble was on the horizon for MLB and that was going to spell bad news, something I was particularly aware of during those great years in the Bronx. My friend assured me that baseball would survive, no matter what. I felt foolish to be so concerned with baseball when I was really thinking about her dying. But she sounded so convincing, so confident that what she was saying was true and not just wishful thinking.
I didn't doubt her and she was right, of course. The steroid scandal has rocked the sport over the past few seasons, but here we are again, with another interesting season unfolding before our eyes between the white lines. Old stars getting cut, retiring, and future stars announcing their presence with authority. Run-scoring down. Tough pitching. Attendance is still strong and for many of us, the advancements in Internet technology has made this nothing short of a Golden Age to be a fan. (How did life ever exist before Baseball-Reference.com?)
I'm especially wrapped-up in this being the last year of the two New York ballparks. Hearing people's stories, their favorite memories. But the early season success of the Tampa Bay Rays and the Florida Marlins, the Chicago White Sox and St. Louis Cardinals has been compelling as well. How about the Cubs fielding a team that knows how to get on base and score some runs? As a New Yorker, it's hard not to get behind them with Sweet Lou running the show. And what about the sustained excellence of the Angels and Red Sox? And those star players. Griffey with his milestone. Manny, Pujols, Chipper and the great Mariano Rivera.
I'm not saying that there hasn't been a stain on the game. I'm just saying the game doesn't stop. And I still like coming back to watch.
Tyler Bleszinski (aka Blez)
Founder and author, Athletics Nation
Ah, the State of Baseball in 2008. Baseball seems healthier than ever. The steroids scandal seems to be heading into our rear view mirrors (although remember that objects in a mirror are often closer than they appear), attendance has been rising to record levels and judging from teams like the 2008 editions of the Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins then competitive balance is alive and well. Baseball is just as resilient as that scotch-guarded rug that the sports' all-time home run leader and Rocket man have been swept under.
But all is not well in Bud Selig's version of Xanadu. For one thing, the archaic blackout rules of MLB have made it so that I can now watch a lot more Oakland Athletics games now that I'm living in Southern California rather than in Sacramento. Think about that for a moment. Sacramento isn't that close to the Coliseum. It takes about an hour and fifteen minutes, without traffic which is rare on the I-80, to get to the A's stadium. Yet Sacramentans didn't get KICU-TV which carries a LOT of A's games. And I was willing to shell out that extra money to get the Extra Innings package over Directv to get my A's games. That was until I learned that I could see pretty much every other team in baseball BUT my A's. I wasn't alone either. The fan is getting shut out because baseball still deems Sacramento part of A's territory when talking about their blackout policies. I tried to get to many A's games during the week and sometimes it would take me two and a half to three hours to drive to the Coliseum. I was one of those fashionably late fans, even though I wanted to be early to see batting practice. This should be a huge priority for baseball.
Another major issue, as I see it, is HGH. Baseball isn't currently testing for it so there's a good chance that some baseball players are still using performance enhancing materials. So while steroids may be a less prevalent issue, HGH should be something that is still a prominent news story. It doesn't seem to be. Maybe because steroids is sexier, or maybe just because HGH isn't something that is easy to detect. To me, this is something that is going to have to be tested if baseball will ever be considered "clean." Then again, maybe the American public just doesn't care anymore. The steroids scandal hasn't hurt baseball attendance so perhaps fans are just enjoying their blissful ignorance.
And the final issue is more of a personal one for me and it's nothing but positive for baseball. I'm really encouraged by what I see around the ever-expanding quality of the baseball blogosphere. From the superb stats-analysis to landmark interviews with baseball executives, baseball blogs are getting the fan closer to the sport than ever before. This fan empowerment is just a beautiful thing to watch as fans go deeper inside teams, team stats and player analysis than previously imagined. Despite what Buzz Bissinger and others might have you think, this movement has meant that fans are living their favorite teams 24/7/365 on places like Bleed Cubbie Blue, Viva El Birdos, Lone Star Ball, McCovey Chronicles and Athletics Nation. There is never an offseason any more and as a baseball fan above all else, it's a beautiful thing.
Columnist, The Hardball Times, MSN Canada and Baseball Digest Daily
The game is rolling in record revenues and it’s all due to Buddy-Ball: publicly financed stadia that cater to the wealthy, keeping salaries down and making sure that any new ownership understand these principles. Right now, the Cubs are on the market and there is talk that Mark Cuban might make a play for it and Buddy-Ball has little room for Mavericks like Cuban who give a higher priority to winning than profits and keeping salaries low.
The Mitchell Report was a godsend to Selig and the ownership cartel in keeping the MLBPA on the defensive plus revealing the union’s deep schisms. As the union’s grey-headed eminence Marvin Miller stated almost 20 years ago that in the type of union-management setup in baseball that when 'one side becomes complacent, the other side grows bolder, and holding your place, marking time is an invitation to be shoved backwards.’ This complacency is helping create record profits since the phenomenal revenue growth has been aided by the union's accepting substantial disincentives to spending in the last two CBA. A few years back Barry Bonds pulled out of the MLBPA’s licensing agreement and struck out on his own. The old “all for one and one for all” attitude engendered by Miller is out the door being replaced by an attitude of “I got mine--screw you.” If the Yankees’ new stadium allows them the revenue to blow previous spending patterns out of the water, chances are good the other 29 owners will push for a salary cap (which would give each team a nice boost in franchise equity) that the MLBPA will fight off with the same success as the NHLPA since their muscle (read: unity and consensus) has atrophied.
What has to be borne in mind is that absent the financial windfalls that come from revenue generating mallparks catering to the economic royals of society (with minimal out-of-pocket expenses to cartel members) the game’s revenues would be nowhere near as high as they are right now. In that sense the economic prosperity of the sport is somewhat illusory. It's a bubble and bubbles eventually burst. In the marketplace, the sport continues to maximize revenues with a short term strategy that could create fallout down the road. Fewer and fewer games appear on free-TV, even over-the-radio games cannot be accessed online without a subscription and MLB and the MLBPA’s continued attempts to corner the fantasy/electronic game baseball market by making the usage of player statistics illegal without a license (and paying a fee) strikes many as excessively greedy. What was once the “people’s game” for the Joe Sixpacks of the world is slowly following the disastrous course traversed by professional boxing where excessive use of pay-per-view has relegated it to a fringe sport being rapidly overtaken by Ultimate fighting/Mixed martial arts.
The short term financial outlook for the sport is obviously rosy but there is a chance that the aforementioned bubble will burst for MLB. The greed of the various sporting cartels are putting communities where they do business deep into the red (see what may be happening soon in St. Louis) which may result in legislation in the near future to reduce the corporate welfare going to the leagues and the abuses of the cartels. The disappearance of the economic middle-class and the sport’s catering to the smaller upper class (as well as charging fees to follow games in any format) could result in a consumer backlash where fans look to minor and independent leagues for their baseball fix or simply find another sport to follow as have many former fans of boxing.
Baseball appeals to the common man since the average Joe isn’t almost seven feet tall or a 300 lb. quick-as-a-cat physical behemoth--it’s a game all can play and feel that had circumstances being different they may have been the one ’touching ‘em all’ to the roar of the crowd. This is the demographic the game needs to guard jealously and not push away. These are the ones that will stick loyally to the sport come hell or high water and allow the game to continue when hard times come. The game’s wealth is distancing itself from these ones and if the game hopes to continue its prosperity it needs to keep its core of support strong and not try to turn the fan upside down shaking them until every last penny comes tumbling out of their pockets. After all, what happens if teams have to pay for their own stadiums again and corporations start to cut back on entertainment expense due to the Wal-Mart-izing of this part of the world? MLB needs to understand that fans become customers and not the other way around.
Founder and President, Business of Sports Network, Bizball LLC, of which The Biz of Baseball is a member
It’s hard to find too much at fault with Major League Baseball in 2008. Paid attendance was at a record high for the fourth consecutive year last year; another new ballpark went online in Washington, D.C. (albeit with a grotesque level of public funding attached); there was the most unlikely (Rockies) and powerful (Red Sox) teams in the World Series, which shows that when you combine revenue-sharing, a staggering level of revenues (another record, at $6.075 billion) and lightening in a bottle (sorry, Colorado fans, but you’re seeing that that was the case last year), MLB is seeing incredible parity.
In January, MLB will unveil the biggest cable channel launch in history, with the MLB Network arriving in approx. 50 million homes. Toot your horn, and pat your back. This is something the NFL, or anyone else in American professional sports could never pull off.
Yes, things are well. Not Fairy Tale “well” but there does not seem to be a calamity that Bud Selig and the rest of MLB and the MLBPA can’t handle.
A fitting example to the book called MLB is the chapter involving MLB Advanced Media. Yes, they and the MLB Players Association finally realize that the legal system just wasn’t in their corner on the Fantasy Stats case – a case where the First Amendment trumped the argument that using players names associated with their statistics without a license was a breach of the privacy rights of the players, but then they continue to innovate and create new products which will once again make them the darlings of all professional sports when it comes to online and digital platforms. The continued increases in revenues should show that BAM is in great shape.
One of the most interesting stories has been how the development of young talent is trumping the old “we need to stock our roster with expensive veteran free agents” model. The cousin to this new paradigm is wrapping up of contracts for young talent. I’m waiting for a six-year deal with club options for a newly born prospect to occur.
2008 seems to have created issues for MLB, as opposed to MLB creating issues in 2008. The economy – especially the price of gas – has made for a case of people choosing whether they wish to stay at home and watch games, or take out a second mortgage on the house so they can fill the tank and travel to the games. When you get to the point of offering discounts based on the national average price for a gallon of gas, or give away gas cards with a ticket purchase, it seems baseball does not cure all ills. MLB is a business impacted by the downturn in the economy; just possibly not as much as other indusrtries.
The possibility has impacted attendance -- or rather, attendance is flat compared to last year, not yet a downturn -- which in turn could impact revenues. Selig wants to see another record year in attendance and the aforementioned revenues are intertwined. Kudos to Bud and Co. for trying to make lemonade out of lemons.
There is always something to improve, and here’s my list:
- The television blackout policy in MLB is nothing short of abysmal and teetering on the edge of consumer fraud. Get past the “over-the-air” territories you have created and stop making those of us with MLB Extra Innings sit and stare at blank screens each weekend, and depending on the market, much of the channels where a team 6 hours or more in drive time away is deemed “local market”.
- Quit saying that, “If <insert your favorite market looking for a stadium> doesn’t get a new facility, they can’t compete.” That’s selling snake oil. Tampa Bay is showing that they can develop talent, and with the model of using young players as your base, player payroll lowers. Few believe that without a new facility teams can’t compete any longer. Sell it on other grounds; something with less public assistance.
- Marketing players needs tending to. MLB is getting better at promoting the game, but is lagging when it comes to star players.
- Let’s hope the commoners won’t all be relegated to the upper deck and bleachers in the future. While it is a supply and demand world, the lower bowl will soon be nothing more than corporately purchased blocks of seats due to rapidly escalating pricing. And, as we all have seen, nothing is better for television than empty seats behind the plate that don’t get used that day by the suits.
Yes, I skipped the whole performance-enhancing drug issue. It's simply too politically vexing and as I've said before, its a dirge I've grown exceptionally weary of. I'll let others touch on it. Beyond that MLB is healthy and happy, for the most part. Sure, there are going to be problems, but compared to where MLB was at a decade ago, it's pretty much peaches and cream.
Author of ShysterBall
The game is resilient. Be it labor strife, financial and competitive inequality, drug scandals, or anything else you can name, the game seems incapable of being diminished. Its essential patterns and rhythms so ingrained that no matter what happens off the field, all is forgotten between the first pitch and the final out. There are as many as 15 games a night nearly every night between March and October. With that kind of signal to noise ratio, it's easy to concentrate on the good stuff and let the bad stuff seep towards the margins.
Not that it's all good. I fear we are approaching a day of reckoning with respect to the Rule IV draft. It's original purposes -- to put a cap on signing bonuses and provide a means of parity-encouraging talent redistribution -- have largely been thwarted as as teams which pick high in the draft are increasingly unable or unwilling to pay the bonuses demanded by the players and their agents. This phenomenon, in turn, has allowed the richest and best teams to enhance their already-strong farm systems. I'm no wizard when it comes to this stuff, but it seems to me that revenue sharing money has to be tied to talent acquisition and development somehow, or else we're going to see an increasing talent disparity as time goes on.
Game time and pace is also a problem, particularly in the playoffs. I've been watching a lot of 1970s and 1980s games on tape recently, and I am shocked at how bad the time in between pitches has gotten compared to where it was a mere 20 years ago. The umpires need to enforce Rule 8.04 and something needs to be done to cut down on batter baloney (i.e. adjusting gloves, hats, cups, etc.). Let's just play some ball already.
Finally, baseball has to be reminded to trust its product. I went to a game at PETCO Park last year and was shocked at how much singing, dancing, clowning, and general farting around goes on between innings. Giant dancing Muppets and pep squads and t-shirt cannons and the like may have a place somewhere in polite society, but a baseball park is not one of them. It's as if the people running the game are worried that all of the casual fans they've managed to attract over the past few years will simply go away the moment they aren't being assaulted with entertainment. Maybe some will, but are they the ones we want hanging around to begin with?
But these are mere quibbles, because baseball may very well be at an all-time high. The worst drawing team in baseball will still likely get a million and a half butts in the seats this year which, not too long ago, would have placed them pretty squarely in the middle of the pack. For all the moaning many of us do about publicly funded stadiums, there's no denying that a night at the ballpark is a much more comfortable, enjoyable, and accessible thing than it used to be. Above all else, the quality of play is fantastic right now, and is even poised to improve as more and more teams realize that the youngest players are the best players. Speed and kinetic energy is on the rise, and those things are going to attract more fans than a giant dancing Muppet ever will.
Reports on the Devil Rays and MLB for Bugs & Cranks, Contributor, Yahoo!'s Big League Stew and East Windup Chronicle
Economically, baseball seems to be as healthy as it has ever been. Personally, I've been more interested in baseball the past few years than ever before. Still, there's plenty of issues that I would like to see addressed and which make me skeptical about how long baseball can sustain its current level of success.
For starters, the simple joys of the game seem to be dying out. Whether on TV or at the ballpark, baseball is getting harder to watch and especially listen to. I made my first trip to Fenway Park earlier this season, and after a few innings it hit me -- I was hearing nothing except baseball and music. How refreshing that was compared to the mindless promotions that assault fans at every break in the action at the four other parks I've visited this year. On TV, it's difficult to think of more than three or four announcers I really enjoy listening to -- at least that many send me reaching for the mute button, and most are mediocre at best.
There's also obviously something wrong with the game when the 2007 NLCS between the Rockies and Diamondbacks had a lower rating than the 12-year-olds competing in the Little League World Series. Marketing could be better, but the dearth of talent and personalities on those two teams was also a problem. While more small-market teams are competitive and signing more of their young stars to long-term deals, they'll always be working with little or no margin for error -- as long as there continues to be no real revenue sharing and no salary cap. It's hard to see the trend of successful low-payroll teams continuing for very long before the balance tips back to the big-market behemoths.
Baseball also seems to lose some of its unique character when an 83-win team like the '06 Cardinals can be called world champions. I'd love to see a return to 7 and 8 team divisions to try to cut down on weak divisional races. Another return to tradition was suggested by Cork Gaines of RaysIndex.com, who proposed adding a second wild card to each league, and for the non-division winners to face off in one-game playoffs. That would be exciting and give more meaning to the division races and regular season.
Perhaps most importantly, while Major League Baseball takes many opportunities to celebrate its civil rights legacy, it continues to fail to live up to that legacy in many ways. The way Barry Bonds has been treated by the commissioner, by the Giants, and by the Hall of Fame is a continuing disgrace -- and one that has surely alienated many fans, particularly in the African-American community. The possible collusion to keep Bonds out of the game has cheated fans everywhere, and seems especially ridiculous when amnesty was given to everyone named in the Mitchell Report. Gary Sheffield's allegations of unequal treatment of black players were not acted upon, despite being confirmed by Kenny Lofton and others. Discrimination has also extended to the fans in ballparks, as the Seattle Mariners continue to defend kicking two lesbians out of Safeco Field for daring to kiss in the stands. And the Cleveland franchise still uses a racist caricature for a mascot and logo. In these and other areas, baseball could and should be doing much more to become a true symbol of diversity, inclusiveness, equality and excellence.
Too much to ask? Probably. But it's baseball -- hope springs eternal.
Former Executive VP and general manager of the L.A. Dodgers and author of “Fred Claire: My 30 Years in Dodger Blue"
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Fred Claire)
In so many ways, the game of baseball never has been in a better position. Ownership and the Players Association have figured out, at long last, that labor peace is better than being at war. The two parties have come together to recognize that nothing is more important than the integrity of the sport and the players who perform.
The marketing of the game is at an all-time high, as reflected by the attendance, and there is a great awareness of the importance of growth on an international level.
There are new stadiums throughout the country and all of this will be in even better focus next year when New York celebrates the opening of new venues for the Yankees and Mets.
With all of the good news and big deals and general razzle-dazzle it is my hope that the most important thing of all doesn’t get lost in the shuffle—baseball needs more young players being developed in the United States and throughout the world and baseball needs to attract more young fans.
The emphasis of the game needs to be focused on the basics—how does the Major League Baseball work with youth leagues to do everything possible to build programs for the youngsters; and how does MLB develop a solid plan to make the game more affordable for the families and for the youngsters.
Without the continued development of youth programs and the attraction of young fans, baseball is simply spinning in sea of momentary dollar signs with no real way to advance the greatest game of all.
Baseball writer for ESPN.com; Author of License to Deal: A Season on the Run with a Maverick Baseball Agent
Which issues are paramount in Major League Baseball’s Campaign 2008? For Barry Bonds and Kenny Lofton, it’s all about the job market. John Smoltz is a health care guy, Barry Zito is concerned about gas (or a lack thereof), and when a new round of hostilities breaks out in the war zone, you can bet the Boston Red Sox and those feisty Tampa Bay Rays will be right in the thick of things.
OK, let’s dispense with that tortured, half-baked election theme and get down to reality: Two months into the ’08 season, the MLB landscape is rife with positive signs. When you peruse the standings and see Tampa Bay and Florida hanging tough despite the game’s 29th and 30th biggest payrolls, it’s a tribute to astute management and an indication that Bud Selig’s “faith and hope’’ mantra is alive and well. Chipper Jones is still hitting .400, Chase Utley is a joy to watch, and Edinson Volquez and Josh Hamilton are proof that front office executives really can put economic concerns aside and make the old-fashioned, equitable, mutually-beneficial baseball trade a reality.
Finally, mercifully, we’re drifting toward a focus on topics other than Jose Canseco’s latest book or the contents of Miguel Tejada’s medicine cabinet. Can baseball institute a fair and workable instant replay policy? Is someone -- be it a pitcher, third baseman or a fan -- destined to get impaled by the business end of a shattered maple bat? What’s with those startling home-road breakdowns in Cincinnati and Atlanta? Why aren’t the Washington Nationals drawing more than 29,000 fans per game in their new park? And can there really be room in the good-old-boy tent for a Mark Cuban ownership group in Chicago?
After a winter of Mitchell report overload and body language experts assessing what Roger Clemens must have been thinking when he swigged bottled water and had difficulty making eye contact with Mike Wallace during that “60 Minutes’’ interview, you get the sense that steroid fatigue has prompted us to flip to a new chapter. MLB’s drug policy is by no means perfect, but it’s about as good as we’re going to get. And from here on in, the debate will be more about putting those inflated home run totals in their proper historical perspective and coming to grips with a new, more nuance-friendly game.
In the meantime, while the NBA deals with a new referee scandal and the NFL sweeps up the remnants of “Spygate,’’ baseball can enjoy the latest milestone homers by Ken Griffey Jr. and Manny Ramirez, the storybook tale of Jon Lester’s return from cancer to pitch a no-hitter, and the prospect of Lou Piniella and the boys making this an October to remember at Wrigley. There are a lot worse ways to spend a summer.
Baseball writer, Newsday
Even as a registered cynic, I think the state of the game is outstanding. Each of the 30 teams has a clue as to what it's doing. The morons have been weeded out altogether. Fans never cared about steroids, and now the Mitchell Report, while put together by a profoundly conflicted, overrated man, succeeded in that it convinced Congress its work is done.
Instant replay is a problem, but it will be remedied next year. I just don't see any issue holding back the game - which disappoints my cynical side.
Senior Editor, RotoWire
Despite a number of negative issues and thorny problems, the state of major league baseball is as strong as ever. Attendance is up, revenues are up (and yes, so is the cost of going to a game), and the number and quality of ways we can interact with the game are as great as ever. We've been blessed with a series of great rookie classes, ensuring that the quality of the product on the field will remain in good hands. This past offseason was as ugly as it can get, with the Mitchell Report findings and the ensuing fallout with Roger Clemens, at the end of the day the game itself will carry the day. The issue of performance-enhancing gear in the game is a significant, but at the same time, some of the coverage of that has been overwrought. There's a tendency to always look for the story, particularly in the wake of existing news, and that search for the story is a self-perpetuating machine. But the core audience of the game is as connected with it as ever, and fans don't seem deterred.
The state of the economy as a whole is a story that might have a greater impact than some of the other hot-button issues that have threatened major league baseball. Hockey attendance was down for the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings this year, despite their continued excellence all season, due in large part to the state of the economy in Michigan. So far baseball hasn't seen similar drops in attendance, but there's a significant risk that attendance could drop as disposable income becomes scarcer.
Meanwhile, the fantasy baseball industry hasn't tracked along with the state of the economy. In fact, business is better than ever, judging by the experiences of RotoWire and some of our main competitors. It's also a time of consolidation within the industry. Corporate interest in fantasy baseball, led by the involvement of ESPN, CBS Sports, Yahoo and FoxSports has picked up, and there has been a wave of acquisitions and partnerships. It may be more difficult to thrive with a new business in an increasingly mature industry, but those that have established a toehold are doing well. The long-term outlook for companies and individual fantasy players looks strong, after the biggest threat to the fantasy industry, the lawsuit between MLBAM and CBC, resolved in favor of CBC. Existing games and companies can continue to operate, new companies and games can still be created, and the lack of high licensing fees will allow those companies to operate without passing on the higher cost to the consumer. The next big challenge for fantasy companies will be how to adapt to new technologies and ways people interact with each other. As thriving as the game and the fantasy industry both are, it's always a constant battle to evolve and capture the public's attention and imagination.
Senior Producer, MLB Home Plate, XM Satellite Radio
Major League Baseball is in the golden age of the game. Record revenues and attendance heights have surprisingly been achieved through transformative technology and relentless media. Baseball, not known for embracing technology, is leading the online video revolution in professional sports around the globe. MLB Advanced has continued to branch outside of baseball with its online video work and fans can follow their teams in more ways than any other league in history. Opportunities include network and cable television, DirecTV, MLBtv, XM Satellite Radio, local flagship radio, mobile phones, and creative internet means outside of rights-holders’ efforts. Attendance records could be better explained with turnstile clicks as opposed to the usual “ticket stuffing” of the figures, but the numbers will continue to provide record-setting press releases yearly.
The game is not without its issues. Commissioner Bud Selig and MLB have shown flexibility of late by acting in a timelier manner. USA Today recently reported that instant replay will be added on August 1st. Maple bats have become a safety in the workplace issue which baseball continues to discuss. Selig has stated he has “deep and abiding concerns,” and on Baseball Beat with Charley Steiner on XM Satellite Radio, Selig stated he has already made a “recommendation on what we should do” concerning maple bats. The Commissioner has also made it clear that the pace of games has to improve. He recently instructed each team and umpire crew to enforce the rules already in effect to increase the flow of games. In one of the more impressive moves, MLB released information on each club’s efforts to provide affordable ticket options during these challenging economic times. This shows swifter action by the league and a resounding shift from a decade ago to directly reach out to ticket buying fans.
A state of the game overview would be remised if steroids and HGH were not mentioned. Although I was not a fan of the Mitchell Report at the time of its release, it did provide the media a finality to the story of performance enhancing drugs in baseball’s past. Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds not withstanding, the game took an immense step forward in the public’s record of opinion. I do not see the National Football League or other professional sports leagues taking this same step.
Major League Baseball’s media coverage is exceptional and relentless compared to other league’s and the stories from game eight to game 142 are covered with extreme detail as no professional sport has as close a kinship between its athletes and media. This “truth” in media makes baseball the most well documented professional sport. Imagine if a player in baseball was suspended like Shawn Merriman in the NFL or Josh Howard’s admission of drug use during the playoffs in the NBA. In baseball, the stories would have been front page news and discussed for weeks. Baseball is held to a different standard than other sports, which shows its impact as the true national pastime.
Baseball’s historical and present influence on society will continue to make it the ever-present national pastime. To date no sport has as passionate a fan base concerning the sanctity of the game from the designated hitter to the wild card to on the field advertisements and PED’s in the game. With the advent of transformative technology, relentless media, and record revenues along with the recent changing of the guard with new superstars emerging (David Wright, Ryan Braun, Chase Utley) and old superstars closing out their career (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, John Smoltz) this is truly the golden age of baseball.
Director of Business Development for Active Marketing Group, founder of Sparts Marketing. He is a regular contributor Business of Sports Network
Gas above $4.00 a gallon. Foreclosures skyrocketing. Interest rate hikes on the horizon.
Who knew that baseball would have been a telling indicator for the economy’s current slog through rough waters?
The Fed should have noticed that more teams were depending on cost-efficient talent within their own organization, in lieu of spending millions for free agent veterans on the downside of their careers (looking good so far Angels, Cardinals and Marlins).
Governments who partnered with teams in building new ballparks and surrounding developments suddenly found the brake pedal and halted new projects (hello, Ballpark Village in St. Louis).
Sponsors like Citi who only two years ago signed on for $400 million naming-rights agreements are hiding from the Nationals, whose new ballpark’s marquee stands bereft of a catchy name like “The Amtrak Ballyard.”
Looking back, all we had to do was take a look at what was happening in baseball the past year to see where we were heading as a nation. If the Nationals do find a naming-rights partner, if the Cubs and Wrigley Field are sold and if the Marlins and Rays secure all the financing they need to build new baseball palaces in 2008, then we will know that the U.S. economy will be booming soon.
Kevin Kaduk (aka 'Duk)
Yahoo! Sports - Editor, Big League Stew
From my viewpoint as editor for just one of the thousands of MLB blogs on the Internet, it's hard for me to say that the state of the league is anything but as solid as a complete game effort from Roy Halladay.
Oh, people might make a lot about the steroids mess and the disparity in payrolls between the 30 teams, but at least they're talking about it. They're talking about it because they care and because they want to see the greatest game grow even greater. If no one had objected to Barry Bonds' run to No. 756 then you know that Bud Selig might have had a problem.
I think it actually would be hard to make a case that this isn't the best era ever to be a baseball fan. The wealth of information available to us is bigger than ever before and we have access to it within seconds after the pitch is thrown. With a satellite package, you can watch any game anywhere in the country (though not on Saturdays, but very often in hi-definition) and you can dial up any hometown radio call on XM. Want a viewpoint from the other side? Easy, just e-mail your favorite opposing blogger and make a baseball friend you would have otherwise never met.
That's not even taking into account actually going to the game, where you're likely to be sitting in a ballpark designed for comfort and watching baseball players who are taking better care of their bodies and working year-round instead of spending the offseason painting houses to make ends meet.
Do the players make too much money? Yes. Could small market owners be spending more of their money on payroll to create good scouting systems and maybe wisely add a prime free agent now and then? Sure. But when it comes to baseball in '08, I think the positives greatly outweigh the negatives.
I'm one who believes that history moves slowly. I think baseball's post-World War II era, for example, ended in the mid-'70s, and that the era that started then -- I'd like to call it the Kaufman era but that doesn't seem to be flying, so maybe the age of free agency would be more apropos -- is still going on.
What I'm getting at is that I'll pretty much stick with the broad outlines of what I said two years ago: There's been an exciting influx of young talent, and on the other hand there's the whole drug issue, which is complex and confusing and thoroughly boring. The Mitchell Report hasn't really changed that. We have more details than we used to. I don't know that we're any further along in knowing what to do about them.
I sometimes wonder if baseball has sort of lucked into these boom times. MLB has done a great job with the Internet arm, but generally speaking, it still blunders around with a tin ear toward its public, and doesn't inspire confidence that it'll find the next cash cow without that cow landing in baseball's lap. Nor that it'll find a wise approach to the drug problem, or whatever the next problem is going to be.
And yet the game goes on, great as ever. The growing interest in the draft, prospects, the minors and so on is encouraging and exciting. A lot of that is driven by fantasy baseball. MLB recently lost in court in its bid to control fantasy, in a way that was thoroughly anti-fan. And so it goes.
Writer for ESPN.com, a contributor to YESNetwork.com and the New York Sun and recent blogosphere entrant at JonahKeri.com
I'm once again honored and flattered that The Business of Sports Network has asked for my views on the State of the Game. Doubly so given the other names in this illustrious panel.
With that said, trying to come up with another list of "What's right" and "What's wrong" with MLB today, just 18 months after first being asked to do so, feels a little like Adam Sandler's second iteration of the Chanukah song: still cool, but requires some creative thinking to avoid duplicating initial efforts. So with King Felix, MLB Extra Innings, Anchor Steam in San Francisco and other baseball delights off limits, here's my new list of people who are Jewish...err...list of what's right and wrong with MLB today.
Tim Lincecum. Jay Bruce. A view of the Pittsburgh skyline from PNC Park. Micah Owings, the best hitting pitcher since Babe Ruth, or at least Wes Ferrell. Old-timey minor league ballparks. Baseball's next dynasty, the Tampa Bay Rays. The 4 p.m. "I've got an extra ticket at Fenway" phone call. Cooperstown. Edinson Volquez's changeup. A friend randomly giving you a 1969 Montreal Expos schedule. Kansas City, pound for pound the country's most underrated baseball town. The enthusiasm and infectious smile of Howie Kendrick. Chris Coste, the 33-year-old rookie who made good.
What's wrong with MLB today:
The blackballing of Barry Bonds, a nod to baseball's preference of reputation over performance. Baseball writers who dismiss the outsider's view. Ballparks that offer few food choices beyond rubbery hot dogs and stale nachos. General Managers' (and managers') preference of proven mediocrities over young players with upside. Marvin Miller and Bill James still waiting for a Hall of Fame call. Patriotism forced down our throats during the 7th-inning stretch. Saturday afternoon out-of-market games blacked out by FOX. Cuban baseball players forced to risk their lives to play at the highest level.
Regular contributor, Business of Sports Network; Professor, Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming. Former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner.
What’s right with the game is what’s always been right with the game: It’s the greatest game that man has ever invented. I’ve always believed that and I don’t see it changing in my lifetime, regardless of how the game evolves.
Is it perfect? I don’t think anyone truly believes that, although we may differ on the specifics. For example, I think the DH has been a great boon to the game. But many fans who vilify the DH can’t work up a sweat over artificial turf (which, thankfully, may soon be relegated to its rightful demise, at least at the Major League level). To those so-called traditionalists, I say artificial turf changed the way the game is played - offensively and defensively - more than the DH ever has.
Among the business aspects of the game that are right:
1. Average ticket prices, although on the rise, are still the lowest in Major League sports.
2. MLB Advanced Media is a winner. The eventual returns on MLBAM will make Warren Buffet envious.
3. Many of the lower revenue teams are competing with the big boys on the field of play. It takes more than money to win, just ask the Tigers, Mets and Yankees.
4. The higher standards - see the use of performance-enhancing drugs – to which baseball is held compared to other sports is a badge of honor, rather than a curse.
5. The Baseball Network will be far and away the best and most accessible sports-specific network on the planet.
6. MLB’s international efforts – especially the WBC - are second to none.
Going forward, what needs tending to:
1. MLB must keep ticket prices as affordable as possible. The $2,500 seats in the new Yankee Stadium are understandable on a number of levels, but a certain number of seats should remain accessible to families.
2. The revenue discrepancy between the haves and have-nots will grow, not narrow. That’s not a phenomenon limited to MLB. In the NFL, the revenue discrepancy among teams exceeds $100 million. In MLB, the revenue discrepancy can exceed $200 million. If it continues to expand, we may see a return to the times when fans of certain teams had no “hope,” which is the essence of professional sports.
3. Major League Baseball in Florida is in trouble. That’s been the case since MLB expanded to the Sunshine State, and new stadiums for the Marlins and Rays – both in jeopardy - won’t be the panacea some expect.
4. MLB’s association with gambling is troublesome, to say the least. The money available from gambling interests is tempting, but accepting it creates a double standard and is potentially detrimental to the game.
5. In its efforts to protect its brand, MLB should be less confrontational with its fans. As someone with a legal background, I understand the necessity of protecting intellectual property. But the heavy-handed approaches with Little League Baseball and the Cape Cod League, the black out rules, as well as MLB’s actions that precipitated the Fantasy Sports Case, are all examples of confrontations that may have been better addressed through negotiation and consent decrees.
6. Revenue sharing should be designed to create incentives for teams to generate revenue locally. Teams should be prohibited from participating in revenue sharing until they achieve a certain revenue threshold.
Lastly, Bud Selig never passes up an opportunity to decry the present as the “Golden Age” of baseball. And from a financial perspective, he’s probably right. I’ve always believed that the person at the top is ultimately responsible for what happens in an organization. On that basis, Selig, although a justifiable target of criticism on many fronts, deserves to bask in MLB’s success.
Founder and lead writer for Baseball Analysts
Despite major differences in revenues, the competitive balance in baseball has improved of late and is likely to tighten up even further over the next several years. This is great news for Major League Baseball.
The primary reason for this sea change is that more teams are signing younger players to multi-year deals than ever before. This new philosophy should prove advantageous for smaller market franchises and less advantageous for larger market teams because lower payroll clubs will keep their best players for a longer period and organizations that have relied heavily on free agents in the past will have fewer quality choices in the future.
Since the beginning of the year, more than a dozen young stars have been signed to long-term contracts that buy out their arbitration years and one or more free-agent seasons. To wit, the Colorado Rockies made history this year when they signed shortstop Troy Tulowitzki to a six-year, $31 million deal, the biggest contract ever given to a player with less than two years' experience. The Milwaukee Brewers topped that deal by giving Ryan Braun, the 2007 NL Rookie of the Year, an eight-year deal worth $45 million. Sandwiched between those two contracts, the Tampa Bay Rays signed Evan Longoria to a six-year deal worth $17.5 million, an unprecedented agreement for a player with less than a week's experience in the big leagues.
But that's not all. Miguel Cabrera, Curtis Granderson, Justin Morneau, Hanley Ramirez, Alex Rios, and Chris Young have all signed extensions that should keep them with their current clubs for at least the next five years.
Although these contracts are not without risk, there are valid reasons why clubs and players are entering into such deals. Given the historical salary inflation of approximately 10% per year, many of these deals will turn out to be at discounted prices at the back end as long as the players stay healthy and perform as expected. The players benefit by earning more money in the early years and have the peace of mind of long-term financial security for themselves and their families. As I like to say, the first ten or twenty million dollars are much more important than the last ten or twenty million.
Participating teams, players, and fans should reap the rewards of this new trend and that should be a major positive for the long-term health and competitiveness of Major League Baseball.
Sports business reporter, Washington Times
Prior to this season, I would have argued that baseball's biggest problem is still the gap in revenues and payroll between the big and small market clubs. But then the Tampa Bay Rays decided to start winning. So I don't know. Maybe Bud Selig is right when he says the game doesn't need a salary cap.
What's clear is that overall, baseball is still in terrific shape. I would expect attendance and revenues to dip a little this year, simply because the economy is making it harder for the average family to head to the ballpark. But it appears the baseball has managed to get through the drama of the Mitchell Report with little damage, and if anything, the steroids scandal has forced fans to lay off the hero worship of certain players and just appreciate the game itself. And that's healthy.
You could always find chinks in the armor. Attendance at the new ballpark here in Washington is somewhat disappointing. Baseball in the state of Florida is still kind of a question mark. The whole television blackout thing still has yet to be resolved. And the Phillie Phanatic still struggles with obesity. But none of these are problems that will create any wide-scale or long-term headaches for the sport.
Baseball writer, New York Sun
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Tim Marchman)
Baseball is in great shape, probably healthier than ever, but it’s also coming up on a time of change, and I don’t know whether the sport’s leadership will handle it well.
Mainly that’s because I don’t know who will lead the sport. Bud Selig and Don Fehr are going to retire sooner or later, and while anyone who’s reading this site will surely have some ideas about who might succeed them, we don’t know how well those people will do once they get their chance.
Whoever takes over is going to face some big issues. The big two, I think, are whether baseball can overtake football and the evolution of baseball coverage.
The first isn’t likely; football is the national game largely because of demographic and cultural shifts and settlement patterns over the last 50 years. America is more suburban and, honestly, more violent than it once was, which gives football an advantage. If we’re coming up on a time of broad economic dislocation, and profound demographic changes, though, there’s probably a chance for baseball to become even more popular than it is now, central to people’s lives the way it once was and no longer is. With strong leadership, baseball just might seize that chance.
The second is tricky. With ballclubs owning and more fully integrating their own distribution platforms, with a 24-hour news cycle, and with the instant availability of raw information on all sorts of hardware, the traditional model of sportswriting, based around game recaps and columns working off the rhythm of those recaps, is looking increasingly irrelevant. If readers are getting the type of coverage they once relied on newspapers for from the teams themselves, that raises all kinds of issues, ranging from the editorial integrity and independence of the house organs to the actual purpose of journalists not affiliated with teams.
I think that team outlets will prove fairly reliable, that independent writers will increasingly serve as filters for widely available open source information, and that being able to obtain unique information will be less important than being able to make patterns and narratives out of what’s right out there in the open. But we well could end up with a really bad situation, where house organs will hoard access and independent outlets will continue to function as they always have despite not having access. I don’t know how that would affect the popularity of the sport, but I think it’s something baseball leadership should be aware of as a danger, and something they should work to prevent.
Michael A. Neuman
Founder & President, Amplify Sports and Entertainment, LLC
More than a third of the MLB season is behind us and a few issues have our attention. As an agency that negotiates, activates and measures our client’s sponsorship investments with MLB franchises, these are the topics we are closely watching.
For Amplify, measurement is the central issue we’re focused on. We are experiencing the “dawn of a new day” as franchises better understand their role in the ROI equation. In one case, a 2007 post season analysis, using our proprietary measurement tool, the Sponsorship Amplifier™, was significantly enhanced when the franchise provided us with third-party TV visible raw media data. The data was procured and paid for by the franchise upon the insistence of Amplify (and other corporate partners, I’m sure).
After many years of providing corporate partners with top-line ratings and impressions, this enhancement allowed our measurement team to isolate branded TV visible signage and deliver a robust, comprehensive media valuation. We utilized a proprietary algorithm to ascertain the value of our client’s signage, something previous team reports were void of. In 2008, teams have demonstrated a keen interest in understanding our clients’ objectives and have shown a genuine passion in working as a true partner to help attain the lofty ROO/ROI goals we’ve established for our clients.
As a New York based agency, another issue is the geographical development of new baseball stadiums in our DMA. In addition to new stadiums in the Bronx and Queens, we have new venues on the horizon for the NFL, NBA and NHL franchises. Escalating raw materials and construction costs, coupled with run-away player salaries have put the bulls-eye squarely on the back of corporate partners and fans to fund these venue upgrades. A flood of pricier, new sponsorship inventories and economical pressures are forcing multiple team corporate partners to pull back sponsorship and activation budgets to the lone team that best impacts ROI. We see multiple Mets and Yankee sponsors having to make a choice for the 2009 season.
Finally, in the steroid era, it was the long ball that put fans back into the seats after the 1994 strike and with attendance records in 2007 I’m interested to see if these numbers are impacted since the release of the Mitchell Report. Will the current legal woes of Clemens and Bonds match fan and baseball writer’s apathy enough that they join McGwire as Hall of Fame caliber players who spend the rest of their lives on the outside looking in? The jury is still out…..
National baseball writer, Yahoo! Sports
I wanted to focus on something. I wanted to laud teams resisting the devil on their shoulder whispering Barry Bonds' name or castigate players who shave the handles on maple bats and endanger fans or marvel at all the phenomenal young talent today or wonder how in an age of open communication we still get blacked out from games or fawn over the data gifted to us all by Pitch f/x and Inside Edge or wax on about the singular perfection that pairs Rick Ankiel and a baserunner with hubris.
And then David Murphy said something I won't soon forget: "Watching Josh Hamilton is a privilege."
What he said dripped of innocence, the same kind anyone who passes though a ballpark's turnstiles knows. Murphy is 26 years old. He stands 6-foot-4. He has a businessman's handshake and an honest man's comportment. He wasn't going to be anything more than a fourth or fifth outfielder for Boston, the organization that drafted him, and then he got traded to Texas. Now he might win Rookie of the Year.
He plays in the same outfield as Hamilton, whose talents reveal themselves like an Advent calendar. Hamilton was a prodigy, then a junkie and now he's something altogether different: a star, the kind so easily admired because of baseball's nature. For six months, Hamilton is a history exhibit playing out live, and the greatest part is that no matter who we are -- David Murphy, the man who plays next to him, or the fan scraping together nickels to buy an double-nosebleed seat -- all of us get to partake.
Regular contributor to FOXSports.com and Baseball Prospectus. He's presently at work on his second book, a biography of Reggie Jackson.
For the most part, things are going swimmingly in MLB. Let's consider this a happy accident.
It's impossible to opine on the state of the league and not get around to the Mitchell Report and its many fallouts. First, the obvious truth: Commissioning the Mitchell Report was idiotic in the extreme. Baseball had already changed its testing policy and meted out strict punishments to every offender. What purpose, other than keeping frothy, terminally aggrieved columnists in business, did the Report serve? There's a time and place for righteous truth-telling, but when it comes in spare doses (which was all the Report was ever capable of giving us) and disinters an issue that's better left, well, interred, then it serves no useful purpose.
Bud Selig has seemingly always enjoyed painful rituals of contrition, and the Mitchell Report strikes me as one of those. Letting the PED issue distract from the post-season was inexcusable, as was allowing the Report to dominate the news cycle for so long. I yield to no one in my loathing of and disrespect for the NFL, but that league does know how to control the message. So learn from them. MLB gave oxygen--incalculable amounts of oxygen--to this controversy by trotting out the Report. That mistake has already been made. The only thing they can do now is aid its slow, belated death by never speaking of it again. Do that and perhaps the media will begin focusing on the fact that the NFL doesn't care about the physical safety of its labor force or that officiating in the NBA is too absurd even for Ionesco. Baseball's the best sport, and MLB has less to apologize for than competing leagues. The game's leaders should behave accordingly.
Todd Radom Design (logos for Washington Nationals, current iteration Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, World Baseball Classic, Super Bowl XXXVII, Brooklyn Cyclones, Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, all Business of Sports Network marks)
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Todd Radom)
Major League Baseball seems to be rolling along, generating previously unimaginable gobs of revenue while enjoying a sustained era of labor peace that seemed equally unimaginable not too long ago. Aggressive international marketing of the American professional game is paying off too, the inaugural World Baseball Classic was embraced by fans in 2006, and the second edition next March is a much anticipated "jewel event" on the MLB calendar.
The overall quality of play, the emergence of a new generation of stars, and the unprecedented access that the average fan has to games, and to information, are all positives.
In Tampa Bay the Rays have emerged as an exciting and competitive club, but competitive balance remains an issue for historically great dormant franchises in places like Kansas City, Pittsburgh, and Baltimore. Loyal fans in these long-suffering places deserve a winner every once in a while.
Since my end of the game deals with aesthetics, I'll go out on a limb and say that MLB (literally) looks great in 2008. Yes, there's plenty of visual clutter that accompanies the MLB experience, but this is a mirrored reflection of our frenetically-paced consumer society. MLB still reveres its past, and is consistently able to tap into traditional franchise loyalties and fan nostalgia far better than any of its pro sports brethren. This sentiment applies to the visual culture of Major League Baseball in a big way.
The fan in me loves the game of 2008, loves the Wild Card, loves the fact that we've seen a wide range of franchises appearing in (and winning the World Series) in recent years. That said, any objective look at the sport turns up issues such as PEDs and the exponentially mushrooming costs of attending a Major League game.
MLB's continuing efforts to speed up the pace of the game are admirable, but we need a determined and deliberate plan of action that bears fruit sooner rather than later. I am far from the first observer to point out the fact that he grinding length of many games is leaving the youth of America behind. As a Red Sox fan, I'm a guy who is used to sitting through three and a half hour games replete with upwards of 400 pitches, but it's the next generation, my kids, that I fear will lose interest if we continue to plod along at this pace.
When contrasted with the uncertain and confusing state of the world in 2008, baseball still provides me with joy and comfort. In my world there is still no better day on the calendar than Opening Day. Baseball is the background of my spring, summer, and fall, and I still feel a bit diminished after the final out of the World Series, regardless of what team emerges victorious.
Senior baseball writer, television analyst, FOX Sports; book author
(Read The Biz of Baseball interview with Ken Rosenthal)
Hate to sound like a personal envoy for Bud Selig, but the bottom line is undeniable: Baseball revenues have never been higher, and more people are watching the sport in more ways than ever before. There is no question that the game is in a robust state - so robust that business actually increased during the scandal over performance-enhancing drugs.
I remain concerned that fewer young people are drawn to the sport in the past, but I've got no actual evidence of that - merely anecdotal evidence from my three teenagers and their circle of friends (of course, we live in Baltimore, where the quality of the team is one reason for the disinterest). Kids today do enjoy the sport through video games and fantasy baseball - things that were not available when I was younger - but I wonder if the overall level of fan interest will still be as strong 20 years from now.
Baseball also needs to do a better job engaging the African-American community. Yes, there are fewer African-American players in the past - dangerously few, in fact - but some of the game's biggest stars are African-American, and many of them are good role models and eloquent spokesmen for the sport. I've written before that players such as Derrek Lee are willing to do more to promote baseball to the African-American community. Why not use them?
In the big picture, though, my concerns probably are minimal. Baseball deserves more praise than it has received for the development of MLBAM - the sport, for once, was on the cutting edge of technology. Selig, likewise, deserves more praise than he has received for overseeing the sport''s stunning financial growth. Innovations such as revenue sharing and the expanded post-season worked out pretty well, didn't they?
The commissioner often says that he could not have imagined such attendance 20 or 30 years ago. He's right. I don't think we'll be hearing about contraction again anytime soon.
Owner and Author, Baseball Musings; Author, The Sporting News
On the surface, the state of MLB looks as strong as ever. Revenue and attendance are strong. As shown by the constant changes on the drug policy, the union and players found a way to cooperate rather than fight. Franchises like Tampa Bay, Florida and the Chicago White Sox are providing pleasant surprises to their fans. New stadium construction continues, with two new parks rising in New York, one in Minnesota and two likely in Florida.
Tensions loom on the horizon, however. The share of revenue going into the players’ pockets dropped since 2002. Teams now try to avoid arbitration by signing good players young, putting a brake on rising salaries. I recently appeared on a radio show with former pitcher Terry Bross, who was upset with the young generation for not going through arbitration, not using a system for which the union fought to drive salaries higher. I would not be surprised if the union tries to change some rules in this area.
The biggest problem facing MLB is the draft. As originally conceived, the draft supplied poor teams with good players, preventing any one franchise from becoming the St. Louis Browns. Looking at Pittsburgh, Kansas City and Tampa Bay, the system may be broken. Good players fall through the draft because of signing bonus demands. Teams that are willing to buck slot recommendations end up with better talent than teams with high draft picks. Couple that with the rest of the world providing free agents, and the draft no longer works correctly.
Now is the time to work on the problems that do exist. With money pouring in, they will be much more amicably resolved than if baseball waits for the next downturn.
Author, Ranger Fans
"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs." (1 Timothy 6:10)
I'll start off with a theft from Will Carroll. It comes from the first Voices entry of this series.
"Saying what's right and wrong with the game is an exercise in hubris and futility."
Will's right. It's hard to have a good, honest list as to what is right and what is wrong that covers everything, which everyone can agree with. Even if you could make the list, would you want to? The flaws are what make the game. Baseball is a confusing game to "figure out". You think you have a handle on how it should be done, and then find out that you don't. But as humans, we tend to complain about things first. Most of the complaints you hear about about baseball are "too expensive" or "steroids".
The bigger complaint is about money, though. There's lawsuits about statistics (who owns the numbers), so much advertising that the head spins, a cost of parking and gas that is more than tickets in some places, and the price of concessions? Ha! Heck, the mlb minimum salary ($390,000) is so far out of whack with the "real" minimum wage ($12,168, assuming 40 hr work week) that it's mind boggling how far removed from reality MLB seems to be when you talk about money. Everything is about the "Baby Ruth Home Run Challenge", or the "DHL Pregame show", or the "Monster.com All Star ballot", to things like whatever the name of the Giants park is this week, and all that. You could take up the space that all 30 of us are using to talk about corporate naming issues. Heck, I saw a McDonald's logo ON THE PITCHER'S MOUND in PNC Park when looking at it in Google Maps. My kid's bobbleheads have half a dozen logos on them, nothing can get out there without being sponsored. I'm surprised there aren't some sort of logo inside the men's urinals in the bathrooms - or on the hot dogs themselves! We have so much money floating around the game that if baseball gave a religious tithe like Jesus commanded, we could probably do away with a lot of poverty in places. Don't even get me started on the extortion of cities that is building new stadiums.
A lot is made of the fact that it's a game meant for kids, but so many ancillary things around the game are things we have to "explain" to kids is a major hassle. As the parent of a three year old, I'm enjoying teaching my kid that a home run is not just when they "run" around the bases - they have to hit the ball over the fence. If I had to get into why Barry Bonds looks like a horse, or why she keeps hearing the words "performance enhancing", I don't know if I'd try to get my kid into baseball. There's so much business around the game, that it almost doesn't feel like it's for "kids" anymore. We're teaching kids to get ahead, get the biggest signing bonus there is, you'll "strike it rich with Scott Boras", etc, etc, etc.. That's why I'm enjoying Josh Hamilton now. A man who has discovered God, and is not afraid to show it. Good for him. Oh, he's not the only one, but he is a local one to me, so I hear about him the most. When you hear so much bad about the sport all the time in the media, it's nice to hear something nice like that.
What is The state of baseball? The state of "baseball" is fine, despite all the negativity above. The sport is too good to kill, but if you're reading the website this article will appear on, you probably know this already. The most vitriolic complainer will still love sitting out at the park watching the game. Baseball will sometimes go and do something very nice - like the recent Negro League player draft at the recent MLB draft. I enjoyed that moment a lot. So yeah, there's good there, but there's SO MUCH negative it feels that it's hard to find the good (outside the actual game itself).
P.S. I would like the return of scheduled doubleheaders - heck, give me a tripleheader!
VP of CDM Fantasy Sports Corp dba Fanball.com
My world is Fantasy Baseball, so I look at the State of the MLB from a fantasy perspective. It could not be any better! With the United States Supreme Court denying the appeal of our lawsuit with MLBAM/MLBPA, the world of fantasy baseball (and all fantasy sports games) was given a green light to charge full speed ahead. The second most popular to fantasy football, fantasy baseball is responsible for a major portion of the $2 billion industry. In fact, the average fantasy baseball player will spend more money than the average fantasy football player, in research provided by the Fantasy Sports Trade Association. Over the next few years, I expect the revenue from fantasy baseball will grow at a larger percentage increase than fantasy football, or any of the sports.
Baseball has never been more popular with the viewing public. Attendance at games, DirecTV 's Extra Innings package, MLBTV and regular viewing of games on TV are at record paces. Innovations and technology have made the way we watch games more interesting, and have provided the fantasy player with more than enough to feed their addiction. New fantasy games, such as Fanball.com's Pick Em 64 Superstar Baseball, will attract more casual baseball and fantasy baseball fans, and will provide groundwork for these fans to become more avid fantasy players. In the coming years, I see more fantasy baseball games from existing companies and new companies.
Major media will embrace the game more than ever before. They realize fantasy baseball is good for business, something it took the leagues more than a few years understand. The fantasy player is the most loyal of all their customers, and willing to spend their hard earned dollars for the entertainment the game provides. Advertisers have seen great results from their promotions within the fantasy industry, and view the demographics of the fantasy players as one of the best audiences they can find. This all adds to growth. As fantasy baseball, and fantasy sports in general, become even more mainstream, the revenue that this industry generates will continue to rise at a rapid pace.
The biggest enemy baseball has is itself. Baseball fans do not want to be hearing about steroid controversies, or want congress to be holding hearings about how baseball conducts it's business. They don't want to hear about baseball filing lawsuits against little league teams for using "their" names. They don't want to hear about lawsuits over who owns the statistics. They don't want to hear about a possible strike because they can't decide how to share the billions of dollars the industry generates. Americans are very tolerant, and they choose not to think about how outrageous the player salaries have become. They continue to support the game with their hard earned dollars because they enjoy baseball. They enjoy the challenges the game provides, they enjoy analyzing about what will happen, and they enjoy discussing what did happen. The fascination with baseball is part of the American framework, and if they can find more ways to allow the fans to enjoy it, and give less ways for fans to criticize it, the state of MLB will be blissful!
Sports Economist, Author
(Read The Biz of Baseball interviews with Andrew Zimbalist from 2004 and 2006)
Baseball’s remarkable 13-year growth spurt continues in 2008, U.S. economic problems notwithstanding. To be sure, I expect the growth rate to come below 10 percent for the first time since 1995 – sponsorship, signage and premium seating dollars will not be immune to the country’s economic woes. The prospect of two new NY stadiums is boosting attendance this year in Queens and the Bronx, and open pennant races and the new DC stadium are providing additional fillips. Perhaps the most encouraging sign, however, is the emergence of the Rays as a contender. The new CBA, while far from perfect, improves the incentives for bottom teams to invest in their rosters. The Rays and even the Marlins, and others, are spending money to hold on to their emerging star players. Much remains to be done but MLB is clearly marching in the right direction.
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