While there may be some significant, longterm obstacles to overcome within Major League Baseball – particularly pace-of-play and youth-involvement (the latter being especially important) – the game is still making money. And plenty of it.
In fact, according to a recent article at Forbes, Maury Brown writes that MLB increased its revenue by at least $500 million this past season compared to 2015 and surpassed the $10 billion (with a “B”) mark for the first time in league history. Moreover, this wasn’t a one-year pop-up – 2017 marks the 15th consecutive season with record gross revenues.
So what’s been at the root of the success? Well, according to Brown, 1. compelling postseason play, 2. media rights, and 3. labor peace. All three strike me as pretty spot on.
Compelling Postseason Play: Consider that in the last two years alone, the league has watched the Chicago Cubs win their first World Series since 1908, while playing against a team (Cleveland Indians) with the second-longest drought, and then gave the Houston Astros their first World Series victory ever against a HUGE-market Los Angeles Dodgers team. Both series went seven games.
Media Rights: According to Brown, “The regional sports networks that support regular season broadcasts for the 30 clubs continue to be a ratings success and ratings were up significantly at the national level in 2017.” We’ve been waiting for the TV rights “bubble” to burst for many years now, but so far it’s just been teams (like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Phillies) making tons of money on their own networks.
Labor Peace: On top of everything, the Players Association and League just came together on a brand new Collective Bargaining Agreement last winter, and have have continued on with relative public peace. Sure, some contentious rule changes could be coming soon, and the MLB-NPB posting agreement required some intense negotiation, but for the most part, things are solid. Things are simply going … smoothly. And when things go smoothly people make money.
As an interesting – and somewhat nerve-racking – wrinkle, the record growth comes alongside a league-wide attendance dip below the 73 million mark for the first time since 2002, but still the league’s finances are quite strong.