Expos should move to NYC Area
Metropolitan area easily could support 3rd team,
but don’t hold your breath
April 30, 2003
Ken Rosenthal, TSN
Opening day 2008, and Vladimir Guerrero steps to the plate for the New Jersey Expos. The retractable roof is open at Twin Towers Memorial Park, the first new park in the New York area since 1964. From the Jersey side of the Hudson River, the rebuilt lower Manhattan skyline is visible from almost every seat.
The idea just might save baseball, but don’t tell it to Yankees owner George Steinbrenner or Mets owner Fred Wilpon. Their promised resistance to a third team in the New York area ensures there’s a better chance of a franchise relocating to New Guinea than New Jersey — and their self-serving, short-sighted yet understandable position is typical of this stuck-in-the-mud sport.
Let no one mistake what is happening in the first year of the new labor agreement, the point of which was to take a wrecking ball to “The Empire That George Built.” The Yankees’ record $152.7 million payroll is $35.6 million more than that of the next highest team, the spendaholic Mets. Competitive balance? Let the other 29 clubs eat cake. The Yankees, fueled by their alliances with the YES Network, adidas and the Tokyo Yomiuri Giants, are intent on finishing 153-9.
Major League Baseball officials believe the labor agreement eventually will curb the Yankees’ spending through escalating luxury-tax penalties and revenue-sharing percentages. Don’t hold your breath. Several big Yankees contracts will expire at season’s end, enabling Steinbrenner to target free agents like Guerrero, Miguel Tejada and Bartolo Colon.
The reality is, nothing will change until MLB makes dramatic structural reform. I’m not talking about a salary cap, which creates its own set of problems and would never be embraced by the players’ union. I’m talking about a market correction, and not the kind in which the owners squish midlevel free agents like so many bugs.
Put a third team in New York. And don’t stop there.
Stick one of the Florida teams in Washington, D.C./northern Virginia and tell the Orioles to get their act together and compete. Move the other Florida team to Boston to prevent the Red Sox from creating their own Evil Empire. End the Giants’ Bay Area hegemony by removing their territorial claim to San Jose and giving the A’s a place where they can financially succeed.
None of this will happen, no matter how much economic sense it makes. But if the disparity in local revenue is the greatest obstacle to competitive balance, and if the redistribution of that revenue is failing to achieve the desired results, the next step should be obvious: Attack the problem at its core by cutting into the revenue streams of the big-money franchises and leveling the financial playing field once and for all.
Think of the possibilities if the MLB-owned Expos went Broadway, or somewhere close to it:
National television revenue would rise. MLB’s contracts with Fox and ESPN expire after the 2006 season. Relocating one franchise to New York and another to Washington would give MLB two more teams in the nation’s top eight television markets, enhancing the sport’s appeal to major networks.
MLB would get the maximum sale price. The Expos would be worth even more in New York than in Washington. I can even picture a buyer: Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan, who previously has tried to buy the Yankees, Mets and Red Sox — and engaged in a bitter feud with Steinbrenner over the YES Network.
A hungry market would respond. The New York area can’t get enough baseball. The Mets, Yankees and four New York-area minor league teams drew 7.4 million fans combined last season. That’s more than twice as many as the city’s three major-league teams drew in 1957, the season before the Giants and Dodgers moved west.
Of course, there’s one problem with all this: Steinbrenner would go berserk.
The Boss bought the Yankees for $10 million in 1973, and his business acumen has turned them into a $849 million prize, according to Forbes magazine. Putting a third team in New York would lower that value, as well as the value of the Mets. The ensuing lawsuits by both franchises would make any attempt by Orioles owner Peter Angelos to keep a team out of the D.C. area look like a traffic-court petition.
“We’ve heard this rumor in the past,” Yankees president Randy Levine says. “We have specifically contacted the commissioner’s office and spoken with commissioner Selig and (MLB chief operating officer) Bob DuPuy. We’ve been told there’s absolutely no basis for it.
“We would oppose it. We would use every ounce of effort we have to oppose it in the most strenuous manner. We’ve also discussed it with Mets ownership. They’ve advised me that they would take the exact same position.”
Adds Selig, “There has been very minimal conversation, almost none. From time to time, people raise it. There were three teams there for many, many years. Certainly, the demographics are there. But that all ended in 1957.”
Yes, and nearly half a century later, New York is even bigger and healthier than it was then. If a rival league formed tomorrow, where would it put its first team? New York would be the obvious choice, and it should be the obvious place for MLB to direct the Expos or some other sagging franchise.
The current plan to derail the Yankees sure isn’t working.
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