28 November 2006

Happy trails, Bud

You could see it on his face. He really didn’t want to be there. As commissioner, Bud Selig’s appearance at the A’s-Cisco announcement was perfunctory. His presence was needed to give the event that extra bit of gravitas, though he certainly didn’t lend a ton of charm to the proceedings. Soon, Bud Selig won’t have to fly cross-country to do these events. It’ll be someone else’s job.

It was thought that Selig would retire by the time his current tenure as commish expires at the end of 2007. Recently, he has given hints that he wants to stay on a little longer. With a new CBA in place and record attendance figures year after year, you’d think that he’d want to go out on top, or at least until he really has to face the steroids demon in earnest.

The only reason Selig would conceivably stay on would be that he thought his job wasn’t finished. That’s hard to believe, since Selig navigated MLB through 3 CBA negotiations, while presiding over the opening of 15 new ballparks (with 5 more on the way), and the expansion of the league by 4 teams. He’s also overseen the introduction of the wildcard, interleague play, and revenue sharing. In Andrew Zimbalist’s book In the Best Interests of Baseball? he refers to Selig as the sport’s first CEO.

It would appear that Selig does have some unfinished business as the game’s CEO. Chief among his concerns has to be the Florida Marlins’ situation. By inserting the league office directly into negotiations with local governments in the Miami area, Selig has bypassed the source of much consternation, Marlins’ ownership. The election of former minor league baseball lawyer, Charlie Crist, to the governorship of Florida has given MLB officials renewed hope for a deal. Kansas City was considered a problem area as well, but in April voters passed a package of renovations for Kauffman Stadium and its neighbor in the Truman Sports Complex, Arrowhead Stadium. The Mets and Yankees have broken ground on their new homes, and the Nats are well along on construction of their new ballpark, even if some of the other details are still being fleshed out. The A's still have a long way to go before groundbreaking, let alone opening day.

So what’s next? National TV deals are set through 2013. Should Florida pan out, there would be one stadium deal nearing expiration: the Angels lease at the Big A. With the home market being LA, it would be in Arte Moreno’s best interest to get something done there, while not completely alienating the existing fanbase. He’s not going to maintain his franchise’s impressive growth in value by moving out of LA.

Perhaps it’s time that MLB truly starts to consider expansion again. Before you start complaining about the watering down of the talent pool, let’s remember that foreign talent has been extremely rich over the last several years and has shown no signs of slowing down, especially in Asia. There will always be marginal players or players of questionable value. Right now, some of them get 5-year, $50 million deals. If you're really concerned about dilution of talent, turn the 25-man roster into a 24-man roster.

There are numerous ways expansion would help:
  • Having 32 teams makes realignment and scheduling easy. Again, let’s look to the NFL. They have a symmetrical dream system for scheduling, with even numbers of teams per division and conference. They have a fair number of intraconference and interconference games. Plus they kept great divisional rivalries intact. Take a look at this hypothetical MLB realignment scenario:

    The four-team division allows for great flexibility. Teams can devote all of April and September to divisional races since an odd fifth team won't be left out. And by instituting the unbalanced-but-fair scenario in green above, every team will be guaranteed an equitable number of series with each intraleague opponent. Sometimes it'll be 6 series (division), 4 series (intraleague "A"), or 2 series (intraleague "B"). No more of that weird home-away-home stuff. The awkwardness that comes from pairing a 4-team division (AL West) with a 6-team division (NL Central) will cease. 2-game series would be mostly limited to divisional play, lessening travel hardships. There are some historical rivalry issues to work out such as Royals-Cards, but that could be accommodated within this revamped framework.
  • Major league baseball should have a team in a primarily Spanish-speaking market. Options include Monterrey and San Juan, or perhaps Mexico City, Havana (post-communism), or an economically stronger Santo Domingo, DR. Frankly, this is long overdue. It's likely that a team south of the border will require revenue-sharing for its first decade of operation. That's fine. Take part of the expansion franchise fee and put it into a fund for the team. It would be well worth the goodwill it will bring to MLB. The NBA and NFL are aggressively marketing in Asia and Europe. Why should MLB keep neglecting its fertile backyard?
  • Increasing the number of jobs could push average salaries downwards. The union will love the increase in ML jobs (50). The owners will automatically have some amount of depression in average pay, since more players will be fighting for a slightly larger salary pie. The NFL’s system works largely because over double the players of MLB yet have only slightly larger annual revenues. There’s little chance that MLB will increase active rosters to more than 25 men. It’s possible that adding two more teams could make teams compete more for that fourth outfielder or starting pitcher, but I’d rather have the market play that out.
  • Holding a city for ransom doesn't work. We've seen this already play in Miami, where the city called the team's bluff, knowing how crucial a market it is to MLB. The Marlins remain in South Florida, and with MLB heading the negotiations, a ballpark deal could be made. I personally am not a fan of the public funding being considered, but I don't live in Florida. It's up to Florida residents to decide the merits of the deal. Once ransom is off the table due to zero relocation candidates, then Portland, Las Vegas, and San Antonio can cease being stalking horses. If they're interested, they can bid on the other expansion team. We'll know which city has all of the pieces in place: site, financing, ownership group, economics. All three of those markets are somewhat small right now, but in a decade all three could be excellent medium-sized baseball markets. San Antonio could even be a fallback option if a south-of-the-border city is not feasible.
  • It's almost time. Expansion wouldn't occur until well into the next decade, perhaps 2015 or so - after the current stadium boom era has officially come to a close. That's plenty of time between the last round of expansion (1998) and the next. This time, the owners wouldn't be motivated by collusion or legal difficulties. They'd be focused on actually growing the sport. Rather novel idea, no?
What do you think about expansion?


Jeeves said...

Are we expecting a "post-communism" period in Havana?

Seriously, there isn't a great place to expand. Portland would seem like an ideal candidate, but it's not like the Blazers are fighting people off at the ticket window. More importantly, there isn't a city I can think of that will be willing to put in a lot of public money for a stadium (a la D.C.). There is a reason that we've never heard serious talk of the Marlins leaving Miami - there isn't any reasonable place for a baseball team to go (save for having a third team in New York).

Anonymous said...

I submit that baseball need contraction before expansion to assure quality players on all teams.

Beresford said...

Once Castro is gone, the assumption is that communism goes with it. However, you'll probably have a long period of transition and infighting. For now the best way to get the cuban market is for MLB to stay in Miami.

Mexico is long overdue for a pro sport. Mexico City has size and (presumably) wealth on its side. Monterrey is within a 2-3 hour drive of Texas' Rio Grande Valley which could be a selling point for an NFL team, but you never know.

What about El Paso/Juarez? And do the Padres get any fans from Tijuana?

New York needs a third team, period. Cut a deal with the Yankees and Mets and put it in Jersey. You could also get away with a team in the Inland Empire of Southern California (San Bernardino), but LA will eventually get the NFL back which could dilute the market.

You gotta think that at least ONE MLB team will relocated if this expansion all comes to pass. Which one?

Jeff August said...

I think expansion is a great idea. I have done researche on markets that may be able to handle a baseball team thinking about where the A's might land.

Hoestly, the best West Coast market for the A's to explore would have been Sacramento in my opinion. But that was only without a 2 team Bay Area market.

I think that markets such as Buffalo, Charlotte, San Antonio/Austin, and Portland have potential to home a baseball team. They would be similar to Kansas City, Tampa Bay, Miluakee, etc.

For this to work, the league would need a more robust revenue sharing plan and a new definition of what "local" revenue is. I have long believed that all attendance revenue should be split amongst all teams. Even local TV money should be split amongst the teams in my opinion.

I get called a communist for this, but really I think it is what would be best for the industry/company that is MLB.

I think the foreign markets are an interesting concept, but I don't see that happening without a radical shift in MLB's current paradigm of local revenue.

murf said...

Mexico City is viable. Huge population and a cosmopolitan core that is very in touch with American/European politics, fashion, and sports. Put them in the American League and send the Yankees and BoSox down to their yard, and they'd be a hit in year one.

Anonymous said...

I don't mind expansion, but I would like to consider going back to a 154 game schedule, both Divivion and Championship series go seven games and trying to end the season before the cold weather hits. The season is ending too late, hence the cold weather we saw in the playoffs this year

Jeff August said...

Sorry for the mega millions of typoes.

MoPete said...

Expansion has one HUGE benefit for fans of small market teams like us: it has lowered the number of cities that could make realistic bids to steal existing teams. Teams like the A's or the Marlins aren't going to do better by moving to Portland or Vegas (both are just Boise on steroids). Once we get San Antonio a team, any existing city that wants to move will have to take a huge step down in the size of their market.

So let's expand one more time, and then we can all settle in and be fans with the confidence that our teams have no motivation to go anywhere else. Right? (please God, tell me I'm right)

As for revenue sharing, if we really have revenue sharing it would serve to minimize the negative affect for a club of moving to a smaller market. Not having real revenue sharing does have an upside, I guess.

Anonymous said...

I do not like that concept with 8 diviions. I really like The Ruzich Realignment Plan for World Peace in Baseball ( combination with the proposal of Jeff August an his revenue sharing plan. I would put Buffalo in the NL East (there is no NL team in that region and the Buffalo Ballpark can be easily rebuilt into a Major League Facility, furthermore Buffalo is still the only Team of the Continental League ( - never played, which do not get a MLB-Team later on) an I would put the "New Jersey Meadow Larks (first proposed team name for the Mets) into a remodeled for Baseball-only-use - Giants Stadium. The Meadow Larks will be playing in the AL East. By the way the NY Jets could leaving for Queens and building their own stadium. everybody would be happy. except George. A Baseball Team would be more than a replacement for the Jets.

Felix from Germany

Marine Layer said...

I'm not convinced that simply plopping a third team in the tri-state area will work for the league as a whole. Sure, it'll loosen the death grip that the Yanks and Mets have on the market, but the third team won't necessarily be a financial winner. New Jersey-branded teams have historically been poor performers at the gate. Are there that many casual fans in the area that are waiting to be converted to a new team? Fandom in NYC is bred, it's in one's blood. At least with the Mets, MLB was smart to market based on the loss of the Dodgers and Giants. In NJ a team would have to rise out of nothing.

The 8-division, 4-team realignment is done with respect to how teams operate. It keeps travel costs low, it keeps the unbalanced schedule that the owners like, and it makes scheduling simple. 4-division, 8-team realignment doesn't address any of those concerns. I like the idea of making the pennant races more meaningful, but there's no way baseball's going to eliminate the divisional playoff round.

Jeff August said...

ML has hit a nerve again!!!

mopete... why San Antonio? I see that as no bigger a market than the others mentioned.

At the 37th largest media market, I don't see a big media revenue stream for local broadcasts. That is much smaller than Portland. Even if you add Austin (th 52nd largest).

I know it is home to AT&T, Clear Channel (do they count), Valero, which would provide some stadium revenue.

Jeff August said...

While I agree plopping a team in New Jersey won't magically fix things... I think that if they tied the name of the team to the history of the state of New Jersey, rather than being New York lite, it may have a chance.

Really, I just want a team named the New Jersey Riversharks in honor of the Matawan Creek Shark. I got no clue if New Jersey teams don't draw well because they are New York lite, I am from California!!!

jrbh said...

I'd go as far as to be opposed to expansion without a third New York team. I think that's critical to bringing down the Yankees and the Mets to the level of the rest of the teams, and it's an economic no-brainer, for TV rights alone. It wouldn't necessarily have to be a "New Jersey" team, either.

Mexico City is far away, and at high altitude -- "And with that win, folks, Mexico City takes the season series from the Rockies, outscoring Colorado 74-71 in the eight games between the two teams." It's an open question right now whether Mexico City is safe enough now or will be safe in the future.

Havana. "Welcome to today's game between the Kansas City Royals and the Havana Fidelistas." Hmmm... probably not. Either Cuba stays quasi-socialist, or it undergoes a brutal, wrenching transition to Bush Republicanism and isn't fit for MLB for a couple of generations. Either way, no Havana.

The romantic in me is attracted to the idea of a Buffalo team, but I can't imagine it happening; Buffalo is very close to Cleveland, and that franchise doesn't need what would be a serious body blow.

I think Portland could pull it off *if* Paul Allen got involved, and Monterrey could work if the Mexican government and investors could be convinced that this is the national team, a point of pride for the country as a whole.

Let's say we add Monterrey to the AL and bring over Arizona to the AL from the NL, and add New York Ex. to the NL:

AL West: Fremont, Anaheim, Seattle, Arizona
AL Central: Chicago, Cleveland, Detroit, Minnesota
AL South: Tampa Bay, Monterrey, Kansas City, Texas
AL East: New York Yankees, Baltimore, Boston, Toronto

NL West: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Colorado, San Diego
NL Central: Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Pittsburghh
NL South: Atlanta, Florida, Houston, Cincinnati
NL East: New York Mets, New York Ex., Philadelphia, Washington

Bleacher Dave said...

Gotta have more revenue sharing to make it work, but MLB seems on a path toward less revenue sharing, not more.

Ken Arneson said...

Keep in mind when you play with divisions that any realignment of divisions will be done with one primary factor in mind: to maximize the number of games each team plays during prime time.

Texas wants to get out of the AL West mostly for that reason: with their rivals two time zones away, they play too many games after 9PM. The more games they play around 7PM, the higher the ratings, and the more money they make.

Jeeves said...

m.l. said:

"I'm not convinced that simply plopping a third team in the tri-state area will work for the league as a whole. Sure, it'll loosen the death grip that the Yanks and Mets have on the market, but the third team won't necessarily be a financial winner."

True; but if I owned a team, I'd rather be the third team in Greater New York than the only team in Sacramento or Portland. Plus, a west-facing NJ ballpark on the Hudson (with a view of Manhattan) would very possibly be better than what either the Yankees or Mets are building.

murf said...

The distance between Mexico City and the furthest current MLB city, Seattle, is 2338 miles. The distance between Seattle and Tampa is 2529 miles.

As far as elevation goes, what do you think is more important to MLB, run production or profitability?

The crime problems in Mexico are almost entirely related to illegal drug production and/or trafficking and would not be a deterent to a well-policed MLB facility. It's not like an MLB executive is more likely to be mugged in the parking lot of a MLB stadium in Mexico City. That type of crime is actually much more common in some U.S. cities. I won't mention which ones.

FreeSanJose said...

I, for one, love the idea of expansion mainly for the above stated reasons. One of the common arguments against - talent dilusion - is totally ridiculous because of vast talent pool expansion and the others can be addressed through things like revenue sharing.

I remember Bob Costas making the argument for a 32-team league about five or six years ago from the standpoint that it's better to just get it over with, and that's not bad logic. At some point, this has to happen - it just makes too much sense. So why not do it now when the league has never been stronger financially and can absorb some new teams in smaller markets.

Transic said...

I like the idea of a third team in NY. However, I think that team should base itself either in Staten Island or Brooklyn. At least those places are still in the city and they are located in areas with large populations or have access to large populations.

I argue that to make the 3rd NY team worthwhile, it must be in the AL, in order to directly affect the Yankees. The two NY teams there now compete against each other for attention more than you think.

Anonymous said...

Put a team in Brooklyn (population 2.5 million) and a team in New England, maybe Hartford.

The Cactus Leaguer said...

The two primary factors in expansion candidate feasibility are metro size (current and projected) and sports/entertainment competition. Two cities are head and shoulders above everyone else --- Portland and San Antonio. Five years from now both of those markets will be approaching middle market status of 3 million+ with only the NBA competing for the sports dollar.

New Jersey, San Bernardino, and Sacramento are also possibilities but they have large 2 team markets nearby.

Charlotte, Orlando, and Vegas are possibilities as well but they have more competition for the entertainment/sports dollar (not to mention the gambling issues in Vegas).

Buffalo? Buffalo, along with many other rustbelt/midwest cities, will be too busy trying to retain their existing population, job base, and franchises to be concerned with attracting another sports franchise.

Yes there are will be issues in SA and Portland but none would be dealbreakers assuming that interested and well-heeled ownership was in place (and obviously from the Expos derby there are plenty of interested candidates).

ML - thanks for getting out front on this issue and your insights (I don't agree with all of your points in this post 100%, but nonetheless they are interesting and insightful). We're all tired of stadium politics and threatened relocations, and hopefully we can move to discussions like this now that the A's/Marlins/Twins/Royals situations are or will be soon resolved.

The Cactus Leaguer said...

One thing is for sure --- all of the teams in your proposed "AL South" (Texas/Tampa/KC/SA) would be thrilled to get out of the division they are currently stuck in!!!

The Cactus Leaguer said...

mopete - have you ever been to Boise, Vegas, or Portland? Boise is more like Salt Lake City's little brother to the north. Portland is a lot more like Denver or Seattle than Boise, and Vegas is --- well, like no other city on Earth.

The Cactus Leaguer said...

One other thing - At the risk of messing up some rivalries, I'd put St. Louis in the NL South and Colorado in the NL North. Having Denver in the same division as Houston/ATL/Miami would be a big stretch.