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There is little correlation between player salaries and ticket prices

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With the recent spate of contract extensions and big name free agent signings, more than a handful of fans have expressed concern that deals signed by the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado will drive up ticket prices. Research on the subject is scarce, but both pieces of research I found — by Jon Morgan at The Baltimore Sun in 1998 and Nate Silver at Baseball Prospectus in 2003 — found very little correlation between the two variables.

In Morgan’s article, he cited Allen Sanderson, an economist from the University of Chicago who said, “They are either independent of each other or the causality is reversed.” Causality, in layman’s terms, is one variable explaining the other. If the data showed a high degree of correlation, we could determine that, for example, an increase in player salaries does also result in an increase in ticket prices. But that wasn’t found.

Silver compared year-to-year changes in average ticket price and total player payroll from 2002 to ’03 and found essentially no correlation as well. The reason for this is manyfold, starting with the basic observation that the equation for an owner to set team prices is dependent many more factors than just his player payroll. Things like the team’s current competitiveness and general popularity, the presence of impactful marketable players, the area in which the team resides, and the general place on the expendable income ladder most of the city’s residents stand can all impact the price, arguably much more than player salaries.

As Rob Arthur noted in his column for Baseball Prospectus today, it is also important to consider that Major League Baseball’s business model has changed substantially. Teams used to be much more reliant on fans going through the turnstiles, which results in concession and merchandise sales, as well as other ticket sales. However, with revenue sharing and the league’s lucrative broadcasting deals with the likes of ESPN, Fox and Turner Sports, a team needn’t sell out most of its home games to turn a profit. MLB’s spin-off of MLB Advanced Media, BAMTech, has also proved bountiful. Nearly three years ago, The Walt Disney Company acquired a one-third stake in BAMTech at the cost of $1 billion. Disney then bought a majority stake at another $1.58 billion in 2017. A large portion of that $2.58 billion was distributed among the league’s 30 owners, a windfall that could easily put an otherwise struggling team into the green. (The players, by the way, don’t get a cut of this directly.)

Some teams are raking in money outside of baseball. As Craig noted last month, Liberty Media — which owns the Braves — is aiming to make money through real estate, specifically office buildings surrounding SunTrust Park. The Braves saw a 14.5 percent increase in revenue from 2017 to ’18, yet player payroll has actually gone down slightly. The Braves opened last season with a $118 million payroll. According to Cot’s Contracts, the 25-man roster is currently at $114 million coming off of a 90-win, first-place campaign in 2018. The only notable free agent signing the Braves made was third baseman Josh Donaldson on a one-year, $23 million deal.

The Braves could have increased fan interest significantly by signing Bryce Harper or Manny Machado. The club could still sign flame-throwing closer Craig Kimbrel, a former Brave, or Dallas Keuchel, the 2015 AL Cy Young Award winner. Both are as yet unsigned free agents and the club chooses every day not to pursue them. The Braves have built a competitive roster, but acutely on the (relative) cheap. They don’t need to motivate fans to come out to the ballpark with so much money coming in from so many other places.

Harper, Machado, and Trout won’t be driving up the cost for fans to see them play. If their teams have success, more fans will come to the ballpark in which case simple supply and demand will dictate ownership to increase prices. If one takes issue with that, one’s problem lies with ownership or the general phenomenon of talented, popular players making their teams better and more interesting. The issue isn’t with the handful of $300-400 million contracts having been signed recently.

And That Happened: Monday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 4, Angels 3: I know I wake up kinda early, but the fact that people were still tweeting about this game from Angel Stadium when I woke up tells ya that it was something of a marathon. Fourteen innings with starting pitchers pinch-hitting and all of that kind of zaniness. Not terribly dramatic, though, as it was tied in the third inning and no one scored again until the 12th. The teams traded runs that frame — Aroldis Chapman blew the save — and then played two more. In the 14th Yankees third baseman Gio Urshela, who hit a sac fly to give New York their temporary 12th inning lead, singled home the go-ahead run. Thanks to all of their injuries the Yankees lineup was so anonymous that a split squad lineup for a mid-March trip to Sarasota looked at it and said “damn,” but the Bombers have won six of seven anyway.

As for the Angels:

I don’t know about “all around,” Brad, given that y’all lost, but it’s good to see that fan-pleasing media savvy you cultivated in Detroit has not abandoned you now that you’re in Anaheim.

Mets 5, Phillies 1: Everyone was talking about Bryce Harper getting ejected last night. I know he’s a big star and stuff, but a player getting ejected for arguing balls and strikes is one of the least exciting things around. No one ever gets ejected for interesting things like, I dunno, dancing like Jarvis Cocker after taking a walk or something.

That would be dope.

Anyway, Steven Matz bounced back from his nightmare outing last week to allow only one run on three hits over six innings. Jeff McNeil homered. Peter Alonso was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, which is one of the tougher ways to knock one in. The Phillies have lost four of five.

Diamondbacks 12, Pirates 4: Pittsburgh took a 4-1 lead into the seventh and then disaster struck. The Dbacks put up 11 runs in the seventh and eighth, which was bad enough, but it got worse. Pirates pitcher Nick Burdi appeared to seriously injure his arm, crumpling to the mound and doubling over in tears after throwing a fastball. This really sucks for a kid who had Tommy John surgery back in 2017 and now, no doubt, has something seriously wrong with his elbow or bicep. The Pirates will likely update today.

As for the Dbacks, Christian Walker hit a two-run homer, Eduardo Escobar homered and and finished with three RBI. It was the Dbacks’ ninth comeback win of the year. They’ve won 12 games overall.

White Sox 12, Orioles 2: José Abreu went 3-for-6 with a homer and five RBI. James McCann went deep for a three-run shot. The Orioles’ highlights: two errors from their shortstop, a base runner getting picked off of third base with the bases loaded and a reliever tossing three wild pitches in a single inning. They only drew 8,555 fans, though, so maybe they can pretend this didn’t happen.

Rays 6, Royals 3: Mike Zunino hit a two-run homer in the seventh to turn a 3-3 game into a 5-3 game as the Rays came from behind. Yandy Díaz, Brandon Lowe and Daniel Robertson knocked in runs as well. This was Zunino’s first game back after paternity leave so he probably had a bit more adrenaline coursing through his veins. Which, if he is a new father is actually terror, but let’s be nice and call it adrenaline.

Cardinals 13, Brewers 5: There were a ton of one-run games on Sunday. On Monday we get three teams scoring more than a dozen and winning in laughers. Here Dexter Fowler atoned for his boner on Sunday by going 4-for-4 with a homer and driving in four. Paul Goldschmidt homered — his ninth — among three hits and three driven in. The Cardinals outhit Milwaukee 18-5.

Twins 9, Astros 5: Jorge Polanco had four hits, including a two-run homer and drove in four, Jason Castro dingered as well, Max Kepler and Nelson Cruz had RBI singles and C.J. Cron hit a two-run double. The Twins win their fourth straight. The Astros pitching staff has now allowed 29 runs in their last three contests.

Rockies 7, Nationals 5: If you’re gonna get your 998th career hit, why not make it an RBI double? If you’re gonna get your 999th career hit, why not make it another double? If you’re gonna get your 1,000th career hit, why not make it a homer that breaks a 5-5 tie late in the game and serves to be the winning run? That’s what Nolan Arenado did last night. A shame he didn’t make 999 a triple for symmetry’s sake, but that’s on MLB for not making me their show-runner. Mark Reynolds and  Raimel Tapia also homered for Colorado and Trevor Story extend his hitting streak to 11 games.

Athletics 6, Rangers 1: Toledo Ohio’s own Chris Bassitt tossed five shutout frames for Oakland. No, I have no idea if Toledo claims him with pride or anything. I mean, they should, but I just said that because I looked up his player page and saw that he was born in Toledo. For all I know his family actually lived in some hoity-toity neighborhood in Maumee. Which I guess would be fine. I had a client who once lived and owned a business in Maumee. Nice guy. He’s in jail, but the last time I talked to him he was in good spirits. Of course that was 13 years ago, he’s still in jail and has a few more to go on his sentence so he may be grumpy these days, but at heart I’m sure he’s still a nice guy. Don’t look at me like that. I did my best on that case.

Wait, where was I? Ah, yes, the A’s-Rangers game: Stephen Piscotty homered and drove in three and Matt Chapman added a sac fly. Fernando Rodney pitched in his 907th career game, which puts him 24th on the all-time list, passing Cy Young. Bob Melvin after the game: “Fernando Rodney broke Cy Young’s record, pretty cool stuff.” Get you a manager who tells dad jokes about you. Not one who says a 14-inning loss was “a great baseball game all-around.”

Tigers vs. Red Sox — POSTPONED:

This morning it was summer
By noon a cold front building
Where did you go?
Where did you go?
I got to find some shelter
’cause any minute now
It’s gonna blow
It’s gonna blow
But I don’t mind the rain
So strike me once again:
I’ve got nothing to lose
And it looks like we are in for stormy weather
With death and destruction coming through
Oh, look out there she blows
Now everybody knows:
Stormy weather always makes me think of you
And watch out ’cause the storm is coming through