SBJ/April 2-8, 2012/In Depth

Keep an eye on ...

Major League Baseball is arguably in its strongest position ever with attendance at historically high levels, a new five-year labor deal in place, and competitive balance leveling the playing field. But MLB is still grappling with numerous pressing issues as the new season unfolds. Here’s a look at what to watch for in 2012.

A new era in Dodgertown

With a purchase price of $2 billion, the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers (set to close at the end of the month) is by far the most expensive for any North American pro sports team and will bring the Frank McCourt ownership era to an end. All eyes will now be on the new Dodgers owners, a group led by Magic Johnson and former Nationals and Braves President Stan Kasten, who will look to use the team’s massive popularity and a huge TV rights haul soon to create an economic juggernaut that resembles a West Coast version of the New York Yankees.

Where goes the 2013 All-Star Game?
It’s a mere 15 months until the 2013 All-Star Game, and
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there is still no announced host city and ballpark for the event. Typically, the league names its All-Star Game hosts two to three years in advance, providing lead time to coordinate the run of events connected to the midsummer classic. But MLB is believed to still be negotiating with New York City officials to hold next year’s game at Citi Field. Similar to the 2008 game at the former Yankee Stadium, the All-Star Game in New York presents complex logistics. The talks are said to be unrelated to the financial and legal woes that have enveloped Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz. But with those club issues getting resolved and lead time to the game getting short, the league will soon need to make an announcement.

Back on the global stage
The third World Baseball Classic does not commence
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until early next year. But this fall will see the arrival of a new qualifying round for the 2013 tournament, a key instrument in expanding the sport’s foremost global tournament from 16 teams to 28. The new teams set to compete include several areas critical to baseball’s overseas business, including Germany and Spain. By operating around the main MLB schedule, the WBC presents a delicate balancing act in terms of managing player needs and being as inclusive as possible. But with baseball still not an Olympic sport, the WBC remains a crucial endeavor for co-owners MLB and the MLB Players Association, and the sport at large.

Fan Cave, Part II
As any movie buff knows, sequels of
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successful films are difficult to pull off well. But MLB is looking to build on the success of its social media-infused Fan Cave effort of 2011. With the new benefit of time and preparation after last year’s frantically constructed plan, the 2012 Fan Cave will feature a nine-member cast of varied genders and races, far more player involvement, additional integration with traditional media, and a reality show-type format in which participants will be voted off during the season.

Padres pandemonium
There’s no need for Ringling Bros., as the circus is already in town in San Diego. A seemingly done deal for team Vice Chairman Jeff Moorad to assume control of the Padres from Chairman John Moores — one several years in the making — is now in significant doubt as Moorad has relinquished the chief executive title and withdrawn his bid to become the club’s designated control executive. Apparently at issue are objections several team owners have with Moorad becoming a full member of the MLB fraternity. At this point, the saga presents more questions than answers, including who eventually will own this team and what, if anything, becomes of Moorad’s existing 49 percent equity share.

A’s still waiting
A year ago, the league’s ongoing study on the
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Oakland A’s stadium situation was stunningly entering a third year and impatience was rising across the game. Fast forward to the present, and little has changed. The A’s are still a dead team walking in the O.Co Coliseum, the study is now into year four, and there is still no league direction on how the fierce territorial battle between the A’s and San Francisco Giants over San Jose, the A’s desired relocation spot, will be resolved. A new element is public and angry sparring between the two clubs, further evidence that the situation has moved from running joke to industry travesty.

Draft choices
The first-year player entry draft was quickly spotted early last year as a key issue in collective-bargaining talks between the league and MLB Players Association. And once the deal arrived in November, big changes indeed were present. Teams are now subject to signing bonus pools that will cap aggregate spending on draft picks. Exceeding those thresholds will subject clubs to stiff penalties, peaking at a $1 fine for every dollar over the limit and the loss of two future first-round picks. The June draft will present the first tangible evidence of how teams react to the new limits.

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