SBJ/January 21-27, 2013/Franchises

Indians’ aggressive offseason reshapes organization on the field and in the marketplace

Over the offseason, the Cleveland Indians have dramatically reshaped the organization. Among the recent transactions: the hiring of former Boston manager Terry Francona as manager; the signing of popular outfielder Nick Swisher to a $56 million deal that is the largest free agent pact in franchise history; the sale of the SportsTime Ohio regional sports network to Fox Sports in a deal pegged at more than $235 million in addition to a new 10-year TV rights deal valued at more than $400 million; and the change in the club’s designated control executive from owner Larry Dolan to his son, team Chairman Paul Dolan.

Indians President Mark Shapiro last week discussed the changes with staff writer Eric Fisher.


Shapiro said the sale of SportsTime Ohio benefits the team by adding incremental revenue.
Photo by: COURTESY OF CLEVELAND INDIANS
It’s been a very eventful offseason for the club. How much of this has been tied into a larger, overall strategy?

Shapiro: The manager and free agent movement and large-scale trades were all very closely tied. They were all byproducts of the fact we needed to make some large-scale moves. In particular, “Tito” and Nick Swisher represented moves that we felt could be levers that we pull that have an impact well beyond just their individual positions. They’re both extremely positive guys and are talented guys who have had a lot of success in the past, but also have a lot of energy and are positive guys who wanted to be here.

To what degree were these moves made possible by the new TV deal?

Shapiro: Our revenue projections, which were a byproduct of a lot of things, certainly played into our moves this offseason. At the same time, the Shin-Soo Choo trade is a recognition that while we are going to make some strides financially, we’re still not going to move from a lower-revenue team and we still have to operate with an understanding there is nothing more important than us infusing controllable talent into our system at all times. We can never lose sight of that.

Where are you projecting to land on payroll for the ’13 season? There have been some suggestions you will be down from last year [$78.4 million].

Shapiro:
We will not be down. Payroll will be above last year. It will clearly be above last year.

The TV deal folded into a strategy Fox is pursuing but also was a retreat from having a team-owned network that many clubs want. What do you see as the upside?

Shapiro: The benefits of our aligning with Fox, this is a group we’ve had past experience with and are excited to be reunited with. They have a great platform for producing a quality product. There’s also the benefit of incremental revenue, of course.

It’s still early, but how are ticket sales for the coming season tracking?

Shapiro:
It is early. We haven’t really started selling single games yet, but I’d say it looks fairly flat right now.

The Indians have been among the most active clubs in social media, and in Nick Swisher you’ve acquired one of the most popular athletes on Twitter in any sport. Fair to say you’ve got opportunities to do some interesting things this year in this realm?

Shapiro:
He’s got 1.6 million followers. The team, I think, has something like 30,000. It’s a pretty staggering contrast. These, of course, are not the type of things that enter into the process on a strict player-personnel decision, but you’ve got a guy here who embraces a public role, embraces a community role, and this is something that certainly will be a benefit to us.

What does the shift of the club’s designated control executive from Larry Dolan to Paul mean to the Indians?

Shapiro:
I don’t think there will be any change on what we see in the day-to-day operating of the team. But on a sentimental level, there is a tremendous amount of appreciation for Larry Dolan and who he is as a human being. So to the extent we may see him a little less, there’s disappointment on a personal level. But on a business level, this is making official what had naturally transpired over the last couple of years.

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