While most Braves fans were plum tickled to hear that the team will have new Cobb County digs beginning in 2017, I was surprised by the number of metro Atlantans who aren’t happy about it. I understand that some people feel an attachment to The Ted after 17 years of chopping there, while others lament any move that makes downtown Atlanta less vibrant. I get it.
But in the coming weeks, I’m going to explain to you why you love this move (even if you don’t know it yet).
The new ballpark benefits you, the fan, in 3 important ways:
A more talented Braves team on the field
Shorter commute for many fans (no longer for most others)
Much nicer and more enjoyable fan experience
Today we’ll take a look at the first of those benefits: A more talented team.
The new ballpark and the surrounding development will put substantially more cash in the Braves’ war chest, which will allow the front office to put a more competitive team on the field.
DOES MONEY MATTER?
The World Champion Red Sox had MLB’s 4th largest payroll (150.7 m) in 2013.
Now, before anyone starts with the “money doesn’t matter” arguments, let me qualify my prior statement. Yes, it has been firmly established that outspending every other team in your division (not that the Braves will be doing that) does not punch your ticket to the World Series. Teams with skinnier wallets have become more adept in recent years in making their dollars stretch and winning on the backs of younger, less expensive talent. It is also true that big spending teams sometimes fall flat.
Some high rolling ball clubs routinely squander their resources by falling for a few too many Scott Boras sales pitches. And while we’re on the topic of absurd spending, how ’bout that Albert Pujols deal in LA? How’s that contract working out? One wonders if Angels’ GM Jerry Dipoto has been taking hits off the Toronto mayor’s crack pipe over the past few years. I really think an “I offered the deal in one of my drunken stupors” defense would be preferable to the alternative (that he could have done something so absurd while sober). For an encore, maybe he can pry Bobby Bonilla’s contract away from the Mets and sign him to a 20-year extension.
But enough of that. Where were we? Oh yeah…
Look, just because some big money teams spend their cash the way Lindsay Lohan spent her youth doesn’t mean money isn’t an advantage.
Angels GM Jerry Dipoto (left) and Lindsay Lohan (right)
Over the last decade, World Series winners have, on average, ranked 7th in MLB in team payroll and have spent 52% more than the median MLB team salary. Want a larger sample size? Over the past 20 seasons, World Series champs have outspent the median MLB payroll by 46%.
Money isn’t everything in baseball, but it matters.
OVERCOMING A MA$$IVE HANDICAP
The Braves are shackled for the next 14 seasons to one of the #@*/&$%#!–iest television broadcasting deals in all of professional sports — or any other profession, for that matter. As part of the sale of the franchise to Liberty Media in 2007, the Braves’ deplorable previous ownership group, AOL/Time Warner (better in Braves Nation by their nickname, “burn in hell”) negotiated the worst TV contract since Wayne and Garth unwittingly sold their souls to Rob Lowe for a couple of $5k cashiers checks.
The 20-year television rights agreement is worth 20 million dollars per season to the Braves, while the Dodgers will rake in $7 billion — yes, BILLION with a “B” — over the next 25 years for their TV rights.
As the Wall Street Journal pointed out last year, the Braves get 57 cents for each paid subscriber to SportSouth, compared to $3.35 the Red Sox get for each NESN subscriber or $3.03 for Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia.
And guess which team may be next in line for a Dodgers-like windfall TV deal.
The Philadelphia Phillies could soon extend their cash advantage over NL East rivals.
The Phillies’ current TV deal, which is already infinitely better than Atlanta’s, expires after the 2015 season. And Philly’s front office is already licking its chops, eying a multi-billion dollar haul.
The cash canyon between these two teams is about to get deeper and wider.
THE BRAVES’ FISCAL TIME BOMB
Before the new stadium was announced, I had planned to write a very different analysis of the Braves fiscal future. Without more revenue, the team might have been headed for big trouble in a few short years.
This Atlanta club has been mired in the middle of the pack, salary-wise, for a number of years now. They’ve ranked 15th or 16th (out of 30) in team salary in each of the last four seasons, due to mediocre attendance and, again, the fact that the Braves’ TV rights were evidently sold via Groupon. I think the broadcast rights came with a free set of steak knives.
On top of their necessary cost-consciousness, the Braves got virtually no production whatsoever from their two highest-paid players, Dan Uggla and BJ Upton, in 2013. Still, they managed to win 96 games and clinch the NL East comfortably thanks to an impressive stable of affordable young talent.
Featuring the likes of Mike Minor, Brandon Beachy, Kris Medlen, Julio Teheran, Craig Kimbrel and Johnny Venters on the hill, and Freddie Freeman, Jason Heyward, Chris Johnson and Andrelton Simmons in the lineup, the Braves have an enviable youth movement here.
But here’s the rub:
The Braves young guns are relatively cheap now. But that won’t last much longer.
That crop of young talent won’t be quite so affordable much longer. All of the aforementioned players, with the exception of Teheran and Simmons, are slated to pocket BIG pay raises via arbitration over the next 2-3 seasons. Those 8 players could collectively make as much as 40 million dollars more via arbitration in 2015 than they made last season. That’s a serious salary spike for a 90-100 mill payroll team.
That fiscal time bomb is due to detonate in Atlanta at about the same time Philly’s next TV contract is set to push the Phillies’ revenue ahead of the GDP of many developing nations.
THE NEW BALLPARK SAVES THE BRAVES’ BACON
Fortunately, with the announcement of the new ballpark, the Braves’ financial forecast looks a lot less cloudy. It will be more than a decade before the team can do anything about their awful TV contract, but the new stadium will boost attendance and revenue significantly. Don’t look for the Braves to spend $160 million in 2017, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see them crack the top-10 in the MLB payroll ranks.
The new stadium will be closer to heart of team’s ticket-buying fan base. And just as importantly, the park will be closer to more fans who have the expendable change to drop on premium seats, season tickets, etc. We’ll take a closer look at this in a separate blog post very soon.
Additionally, the Braves will own 60 acres at the new site and will use much of it to develop a “mixed use destination”. In his video announcement Braves President John Schuerholz said “the new stadium site will be one of the most magnificent in all of baseball. It will thrive with action 365 days a year.”
The new stadium will be carefully crafted to optimize revue in every conceivable way and the surrounding mixed use development will benefit the franchise in a couple of ways: 1) It will draw more fans out to the ballpark. 2) It will be a new separate source of income for the team, even during the 3/4 of the year when the Braves aren’t playing a home game.
Even with the new ballpark in the works, Atlanta’s front office staff will still face difficult decisions over the next few seasons. However, having those additional dollars on the horizon could make it much easier for the Braves to ink a few of their young stars to relatively long-term extensions, much as they did in the past with Andruw Jones and Brian McCann, among others.
The new stadium should allow the team to keep more of your favorite players in a Braves uniform beyond the next couple of years, while giving the front office more flexibility to fill holes from outside of the organization. And that is very good news for Braves fans.
Kent Covington is a national radio news reporter and BravesWire Editor. Follow Kent on Twitter: @FriedbasballATL