In USA Today, Bob Nightengale's done some great reporting on Major League Baseball's coming flood of money, via lucrative new deals for local television rights. The Rangers are already getting something like $150 million per season; it looks like the Dodgers will do even better with their next deal. Nightengale:
"We're all seeing the opportunities in front of us," said Diamondbacks president Derrick Hall, who plans to start contract talks this month with Fox Sports Arizona. Their current deal expires in 2015. "It's the biggest game-changer a lot of us have ever seen. The landscape changed in Texas, and woke everyone up to what the possibilities are.
"You're seeing clubs double or triple their TV value."
MLB believes these TV deals will not only enhance their wealth, but provide even greater parity. All but six of the 30 teams have made the postseason since 2002, with nine World Series champions the last 11 years.
"This is a manifestation how popular our sport has become," said Commissioner Bud Selig, who remembers receiving only $600,000 in local TV rights when he originally purchased the Milwaukee Brewers in 1970. "The number of people watching our game on TV is stunning. We have more competitive balance than ever before."
Now, it's something of a fool's errand to run around trying to predict the future. But the notion that more local-TV money will somehow promote competitive balance strikes me as highly questionable. You know when local TV first began to inject (relatively) big money into the game? The middle of the 1990s. Before that, there was a season in which the Royals had the highest payroll in the majors. Earlier, the Cincinnati Reds routinely sported one of the game's highest payrolls. Tiny markets, both.
Things got pretty bad in the 1990s, and beyond. Not necessarily in terms of competitive balance; as you know, that issue was always overblown, largely by owners trying to cut costs and by people in the media who didn't bother looking at the actual standings from season to season. But the disparities in revenues and payrolls were real and the fans noticed, so Commissioner Bud did have a point when he prattled on for year after year about hope and faith.
Things have gotten better since then, in almost every way. Except for the Royals and the Pirates and the Orioles, just about every team's been able to put together a playoff run ... Cleveland, Cincinnati, Milwaukee, San Diego, Florida, and of course Tampa Bay ... market size probably impacts a franchise's ability to build a dynasty .. but then again it's not like the Dodgers or the Cubs have been winning division titles every year. Thanks to revenue sharing and luxury taxes and relative front-office brain power and the unfathomable vagaries of the sport itself, we're still surprised every season by teams that, if you pay attention to nothing but money, shouldn't have any chance at all.
I don't think any of that's going to change, really. But if the Dodgers are getting $100 million per season for their games on TV and the Padres are getting $30 million, you have to figure that's going to somehow show up on the field, and in the standings. To this point the differences have been uneven, because some teams have cut new TV deals and many are waiting until old deals expire. But at some point -- say, within the next five years -- the new valuations of baseball programming will have taken hold across the majors, and the difference between the Royals' deal and the White Sox' deal will be massive. And something will have to be done about it, or else it'll be like the second half of the 1990s all over again. Worse, maybe.
Fortunately, Bud Selig will still be the Commissioner in five years, and I'm sure he'll figure out something. He always does.
Meanwhile, there's going to be one sure effect of all this: the players are going to make gobs and gobs of money. Yes, even more than they're making now, if you can believe that. I'm not going to predict the first $50 million player by the end of this decade ... but it wouldn't surprise me, either.
Not that there's anything (really) wrong with that.