Could the Dodgers’ giant TV deal be the beginning of the end for giant TV deals?

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We talk a lot about the skyrocketing TV deals baseball teams are getting from cable operators these days. One wonders, though, whether or not we’re witnessing a bubble that’s going to soon burst. If it does, we may look at the Dodgers’ new TV deal as the beginning of the end.

The Dodgers TV deal with Time Warner is reported to be upwards of $8 billion. To pay for that, Time Warner is going to charge other carriers (Direct TV, Dish Network, other cable systems) $4 or $5 per subscriber for the right to carry the new Los Angeles Dodgers network they’re operating, with those costs passed on to the other carriers’ customers. This is how all sports TV rights deals go. It’s just way bigger with the Dodgers and Time Warner.

Many — probably most — of the customers who are seeing their cable bill go up are not Dodgers fans. They just want to watch Nick Jr. or History Channel or BBC America or any number of other channels. But, because you can’t (for the most part anyway) pick and choose which channels you get, the non-sports watchers are helping subsidize the sports watchers. Again, this is how it always works, but this time the rate hikes in question are going to be quite large.

Joe Flint and Bill Shaikin of the L.A. Times write about this today, and they talk to one former TV executive who thinks that such a pattern is unsustainable:

But non-sports fans and pay TV companies are increasingly frustrated at having to pick up the tab for big sports deals. There have been calls to sell sports channels “a la carte,” or separately from other programming.

The Dodger agreement with Time Warner Cable may be a tipping point.

“That is the solution everyone should be looking at seriously,” said Derek Chang, a former senior executive at satellite broadcaster DirecTV. Such a move, he added, may be the only way to lower the cost of TV sports. “Ultimately the market for fees would then reset.”

All it takes is a political groundswell — and someone talking about how we should think of the children who just want to watch “Spongebob” is a great way to get that going — for Congress to wade in and either begin legislating or begin threatening to legislate with respect to cable TV in such a way that a la carte pricing becomes available.  If it does, companies in Time Warner’s position won’t be able to demand across-the-board rights fees like they are now and, in turn, they won’t be able to offer sports teams like the Dodgers the billions of dollars in rights fees like they’re currently doing.

If that bubble bursts, down with it comes the TV money. Then down go the franchise values, which are escalating due to the TV money sports teams are attracting. If team values go down, team payrolls will eventually come down too.  No aspect of baseball finances would be untouched by it.

Will it happen? I don’t know. And if it does, I don’t know when. But I also know that no bubble in history has ever failed to burst, and that when they do burst, the bubbles tend to take down just about everyone.

Yankees trade Sonny Gray to the Reds

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The deal was much talked about all weekend and now the deal is done: The Cincinnati Reds gave acquired starter Sonny Gray and lefty Reiver Sanmartin from the Yankees in exchange for second base prospect Shed Long and a 2019 competitive balance pick.

The key to making the deal happen: Gray agreeing to a a three-year, $30.5 million contract extension. The Reds will likewise hold a $12 million club option for 2023. The deal had been struck and a window granted through close of business today to get Gray to agree to the extension and, obviously, he has.

The Reds will get a pitcher coming off of a bad season in which he posted a disappointing 4.90 ERA in 23 starts and seven relief appearances. He was hammered particularly hard in Yankee Stadium but pitched better on the road. Great American Ballpark is not a great pitcher’s park itself but any change of scenery would be nice for Gray, who had become much unwanted and unloved in New York. In Cincinnati he has the assurance of a spot in the rotation and, even better for him, he will be reunited with his college pitching coach, Derek Johnson, who joined new manager David Bell’s Reds staff earlier this offseason. If he bounces back even a little bit, the Reds will have a useful starter at a below market price for four years. If he doesn’t, well, they haven’t exactly gone bankrupt taking the chance.

The Reds will also get Reiver Sanmartin, 22, who started in the Rangers system before being traded to the Yankees. He’s a soft-tosser who figures to be a reliever if he makes the big leagues. He played at four different levels last season, with one game at Double-A and the rest below that, posting a composite 2.80 ERA in 10 starts and 13 overall appearances while striking out 7.8 batters per nine.

The Yankees will get Shed Long, who is ranked as the Reds’ seventh best prospect. The 23-year old second baseman hit .261/.353/.412 at Double-A in 2018 and has hit very close to that overall line for his entire six-year minor league career. He strikes out a bit and may not stick at second base long term, shifting to a corner outfield slot perhaps, but he’s a legitimate prospect.

The Reds get another starter with some upside. The Yankees get rid of a problem and gain a prospect and a draft pick. Sonny Gray gets some job and financial security at a time when it is not at all clear what his future holds. Not a bad baseball trade.

UPDATE: Welp, the Yankees don’t have a prospect anymore. They just traded long to the Mariners for outfielder Josh Stowers. Stowers was a second-round pick in last year’s draft. He’s 21 and batted .260/.380/.410 with five homers and 20 steals over 58 games in Short-Season ball in 2018. He’s ranked by MLB.com as the Mariners’ No. 10 prospect, but now he’s New York bound.