Broadcasting, Ryan Howard and You

One of the biggest reasons the Yankees and the Mets are able to spend so much on their payroll is the fact that they play in the largest and richest media market in the country and control their TV contracts in that market through owning their own TV networks. (Though I don’t know the details about the Red Sox, there is a long standing incestuous relationship between that club and the media outlets– print and TV for sure, probably radio too– in Boston.)

I raise this specter now because as all Phillies fans well know by now, Ryan Howard just signed a monster contract for 5 years, $125 million guaranteed starting in 2012. The question that follows quickly on the heels of that news (other than “is he worth that much/how is he going to age” and “what’s he going to do with all that money”– a question addressed nicely over at Zoo With Roy) is what happens to Jayson Werth whose contract is up after this year, who will be demanding serious money and who no one wants to lose. Where is the money to pay for his contract going to come from? Or does he just walk away with that awesome beard of his?

So, where does the money come from? It comes from ticket sales, ad sales and TV contracts. Ryan Howard helps bring those in.

The first time I saw this alluded to it was perhaps somewhat facetiously by @meechone from The Fightins, saying “By the time Howard’s deal is almost up, the Phillies will be bathing in money from their new all-Phillies, all the time TV Network.” Which made me tweet: “so my question: will signing RyHo help the phillies get a TV network, help sellout the ballpark, not will it help them win another WFC.”

I next saw this theme alluded to by my new favorite beat writer/Northwestern alum/Friday Night Lights fan Ryan Lawrence referring to Howard as: “a guy who sells tickets like no one else on the team.”

However I have seen it perhaps most eloquently elaborated on by David Murphy at the Daily News:
From High Cheese

And even if he does slow down, even if his power does diminish, even if his body starts to show the effects of all the games his durability has allowed him to play, maybe the ancillary benefits of keeping a home-grown superstar in the fold will supplement the difference between the worth of his on-field production and $125 million.

Who knows how many tickets Howard alone might sell during a down year? Who knows how much the Phillies’ decision to reward him is worth in the eyes of other players? Who knows how much hidden worth lies in having the three most marketable professional athletes in the city of Philadelaphia (with apologies to Mike Richards, Andre Iguodala, and Kevin Kolb)? How much that might mean when the next round of sponsorship deals get signed?

Runs Batted In might be overvalued by members of the general public, but members of the general public are the ones who buy tickets, and merchandise, and billboards, and television contracts, and sponsorships.

UZR and WAR might tell you more about winning ballgames, but they don’t sell.

That said, maybe winning ballgames is what ultimately sells. And maybe if the Phillies find themselves with $25 million fewer dollars to spend for two or three seasons, their ability to win ballgames will be drastically affected.

I agree with all of this, but the truth of the matter is that the success of and wealth of the Yankees is dependent on TV contracts more than on any factor. So I wonder, how long until the Phillies launch their own network? How long until they can launch their own network? Or at least can renegotiate their TV contract?

MLB and Fox have a contract through 2013, which is also when TBS’s current contract is up. ESPN’s contract is up after next year. But don’t forget, MLBnetwork launched just last year and did so in 50 million households to begin with– bigger than any other cable network launch in history. This also doesn’t take into account MLB Advanced Media, a remarkably progressive new media division– a profit sharing media division. The point is we could be seeing alot of changes in broadcast rights in the next few years and all of these national/MLB trends will also affect and be affected by what the Phillies do. According to an unverified, uncited wikipedia article, the Phillies own a minority share of CSNPhilly, the network that broadcasts the vast majority of their games and hence the site from which a large portion of the Phillies revenue comes.

Part of the impetus for this post, however, is (as is generally true of this blog) not just to put my two cents in on the game generally and the Howard deal specifically but to earmark questions that I want to return to– possibly this summer while I’m in Philly (I of course I have this illusion that I’ll have all this free time when in fact I’ve already devoted a good chunk of my free time to revising my yet to be completed thesis into articles for publication).

So here’s a few questions:

  • What is the (recent) history of baseball broadcasting in Philadelphia?
  • What does the Phillies current broadcast contract look like? Radio? TV? New Media?
  • How are regional/local/organizational contracts linked to national contracts? How is the Philly club linked to MLB?
  • How exactly do the Yankees and the Red Sox have so much money to spend? What kind of money/revenue do the Mets have? What about the other two largest markets in the country– Los Angeles and (my soon to be home) Chicago?
  • There has been much talk about what players Howard compares to as a way to predict what he will do in the next 7 years of his tenure in Philadelphia (there has been similar chatter about Halladay here and there)– can we find comparable scenarios in terms of signing franchise players to big contracts and seeing what the clubs did, not just the players?
  • (How) Can we evaluate Ryan Howard’s stardom? How can we evaluate sports stardom beyond statistics? How can we incorporate a sport-specific model of stardom into the existing models provided by film (and other media)?

I realize probably no one is interested in these questions but me, but they have alot to do with how our club will do over the next 5+ years and what we will be able to do with this fabulously awesome core of Utley/Halladay/Howard (and for the record I think this deal says more about not getting Rollins back after next year than about Werth— but with Juan Castro playing like this maybe that’s ok).


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