It is no secret that professional baseball is starting to slip in popularity.
There are multiple contributing reasons, but it is hard to deny that baseball is not where it once was.
The 2022 baseball season is already off to a slow start. After having the beginning of their season delayed following a lockout where no one really won, the MLB has already missed one of their prime windows.
Typically, opening day in baseball is a big deal; this year, it feels like the celebration of baseball was extremely lacking. The lockout pushed the beginning of the season back by a week, and this caused opening day to conflict with the Masters golf tournament.
It turns out that conflict had quite the issues with the television ratings. In theory, opening day should be a day of constant baseball. Opening day 2022 featured just one nationally televised game–a night game between the Reds and Braves–and that game was relegated to ESPN2 that night.
The bigger issue that plagues baseball, though, can be seen when looking at the budgets of the major league teams. Just by looking, anyone can get a good guess of who is going to win the whole thing.
It honestly feels like the entire regular season is just a ploy for small market teams to try and sell some tickets, but no one wants to go because they are all so bad.
It should be said that, unlike the other major American sports, baseball doesn’t have a salary cap. Teams are allowed to spend as much, or as little, as they like on their roster. Instead, they have a luxury tax system that encourages teams to keep their payroll below a certain number, but the only consequence is purely financial.
That leads to the situation that the MLB finds itself in today. Four teams have a payroll that falls north of 200 million dollars. The Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Phillies are all above that, and not shockingly are the favorites to win the world series.
On the other side of the coin, there are teams like the Orioles, Athletics, Pirates and Guardians. These four make up the bottom payrolls in the league. While the $200 million mark that some other teams are hitting is unrealistic, these teams are far below the league average of $146 million.
All four of these teams don’t even get to half of the league average, with all four falling below $70 million. The problem then arises, if you are a fan of these teams, why even tune in? Realistically, there is no chance of these teams going deep into the playoffs, or even making it there.
When some of the smaller market teams do decide to spend a little money, and it doesn’t immediately work out, they often abandon ship and start cutting payroll, and go right back to tanking.
One team to look at, in this case, is the Cincinnati Reds. In 2020, albeit a pandemic season, so spending was down everywhere, the Reds had a payroll of $55 million. The following season saw the Reds spend some money in an effort to win, an effort that got fans excited. In 2021, their payroll jumped to $125 million, but after barely missing the playoffs, the Reds appeared to be jumping ship in the offseason.
They traded Jesse Winker, who was coming off of an all-star season, to Seattle in a deal that saved about $40 million. They traded pitcher Sonny Gray to the Twins and lost pitcher Wade Miley to waivers, saving about 10 million each. They low-balled Nick Castellanos in contract talks, so he walked and signed with the Phillies. Those are just a few moves that are designed to save the team money over the course of the next few seasons.
Pouring salt in the wound for Reds fans is President Phil Castellini, who, during a radio show, addressed the fan’s concerns in the worst possible way. “Well, where [are] you gonna go? Let’s start there. I mean, sell the team to who?” he said. Castellini seems to claim that the only way for the Reds to make money “would be to pick it up and move it somewhere else. And, so, be careful what you ask for.”
For reference, his father owns the team and has a net worth of $400 million.
While making money is difficult, one way might be to actually try and win games, which might bring in some fan interest. One thing is certain: alienating your diehard fan base into boycotting your team probably isn’t the best solution.