The week between Christmas and New Year’s means that everyone and their brother will be writing year-in-review stuff. Might as well lead with the guy in charge:
“It was a difficult year, but a wonderful year. There were a lot of clubs that had difficulty, some were
significantly impacted, but
in terms of management, in terms of the popularity of the sport, which
is just enormous, it was a remarkable year in a lot of ways. We
launched a [television] channel which had remarkable success, [MLB.com]
continued to do very well, we draw 73, 74 million people. It’s a great
tribute to the sport.
“[The decline in attendance] was fractional. If you take out
the two New York ballparks’ reduced capacity, we’re down about five
percent. There isn’t a business, there isn’t an entity in America who
would be unhappy being down only five percent in this economy. You bet,
I’m very proud of that.”
Hard to argue with that. I haven’t seen final 2009 revenue numbers yet, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they were down less than the 5% attendance was down, even if you take out MLB Network revenue. Fewer seats in New York, but they generated higher revenue.
More controversial is Selig’s statement that “On the field, it was fabulous. A great year, beginning to end. We had more competitive balance.”
I suppose it’s possible that there are numbers you can run that, by virtue of overall records or whatnot, there was, in fact, more competitive balance. But when your average fan talks about competitive balance these days, they’re talking about big market-small market stuff, and there’s no escaping the fact that 2009 was a year where the big market teams did really, really well. Maybe that’s an aberration, but whatever it is, you’re going to have a hard damn time selling competitive balance to people who aren’t fans of the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers and Phillies of the world.
But when Selig talks about success, competitive balance is not anything he’s particularly interested in. Yes, he gives it lip service — talks about baseball being in such a bad state when he took over and how things have improved so much since then — but the fact is that his greatest success as Commissioner has been overall revenue growth. Revenue, and not competitive balance, is what was dismal when he took over, and that has improved dramatically during his tenure. Competitive balance was great pre-1992 and took a header starting right after that.
If the reverse had happened — stagnant revenues and great competitive balance — the owners would have fired him a long damn time ago. Baseball’s challenge is getting both of those things to improve at once. To date, no one has shown the inclination, let alone the ability, to make that happen.