As MLB continues to negotiate with the players union on what the 2020 season will look like, owners continue to advance the idea that the industry isn’t as healthy as assumed. For instance, Cubs owner Tom Ricketts recently said — despite loads of evidence to the contrary — that teams plow most revenues right back into the product.
Now, Ricketts’ chief NL Central counterpart, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr., has entered that particular fray:
The full context of DeWitt’s remarks suggests he’s not just talking about the 2020 season, which has been on hold because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yes, MLB‘s constituent franchises may lose money this year, but it probably won’t be nearly to the extent that MLB is suggesting. As for DeWitt’s suggestion that the industry has been anything less than wildly profitable throughout recent history, it’s ridiculous on its face.
With the exception of the Braves, who are part of the Liberty Media portfolio (and are quite profiable), MLB teams aren’t publicly traded and thus are under no obligation to disclose their financials. That’s why owners attempt deceptions such as the above.
According to Forbes’ forensic accounting, however, MLB has been exceptionally profitable for years and years. Those are the best estimates going. As well, on those rare occasions that club financials do see the light of day, even lower-revenue franchises like the Pirates and Marlins are revealed to be highly profitable. It’s possible some franchises have cash-flow issues at the moment, but that’s because owners are debt-financing outside projects that have nothing to do with game-day revenues and baseball operations.
Very likely, DeWitt’s risible claims are made in the service of turning public opinion against the players in the ongoing dispute. Dishonesty from management in that particular sphere is time-honored, but just as reliably it rarely passes even the most cursory of smell tests. So it is with this one.