SBD/Issue 138/MLB Season Preview

Writers Roundtable Part I: League Issues And The Economy

On the eve of the '09 MLB season, several baseball scribes from across the country spoke with Staff Writer William Cooper via e-mail about a variety of issues facing the league. Today, we offer part one of the roundtable discussion, with a focus on several of the hot-button topics the league will have to deal with throughout the duration of the campaign.

Writers Unanimously Expect Attendance To
Drop In '09 Due To Economy
Q: Where will the economy have the most significant impact on baseball this season?

Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo: I think it will reduce attendance in certain hard-hit areas of the country no doubt. I think teams will likely suffer revenue loss from sponsors continuing to drop out when their respective deals are done because major corporations have to watch where they're putting their money. Unfortunately, the lower-paid employees around the ballparks will likely continue to lose jobs. It would be nice if well-paid major baseball executives and players took a page from the medical directors of Beth Israel Hospital in Boston and reduce their salaries by 10% and use the money to save staff jobs.
K.C. Star's Sam Mellinger: I have no data to back this up, but I'd say corporate sponsorship, depending on the corporations that are doing the sponsoring. Also, I think that attendance will be down, particularly in hard-hit areas like Detroit, and particularly once a team is out of the race. You know, and again, this is just me speculating so it's probably wrong, I could see TV ratings actually increase as fans stay home not only from the ballpark but movies and dinners out and vacations.
Ft. Worth Star-Telegram's Jeff Wilson: Attendance will be down. I have no doubts about that, and as a result, revenues will be down and teams will tighten up in the off-season. Look for more internal answers to help the big-league club.

Q: Given the economy, what are some ways in which baseball could better market itself to fans?

Sporting News' Stan McNeal: I don't think now is the best time to be attracting new fans. I think MLB should focus on making sure the fans it has continue coming to games and following the sport. I don't know of a better way of doing that than making it less expensive to attend. That can be done by lowering the prices of tickets, parking, concessions and by offering ticket/giveaway promotions. Based on what we saw in the second half of the offseason with regards to free-agent signings, it looks to me like teams are preparing for attendance to drop this season.
San Diego Union-Tribune's Tom Krasovic: Have Larry Lucchino and his long-time assistant Charles Steinberg conduct a seminar for all the clubs. Wherever Lucchino has gone, revenues have soared -- Baltimore, San Diego, Boston. Sharp guys. A few other ideas: Sections where cursing and alcohol are verboten; tons of giveaways; figure out a way on a national level to create more personality among the players; create a faster pace.
St. Petersburg Times' Marc Topkin: Two things -- First, teams have to continue and expand offering value since people have less to spend, whether it's a $2 or $3 or $5 ticket, or a concession special package (not these $50 deals with two meals and a hat and a program) but real bargains like a $1 hot dog, or a $5 combo, almost like a minor-league mentality to get people in the gate, knowing they'll spend on other things or at least they'll have a good enough time to come back. The other is to better educate fans about that. The Rays offer some decent deals, certainly as good or better than a movie, but I'm amazed at how often I hear people say they don't go to games because it's too expensive. As simple as it sounds, why don't teams take out ads and just "sell" the value -- show fans exactly what it costs to go to a game, and they might be surprised at the response.

Writers Agree Rodriguez' Admission Will Not 
Negatively Impact Business Of Baseball
Q: Will Alex Rodriguez’ admission have any significant impact on the business of baseball this season?

McNeal: I don't think so. I think the media is more concerned about players' use of performance- enhancing drugs than the fans. That doesn't mean I think the media is covering a story that isn't important. If the media had focused more reporting on PEDs in the early-mid 1990s, baseball may have been forced to implement drug-testing sooner.
Mellinger: I doubt it. I'm not sure how it would. We're past the point of being shocked at these things, I think.
Topkin: Probably not. Baseball fans have been very forgiving, and it's not going to keep the Yankees from selling any tickets at their new palace. And when he does come back, there will be an added hype to see him -- or boo him -- when the Yankees are on the road.

Q: Which would better serve baseball: having more-established franchises such as the Yankees return to power, or seeing the continuance of competitive balance in the form of teams like the Rays and Rockies emerging?

McNeal: My answer to that will be found in the Rays' attendance this season. This is a team that has not drawn 2 million since its first season. If the Rays can get to 2.5 million this season, my answer will be baseball is better served by emerging teams. The Rockies got a little boost in attendance last season but really, they were off the national radar by Memorial Day, like their WS appearance already was forgotten. Generally, I agree with the TV network honchos. The bigger the market, the better for the game. I think there is only one story this season that could transcend baseball and grab attention of non-baseball fans: The Cubs reaching the World Series.
Mellinger: As much as a lot of baseball fans hate it, the ratings and revenues always seem to be highest when the Yankees and Red Sox are playing. Long-term, it's probably best for the Rays of the world to continue to emerge so that MLB doesn't become like women's college basketball, where only a small handful of programs have juice. But in the short-term, it sure seems like people are attracted to big teams and big names.

Writers Feel Economy, Leak Of Positive Test
Straining Relations Between Fehr (l), Selig
Q: Assess the state of the relationship between MLB and the MLBPA right now.

Cafardo: The downturn in the economy can't be helping. Players are signing for less money and getting less security in their contracts. There are more one-year deals and incentive-laced contracts than ever before. There are many veteran players who will be out of the game that would normally man end-of-roster spots which are now going to younger, cheaper players. I can't imagine that the leaking of Alex Rodriguez' name among the 104 players who tested positive during the anonymous testing in 2003 helped the relationship either. But I do think they are genuinely trying to rid the sport of PED's and they've finally worked together in doing so.
McNeal: With more than two years before the CBA expires, I say the two sides are enjoying relative peace. And because of the struggling economy, both sides realize they need to avoid all talk that hints of greed on either side. The public these days would have little patience to hear about players looking to make more money than they already do.
Topkin: Leery is probably a good word. Between the A-Rod leak, the questions over why the list wasn't destroyed, and the getting-more-frequent saber-rattling over a salary cap, it doesn't bode well for the next round of negotiations.

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