Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr.: ‘The industry isn’t very profitable, to be quite honest’

Getty Images
21 Comments

Whenever Major League Baseball and the players square off in labor battles, the owners attempt to claim that owning a baseball team is not a lucrative endeavor. They cry poor and claim that they’re losing money and argue that if the players do not make financial concessions that baseball simply cannot continue.

It’s generally baloney.

As we’ve argued so many times over the years, baseball finances are notoriously opaque and ownership claims that they are losing money are rarely if ever documented. What we do know, however, is that baseball revenue has gone up dramatically, year over year, for around 20 straight years, and franchise values are skyrocketing, with every team being worth at least a billion dollars. Meanwhile, over the past couple of years, overall baseball payroll has gone down.

If you have dramatically increasing revenue, dramatically increasing team value, and slightly decreasing player costs — and if, each time a team goes up for sale, billionaire investors fight for the chance to join the ownership club — it sort of strains credulity that the one unknown in all of this — team profits — is negative for major league baseball owners. Yet that’s what the owners typically claim.

The latest owner to claim it is Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., who appeared on St. Louis’ 590 The Fan with Frank Cusumano today. He claimed that baseball is a bad business to be in financially:

“The industry isn’t very profitable to be quite honest, and I think they understand that. But they think, you know, the owners are hiding profits, and you know there’s been a little bit of a distrust there.”

Maybe that distrust comes from some of the owners’ other implausible claims. Like the one DeWitt made just moments before when he argued that increased revenue and decreased player salaries are all being eaten up by other costs.

“Don’t think for a minute that the reduced payroll added money in the pockets of the owners, because it didn’t,” DeWitt argued. He says non-player personnel growth has eaten up a big chunk of that revenue growth, noting that the Cardinals have gone from 240 to 400 non-player employees. He says that after “training, conditioning, promotional work, front office, analytics, it’s a bit of a zero sum game.”

That’s fairly rich when one realizes just how much revenue has gone up. Specifics are hard to come by, but it’s generally thought that average team revenue has increased around $15 million each year over the past several years. And that’s before you add one-time gigantic payments like the several billion baseball owners realized from the sale of BAMTech to Disney, when each owner got around $50 million over and above annualized increases. Even if the Cardinals added 150 trainers and analytics employees EACH YEAR and even if each of those new employees were making hundreds of thousands of dollars a piece — which they are certainly not — there’d be far more left over for profit, which the clubs are most certainly seeing.

DeWitt isn’t just claiming that his baseball team isn’t profitable. He’s also claiming that his team’s real estate investments aren’t either.

Referring to Ballpark Village — the Cardinals real estate development around Busch Stadium — he claimed that “we don’t view [Ballpark Village] as a profit opportunity. We think it’s great long term for the franchise and downtown St. Louis and what’s good for St. Louis is good for the Cardinals.” I wonder if his fellow investors realized that they were investing in a philanthropic act of public works? I wonder if they thought they were doing so to make some money? I bet they thought they were making money. And I bet they are.

Finally, DeWitt claimed that new stadiums are, for all practical purposes, non-profit too:

“There’s been talk by one of the angels that teams build new stadiums so that they can generate more revenue which will help them when they sell the team. The fact is, it generates more revenue and the more revenue the more money the players get too.”

Which directly contradicts what he said above in response to the idea of player salary going down while revenues go up, but we’ll let that one go. For now I’m just wondering why anyone would every want to own a major league team given how, according to DeWitt, there’s no money in it at all.

I’ll let all of this go after two more little notes.

The first one: never trust a baseball owner when they talk about profitability. If you doubt this, just remember what Blue Jays executive Paul Beeston once famously said: “I can turn a $4 million profit into a $2 million loss and get every national accounting firm to agree with me.” If you think that’s not still happening, I have a Ballpark Village to sell you.

The second: given that DeWitt himself just purchased an $8.5 million villa in the Hollywood Hills that will, almost certainly, be his second or third home (he lives in Cincinnati and likely has a residence in St. Louis), how much bigger a joint could he have bought if the Cardinals weren’t such a money loser?

Biden praises Braves’ ‘unstoppable, joyful run’ to 2021 win

Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
2 Comments

WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden said the Atlanta Braves will be “forever known as the upset kings of October” for their improbable 2021 World Series win, as he welcomed the team to the White House for a victory celebration.

Biden called the Braves’ drive an “unstoppable, joyful run.” The team got its White House visit in with just over a week left before the 2022 regular season wraps up and the Major League Baseball playoffs begin again. The Braves trail the New York Mets by 1.5 games in the National League East but have clinched a wildcard spot for the MLB playoffs that begin Oct. 7. Chief Executive Officer Terry McGuirk said he hoped they’d be back to the White House again soon.

In August 2021, the Braves were a mess, playing barely at .500. But then they started winning. And they kept it up, taking the World Series in six games over the Houston Astros.

Biden called their performance of “history’s greatest turnarounds.”

“This team has literally been part of American history for over 150 years,” said Biden. “But none of it came easy … people counting you out. Heck, I know something about being counted out.”

Players lined up on risers behind Biden, grinning and waving to the crowd, but the player most discussed was one who hasn’t been on the team in nearly 50 years and who died last year: Hall of Famer Hank Aaron.

Hammerin’ Hank was the home run king for 33 years, dethroning Babe Ruth with a shot to left field on April 8, 1974. He was one of the most famous players for Atlanta and in baseball history, a clear-eyed chronicler of the hardships thrown his way – from the poverty and segregation of his Alabama youth to the racist threats he faced during his pursuit of one of America’s most hallowed records. He died in January at 86.

“This is team is defined by the courage of Hank Aaron,” Biden said.

McGuirk said Aaron, who held front office positions with the team and was one of Major League Baseball’s few Black executives, was watching over them.

“He’d have been there every step of the way with us if he was here,” McGuirk added.

The president often honors major league and some college sports champions with a White House ceremony, typically a nonpartisan affair in which the commander in chief pays tribute to the champs’ prowess, poses for photos and comes away with a team jersey.

Those visits were highly charged in the previous administration. Many athletes took issue with President Donald Trump’s policies and rhetoric on policing, immigration and more. Trump, for his part, didn’t take kindly to criticism from athletes or their on-field expressions of political opinions.

Under Biden, the tradition appears to be back. He’s hosted the NBA champion Milwaukee Bucks and Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the White House. On Monday he joked about first lady Jill Biden’s Philadelphia allegiances.

“Like every Philly fan, she’s convinced she knows more about everything in sports than anybody else,” he said. He added that he couldn’t be too nice to the Atlanta team because it had just beaten the Phillies the previous night in extra innings.

Press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre was later questioned about the team’s name, particularly as other professional sports teams have moved away from names – like the Cleveland Indians, now the Guardians, and the Washington Redskins, now the Commanders – following years of complaints from Native American groups over the images and symbols.

She said it was important for the country to have the conversation. “And Native American and Indigenous voices – they should be at the center of this conversation,” she said.

Biden supported MLB’s decision to pull the 2021 All-Star Game from Atlanta to protest Georgia’s sweeping new voting law, which critics contend is too restrictive.