Forbes has come out with its annual report on the finances of Major League Baseball, and while there is an overall good story to tell -- team values and revenue have both increased to all-time highs -- the details paint a more gloomy picture:
But dig deeper and you'll find the overall results are skewed by a handful of teams with great stadiums and cable television deals. Business is tough: Ten franchises saw their values decline during the past year, the most since 2004, and many teams are having a more difficult time selling premium seating, sponsorships and meeting debt obligations because of the bad economy. The net result is a widening gap between the teams at the top and the ones at the bottom.
Not surprisingly, the Yankees, Mets, Cubs, Red Sox and Dodgers lead the financial charge, while lower revenue teams and teams in depressed geographic areas are hurting. My view of this (on which I've previously spewed much verbiage) is that franchise values for all but the richest are going to continue to decline as both team revenue -- and more importantly, the non-baseball income of many team owners, many of whom are in the real estate business -- decline.
Given that appreciation in franchise value, as opposed to annual operating profits, is the real money maker for team owners, tough times may lead to some fire sales of teams and some drastic cuts in player salaries for the Tom Hicks' and Lew Wolffs of the world. It is not out of the question, in my mind anyway, that we'll see a ballclub either declare bankruptcy or enter into some kind of baseball-created receivership a-la the Montreal Expos sometime in the next couple of years.