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Tuesday, September 02, 2014
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Published: Wednesday, 7/10/2002

Concessions needed from players, owners

Baseball has a long way to go before regaining the trust of the ticket-buying, television-watching fan.

When the Detroit Tigers traded pitcher Jeff Weaver for three prospects last week, it brought everything into focus for me.

There's something wrong with a system when a team like the New York Yankees spares no expense and trades for a specific need, regardless of cost, while the Tigers basically throw their hands up in surrender.

Either teams are spending too much money, or they're not spending enough.

Every summer in New York, baseball fans expect the Yankees to win the World Series. It doesn't always happen of course, but fans in the Big Apple know owner George Steinbrenner is committed to fielding a championship team.

Contrast that scenario with baseball fans in Detroit, who have learned to expect the Tigers to struggle every summer because owner Mike Ilitch won't spend big dollars until the Tigers become more competitive.

How can the Tigers become more competitive if Ilitch won't spend more money?

That's some Catch-22.

The big problem with baseball is that there is too much inequity. There are no player-cost controls in place.

You've got teams like the Yankees and Arizona Diamondbacks, who have the highest payrolls and the winningest teams. And you've got teams like the Tigers and Kansas City Royals, who have low payrolls and losing records.

Until more of the so-called small-market teams become competitive, the game will be divided unevenly between the haves and have-nots.

Parity in payroll and franchise values is important for the competitive balance of baseball. Franchise values could suffer if baseball loses popularity because of a lack of competitive balance.

A large percentage of baseball's money comes from television revenue. Fewer people watching baseball means lower ratings and less money for everyone. Subsequently, the financial stability of baseball could be threatened.

Baseball must be very careful this time. Another work stoppage could destroy fans' trust forever. It already has in some markets, where fans still haven't returned to the game following the 1994 strike.

Revenue sharing is essential to saving baseball. But revenue sharing for appearance's sake won't make a big difference.

Revenue sharing is a more effective tool when you add cost controls, like a salary cap.

In the NFL, because of a hard salary cap, there are cost controls in place, which enhance profitability. NFL teams may not make a killing on the bottom line, but franchise values are soaring.

Baseball franchises will increase in value across the board only if revenues are distributed more evenly.

Baseball has arguably the strongest players union of all sports. Its membership must break with tradition and concede some of its financial gains.

Conversely, powerful owners like Steinbrenner must agree to share more profits with their peers.

The future of baseball depends on owners and players meeting halfway, and doing what's best for the game.



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