Associated Press

Disney to give MLB another $1.58 billion for BAMTech. The players will see none of it.

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Last year The Walt Disney Company bought a $1 billion stake in BAMTech, which is the streaming media unit created by Major League Baseball, originally used to power MLB.tv but since spun off into its own company and now used by multiple content providers both inside and outside of sports. That deal gave Disney a 33% share in BAM and put around $33 million into the pocket of every owner in baseball, give or take.

Yesterday Disney upped the ante, announcing that it has agreed to purchase a majority stake in BAMTech, putting its ownership share at 75%. The price for the new shares: $1.58 billion, so there’s another $52 million per owner, again, give or take. Major League Baseball and its owners will retain about 15% of BAMTech, with other minority shareholders making up the rest. Disney, as is its wont, will monetize the living hell out of BAM. It announced yesterday that it is launching its own streaming service, for sports with ESPN-branding on top of the BAMTech platform, and for Disney content, setting them up as a rival for Netflix and Amazon.

That’s big, big news. For our purposes, however, it’s worth noting just how much Major League Baseball and its owners have made off of its technology venture.

In 1995, baseball’s total revenues were about $1.4 billion. That was for everything: gate, merchandise, broadcasting, beer, hot dogs, you name it. In the past 12 months baseball has raked in nearly double that from selling off shares of a side business that didn’t even exist until a few years ago. Remember that the next time a team owner cries poverty, claiming that he can’t pay for his own ballpark or ballpark renovations or that he can’t keep that star outfielder you like so much when he hits free agency.

It’s also worth noting that the players aren’t seeing any of this money. Which on one level makes some amount of sense in that BAMTech is technically its own entity, legally no different than, say, a car dealership or a real estate firm in which a team owner has a controlling business. Reggie Jackson wasn’t given certified financial statements from George Steinbrenner’s ship building operation and when Ted Turner sold bison burgers and colorized copies of “Casablanca” it’s not like Jeff Blauser got a cut.

But that’s not a perfect analogy because BAMTech would not be a roughly $3.2 billion company if it had not had a wildly successful proof-of-concept phase via its successful streaming of Major League Baseball games. Baseball’s windfall is a function of it moving first and showing that its platform could handle live sports in heavy volume and that it could get people to pay to watch it, none of which was a given at the time. As such, it’s not unreasonable to say that, if it weren’t for the baseball games and the men who played them, they owners would not be raking in these Disney Billions now.

Which makes me wonder what, if anything, Tony Clark and the MLBPA intend to do about all of this.

The union and its players are watching the owners rake in megabucks, in part, because of player labor. While the union may not have standing to explicitly demand a cut of this, it’s been pretty clear for a good while that the owners were making a lot of money off of digital media and would be making more in the future (the last CBA was negotiated after the first Disney buy in, with the second one predicted even then). How have they pressed the owners to get any of this money to trickle down, directly or indirectly?

Overall player share of baseball revenue has been more or less steady for a good while (many argue it has decreased, but let’s leave that aside for now) but, thanks to smaller deals for post-free agency players and a greater reliance on younger, cheaper players, major leaguers are actually getting less of it. The ratio has largely been propped up by big spending on international players and amateur bonuses. With the new CBA imposing restrictive caps on those bonuses, it’s not hard to imagine that the share will now, in fact, go down. And, as we learn more about the new CBA, we see that the owners are coming out on top in more ways than just revenue share. The owners have been cleaning the players’ clocks at the bargaining table pretty consistently of late.

And now we get front page news about the biggest media company on the planet funneling billions to 30 guys who sign the players’ paychecks. Billions that would not be possible if it were not for thousands of streamed baseball games and the revenue therefrom showing Disney’s money men that buying BamTech would solve a lot of their problems. I imagine a lot of players are reading that front page news and are wondering if they are going to see any of that money, one way or another. I wonder what Tony Clark will tell them when they ask.

The 2017 Yankees are, somehow, plucky underdogs

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There’s a lot that has happened in the past year that I never, ever would’ve thought would or even could happen in America. Many of them are serious, some are not, some make me kinda happy and some make me terribly sad. I’m sure a lot of people have felt that way in this oddest of years.

There’s one thing in baseball, however, that still has me searching my feelings in a desperate effort to know what to feel: The New York Yankees are the postseason’s plucky underdogs.

This is not about them being lovable or likable — we touched on that last week — it’s more about the role they play in the grand postseason drama. A postseason they weren’t even supposed to be in.

None of the three writers of this website thought the Yankees would win the AL East or a Wild Card. ESPN had 35 “experts” make predictions back in March, and only one of them — Steve Wulf — thought the Yankees would make the postseason (he thought they’d win the division). I’m sure if you go over the plethora of professional prognosticator’s predictions a few would have the Yankees squeaking in to the postseason on the Wild Card, but that was nothing approaching a consensus view. Their 2017 regular season was a surprise to almost everyone, with the expectation of a solid, if unspectacular rebuilding year being greatly exceeded. To use a sports cliche, nobody believed in them.

Then came the playoffs. Most people figured the Yankees would beat the Twins in the Wild Card game and they did, but most figured they’d be cannon fodder for the Indians. And yep, they fell down early, losing the first two games of the series and shooting themselves in the foot in spectacular fashion in the process. Yet they came back, beating arguably the best team in baseball and certainly the best team in the American League in three straight games despite the fact that . . . nobody believed in them.

Now we’re in the ALCS. The Astros — the other choice for best team in the American League if you didn’t think the Indians were — jumped out to a 2-0 lead, quieting the Yankees’ powerful bats. While a lot of teams have come back from 0-2 holes in seven game series, the feel of this thing as late as Monday morning was that, even if the Yankees take a game at home, Houston was going to cruise into the World Series. Once again . . . nobody believed in them.

Yet, here we are on this late Wednesday morning, with the Yankees having tied things up 2-2. As I wrote this morning, you still have to like the Astros’ chances given that their aces, Dallas Keuchel and Justin Verlander, are set to go in Games 5 and 6. I’m sure a lot of people feel still like the Astros’ chances for that reason. So that leads us to this . . .

It’s one thing for no one to have, objectively, believed in the Yankees chances. It’s another thing, though, for the New York Yankees — the 27-time World Champions, the 40-time American League pennant winners, the richest team in the game, the house-at-the-casino, U.S. Steel and the Evil Empire all wrapped into one — to officially play the “nobody believed in us” card on their own account. That’s the stuff of underdogs. Of Davids facing Goliaths. Of The Little Guy, demanding respect that no one ever considered affording them. If you’re not one of those underdogs and you’re playing that card, you’re almost always doing it out of some weird self-motivational technique and no one else will ever take you seriously. And now you’re telling me the NEW YORK FRIGGIN’ YANKEES are playing that card?

Thing is: they’re right. They’ve totally earned the right to play it because, really, no one believed in them. Even tied 2-2, I presume most people still don’t, actually.

I don’t know how to process this. Nothing in my 40 years of baseball fandom has prepared me for the Yankees to be the David to someone else’s Goliath and to claim righteous entitlement to the whole “nobody believed in us” thing.

Which, as I said at the beginning, is nothing new in the year 2017. I just never thought it’d happen in baseball.