Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Do Dodgers, Mets Spell Trouble?

Maybe it was just a matter of time before a major sports league was beset by financial problems. After all, why should they be immune from the problems other industries must cope with? But it was shocking to hear today that the Los Angeles Dodgers, an iconic franchise, were being taken over by major league baseball.

Sure, there had been lots of stories about the war of the roses like breakup of the marriage of owners Frank and Jamie McCourt. But to see the Dodgers have its business operations taken over has to be the biggest surprise sine the Boys of Summer  left Brooklyn more than a half century ago.

And that's not the only financial mess baseball is facing. All winter the New York Mets have had to face withering publicity about its connection to Bernard L. Madoff as well as  questions about the financial well-being of the club. Bud Selig, the baseball commissioner, has held meetings with the Mets owners.

That's two of baseball's crown jewels that have become fodder for late-night TV comics. Their problems may not be directly linked to the economy, but leaguewide ticket sales have been dropping the last few years and this year lower attendance is reported for some clubs. That must make the league office concerned, despite assurances from the commissioner.

Not since the Great Depression has baseball seemingly seemed so vulnerable. A New York Times article notes that in the 1930s player salaries fell by 25 percent and every team, even the Yankees, lost money. We may not see that (it's hard to imagine players agreeing to pay cuts with TV money still flowing), but it will be interesting to see if more clubs will be weighed down by the debt they were happy to take on during headier days.

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