Figures obtained by the AP show the Mariners spent $124 million last season – 15th among 30 teams. They’ll open this season around $135 million, an increase largely due to continued salary inflation. Whether that’s enough to end their playoff drought is questionable.
Inside sports business
Some good news arrived last week for anyone worried the Mariners’ profitability might have vanished during another sub-.500 season.
The Public Facilities District overseeing Safeco Field reported the Mariners last year posted a $7.2 million profit despite a disappointing 76-win finish and spending a team-record $124 million.
For those keeping score, that’s $4.4 million less profit than in 2014. But it’s also the team’s second-highest profit since 2007.
And any profit amounts to icing on a big, fat Mariners franchise value cake now worth well beyond $1 billion. The Mariners proclaim every year that ownership doesn’t keep profits, pouring them back into the team.
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But remember, in professional sports the real profit comes from cashing out and selling the team. And keeping the bottom line positive grows franchise value and ensures top dollar from any future sale.
Heck, even when the Mariners lost money — which only happened three times since 2008 — their value still soared. The team was valued by Forbes at $428 million a decade ago and by last spring was at $1.1 billion, not including a stake in ROOT Sports likely worth another $200 or $300 million.
The reason we bring this up every year is because the onset of a statistics-oriented era of fandom has led to a hyper-focused concern about teams getting value for every dollar spent. While that concern is admirable, it’s misplaced given the billions made annually by the sport.
Even when the Oakland Athletics and Tampa Bay Rays claim they need new ballparks to stay financially viable, it’s not like their owners are on the verge of joining a bread line. The A’s are majority owned by John J. Fisher, whose net worth is estimated by Forbes at $2.6 billion.
Rays majority owner Stuart Sternberg has a net worth of $800 million. The Rays franchise, the least valuable in the majors, was estimated last year at $625 million by Forbes — more than triple what Sternberg bought them for in 2004.
Again, getting bang for the buck in MLB is all relative. Avoiding overpayment for performance should pale in priority, at least from a fan perspective, to achieving top team performance.
Felix Hernandez, Robinson Cano and Nelson Cruz aren’t bargains, but their elite performance is unquestioned. If the Mariners fall short, it will be because the remaining roster lacks talent.
And if they can’t develop enough talent internally, it means spending more to get it. Again, this profitable team’s value has tripled since 2006 despite not winning a thing.
For fans, the Mariners squeezing value from every dollar should be nowhere as vital as acquiring enough talent to finally win something regardless of cost.
But every year, some fans stubbornly cling to the myth that bang for the buck matters. They’ll cite lesser-spending playoff exceptions — like the A’s and Rays used to be, or last year’s World Series champion Kansas City Royals.
The thing is, the money those teams saved while winning is irrelevant. Baseball revenues are so bloated and franchise values so high that no team risks ruination because of increased spending. Not the A’s, the Rays, the Royals or the $200-million-plus payroll Los Angeles Dodgers and New York Yankees.
And not the Mariners, now holding baseball’s longest playoff drought at 15 years.
For most fans, rooting for teams is about seeing them make the playoffs and win championships every so often. Not how many extra dollars they can line a team’s pocket with.
But still, this obsession by some fans over cost effectiveness continues and lets owners off the hook.
This past winter produced one refreshing change: A rabid fan debate in Toronto over a Blue Jays franchise the Mariners just replaced for having the sport’s longest playoff drought.
Blue Jays general manager Alex Anthopoulos, whose trades last year helped end a 22-year playoff absence, resigned over differences with incoming president Mark Shapiro. Reports indicate Shapiro, previously known for producing cost-effective Cleveland Indians teams, reamed Anthopoulos out for trading cheap prospects for a pricey few months of staff ace David Price in securing the playoff spot.
Some Toronto fans fear Shapiro will return the team to more frugality after it spent a club-record $136 million last year. The team’s owner, Rogers Communications, is a $33 billion cable conglomerate that for years let the Blue Jays be badly outspent in the American League East.
Official MLB figures obtained by the Associated Press show the Mariners spent $124 million last season – 15th among 30 teams. They’ll open this season around $135 million, an increase largely due to continued salary inflation across baseball.
Whether that’s enough to end their playoff drought is questionable.
As for continued profitability, the Mariners made money last year because of strong advance ticket sales as fans bought into hype about them being a World Series contender.
There’s usually a one-year lag between poor on-field performance and attendance impact. So another terrible Mariners start could imperil profits if fans take a wait-and-see attitude to buying tickets.
Then again, even a half-decent start should maintain profitability as a .500 record now keeps any team in wild-card contention. Also, their ROOT Sports ownership provides the Mariners an additional profit cushion separate from what they publicly declare.
At this stage, making money is pretty easy for the Mariners.
A lot easier than figuring out how to do it while still being good enough to make the playoffs.