Ask most people, and they’ll agree: moving sucks. Well, maybe we should preface that by saying, moving sucks, unless you’re moving into shiny new digs. At least the pains of relocating – the cost, the uncertainty of new neighbors, all the other hassles with packing up and trekking away from what you’ve called “home” can be offset by the thoughts of all the goodness in a brand new home.
For Major League Baseball, it’s not too terribly different.
Relocation has become progressively more difficult over the last 50 years. Not since the 1960s Expansion Era when the AL and NL went into a baseball version of a land grab has it come terribly easy.
Even with the last expansion in the 90s when the Rockies, Rays, Marlins, and Diamondbacks came on the scene there was likely ulterior motives involved. Baseball was hardly in the financial shape it sees itself in today, and with the payments due back to the players after the league fumbled and bumbled with collusion in the ‘80s, expansion fees were likely at the heart of the additions. When former commissioner Fay Vincent was asked in 2005, that there is a perception, real or otherwise, that expansion was done to offset the losses incurred over collusion in the ‘80s, he confirmed to me as such.
“Well, I think it’s absolutely correct. Indeed, I don’t think there’s any doubt about it. Look, each owner had a $10 million bill and there were about 26 clubs before expansion and 30 at the moment, then $280 million, let’s say $10 million a club – they didn’t have the money,” said Vincent.” So they did what most would business do, they sold stock, they sold interest in the clubs, in the expansion clubs. In my day two of them – Miami and Denver. And that money, which was vital, paid off their collusion debt. Without it I think baseball would have had a very serious time.”
Expansion, for all intents and purposes, is off the menu for MLB these days. With record revenues the pressure to do so is non-existent, and besides, why slice up the revenue pie or conceivably add other revenue-sharing mouths to feed?
In terms of relocation, the difficulties have increased with the advent of regional sports networks (RSNs).
In the early ‘90s you could count on the Cubs and Braves as being seen out of the local market on a regional and national level. There was no YES or NESN or MLB Extra Innings. And FOX Sports Net was just starting its march across the country with a fleet of RSNs. The addition of RSNs has created a hodgepodge of television territories, some of which overlap, and are guarded like a first-born child.
The test of the television territory issue was brought to the forefront with the relocation of the Montreal Expos to Washington, D.C. and rechristened the Nationals. In that instance, Orioles owner Peter Angelos threatened legal action, not over operating territory, but infringement of television market. To indemnify Angelos, Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) was created. The RSN sees not only the Baltimore/DC market as theirs but all of Virginia and the majority of North Carolina.
So, for the Athletics and the Rays, relocation has become almost exclusively a regional affair. The Rays are looking for a location that is still within their operational and television territory, while the A’s fight over San Jose is based on getting back from the Giants what wasn’t theirs to begin with: Santa Clara Co.
And while neither of these clubs has said that they’re looking at the Charlottes or Portlands of the world, using other markets outside of Rays and A’s regional market as a method for leveraging a new stadium falls back on how hard fought MLB’s television territories are. The Athletics thinking of Portland? Then you deal with the Mariners. The Rays thinking of moving to Charlotte? Then you deal with the Nationals and Orioles.
The best bet for either of these organizations is the Chinese water torture treatment. Play the waiting game… choose an opening when it’s available… bide your time. Remember, it took the Marlins and Twins more than a decade to get new facilities built, and funding occurred before the bottom dropped out of the economy.
Putting it straight, times are tough in the relocation department, and expansion is a distant dream. Take a double dose of “patience” and settle in. It could be a while.
Maury 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 freelance and looks forward to your comments.