When it comes to the economics of baseball, conversations tend to begin and end in New York. The Yankees — and, to a lesser extent, the Mets — hold the blue-chip market captive and command hundreds of millions of dollars in revenues each year. While teams such as the Red Sox, Angels, Dodgers and Cubs can attempt to compete, the potential will always be greater in New York.
To that end, the Yankees have always been Public Enemy No. 1 and everyone’s best friend. They are frowned upon for spending exorbitant sums of money on free agents, but through baseball’s current revenue sharing system, they are funding many of their top competitors year after year. It’s a double-edged sword, and while lately, Bud Selig and the owners have kept the anti-Yankee rhetoric to a minimum, nothing would please the powers-that-be more than a decrease in the power of the Yankees.
To that end, then, the recent news that the new Yankee Stadium would push the Bombers’ revenue streams to stratospheric heights probably isn’t welcome news around the Commissioner’s Office. The rich are getting richer, and while the poor will piggy-back their way to more money, the name of the game these days is equality.
Enter Maury Brown. In a recent piece, Brown brings up the dreaded E word. That’s right; it’s time to talk expansion. As Brown notes, the only major baseball move since 1998 when the Devil Rays and Diamondbacks started play was the relocation of the Expos to Washington, D.C. This is the second longest stretch of stability in baseball since the Marlins and Rockies broke a 16-year hiatus on expansion.
As the other major sports leagues have all expanded more recently than baseball and with attendance booming, might the big wigs be itching to extend their reach? Perhaps so, but with an unstable U.S. economy and Mark Cuban nearly ready to close on the Cubs, baseball may not have the luxury to expand any time soon. But Brown ponders the available markets, and his number one destination is something of a tease to those of us living in the New York Metropolitan Area.
Brown recommends Northern New Jersey as the number one destination without a team that could support one. Drawing on the estimated 21 million people who live in the megalopolis that stretches from Philadelphia to the New York suburbs, this vast media market could easily support another team. There are, of course, the typical catches: The Yankees, Mets and Phillies would have to be compensated a prohibitive amount to waive their territorial rights over New Jersey. There is no stadium that could adequately house a Major League team. Transit options to any potential stadium site are dicey at best.
But I have to wonder if this is a path Major League Baseball could pursue in an effort to decrease the financial clout of the Yankees. A third team in the New York media market would draw fans and TV viewers away from the Yankees. While the Yanks would continue to profit at obscenely high margins, they would have to do so knowing that the local competition won’t roll over and die or play in another league, as the case may be with the Mets.
Brooklynites — I among them — yearn for the arrival of a Major League team in our borough. The day the Dodgers left is still a bitter one for fans from that generation. But what if the key to baseball’s economic inequalities lies not within the five boroughs but across the Hudson River in New Jersey? It won’t happen any time soon, but it’s a very distinct possibility.