The Phillies' new TV deal and the Raysification of the Atlanta Braves

Scott Cunningham

It seems like every couple of months, there's news about another team signing a TV mega-deal. This time, it's the Phillies' turn.

The two sides, according to two sources, agreed to a massive 25-year contract Thursday worth more than $2.5 billion that will provide Comcast SportsNet with invaluable live summer programming and the Phillies with another substantial revenue source.

That's let's see … $2.5 billion … divided by 25 years … no, no, that can't be right. Let's try again. Okay, 25 years times $100 million is … /kicks abacus … stupid thing, that can't be right.

It is right. That's $100 million from television every year. Laugh at the Ryan Howard contract if you must. And you must. But the Phillies will be fine. It's not even the biggest deal of the new era -- the Dodgers, Yankees, and Angels are all ahead of them, with the Rangers and Red Sox coming close.

To recap, the TV deals in the NL East, with help from Wendy Thurm:

  • Phillies, 25 years, $2.5 billion
  • Mets, 25 years, 65% of network (about $65 million to $83 million in annual revenues, currently)
  • Nationals, disputed (with the Nationals asking for $100 million to $120 million annually)
  • Marlins, 20 years, approximately $340 million
  • Braves, 20 years, estimated between $200 million and $400 million

The Nationals are in arbitration with MASN about their deal, but they can renegotiate every five years, regardless. They'll get the current market rate, as long as the market doesn't crash. They're, along with the Mets and Phillies, the haves.

The Marlins and Braves are the have-nots. The Marlins you could have guessed, which makes their brief turn as free-agent predators even more baffling. And the Braves' TV deal hasn't exactly been a secret. Here's an article from a year ago:

"We have a long-term, 20-year deal. It is what it is. It was a deal that we didn’t like when we saw it, when we inherited it. And we knew that in the performance of time, it would probably not be the deal that we would like to have in the marketplace to exploit

I'd like to think the article continued with, "'McGuirk said through gritted teeth, eyes squinting in rage as if he were just discovering a 14-year-old keying his car." Alas, it ended with this:

… It’s not the only lever and dial we have to pull and turn to make this thing work, and we just have to be a little bit better in a bunch of other areas. And I think we are."

Allow me to translate: Money isn't the only thing that makes good teams. You can be better at scouting, development, and baseball-related thinking in general.

Or, if that's too wordy for you, here's another translation: The Braves are the Rays. They're the Athletics. They're have-nots in a haves world, and they'll have to be smarter, always smarter. The Raysification has already begun in a way.

Braves payroll rank (MLB):

2000: $86 million, 3rd (of 30)
2001: $92M, 6th
2002: $93M, 7th
2003: $106M, 3rd
2004: $88M, 8th
2005: $85M, 10th
2006: $90M, 9th
2007: $87M, 15th
2008: $102M, 10th
2009: $97M, 11th
2010: $84M, 15th
2011: $87M, 15th
2012: $83M, 16th
2013: $90M, 16th

They've been remarkably consistent with their payroll, actually. But the game has changed around them. The Braves have the same payroll now as in 2000. That was the year the Mariners traded Ken Griffey, Jr. because they didn't want to sign him to the $116 million contract he got from the Reds. Griffey would make at least twice that today. Salaries have increased dramatically. The Braves' payroll has not.

Maybe this is an obvious point to you, especially if you follow the Braves closely. But I remember them as a superstation team. They were the team that were on your cable package when no one else was, they were the team that brought fans out to opposing yards. They signed Greg Maddux away from the Cubs, and they were mighty close to signing Barry Bonds away from the Pirates. They never let their core players go unless it made baseball sense. The Braves were never financial bullies, but they spent like a top-third team.

If you think it's hyperbole to compare them to the A's and Rays, teams with stadium issues that dream of having a payroll close to $90 million, it is. For the moment. But unless the new stadium is a panacea, which it rarely is, the Braves are sort of locked into their current revenue for a while. Payrolls will keep going up. The Braves' payroll probably won't keep the same pace, or anything close to it. Eventually, they'll be far, far closer to the Rays than they are to the Mets, Nationals, or Phillies.

Which isn't the end of the world. You can call them Rays or you can call them A's, but don't call them helpless. If there's a team that should instill confidence in their fans, the Braves are up there. Baseball players are cheap for the first six years of their big-league lives; find the good young players and you don't need money. The Braves are adept at finding the good young players. They have been for a couple decades.

But the money from the Phillies deal shows just how far behind the Braves are in television revenue. Imagine if the Braves had that money. Imagine if, in addition to their current roster, they could waltz into the free-agent Stuckey's and come home with a Robinson Cano. They would be monsters.

Instead, they're just really, really good. And smart. They'll have to stay that way, too, because they aren't getting rich.

For more on the Atlanta Braves, please visit Talking Chop.

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