As regular readers know, we at SbB are quite certain that a bloodbath looms for many, many franchises out there. The combination of a history of outrageous salaries and a worsening economic climate means that all of a sudden, there probably aren’t 30 teams in any sport (with the possible exception of the NFL) who can all be both competitive and profitable. In instances like hockey, it may not even be close.
But though our earlier musings have focused primarily on the NBA and NHL, it’s definitely worth noting that the largest economic disparities in major sport occur in baseball, and while those small-market teams haven’t historically shown major signs of distress (unless they’re, say, the Expos), these are unprecedented times for major sports, and even in the hallowed ranks of the nation’s oldest professional sport, someone’s probably going down. And if the NEW YORK DAILY NEWS is right, two such someones are the Oakland A’s and Florida Marlins.
At issue in both instances are stadium deals; both teams play in total dumps, and the popular tactic of getting local and state governments to pay for new stadia is now, with the economic crunch hitting everywhere, pretty much off the table. Miami wants to include provisions like “[in] the event the Marlins are sold, the city wants to get back all its stadium costs before owner Jeffrey Loria could reap any profit from the sale” and other safety measures for city money. Loria, the notorious cheapskate, is obviously backing off. Hard to see that situation getting better. Ever.
Then in Oakland, the controversial Lew Wulff deal that would put the A’s 30 miles further south in Fremont, which is basically a parking lot with a mayor, is dead and bloated. Wulff’s failure was smacked down hard by the SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE’s Ray Ratto, who said:
“It was nothing more than a real-estate deal with a baseball team as a hook,” wrote Ratto, “and it made less sense than moving the A’s back to Philadelphia and exhuming Connie Mack.”
It’s as simple as this: there’s just nowhere for these teams to play anymore. They can’t get attendance in their existing buildings, they can’t get new ones built, and where on earth would they move to? Like… Portland? What makes anyone think Portland or anywhere else wants the headache of some team coming and asking the city to spend half a billion dollars on a new stadium? Meanwhile, the other owners (themselves hemorraging money as the stock market falls apart like a butterfly in a blender) can’t be happy that they’re giving away all this money in revenue sharing to teams that just plain wouldn’t exist (and suck anyway) without them.
So when it’s mid-July, both teams are over 20 games out of first, shopping their veterans to anyone who wants them, and drawing about 9 thousand fans a game, it’s going to be a tough but necessary task for Bud Selig to pick up the phone and tell the owners that it’s time to talk about pulling the plug.
The owners, at that point, will probably be the first to agree.