The Winning versus Wealth Debate… Money On The Field, Not In The Pocket

Read the opposing argument from Babe Ruthless.

It’s appropriate that we’re doing this debate today because, as I gathered my overall thoughts on the topic, I had the displeasure of watching the majority of a three game series featuring the Braves and Pittsburgh Pirates over past three days. It was unfortunate for two reasons. One reason is the Braves lost two out of three to the lowly and dirt cheap Pirates. Two, it was extremely sad to see such pathetic crowds (a combined 39,513 for the just completed three game series, including a holiday crowd on Monday) on hand at beautiful PNC Park. It surely seemed like there were more people canoeing up and down the Allegheny River than were at the actual park. It’s depressing because, as Sports Geek and I can attest to thanks to a trip to PNC Park in 2006, it really is a beautiful park.

Why the sparse crowd you ask, especially with a good team in town to play the Pirates? Quite frankly, the home team is not any good as anyone can see by taking a look at the team’s 47-92 record. You also don’t have losing seasons for seventeen consecutive seasons by accident. Why is this happening? Because ownership, despite the fact that the city of Pittsburgh has proven in other leagues that it will support a winner, refuses to spend enough money to operate a “successful” franchise in terms of putting a winning product on the field.

Obviously, Bleacher Fan’s question isn’t solely about the Pirates organization (or about Broadway for that matter). But that franchise, more so than perhaps any other franchise in all of sports, is Exhibit A on what is wrong with this situation, and it’s why governing bodies must take some sort of action.

The revenue sharing system currently in place in Major League Baseball allows for teams like the Yankees (ugh, I am giving credit to Babe Ruthless’ favorite team) to pay a luxury tax and a portion of their profits (yes, it really is a profit sharing system) back into a pool set up by the league. It’s not much different than the profit-sharing plan you may have at your place of employment. That money is then sent out to other franchises, with much of it going to small market teams and low payroll teams like the Pirates. It’s essentially free money. It’s set up as a way to promote parity and competitive balance within the sport. It’s not set up as a way to make a team more profitable just for the sake of that money going into the owner’s pocket. That money is supposed to be put to good use. Putting in one’s pocket-sized wallet is not what I would call “good use.”

Most teams, including Pittsburgh, have stadiums like PNC Park that were at least partially funded by taxpayer dollars. As a fan, if my taxes have been spent on building that stadium, I want a quality product out there… within reason of course as it’s unrealistic to expect every team to have a $100M payroll. As a taxpayer in this country I want my tax money put to good use. I don’t want the funds wasted.

The Pirates made close to $30M in 2007 and 2008. That money, which likely indirectly came straight from the Yankees, could have been spent on payroll. But instead the organization hides behind a blanket statement like, “We’re building for the future.” Folks, Pittsburgh has been building for the future for 18 years, ever since Sid Bream slid into home plate in game seven of the 1992 NLCS. Tampa Bay correctly built for the future the past several years and are reaping the benefits now. Pittsburgh, however, continues to face the demons of another 100 game losing season.

The leagues have to do something. Obviously, the bottom line should be to make money. That’s usually what matters to owners. Believe me, I fully understand that, and the average person does too. But it’s possible to make money and still field a quality team. There are examples in every league. A happy medium is within reach. It’s up to the respective leagues to make the owners understand this.

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