A twist on the “baseball is dying” thing: the NBA is killing it!

108 Comments

Saying that the NFL is more popular than baseball is both (a) true; and (b) old hat. It has become such an obvious thing that I didn’t even blink when I heard Frank DeFord say it for the ten millionth time just this morning, and most of what Frank DeFord says drives me kinda bonkers.

But how about basketball? Are NBA people knocking baseball down as a passe pastime? Yup!

Patrick Rishe of Forbes does it today, using the World Series’ low ratings as a hook.  And even though the article can’t truthfully claim that the NBA is a bigger business (for it is not) or that it gets consistently higher ratings on its telecasts (it doesn’t, though see below), it has the big mo!

There is little doubt that MLB still generates more revenue than the NBA … But when you consider that the NBA’s crescendo has outpaced baseball’s in each of the last 3 years (as the table shows below), this lends further credence to a changing of the guard.

And it’s hip!  The article goes on to note that “hip outplays slow,” “progressive outplays blind adherence to tradition,” and “athleticism and showmanship drive brand awareness more so than ever before.” Oh, and “baseball has no hipster feel,” the author says, as if that’s a bad thing. But the real thrust of the argument is about commerce. About how basketball stars have “personal brands” and how they have bigger endorsement deals.

What really gets me, though is the windup:

But baseball may one day (if not soon or already based on the data presented herein) be relegated to America’s 3rd most popular consumer sport if the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and the soon-to-be new NBA Commissioner Adam Silver have anything to say about it.

The “data presented herein” is Rishe’s own caveat-laden talk about the TV ratings — Rishe himself notes that the NBA has had high-powered Finals matchups in recent years, but even those don’t compare to the ratings the Yankees got in the 2009 World Series or any World Series matchups before that — and some stuff about how NBA stars are more marketable than baseball players. Which, by the way, has always been true, even back when the NBA was teetering on the edge of oblivion.

But even then, at the end, he still concedes that the NBA is likely third, pending the big stars of the NBA and its new commissioner actually doing something about it change things. Which … they haven’t been trying to do already? Well, I’m convinced. Indeed, I haven’t been as convinced by a comparison since I read Rishe’s article about how Josh Hamilton is just like Whitney Houston last winter.

How about this:  the NBA, thanks to the recent dominance of marquee teams and exceedingly marketable players, is currently riding a nice wave, not unlike the sorts of waves it always rides when there are dominant, marketable players and/or the Lakers or Celtics are good. Baseball, meanwhile, has had a couple of World Series with matchups that don’t do much for national ratings. And given that there are probably no two major sports which serve more disparate demographics than do the NBA and Major League Baseball, marketing and star power is kind of irrelevant as a point of comparison.

But hey, I know apples/oranges analysis like that is not as sexy a story to write the week baseball season ends and the NBA season begins, so you keep on keeping on with it, bro.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts continues to cry poor

Tom Ricketts
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
10 Comments

MLB owners and the MLB Players Association continue to hash out details, some in public, about a 2020 baseball season. The owners have been suggesting a shorter season, claiming that they lose money on every game played without fans in attendance. The union wants a longer season, since players are — as per the March agreement — being paid a prorated salary. Players thus make more money over the 114 games the MLBPA suggested than the 50 or so the owners want.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has been among the more vocal owners in recent weeks, claiming that the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of MLB has greatly hurt MLB owners’ business. Speaking to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Ricketts claimed, “The scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Ricketts said, “Here’s something I hope baseball fans understand. Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend.” Ricketts continued, “The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

Pertaining to Ricketts’ claim that “the league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Forbes reported in December that, for the 17th consecutive season, MLB set a new revenue record, this time at $10.7 billion. In accounting, revenues are calculated before factoring in expenses, but unless the league has $10 billion in expenses, I cannot think of a way in which Ricketts’ statement can be true.

MLB owners notably don’t open their accounting books to the public. Because the owners were crying poor during negotiations, the MLBPA asked them to provide proof of financial distress. The owners haven’t provided those documents. Thus, unless Ricketts opens his books, his claim can be proven neither true nor false, and should be taken with the largest of salt grains. If owners really are hurting as badly as they say they are, they should be more than willing to prove it. That they don’t readily provide that proof suggests they are being misleading.

It’s worth noting that the Ricketts family has a history of not being forthcoming about their money. Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts got into hot water last year after it was found he had used inaccurate information when paying property taxes. In 2007, he bought two properties and demolished both, building a new, state-of-the-art house. For years, Ricketts used information pertaining to the older, demolished property rather than the current property, which drastically lowered his property taxes. Based on the adjustment, Ricketts’ property taxes increased from $828,000 to $1.96 million for 2019, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ricketts also had to pay back taxes for the previous three years.

At any rate, the owners want to pass off the financial risk of doing business onto their labor force. As we have noted here countless times, there is inherent risk in doing business. Owning a Major League Baseball team has, for decades, been nearly risk-free, which has benefited both the owners and, to a lesser extent, its workforce. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into everybody’s plans, but the financial losses these last three months are part of the risk. Furthermore, when teams have done much better business than expected, the owners haven’t benevolently spread that wealth out to their players, so why should the players forfeit even more of their pay than they already are when times are tough?