BALTIMORE: The Indians collected $62 million from Major League Baseball before the outset of this season: $41 million as the club’s share of various national television contracts and merchandising deals, plus $21 million in revenue-sharing cash.
That almost pays the entire payroll for the 25-man roster and Kevin Slowey, who is in the minors but still gets paid $1.2 million (the Tribe’s share minus what the team got from the Minnesota Twins).
Not a bad deal, right? Salaries for the Indians add up to about $65 million, and it’s almost all subsidized by someone else. But take a deep breath before you kick the TV after setting the channel to SportsTime Ohio, and try to refrain from screaming at the dog, “I knew it; The Dolans were holding out on all of us!”
Every team in the majors received the same $41 million as did the Tribe. I’m sure it was included in the club’s 2012 budget, because give or take a few million, the Indians knew it was coming, like they do every year, though not the exact amount.
The $21 million is a windfall, so to speak. Some teams got more than $30 million, some got less than $20 million. The Tribe knew it was getting something, because its revenue stream has been falling, owing to the drastic drop in season tickets after the turn of the century and the fact that the team does not lease 119 suites, as it did when the ballpark opened.
By the way, it is unrealistic to think any franchise can sell that many luxury loges, and many of the suites now are used for other purposes. That doesn’t mean the Tribe wouldn’t like to sell more suites and club seats.
Along with the long-term trend toward falling season ticket sales — actually, they are up by a few hundred this year — the Indians’ ticket revenue overall has declined because so many seats have been discounted the past few seasons. But better to fill an empty seat for less and sell hot dogs and team gear than let the seat go empty by trying to peddle it for full price.
But there also is a downside to this practice. The club says its average ticket price has slid to $22. That means if the Tribe draws 1.8 million customers, as it did in 2011, total ticket revenue will be less than the $41 million the team got from MLB for national television rights and various merchandising enterprises.
We know that Larry and Paul Dolan are not going to open the accounting ledgers for the media and the fans, and we don’t know how much it cost to operate the club in 2011 or this year. Forbes Magazine wrote a story saying the Tribe had a pretax profit of $30 million last season, more than any other franchise. The figure was vigorously disputed by members of the Indians’ organization, though the team concedes that it did make a minuscule profit.
What’s funny to me is the club denying so adamantly that it made a substantial profit. I thought sports franchises were businesses, and businesses were designed to make a profit. So wasn’t Forbes praising the Tribe?
Yet the Dolans seemed offended by the notion that their team was profitable. But I did forget one thing: In the world of big-league sports, making money is supposed to be tied to winning. I guess if a losing club generates earnings, it might rub some people the wrong way.
But c’mon, folks, this is America. Snooki what’s-her-name makes a couple of million. Virtually every NFL team reportedly is a cash cow, whether or not it flourishes on the field. Isn’t it OK for the Indians to make a profit, win or lose? Well, isn’t it?
Wanted: winning streak
It was acceptable the first time, maybe even the second, but after awhile, enough is enough.
Indians manager Manny Acta and General Manager Chris Antonetti have continually spoken the phrase, “We haven’t played our best baseball yet” as a way of rationalizing the ups and downs of the Indians’ season.
How do they know the Tribe hasn’t played its best baseball? Maybe its best baseball happened in April.
• Does anyone truly know that Travis Hafner will return from the disabled list and light a fire under the fragile offense?
• Is it written in stone that Carlos Santana will turn around his disappointing year and hit .320 with 50 RBI in the second half?
• Is it guaranteed that four of the five starting pitchers will deliver a combined 3.75 ERA from here on out?
• Might it be possible that Chris Perez will blow a few saves, and that Vinnie Pestano will not hold every lead in the eighth inning?
“We haven’t played our best baseball yet” presumes that every player who has performed well will continue to do so, and that many, if not all, of the players who have struggled will begin emulating guys who play in the All-Star Game.
Have the men who run the Tribe lost their logarithms and decided to go on faith? If so, they need to cross their fingers and toes and hope the team goes on a winning streak. It will be difficult for the Indians to catch the Chicago White Sox or remain ahead of them unless they get on a roll and win consistently for three weeks or more. But is that possible?
What it would take to accomplish that kind of run is at least two starters who can stop losing streaks and an offense that wins more than one in every four games against left-handed starters.
Do the Indians have enough players who can meet those criteria? Probably not right now. But as difficult as it might be to pull off, there is time to make a deal or two before the July 31 deadline.
It won’t be easy, because the Tribe can’t afford to part with the few players that other teams value. The club’s best chance of acquiring an impact player is to take on salary.
But maybe Antonetti hasn’t made his best trade yet.
Sheldon Ocker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read the Indians blog at www.ohio.com/indians. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/SheldonOckerABJ and on Facebook at www.facebook.com/sports.abj.