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Mid-Season Local TV Ratings And Measuring Fan Engagement

Sports Business Journal published an article on Monday sounding the alarm about the Los Angeles Dodgers’ plummeting local TV ratings. Last season, the Dodgers averaged 226,000 households per game telecast. This season, the average is 40,000 households.

Of course the Dodgers’ ratings have plummeted. The team’s new regional sports network — SportsNetLA — isn’t available to fans who don’t subscribe to Time Warner Cable, because the network has been unable to reach distribution deals with the other cable and satellite companies like DirecTV and DISH. Only 30% of households in Los Angeles have Time Warner Cable and, thus, access to SportsNetLA. But the Dodgers lead the majors in attendance with 2,277,891 tickets sold through 49 home games, for an average of 46,487 per game.

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The International Spending Limits Are Not Limits At All

Major League Baseball’s signing period for international prospects kicked off on Wednesday and will continue until June 15, 2015. Teams may sign players residing outside the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico who have or will turn 16 by September 1 of this year. Just a few years ago, teams were allowed to spend as much as they wanted to develop and sign international prospects. That all changed with the current collective bargaining agreement, which went into effect in 2012.

The CBA imposes bonus pool limits on international signings. The team with the worst winning percentage in the prior year receives the largest bonus pool for the next year. The team with the best winning percentage receives the smallest. The remaining 28 teams fall in between, again according to their winning percentage from the prior season. International players who are 23 years of age or older, and have played professional baseball for five or more years, are exempt from the bonus pool limits. Click here for the list of bonus pools by team, with the Houston Astros on top with $5,015,400 and the St. Louis Cardinals at the bottom with $1,866,300.

In additional to the bonus pools, MLB also assigns slot values for international prospects, even though there is no international draft. But the slot values are tradeable, and are therefore valuable for teams looking to spend more on international prospects than their assigned bonus pool would allow. A team can trade for up to 50% of its bonus pool, but it must trade for a specific slot value. For example, a team with a $4 million bonus pool can trade for up to $2 million in pool space, but it must receive in return specific slot values that add up to $2 million, or less. Click here for the list of 120 slot values assigned to each team. The Astros have the top slot value of $3,300,900 and the Cardinals have the lowest at $137,600.

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Athletics To Play In Oakland At Least 10 More Years — Or Not

For years, the baseball world has been waiting for Commissioner Bud Selig to say something definitive about a new home for the Oakland Athletics. On Wednesday, he finally did. The reaction was anything but definitive.

The A’s have been negotiating a lease extension with the Oakland-Alameda County Joint Powers Authority, the entity that operates the Oakland Coliseum complex. The current lease expires at the end of this next season. Despite all the problems at Coliseum — the sewage, the water leaks, the outdated scoreboard — the A’s need a lease extension because they have no where else to play for the foreseeable future.

Lew Wolff and Gap Inc. heir John Fischer led an investor group that bought the A’s in 2005. Wolff is the managing partner and the public face on the team’s efforts to locate, finance and build a new ballpark — efforts which so far have been unsuccessful. .

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Trafficking in Cuban Ballplayers: A Look at Florida’s New Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed a bill into law on Friday that gives local governments access to $13 million annually in funding for the construction or renovation of a professional sports facility. To be eligible, the sports facility must be owned and operated by a local government or owned by a private entity that’s located on land owned by a local government.

Under the general terms of the new law, the Tampa Bay Rays would be eligible as a beneficiary of the new funding stream, as Tropicana Field is owned by the City of St. Petersburg. Same for the Miami Marlins, which play in a ballpark built largely with Miami-Dade County bonds. Then there are the nine teams that play in spring training facilities in Florida (Phillies, Blue Jays, Astros, Rigers, Rays, Pirates, Orioles, Mets and Twins) and the 14 minor league teams in Florida that play in a ballpark owned by — or on land owned by — the local government.

But an amendment to the bill added as it made its way through the Florida legislature carves out facilities used by MLB and MiLB franchises unless and until MLB changes its rules to permit Cuban ballplayers to sign as free agents if they defect from Cuba directly to the United States. Under current rules, MLB requires players to defect and establish residency in a non-U.S. country before coming to the United States to sign as a free agent.

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Ryan Zimmerman Is Enjoying Left Field, But Third Base Looms

Left field at AT&T Park in San Francisco is spacious — but compared to center field and right field, it’s not terribly complicated. No unusually high brick walls; no tricky angles. After Barry Bonds left the team, the Giants rotated some pretty mediocre defenders through left (and towards the end, Bonds was pretty mediocre himself). If the left fielder could hit, he’d probably be an overall plus, despite subpar range or weak arm. Think Pat Burrell in 2010.

The Washington Nationals’ four-game series in San Francisco this week, then, couldn’t have worked out better for new left fielder Ryan Zimmerman. The former Gold Glove third baseman made his first start in left on June 3 after returning from a 51-day stint on the disabled list for a broken right thumb. Zimmerman’s in left because Bryce Harper went down with his own thumb injury that is expected to keep him off the field until July. The Nationals moved Anthony Rendon to third — his natural position — and Danny Espinosa came off the bench to retake his old job at second. Before Zimmerman, Tyler Moore and Nate McLouth rotated in left and posted an 88 wRC+ and 58 wRC+, respectively.

But there’s much more to it. Zimmerman has been battling an arthritic condition in his right shoulder since 2012 and the injury has significantly affected his throwing motion. From 2007 through the 2011 season, Zimmerman had two of the top 10 defensive seasons for third baseman in the league, as measured by Defensive Runs Saved. Cumulatively, the only third baseman better than Zimmerman in those five seasons were Evan Longoria, Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen, again using DRS.

That all changed with the shoulder injury in 2012. A cortisone shot allowed him to play through pain — and he delivered at the plate to the tune of a .352 wOBA and 121 wRC+ — but his defense suffered. He and the Nationals hoped off-season surgery would alleviate the pain and the effects of the injury on his throwing motion, but 2013 wasn’t much better from the hot corner. Zimmerman’s cumulative DRS from 2007 through 2011 was +55; in 2012 and 2013, it dropped to -2.

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Getting Ready for the 2014 Amateur Draft

Major League Baseball will hold it’s Rule 4 amateur draft on this week, with the main action on Thursday, June 5. MLB Network and will broadcast and stream, respectively, pick-by-pick coverage of the first four rounds: Round One, Competitive Balance Round A, Round Two, and Competitive Balance Round B. In essence, the top 74 spots. The draft will continue untelevised on Friday and Saturday.

This is the second year for the new draft rules that were implemented as part of the collective bargaining agreement inked at the end of 2011. Before last’s year’s draft, I wrote a two-parter on the new rules. Part I (here) discussed the changes to the free-agent compensation system and the competitive balance draft picks. Note that the qualifying offer price after the 2013 season was $14.1 million. Part 2 (here) explained the new draft slot values (the amount a team can spend on each particular draft pick, with the most money going to the number one pick) and the new draft bonus pools (the total amount each team can spend in the Rule 4 draft). If you’re unfamiliar with the new rules, or just need a refresher, take a look at last year’s posts before reading on.

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MLB Strongly Defends Local Broadcast Territories In Court

Major League Baseball asked a federal court this week to toss out claims by several fans that the league’s broadcast territories violate antitrust laws. The fans claim that MLB’s divvying up of the United States and Canada into exclusive broadcast markets means that regional sports networks need not compete with each other to telecast a team’s games in the local market. Plaintiffs also allege that MLB has a monopoly over broadcast packages of out-of-market games through Extra Innings and, and that MLB uses that monopoly for anti-competitive purposes by imposing blackouts on local games. My initial post explaining the lawsuit is here.

This week, MLB filed a motion for summary judgment with U.S. District Judge Shira Scheindlin, who is presiding over the case in Manhattan. Under federal procedure rules, a party can file a summary judgment motion to argue that under a set of undisputed facts, the other side’s claims (or defenses) are legally untenable, and therefore a trial on those claims (or defenses ) is unnecessary. You can read a copy of the motion here.  

Note that several parts of the motion are redacted, which means they refer to MLB’s confidential business information. From what I can discern, most of the redactions relate to MLB’s national TV contracts and what would happen to those contracts should the plaintiffs succeed in blowing up the exclusive local markets. The evidence in support of the motion — documents and pre-trial testimony — is even more off limits, with much of it filed under seal. That means only court and the attorneys have access to it. The public does not.

Still, even with the redactions and the filings under seal, MLB’s position is clear.

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Financial Cost Of Tommy John Surgery To Young Pitchers

Jose Fernandez. Patrick Corbin. Jarrod Parker. A.J. Griffin. Luke Hochevar. Matt Moore. Brandon Beachy. Cory Luebke. Bruce Rondon. Bobby Parnell. Kris Medlen. Ivan Nova. And now Martin Perez. Top and mid-tier pitchers in the early stages of their professional careers who have had Tommy John surgery this season, or in the case of Perez, are about to have it. Then there’s Matt Harvey, Jonny Venters, Dylan Bundy, Alex White and Eric O’Flaherty, who went under the Tommy John knife last season. For these pitchers, the surgery and rehabilitation will consume critical service time in their careers when they would otherwise be building up value for their arbitration-eligible seasons or free agency.

So while we lament the loss of these talents to our favorite team and to the game, the players face a troubling question: how will Tommy John surgery and the typical 12-18 month recovery time affect their short-term earning power?

Let’s start with the “lucky ones”: Matt Moore, Martin Perez, Cory Luebke and Dylan Bundy.

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MLB’s Attack On Fan-Created Podcasts

At the request of Major League Baseball Advanced Media, Apple removed several baseball-related podcasts from iTunes on Wednesday. HardballTalk broke the news Wednesday morning when Aaron Gleeman, one of HBT’s lead writers, learned that his Minnesota Twins-related podcast known as “Gleeman and the Gleek” had been taken down by Apple. By midday, the list had grown to include another Twins-related podcast “Talk to Contact,” a Yankees-themed podcast on the site “It’s About The Money, Stupid,” and the Cubs-centered podcast on “Bleacher Nation,” among others. Awful Announcing catalogued the reaction on social media, which was swift, fierce and uniformly negative.

MLBAM publicly released the letter it Apple after news of the podcast takedowns spread. HardballTalk published it:

As we have done in the past, yesterday we notified Apple about certain podcasts on the iTunes Store whose titles and/or thumbnails include infringing uses of trademarks of Major League Baseball and certain Clubs.  And, as we have done in the past, we asked Apple to have these trademarks removed from the podcast titles and thumbnails. Although we did not ask for or seek to have any podcast removed from the Store, it has come to our attention that Apple removed them.   Given our many years of experience in notifying Apple about trademark issues on the Store, we trust that removing the podcasts was an oversight, and ask that you please look into this matter as soon as possible.

Thank you for your cooperation.

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At the Ballpark: Race, Community and MLB

Race, racism and sports have been at the top of the news cycle for several weeks, thanks to Donald Sterling. But if you look deep enough, they’re in the news cycle every day.

The undercurrent bubbled to the surface among baseball writers this week, when San Francisco Giants beat writer Andrew Baggarly of Comcast SportsNet Bay Area penned a column lamenting the Atlanta Braves’ decision to leave 20-year-old Turner Field in downtown Atlanta at the end of the 2016 season for a shiny new ballpark to built at considerable taxpayer expense in Cobb County, a suburb just north of the city limits. Baggarly didn’t pull punches.

If the grading and construction and everything else goes to schedule, the Braves will make their white-flight move – and yes, that’s precisely what it is — in 2017.

This is outrageous. I don’t live within 2,000 miles of Atlanta and I am outraged.


Why are the Braves moving? Braves president John Schuerholz, in a taped statement that sounded thoroughly vetted and polished, cited difficulty with fan access at Turner Field along with lease that is expiring in three years and explained how millions in upgrades wouldn’t have come close to “improving the fan experience.”

“We wanted to find a location that is great for our fans, makes getting to and from the stadium much easier, and provides a first rate experience in and around our stadium,” he said.

I’ll leave you to wonder which fans they care about.


The Braves’ new ballpark might make financial sense. It might be too sweetheart to turn down. But every baseball ownership group should see itself as stewards for the franchise and the community, both those who are economically important and those who are less so. And that’s what makes this wasteful flight to Cobb County such a disappointment. It just feels wrong.

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