28 March 2005

The A's small market myth?

There's a good column about the A's and their claims of being a small-market team by virtue of their stadium situation. I agree the assessment that the A's have been holding the pursestrings too tightly, and that the small market claims are as much a sell job as they are fact. However, the writer didn't point out one big issue for the A's - the revenue sharing agreement. The A's are perennial recipients of a revenue sharing surplus, which should be fed back into the organization for player salaries. The problem with that is that the surplus is received well after the season ends. Other teams with large revenue streams get much of their money upfront in the form of suite leases, large season ticket rolls and locked-in ad agreements. The A's are stuck in a place where they'll get this surplus ($19 million this year), but they can't expect to receive that amount every year, and so they can't immediately invest it in new players. Because the amount of the surplus fluctuates from year to year, it's difficult for them to commit to free agents for long-term deals. What the A's have done (with the exception of 2004) was get players midseason, and many of those moves have enhanced Billy Beane's reputation, while giving the team that second half boost. Still, they should shell out some of the extra cash to keep a few of their franchise cornerstones instead of pocketing the cash.

There's also a little dishonesty about the Forbes figures. Since MLB is private, it's hard to tell how much revenue is being hidden by organizations who happen to also own the stadiums, concessionaires, radio/TV outlets, etc. The A's don't have that type of vested interest relationship, so their revenue figures are probably more accurate than the Giants or Yankees. Unless a team gets into major financial straits and gets audited as the Brewers did in 2004, we may never know how much any team truly makes.