Other people’s (TV) money


A stir took place on Tuesday in the internet baseball community in response to FanGraphs’ Wendy Thurm rolling out a comprehensive chart of the TV contracts of each major league team.

The curiosity on the topic comes in the wake of big new deals for the  Angels, Padres, Astros, and Rangers, and the absurdly colossal $6 billion deal for the Dodgers, all of which point to rapidly escalating values in this market.

Go ahead and parse through the article linked above. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Especially seeing as this is a blog post and I’m not here.

This is not exactly information that is plainly available on Baseball Reference with every detail nailed down, but Thurm’s work displays the general nature of the baseball TV revenue landscape.

Unsurprisingly, the White Sox head up their own division. Jerry Reinsdorf’s substantial stake (40%) in Comcast SportsNet keeps the arrangement  stable, and also removed from the crazy contract boom. Still, a $450,000 per game broadcast fee keeps the Sox far out ahead of their divisional foes, and reminds that between this setup, and his completely risk-adverse stadium lease, Reinsdorf is adequately setup to return the Sox to the top fourth of the league in payroll when he feels the time is right. I’m sure he’ll get to you too, Bulls fans, at some point.

It’s hard not to view every AL Central team’s off-season through the prism of where they rank in terms of this new avenue to fabulous wealth, especially since I had been planning on discussing how uninspiring the off-season of every ALC team besides the Tigers has been anyway.

Those Tigers are obviously in the heart of their competitive window–ace pitcher in his prime, slugger(s) in his/their prime, owner in his twilight-of-life spending spree prime–and acting like it, having recently added Torii Hunter to an already top-5 payoll.

Their $40 million per year TV contract is respectable, even if their being locked into it for another five years means they could see a lot more teams rushing by them. However, Thurm casts doubt on whether a big windfall would even be awaiting them upon renegotiation. Local support of the Tigers is robust and likely to continue, the value of the Detroit area as a media market is another story.

The Twins entered into deal fresh off of the debut of their new stadium and a division title for $29 million per year. Thurm did not have an expiration date to provide, but with the contract still so new, even being in dealings with renowned money fountain Fox Sports makes it unlikely they’ll suddenly turn being on television in Minneapolis/St. Paul into a ticket to baseball’s upper crust.

In the here and now, the Twins are acting like a thoroughly middle-class team. There are no expensive free agency short-cuts in a rebuilding process that requires them to overhaul their starting pitching. Terry Ryan acknowledged the Twins’ need to acquire three starting pitchers before next season, but so far they have been in on uninspiring, inexpensive innings-eating options like Francisco Liriano and Brett Myers.

The Indians have a similar arrangement to the White Sox, in that their broadcast network is a separate business venture of their owner. The Dolan Family owns both the Indians and SportsTime Ohio, so there’s no Rupert Murdoch-led escape from their $30 million-per-year contract in the immediate.

So far, the off-season makes the Indians appear to be stuck. They appear to be open to shipping out all of their major league mainstays after the disaster of the 2012 season, but their minor league strength is still concentrated in the lower-levels, portending of some bearish years ahead. They’re rumored to be in on targets like Shane Victorino and Kevin Youkilis, but their odds of winning the multi-team bidding wars for those guys are hard to like. For good measure, Scott Boras insulted them.

And then there’s the Royals, locked into a contract for under $20 million annually for the rest of the decade, operating under a self-ascribed $70 million payroll ceiling, and reportedly weighing trading their top prospect Wil Myers for Jon Lester–or James Shields–but also Jon Lester! Lester would at least have a good shot at outperforming Jeremy Guthrie, who the Royals just secured the age 34-36 years of.

There’s obviously a lot of potent offensive talent in Kansas City, but if you entered into the discussion of TV revenues thinking that the Royals management has little margin for error, then you don’t really need to do much more than skim the reading about their situation.

Follow James Fegan on Twitter @JRFegan