SBD/January 23, 2014/Franchises

The Empire Strikes Back: Tanaka Signing Should Boost Yankees' Attendance, Ratings

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Steinbrenner had initially hoped to stay under the $189M tax threshold
Yankees General Partner Hal Steinbrenner "vowed repeatedly that his goal of fiscal restraint would not be achieved at the expense of the team’s pursuit of its 28th World Series banner," and he "proved true to his words" with the signing of Japanese P Masahiro Tanaka, according to David Waldstein of the N.Y. TIMES. The Yankees' "off-season extravaganza will take them well past" the $189M luxury-tax threshold that Steinbrenner "had initially hoped to stay under to reap financial benefits." The money spent in free agency, including marquee signings Tanaka, Brian McCann, Jacoby Ellsbury and Carlos Beltran, comes to $450M, "not including" the $20M posting fee for Tanaka. This leaves the Yankees "with the same heavy-spending image they had hoped to modify." But the team now believes they "have a good chance to be as formidable as they were before the 2013 season knocked them astride." The Yankees' payroll "could again be over" the familiar $200M mark in '14. But that "will probably fade into a footnote if Tanaka lives up to his projection and helps the Yankees rebound in the standings, in their TV ratings and in their attendance numbers" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/23). In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch writes the seven-year, $155M deal is "enormous, given Tanaka’s inexperience." This is the "kind of gamble that the Yankees used to make in the George Steinbrenner era, not the one currently engineered by his offspring" (Bergen RECORD, 1/23).

THE ONLY OPTION
: In N.Y., Bill Madden writes the Yankees "did what they had to do" in signing Tanaka, luxury-tax threshold "be damned." After spending $283M already this winter on Ellsbury, McCann and Beltran, the Yankees "knew they still didn't have a team that was going to rejuvenate their fan base with dreams of October." The numbers the Steinbrenners are "most focused on this winter" are not the luxury-tax threshold or the Yankees' MLB-high $97M revenue-sharing bill. Rather, they are "the sagging YES Network television ratings and the new Yankee Stadium attendance figures, which have been steadily declining from 3.76 million in 2010 to 3.27 million last year," their lowest since '01 (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/23). MLB Network's Tom Verducci said, "The price of this deal tells you ... how desperate the Yankees were to make sure that the park stays full and that they're playing baseball in it in October" ("Hot Stove," MLB Network, 1/22). ESPN N.Y.'s Ian O'Connor wrote, "The Yankees had no choice here. They had to get their man." O'Connor: "You can't tell your fan base that all you care about is winning the whole thing, and then trot out a diminished CC Sabathia as your Opening Day ace" (ESPNNY.com, 1/22). In N.Y., Mike Lupica notes the Yankees have spent $900M in "total contracts in just two cold baseball winters." This is "what happens when those fancy seats near home plate look as if they’ve been evacuated." This is "what happens when the Red Sox win their third World Series in 10 years and attendance at the Stadium is down and ratings are down and interest in the Yankees is down and you don’t have a farm system." Lupica: "Did they have to get Tanaka? A hundred percent they did" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/23).

A WAY OF LIFE: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner writes moves like signing Tanaka is "what the Yankees do." Kepner: "They understand there is a better and cheaper way, they just cannot execute it." The Yankees "genuinely wanted" to get the '14 payroll under the luxury-tax threshold. They have "long believed there was no reason they had to spend so much while other teams won for far less." But the '13 season "changed everything" (N.Y. TIMES, 1/23). MLB Network's Brian Kenny said, "Basically, the Yankees' moves say this: It’s big business and better business to spend big and stay in that championship mix than fall out and save short-term money” (“Clubhouse Confidential,” MLB Network, 1/22). SNY's Adam Schein said fans "always want the Yankees to be relevant," so the Tanaka signing is good for baseball. When the Yankees are "relevant, they fill up other ballparks, people watch them" ("Loud Mouths," SNY, 1/22).

MORE TO COME? Cashman said that going over the $189M luxury-tax threshold by signing Tanaka "doesn’t mean they’re willing to pay an even bigger tax bill by buying every free agent left on the market." He added, "Clearly a lot of heavy lifting needed to take place this winter, and it has taken place. I think we’re always looking to improve. I don’t think it’s realistic to think that there will be more heavy lifting that can take place. But I also don’t want to say that we’re not going to try to improve ourselves. We’re just going to have to realistically do it in a much cheaper way going forward" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/23). But FOXSPORTS.com's Ken Rosenthal wrote under the header, "Tanaka To Yankees Restores Natural Order In Baseball" (FOXSPORTS.com, 1/22). In N.Y., Joel Sherman notes in what was "supposed to be an offseason of penny counting, the Yankees have invested nearly six times more than the Mets." As one NL exec said, "I feel like the baseball universe makes sense again." Sherman: "In other words, the Yankees weren’t talking about cutting costs, they were doing a Yankee thing. A Steinbrenner thing. Good for them for always trying, reinvesting in the product." But this is the "second time in five years they were forced to do this." It is a "horrible business plan, a caveman way to build a roster" (N.Y. POST, 1/23).

MUST-SEE TV? In N.Y., Bob Raissman writes while the acquisitions of McCann, Ellsbury and Beltran "may prove to be solid," none of them has the "potential box-office or TV-ratings glitz the much-hyped Tanaka will bring on the nights he pitches." The Yankees also have "further distanced themselves from Alex Rodriguez." For the "foreseeable future, all speculation about A-Rod showing in Tampa for spring training has officially been replaced by the anticipation of seeing Tanaka in pinstripes." Raissman: "And don’t for one minute think MLB’s national TV partners won’t be looking for ways to feature the Yankees when Tanaka is pitching" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 1/23). Also in N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes the Yankees "aren't just a ballclub," they are "also a TV show." The Yankees are a "far more compelling reality program than they were four months ago." While they are only a "modestly better baseball team," this should be a "more captivating and compelling product." Tanaka is an "exciting enigma whose every start should be Must-See TV, at least at the outset" (N.Y. POST, 1/23). ESPN.com's David Schoenfield wrote last year's version of the Yankees "was an embarrassment." That kind of team "is boring and irrelevant." Now there are "reasons to care." Fans will be "anticipating every Tanaka start" (ESPN.com, 1/22).

IMPACT ON COMPETITIVE BALANCE: ESPN's Tim Kurkjian noted the Tanaka signing is the latest evidence that the "gap between the haves and the have-nots is getting bigger." MLB and the MLBPA "need to have another serious discussion about what they're going to do about this." Kurkjian said the Yankees "knew in advance" they were going to sign Tanaka, and "nothing could get in their way." Kurkjian: "That's just not a healthy thing for the sport. ... Everyone's playing by the rules. We have to ask again are the rules correct these days" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/22). ESPN's Karl Ravech noted the increased national TV contracts "certainly" have "given teams some reason to spend, and they have spent it." Ravech: "It also does highlight some of the chasms that are starting to exist between those that have that money and those that don't" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 1/22). But MLB Network's Eric Byrnes said, "This is what capitalism is all about. As a former player, I love this spending and I think players around the league love this spending” ("Clubhouse Confidential," MLB Network, 1/22). Rays P David Price: "These are the guys that kind of help drive prices up for guys that are making the league minimum and stuff like that. This is kind of what guys play for in their careers: To get to that point to have their choice of what team they want to play for, and he did it and he got rewarded for it” (“Hot Stove,” MLB Network, 1/22).
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