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Arbitrator’s Decision On Rodriguez Suspension Leaves Bad Taste

Baseball arbitrator Frederic Horowitz  reduced Alex Rodriguez‘s suspension from 211 to 162 games in an opinion released to the parties today. Now that the arbitrator has ruled, Rodriguez’s suspension takes effect immediately.

The meaning of “immediately” is unclear, though, because we are in the midst of the offseason. Rodriguez’s attorneys told reporters that the third baseman plans to show up for spring training with the Yankees, even if he is barred from playing any regular-season games this year. The Yankees are likely to do what they can to stop that from happening.

At this point, we don’t know why the arbitrator reduced Rodriguez’s suspension to 162 games. His written opinion has not been made public. Rodriguez’s attorneys announced that they plan to ask a federal court on Monday to overturn the decision, despite the long odds (more on that below). If that happens, the opinion is likely to become public as an exhibit to Rodriguez’s complaint.

Until then, we are left to wonder what evidence Horowitz found credible or which provisions of the Collective Bargaining Agreement and the Joint Drug Policy he relied on in reducing the suspension from 211 games to 162.

On those points, let’s take a step back and remind ourselves how we got here.

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Philliles New TV Deal May Signal Tempering In Sports TV Market

Comcast will broadcast Philadelphia Phillies games for the next 27 years at a cost exceeding $2.5 billion, according to reports late last week. The Phillies’ prior deal with Comcast SportNet is set to expire after the 2015 season. The new deal will start in 2016 and run for 25 years.

According to reports, Comcast will pay the Phillies $2.5 billion over the course of 25 years for the broadcast rights, plus turn over a percentage of advertising revenue earned during game broadcasts. The Phillies also will receive a 25% equity stake in Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia, Comcast’s regional sports network in the Philadelphia area. The yearly cash payments will start at a figure below $100 million and increase 3% to 4% each year.

The structure of the Phillies’ new deal is most like the one the Los Angeles Angels inked with Fox Sports West before the 2012 season. Under that deal, FSW will pay the Angels in the neighborhood of $3 billion over 20 years for the right to broadcast Angels games. The team also received a 25% equity stake in the regional sports network.

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The Business of Baseball In 2013

Major League Baseball is awash in money. Lots and lots of money. Forbes reported last week that gross revenue for the league and its 30 teams will top $8 billion this year. And that’s before the new national TV contracts kick in. Next year, revenue could reach as high as $8.5 billion. As Forbes noted, total baseball revenue in 1995 was $1.4 billion. When adjusted for inflation, that figure rises to a bit more than $2.2 billion. That means we’ve seen baseball revenue grow an astounding 264% in just 18 years.

In 2013, the big story in the business of baseball is the exponential growth in league and team revenues, all while attendance is fairly flat and national TV ratings are down.

The sub-headlines tell the real story: where is all this money coming from; who is it going to; and how is it being spent.

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Federal Court Hearing In San Jose vs. MLB Could Move Process Forward

The federal judge overseeing the antitrust lawsuit by the City of San Jose against Major League Baseball held a case management conference Friday morning. But the hearing dealt with weightier issues as compared to the usual case management conference. Most particularly, the court is deciding whether to dismiss the two remaining state law claims for interference with contract and allow those claims to be re-filed in state court. If so, the court would enter final judgment in the federal case, and San Jose would have the right to immediately appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

The hearing came two months after Judge Ronald M. Whyte issued an order that dismissed San Jose’s antitrust claims based on the court-created antitrust exemption for MLB. In the same order, the court held that San Jose had adequately pled two claims for interference with contract, on the theory that MLB’s delay in making a decision on the A’s proposal to move to San Jose had interfered with the A’s option agreement with San Jose to purchase five acres of land in downtown San Jose on which to build a new ballpark. My previous post on the Court’s ruling is here.

Judge Whyte began Friday’s hearing by stating that he was tentatively inclined to dismiss the state court claims. He then heard arguments by attorneys for the parties: John Keker for MLB and Philip Gregory for San Jose.

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MLB Court Filing: It Rejected A’s Proposal For San Jose Ballpark

In a court filing late Friday night, Major League Baseball told the federal judge hearing San Jose’s lawsuit against the league that MLB rejected the Oakland A’s proposal to move to San Jose in June.

Specifically, MLB wrote on page 6 of the Joint Case Management Conference Statement:

In fact, MLB denied the Athletics’ relocation request on June 17, 2013, one day before this lawsuit was filed. On that date, Commissioner Selig formally notified the Athletics ownership that he was not satisfied with the club’s relocation proposal. (Emphasis in original court filing).

MLB’s bold statement appeared to be a shift in position, if not in emphasis, from previous public statements. But a source familiar with the situation told me this morning that the June letter rejected only the specific proposal the A’s had submitted to MLB, on the grounds that the proposal lacked certain information and assurances sought by the league. The source couldn’t provide additional information on where the general idea of the A’s to San Jose currently stands.

Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle reported that A’s owner Lew Wolff said that “because the matter is a legal proceeding, he cannot comment, and he stressed, as always, that he is following the  procedures set up by Major League Baseball.”

The June letter from Selig to the A’s has not been made public. In fact, it hasn’t even been shared with the City of San Jose, its attorneys or the Court. MLB is waiting for the Court to enter a protective order before providing the letter in the litigation. Protective orders are common in lawsuits that involve confidential business information, although the breadth and scope of the orders vary from case to case. Neither MLB nor its attorneys responded to specific questions on the basis for keeping the June letter confidential from the public.

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The Rockies’ Finances, As Told By The Owner, Bloomberg & Forbes

Colorado Rockies owner Dick Monfort recently told Troy Renck of the Denver Post that the Rockies’ earned $170 million revenue in 2013. Monfort shared the information as part of a larger discussion with Renck about the Rockies’ finances as the team looks to upgrade for the 2014 season. As Renck reports, Rockies fans were in an uproar in October after learning that the team was building a party deck in the upper right-field seats. After two consecutive last-place finishes, fans were clamoring for more money to be spent on the product on the field, not the fan experience off of it.

Perhaps in response to the fans’ negative reaction, Monfort told Renck that the Rockies have a conservative business plan that aims to get the team into the postseason two times every five years. Specifically, Monfort said about the 2013 season:

  • The Rockies earned $170 million in revenue;
  • The Rockies spent $84 million on player salaries, including in-season call ups;
  • The payroll accounted for 49.4% of revenues, in line with the 50/50 rule of thumb; and
  • The Rockies local TV rights deal is worth $200 million over ten years and expires in 2020.

Renck asked about the additional revenue all MLB teams will receive in 2014 from the new national TV deals. As I explained in this post a few weeks ago, ESPN, Fox and TBS will pay MLB $1.5 billion per season from 2014 through 2021, nearly double what the networks paid the league under the prior deal. That works out to approximately $25 million in additional revenue per team, if the TV money passes entirely from MLB’s Central Fund to the 30 teams. Monfort believes that MLB will only pay out $19 million per team, to account for Central Fund money the league planned to hold back in 2013 but paid forward after teams complained.

For the Rockies, Monfort expects to spend $5 million or so of the additional $19 million on player salaries and $5.5 million on loan payments to MLB. Another $3.5 million will make up for an expected decrease in ticket revenue compared to 2013 when the Rockies hosted the Yankees and Red Sox at Coors Field. That leaves another $5 million. For what, it isn’t clear. Under the 50/50 rule of thumb, you’d expect the Rockies to spend $9.5 million of the $19 million on players’ salaries.

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Astros’ Regional Sports Network Awash In Losses And Lawsuits

Comcast SportsNet Houston went live Oct. 1, 2012, and has been in trouble ever since. Actually, the trouble may have started before the first broadcast signal beamed to homes in the Houston area. Now the network and its various constituent owners are fighting in federal bankruptcy court and in Texas state court. The situation may get worse before it gets better.

The Houston Astros own the largest equity stake in CSN Houston, at 46%. The Houston Rockets own 32% and Comcast has the remaining 22%. Comcast owns NBC Universal, which operates Comcast Sports Group — the network of regional sports networks that includes CSN Bay Area, CSN California, CSN Chicago, CSN Philadelphia, CSN Mid-Atlantic and CSN Northwest.

Not only do the Astros have a large stake in CSN Houston, but also a 20-year, rights-fee deal that was supposed to pay the team, on average, $80 million per season. That figure is in line with other recently-inked broadcast deals for MLB teams in medium-to-large television markets: the Rangers and Angels are on the high end, with deals averaging $150 million per year for 20 years. The Padres are on the low end, with a deal averaging $60 million per year for 20 years.

But what the Astros were scheduled to be paid for the broadcast rights to their games differs significantly from what they received. Forbes reported that the CSN Houston deal called for the Astros to be paid $56 million this year, but the network paid only $25 million because it didn’t have the revenue to meet its obligations.

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A-Rod Storms Out Of Arbitration, But Relief In Court Unlikely

Alex Rodriguez stormed out of the arbitration hearing today on his appeal of Major League Baseball’s 211-game suspension after the arbitrator, Frederic Horowitz, denied Rodriguez’s request to call Commissioner Bud Selig as a witnesses.

Rodriguez’s outburst is just the latest twist in the on-going drama between him and MLB. And it suggests that Rodriguez and his attorneys believe that the arbitrator will uphold the suspension, at least for some number of games. But Rodriguez is unlikely to get the help he wants from a court — to either stop the arbitration or overturn Horowitz’s final ruling.

Let’s review how we got here:

MLB suspended Rodriguez on August 5 for violations of the the Collective Bargaining Agreement and Joint Drug Agreement between MLB and the Players’ Association (or MLBPA). MLB charged Rodriguez with using banned substances over a period of years and with attempting to obstruct MLB’s investigation. MLB suspended Rodriguez for the remainder of the 2013 season and all of the 2014 season, which amounted to 211 games.

Rodriguez immediately appealed his suspension to baseball’s arbitrator. That gave Rodriguez the right to continue playing baseball until the arbitrator issued his final decision.

The hearing on Rodriguez’s appeal got under way on September 30 at MLB’s offices in New York. Even though Rodriguez is, essentially, the complainant — as he is challenging the commissioner’s suspension — MLB has the burden to prove that Rodriguez used substances banned by the JDA and impeded the investigation, and that the 211-game suspension was justified.

Over the course of several weeks, MLB put on the testimony of Anthony Bosch, the owner of the now-shuttered Biogenesis Clinic; Dan Mullins, MLB’s lead investigator, and Rob Manfred, MLB’s Chief Operating Officer. Rodriguez’s lawyers had the opportunity to cross-examine these witnesses and did so. There were charges and counter-charges of secret meetings, witness tampering, purchasing stolen documents and more. The appeal hearing was adjourned in mid-October, and set to resume on November 18. In early November, the New York Times detailed the aggressive tactics used by both sides during MLB’s investigation and Rodriguez’s appeal in this story.

A few days after the Times story, Rodriguez sued MLB in New York state court for interfering with his contract with the Yankees and with other business relationships. Rodriguez accused MLB of doing everything in its power (and some things beyond its power) to paint him as the poster boy for the steroid era, to push him out of baseball and ruin his reputation. The complaint — which you can read here – previewed Rodriguez’s attack on MLB’s tactics and the appeal process, and tried to lay the groundwork for Rodriguez to overturn the arbitrator’s final ruling. But Rodriguez didn’t ask the state court to stop the appeal hearing.

MLB removed Rodriguez’s complaint to federal court on the theory that Rodriguez’s allegations and his claims are governed by the CBA and JDA, and thus pre-empted by federal labor law. MLB then filed a motion to dismiss Rodriguez’s complaint on the same grounds (copy here). MLB also argued that Rodriguez had failed to “exhaust his remedies” by filing a lawsuit before the end of the appeal hearing. Rodriguez, for his part, filed a motion to remand the case back to state court (copy here). The federal judge presiding over the case — Judge Lorna A. Schofield of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York — has not yet ruled on these motions.

Which brings us to today’s developments.

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The Braves and New Stadium Financing

Monday morning brought the startling news that the Atlanta Braves will be leaving Turner Field in downtown Atlanta at the end of the 2016 season for a new ballpark in neighboring Cobb County. The ballpark will be just 20 years old when the Braves depart. It opened in 1997, after the city of Atlanta converted its Olympic Stadium into what was then a state-of-the-art ballpark. But according to the Braves, Turner Field is in need of $150 million in renovations and upgrades, on top of the $125 million the Braves have spent on improvements to date. Even then, says the team, the ballpark would still sit in an area of downtown Atlanta that is not easily accessible by public transportation and that is surrounded by parking lots and little other economic development, which hampers the fan experience.

Instead, the Braves will reportedly invest that money and more into a new ballpark in unincorporated Cobb County, about 14 miles northwest of Turner Field.  The team purchased 60 acres near the intersection of Interstates 75 and 285 and plans to develop not just a new ballpark, but mixed-use properties (residential and commercial), parking lots, and open/green space.  Here’s a map showing where Turner Field is located (A) and where the new ballpark will be built (B).

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Forbes, Bloomberg Battle It Out on MLB Team Valuations

Right around Opening Day, Forbes publishes its annual report on MLB team valuations. There is information on team revenues, debt, net income, and overall franchise value. The 2013 valuations, published in March, relied on 2012 numbers, plus a bit of forecasting about teams likely to land new, lucrative local TV contracts soon.

Now Bloomberg Business is getting into the act. A few weeks ago, Bloomberg published its own MLB team valuations, along with a terrific infographic comparing each team to the 29 others. Bloomberg also dug a bit deeper, and broke down each team’s revenue into gate receipts, concessions, sponsorships, and media rights. Bloomberg also used 2012 numbers, but reflected higher revenue and valuation figures than Forbes’ report from earlier this year.

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The New National TV Contracts And 2014 Payrolls

Goodbye, 2013 season. Hello, Hot Stove. Stop sobbing. Really, stop. We’re going to get through this. There will be qualifying offers, declined options, over-the-top free agent signings and rumors galore. Before you know it, we’ll be complaining about beat writers’ spring training play-by-play tweets.

Today we’re going to talk about the effect of the new national TV contracts on 2014 payrolls:

  • The teams that have already built their 2014 payrolls on the revenue expected from those contracts.
  • The teams that haven’t already accounted for that revenue, and have money to play with this winter.
  • The teams that have revenues so high and payrolls so large that another $15 million means close to nothing.

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World Series Game 4 Live Blog

Brad Johnson: Good luck getting to sleep after that one. Bye all.
Wendy Thurm: OK friends. Got to get my kids to bed, I’m out. See ya around the twitters.
Brad Johnson: The funny thing is that I agree. With a slow lefty up and Koji on the hill, your best bet is to get the hitter
Comment From Josh
I like the part where McCarver said the Red Sox shouldn’t hold the runner. That was cool.
Brad Johnson: A risk anytime you bring in a reliever. Especially a sinkerballer, even a slight miss in location can lead to terrible results.
Comment From Frank
Watching the Gomes shot again, wow Maness just missed there. Should never be that far up with his stuff.

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Start-up Fantex To Sell Stock In Professional Athletes, Sort Of

If you’ve ever wanted to invest in the future earning potential of a professional athlete, say hello to Fantex, a San Francisco start-up that is offering shares in an IPO named after Houston Texans running back Arian Foster. To kick start the new company, Fantex paid Foster $10 million, in exchange for a 20% share of Foster’s future earnings on and off the field for the rest of his life. Fantex is banking on Foster having a huge upside and will work with the player to enhance the value of his “brand.” To recoup its investment, Fantex is banking on football fans and other investors who want a piece of the action.

It’s a simple idea, in theory, and makes you wonder why it’s never been tried before. Well, it turns out that a simple idea in theory is quite complicated in execution, and carries substantial risks for all parties. It also turns out that something similar has been tried before, and failed.

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San Jose’s Case Against MLB Down To One State Claim

Federal Judge Ronald Whyte today dismissed the City of San Jose’s federal and state antitrust claims against Major League Baseball but permitted a claim for tortious interference with contract to move forward. The one remaining claim gives the city a glimmer of hope in it’s effort to bring the Oakland Athletics to San Jose.

The city’s complaint, filed in June, alleges that MLB places unreasonable restrictions on competition by making it difficult — if not impossible — for teams to relocate from one city to another. The City also claims that by refusing to act on the A’s proposal to build a privately-financed ballpark in San Jose, MLB has interfered with the City’s option agreement with the A’s. Under that agreement, the A’s would purchase land from the City for the purpose of building the ballpark, if MLB approved the move. My post from June explains the ins and outs of discusses San Jose’s complaint.

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Juan Uribe The Unlikely Postseason Hero, Again

The Dodgers beat the Braves in Game 4 of the NLDS Monday night to clinch the series and move on to the LCS against either the Cardinals or the Pirates. The outcome of the game didn’t hinge on Clayton Kershaw‘s start on only three days rest, although for a while it looked like it would. The outcome of the game didn’t hinge on the Braves’ sending Freddy Garcia to the mound to try and save their season, although for a while it looked like it would. The outcome of the game didn’t hinge on Adrian Gonzalez‘s poor defense at first base or Freddie Freeman‘s phenomenal defense there, although for a while it looked like it would.

Sure, those events played a role. They set the stage for the late-inning heroics that always seem to come from unexpected places in the postseason. Last night, in Los Angeles, the hero was Juan Uribe and his towering two-run home run into the left field bullpen that sent Dodger Stadium into a frenzy in the bottom of the 8th inning and sent the Braves home to Atlanta in defeat. A year ago, that moment would have been impossible to imagine.

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Federal Judge Holds Key Hearing In San Jose vs. MLB Lawsuit

Federal district judge Ronald Whyte held a hearing today on Major League Baseball’s motion to dismiss the City of San Jose’s lawsuit, which charges MLB with violating federal and state law by refusing — so far — to permit the Oakland A’s to move to San Jose.

San Jose’s complaint, filed in June, alleges that MLB places unreasonable restrictions on competition by making it difficult — if not impossible — for teams to relocate from one city to another. The City also claims that by refusing to act on the A’s proposal to build a privately-financed ballpark in San Jose, MLB has interfered with the City’s option agreement with the A’s. Under that agreement, the A’s would purchase land from the City for the purpose of building the ballpark, if MLB approved the move.

As I explained in this post in June, the core of the City’s case is founded on federal antitrust law. And therein lie the issues before Judge Whyte today on MLB’s motion to dismiss the complaint: Does MLB’s antitrust exemption still exist? If so, what is the scope of the exemption? Has San Jose even suffered an injury recognized by antitrust law?

Before I get to the details of today’s hearing, a disclosure. As it notes in my bio below, I practiced law for nearly 18 years before moving on to other things at the end of 2010. For most of that time, I practiced with the law firm of Keker & Van Nest in San Francisco, first as an associate, then as a partner. That firm, including senior partner John Keker, represents MLB in this lawsuit. This case arose long after I left the firm. I never worked on or was privy to any information about MLB’s decision-making with respect to the A’s.

I am also a season-ticket holder with the San Francisco Giants and a Giants fan. But I’ve been on record since early 2012 with a proposal for resolving the territorial rights dispute between the Giants and the A’s in a way that allows the A’s to move to San Jose. My personal view is that a financially-vibrant A’s franchise would be good for MLB and the Bay Area and, ultimately, the Giants.

Now, on to the hearing.

Judge Whyte began the proceedings with questions about the existence and scope of baseball’s antitrust exemption. It was clear from his questions that the judge had read the motion papers and the case law in detail. He was prepared with pointed questions for both sides.

Joe Cotchett, who represents the City, addressed the court first. Cotchett argued that the U.S. Supreme Court and lower courts have narrowed the exemption significantly, and that it now covers only the “business of baseball.” Cotchett then argued that the “business of baseball” is limited to “the play on the field” and does not include matters relating to team location and relocation.

John Keker argued for MLB. He told the court that the exemption was alive and well and that the “business of baseball” includes — at a minimum — league structure and organization, franchise location, broadcast agreements, and revenue sharing.

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Introducing The Scott Boras-O-Meter

Super agent Scott Boras is known to boast about his clients’ market value, particularly as each player nears or enters free agency. Oh, Boras doesn’t come right out and give a number. Sometimes he gives a range. Sometimes he talks on background and allows a reporter to claim “Sources say Boras is looking for 5 years/$100 million for Johnny So-in-So.”

This week, Boras tried to set a floor for Reds outfielder Shin-Soo Choo, who will be a free agent this winter. Jon Heyman had suggested in August – based on discussions with “baseball executives” – that Choo’s new contract could be in the $90 million to $100 million range. On Wednesday Heyman followed up, noting the considerable backlash against such a high number for Choo. And there was backlash from Boras, too. He believes $90 million to $100 million is too low for Choo.

“As a custom of the industry, prognostications by executives this time of year are dramatically divergent from the real market,” Boras said in a phone interview. “I don’t think anyone correctly predicted what Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford got.”

The interesting question is what Boras predicted Werth and his other clients would get. How close were Boras’ pre-contract comments with the deals he eventually negotiated for his clients?  Does he undersell? Oversell? Something in-between?

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On Jeffrey Loria And Ownership

Miami Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was in the news this week and, as usual, there was a decidedly unctuous odor to it. Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported on Monday night of a power struggle between Loria and Larry Beinfest, the team’s president of baseball operations. Lining up with Loria is Dan Jennings, the vice president of player personnel. Lining up with Beinfest is Mike Hill, the general manager. David Samson, Marlin’s president and Loria’s stepson, is nowhere to be found.

In essence, Loria reportedly has pushed aside or overruled Beinfest on a series of baseball decisions, for less than rational baseball reasons. Although the feud between the two dates back many years — Beinfest has been with the Marlins for 13 years — it escalated recently in the wake of allegations that hitting coach Tito Martinez had verbally abused several players. Beinfest conducted an investigation and promised the players confidentiality. Loria was furious when Martinez resigned because he had hand-selected Martinez in the first place. Loria took that anger out on the players who complained: Beinfest was preparing to promote Chris Valaika from Triple-A but Loria interceded because Valaika had been one of the complainants against Martinez. Valaika lost the opportunity he’d earned for a major-league paycheck.

Beinfest wants to know where he stands. Loria refuses to tell him, perhaps preferring to let Beinfest twist in the wind long enough to get fed up and resign. Beinfest is under contract until 2015. If Loria fires him, Beinfest gets paid for two more years. If he resigns, he doesn’t. Given his history, it’s no surprise that Loria would choose the less costly route — to him.

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Yankees New Radio Deal Would Set Gold Standard

Several news outlets reported on Tuesday that the Yankees will ink a new contract with CBS Radio worth $15 million to 20 million per year. As part of the deal, the Yankees’ radio broadcasts will move from one CBS Radio-owned New York station to another. Starting in 2014, Yankees games will be heard on WFAN (660 AM), the sports-only radio station that’s been home to the Mets since 1987. The Mets are in discussions with several radio broadcasters and expect to announce a new radio home in the next six weeks.

Radio broadcast rights in the $15 million to $20 million range are a rarity in MLB. The Red Sox are the only other team that reportedly rakes in close to $20 million per year from its radio broadcaster, WEEI (93.7 FM). It was big news when the Red Sox signed that 10-year/$200 million deal in 2006, to cover the 2007 through 2016 seasons. At the time, WCBS paid the Yankees only $10 million a year for the right to broadcast its games.

But the Red Sox deal doesn’t appear to have led to an escalation in radio rights fees, the way the Rangers’ multi-billion dollar contract with Fox Sports Southwest did on the TV side. Indeed, the Yankees’ radio revenue jumped from from $10 million in 2006 to just $14 million this season.

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When Will The Astros Start Spending On Major League Payroll?

This week started with some hullabaloo when a Forbes contributor published a column claiming that the Houston Astros were the most profitable team in MLB history. Contributor Dan Alexander did some pretty simple math in concluding that the Astros would clear $99 million in “operating revenue.” “They have become so profitable thanks to slashed payroll expenses and soaring television revenues,” Alexander wrote.

But another Forbes contributor —  Maury Brown, of the Biz of Baseball — refuted Alexander’s column. Brown explained the Astros “soaring television revenues” aren’t so soaring because CSN Houston — the new regional sports network the Astros and the NBA’s Houston Rockets own — isn’t carried on any cable or satellite service in the Houston area other than Comcast. Indeed, we reported last month that cable and satellite companies are using new technology to determine how many customers tune into local sporting events and for how long. AT&T U-verse used that information in deciding to forgo carrying CSN Houston. That’s left CSN Houston well short of projected viewership and revenue from carriage fees.

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