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Crystal Ball Predictions: What's In Store for MLB in 2011 PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Thursday, 31 March 2011 10:45

 

Magic 8-Ball

There are fewer words that bring joy to a sports fans lips: Welcome to Opening Day. Each season, like the year before, acts as a clean slate. As of now, each team has just as much of a chance to win the World Series as the next, although that may be a tougher thing to say if you’re a Pirates or Royals fan these days.

Each season, publications roll out their predictions for the season – who will win the Divisions, make it to the League Championships, and then into the baseball holy land of the World Series, with one being Champs.

For those watching the biz side of things, we tend to do this predicting, as well.

Each year, I look into the crystal ball, try and play The Amazing Kreskin, and stick my neck on the line with predictions. It’s a silly thing to do, but none the less, fun. Without further ado, here are my crystal ball predictions for the 2011 season.

Love is in the air. No Lockout or Strike – In a harmonic convergence of sorts, the NFL, NBA, and MLB all have their CBAs up for expiration this year (the NHL would have been here too, if not for voting to extend the current agreement one more year). We’re already witnessing one lockout (the NFL), and saber rattling with the NBA and NBPA could have a lockout for basketball at the end of June. MLB’s CBA expires in December of 2011. Prediction for the lockout or strike? Zero percent chance of happening.

If there’s one thing MLB and the MLBPA figured out through a most tumultuous past it’s that when you become partners, you not only don’t kill the Golden Goose, it lays more eggs – everyone gets rich. In fact, I’ll go so far as to say that a new agreement is reached, not in December, but possibly as early as October. After all, the current CBA was reached in October, why not again?

Prepare for an Onslaught of Derek Jeter Coverage – Mr. November inked a 3-year deal this off-season, and is entering the twilight of his career. But, that doesn’t mean Jeter is a washed up story, far from it.

Jeter has 2,926 hits, just 74 hits shy of the magic 3,000 hit milestone. With Jeter being baseball’s most marketable player, and the milestone, it’s easy to say that all the network partners, FOX, ESPN, TBS, and of course, MLB Network, will be blasting you with the “Jeter Countdown” until he reaches the mark. When will that happen? Given that Jeter had an off 2010, and has been busting tail in the off-season to reverse Father Time, I’ll say he reaches 3,000 hits before the 60th game of the season – early June.

MLB.com’s At Bat 11 will be the Highest Grossing on Apple’s App Store – It’s been the best money spent for a host of baseball fans each year since it debuted, and the love for it will continue to grow. MLB.com’s At Bat 11 will be the highest grossing Apple app of the year.

Attendance will be up – The SportsBusiness Journal reported that early ticket sales have MLB poised to have an attendance increase this year, after seeing three years of declines. With the Red Sox looking to bounce back, the Rangers seeing a boost, the Giants winning the World Series for the first time since moving to the West Coast, and markets like Cincinnati seeing a return to the playoffs, the only thing that could rain on Bud Selig’s parade would be a total collapse with the Dodgers and/or Angels, or the Mets seeing numbers considerably worse than last year, a dismal thing to consider as last year was anything but good. The one factor that plays into all of this is the weather, which of course, no one can control. Pray for sunshine and good performances in the key markets in the first three months of the season to get a real feel on how attendance will go.

MLB will have Record Revenues… Again – MLB saw record revenues of $7 billion last year. With the prediction of increased attendance, plus escalators in TV deals, plus MLBAM growing to $550 million in revenue annually, the league will see another record year for gross revenues. How much? I’ll put it at $7.4 billion.

TV Ratings will be up Locally and Nationally – The NFL is in a lockout. The NBA is on the edge of one. MLB is seeing continued parity, and the Red Sox made substantial moves in the off-season making them a World Series favorite. What does it add up to? Expect TV ratings to be stronger this year than last, both in terms of the aggregate numbers at the local level, and nationally for ESPN, TBS, FOX, and MLB Network. If there was a prediction on who would be up and down at the local level… Cardinals, Mets, Padres down. Reds, Red Sox, Brewers up.

The Wilpons will hold on to the Mets… Barely – Back when the Mets revealed how small the seating capacity would be the new Citi Field would be compared to Shea Stadium, I thought that the Mets had painted themselves into a corner. The place would surely be packed to the rafters each night, and while a “hot ticket” meant you could charge a premium, you could only push that so far.

How wrong that was.

The Mets pulled in just over 2.55 million last season an average of, or filling Citi Field to 77.1 percent of capacity over 79 games last season. Compare that to 2008 – the last season at Shea --when they ranked #2 in attendance, drew over 4 million fans, and filled the cavernous old stadium to over 89 percent of capacity. Throw in that the ownership is being hit with a trustee is looking to recoup $1 billion from the Mets ownership due to investments with Bernie Madoff, and it all spells “death watch for ownership”.

But…

I’m hanging on the edge of Sterling Equities retaining ownership, if they are able to sell the minority interest they have been seeking, and do so fairly soon. In that I mean, if there is no minority sale by the All-Star Break, the Wilons and Saul Katz may be forced to sell majority stake. I’m banking that doesn’t happen, which will stem the red, at least for this season.

Jim Crane owning the Astos is a Question Mark – As the esteemed philosopher Yoda said, “Difficult to see. Always in motion, the future.” So is it with the sale of the Houston Astros. Jim Crane, who stiffed Drayton McLane once before in 2008, has been said to be a lock, then McLane pulled back from that saying that others were still in play. Which is it?

Besides leaving McLane at the altar in 2008, he’s not exactly had swimming press over the years. An expansive expose on Crane by the Houston Press in 2006 paints the man as more than a bit of a thug (see Transferring Assets). So, is Crane a lock, or not?

It’s possible that while the money might be there for Crane, the votes by MLB’s owners, aren’t. Remember, even though the sale is being done more privately than say the Rangers, who were drug into bankruptcy court, MLB’s owners have the final say in whether the sale is approved – 75 percent of them have to say, “Yes”.

A lot will depend on the vetting process of all those prospective buyers, how Crane fits in in terms of the amount of debt he will carry (there are new rules that have been agreed upon by the league and the MLBPA that will make it harder for owners to carry substantial debt), and how his prior deal of walking away from McLane at the last minute all factors in. I’ll lean toward Crane landing the Astros, but it’s not a clean sweep.

The A’s and Rays Will Still Be Stuck in Neutral – Sorry, A’s and Rays fans. Your owners will still be pining for new stadiums. Still looking to possibly relocate regionally. Still backed into the cold economic realties of the local, regional, and national economy. Still dealing with the territorial heel digging by MLB’s owners. The 2011 season will bring little, if any, changes from where we were in 2010.

Those Nasty Blackouts are here, and not Going Away – Not to leave you on a down note, but this one is, sadly, too easy to call. MLB will not be changing the policy around its arcane and convoluted blackout policy. Bob DuPuy, who spearheaded the effort to change the policy, is no longer with MLB, and there’s no big push to have it changed…. at least by MLB’s owners.

Don’t Worry. Be Happy – All of these predictions – good and bad – should make you realize this: it’s Opening Day. Of all the things in a sports fan’s world, it’s one day on the calendar that most deem to be glorious. Predicting that baseball fans are happier today is the easiest prediction of all to make. Enjoy.


SPECIAL BUSINESS OF SPORTS NETWORK REPORTS:
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Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President 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, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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