Should Major League Baseball ever complete its slow meander toward a return, the Texas Rangers are scheduled to play in Globe Life Field, the shiny new ballpark built with at least US$500-million of taxpayer money. It is not to be confused with Globe Life Park, the stadium just down the road in Arlington. That one, quite a lovely park, was built just 25 years ago, about 70 per cent on the public dime.
In Oakland, the Athletics are moving toward building a fancy waterfront stadium after decades of moaning about the creaky Coliseum. Though that building is to be theoretically privately financed, the baseball team is also a partner in the potential redevelopment of the Coliseum site. With the Raiders decamped for Las Vegas and the Golden State Warriors now across the Bay in San Francisco, the Coliseum site is a massive, valuable parcel of land and the A’s could reap fortunes turning its parking lots into condos and commercial sites.
Over in Arizona, the Diamondbacks have been grumbling about Chase Field, their suburban home of just over two decades, and their owners have been poking around downtown Phoenix. They also entertained offers from Henderson, Nev., and went on a non-subtle fact-finding mission to Vancouver. Chase Field was partially funded by a sales-tax increase, which was controversial enough at the time that a local official was literally shot over it. (She survived.)
It is worth keeping these stories in mind as MLB and its players’ union fight over compensation in whatever a 2020 season might look like. As the two sides have negotiated — although that is really stretching the meaning of the term — over the past month, the league has insisted that players must take steep salary discounts to cover the economic losses caused by a shortened season with, most likely, zero paying customers in the stands. It’s a position that has won them a fair bit of sympathy, which is no surprise. They didn’t bank the ticket sales that the NHL and NBA already had when the pandemic hit, and so they say they would lose money by playing at all unless the players agree to cuts beyond their agreed-upon per-game salaries. Many fans look at a proposal that would see Mike Trout’s salary reduced from US$35-million to US$8-million and say it still sounds like pretty good money to play baseball. And it is.
But it’s also ridiculous to think of a baseball franchise as a normal business. They do not exist to simply turn modest yearly profits for their owners, earning X dollars in revenue and spending Y dollars on expenses. They are in many cases cogs in a much larger sporting empire, which are themselves held by even bigger conglomerates. There are real-estate plays, media deals and shopping-and-entertainment districts that are all tied up in this or that franchise. The Toronto Blue Jays, of course, are owned by a company that owns part of four other big-league franchises, a bunch of television and radio stations, and will still overcharge you for your cellphone data.
When it suits them, baseball teams will promote themselves as grand civic institutions, which is how they get fat dollops of public money that they use to upgrade their facilities and increase the value of their franchise. And those values always increase. Fred Wilpon bought half of the New York Mets for US$40-million in 1986, and by 2002 it cost him almost US$400-million to buy the other half. The Wilpons are looking to sell, and even though the Mets have been a gong show for years, the price tag is expected to be above US$2.5-billion.
When it suits them, baseball teams will promote themselves as grand civic institutions, which is how they get fat dollops of public money
None of that seems likely to matter. Amid their proposals and counterproposals, MLB and its players are inching toward a middle ground and a deal they can stomach, even if they cannot stomach each other. That they have taken this long to get to this point is an indictment of the leadership on both sides; someone needed to be the grown up and push a resolution before the whole of the summer slips away.
But if you are asking yourself which side of the two is better positioned to eat the losses for a time to ensure that baseball returns, it is not the one that throws the balls and swings the bats.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020