The Cleveland Indians have revealed they face a nearly insurmountable challenge to break even in 2010, even with revenue sharing from Major League Baseball, according to Sheldon Ocker of the Akron Beacon-Journal. Owners of a MLB worst attendance number of 14,382 (which is actually a slight uptick from the last numbers we reported on May 6th) the Tribe are on pace to draw over 30,000 fewer fans than they estimated needing to break even.
This weekend's three game interleague series with the cross state rival Cincinnati Reds should help pick up some ground. And better weather always helps clubs with more customers at the games. While Cleveland's situation is hardly unique, as attendance is down all over the majors, the severity may be a canary in the coal mine moment.
Many years ago fans would joke about calling the Indians' ticket office to ask when the game started to be asked in response, "What time can you get here?" The old Municipal Stadium, the mistake on the lake, was a cavernous park, that felt empty even when crowds that would fill Progressive Field to capacity were in attendance.
The situation in Cleveland is made worse not just because of the overall economic downturn and the tightening of credit markets. As initially reported by Biz of Baseball founder, Maury Brown, one of the big problems associated with the potential seizure of the Rangers is a further tightening of credit for other major league teams.
The potential of a lawsuit involving Hicks' creditors and Major League Baseball, precipitated by MLB's action to seize the Rangers could scare away potential bondholders who could serve as a potential rescue strategy for Cleveland. This consequence to other other league members resulting from an unrelated sale underlies the concerns Brown outlined today to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. The first consideration as Maury points out is to not have the courts limit the Commissioner's power.
However, the more frightful long term consequence is how this unilateral move may affect debt servicing league-wide. Especially in the current business environment, where bond holders and creditors are being asked to forgo their contractual rights, any action that further restricts the smooth flow of credit to the clubs can hasten their financial decline. In Cleveland's case, the edge may be far closer than is comfortable. How much relief can the league extend to their members remains to be seen. But this is the warning.
The Indians have never been profligate spenders, like the Rangers. They smartly secured young talent on contracts that gave the team cost certainty. They were willing to shop popular veterans like Bartolo Colon and let favorites like Jim Thome and Manny Ramirez depart when their price tags became prohibitive. If a fiscally conservative club can teeter on the brink, who then is safe?
Joe Tetreault is Managing Editor of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey. He can be contacted here through The Biz of Baseball
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