So now what? Does this mean the Expos are heading south?
I’m not sure.
Well, several reasons:
- a 100% subsidized ballpark in Washington will be a license to print money. Will it be more profitable to sell the Expos to Washington interests or to put an expansion franchise there? Franchise value is generally based upon the amount of revenue a team could potentially generate. A luxury box/club seat laden ballpark with minimal (if any) rent in a region starving for baseball translates into an avalanche of greenbacks. Currently, Forbes has put a value of $145 million on the Expos. Granted, a new ballpark might goose up the total a bit, but they may be able to charge more in expansion fees than they could make with a sale.
- Other regions are equally eager for MLB: Portland and Las Vegas. Conceivably, MLB could ignite a bidding war for the Expos with these two regions. The winning city gets the Expos, and the losing region gets to be Washington’s expansion partner.
- You may ask: ‘Are you nuts? [Yes!] Baseball just threatened contraction and now you’re telling me they’ll expand again?’ Why not? It’s about the Benjamins. Contraction is a bargaining chip to use in labour negotiations. Just because they expand by two teams doesn’t mean they still can’t contract later. After all, they’ll need new cities for blackmail purposes when a team is stumping for a new retractable roof ATM. A region that lost its team makes a tasty bargaining chip in such situations. Sound farfetched? Well bear in mind that D.C. lost two teams and was still used as a viable threat.
- Ultimately, they could choose one of two things: (i) sell the Expos to Washington interests, probably for [far] less than $200 million or (ii) expand to Washington and either Portland or Vegas but sell the Expos beforehand and ignite a bidding war between the two cities and expand to the city that didn’t get the expansion franchise. Total amount from this approach? Probably well over half-a-billion dollars.
- So what if Selig acts in bad faith toward Montreal, Washington, Las Vegas, and Portland in the process? Selig routinely lies to press, the players union, Congress, the fans, cities whose teams are trying to open the public purse etc. etc. etc. so what’s one more underhanded deal?
Personally, the thing that frosts me most about Montreal possibly losing the Expos is that it’s so unnecessary. If Expos fans and MLB were married, it would be considered an abusive relationship. It’s like telling a woman who refuses to be both co-dependent and abused that she’ll never get married unless she changes her attitude. The Expos have been screwed over repeatedly. Would you go to a restaurant where the prices are exorbitant; the kitchen and the restrooms share the same space; you keep finding fingernail clippings and cat whiskers in the food; that has a stomach pump at each table between the salt and pepper shakers and they‘ve got the poison hotline on speed dial? Of course not. But that’s what MLB has done to Expos fans. They’ve repeatedly been fed garbage and have been told to like it or else. Baseball is the only business where they offer a substandard product, lousy service, tell you repeatedly that their merchandise is crappy and overpriced and then blame the consumer when the business struggles.
Oh I’ve heard the other ‘reasons’ for fans not coming out. They say ‘Montreal is a hockey town.’ So what? So is Toronto; the Maple Leafs are among the most profitable teams in the NHL despite the Canadian dollar, a privately financed arena, and a heavy tax burden. In the U.S. the region generally pays for the arena, they get a huge break on taxes, and can amortize up to 50% of the franchise price over the first five years of ownership--and the Leafs still kick their butts in profitability. The Jays seem to be doing O.K. [in Toronto] despite the Leafs owning most hearts there. You also don’t see anybody trying to get rid of the Texas Rangers or the Houston Astros because they’re ‘football towns.’ These aren’t reasons--they’re red herrings; ‘Montreal is a hockey town’ is a red herring to distract the public from the fact that MLB has repeatedly acted in bad faith toward Expos fans. The Expos could easily be viable in Quebec if MLB invested in it. However Selig and Co. are more interested in making quick and easy money than an honest dollar. Personally, the only reason I don’t stuff Bud Selig headfirst into a dumpster is because it’s a terrible thing to do to garbage.
Link time. Since we’re discussing the business end of things, I thought I’d highlight Doug's [Pappas] Business of Baseball Weblog If you need to know the business end of things, he’s the guy to check out.