TV Vital to New Baseball Teams NATIONAL PASTIME

By Guy Halverson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, June 13, 1991 | Go to article overview

TV Vital to New Baseball Teams NATIONAL PASTIME


Guy Halverson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


THE National League of major league baseball blasted a mighty home run out of the ballpark this week - awarding expansion teams for two fast-growing United States cities that are important television markets: Miami, Fla., and Denver, Colo.

The issue now is whether the home run will be upheld by the ultimate judges of organized baseball - the owners of the 26 teams representing the National League (NL) and its rival, the American League (AL). After a committee representing team owners approves the decision, nine of the 12 NL teams and eight of the 14 AL teams must ratify the two sites. Startup will be in 1993.

Beyond the decision to place the first ever major league teams in Florida and the Rockies, there is another question: Whether expansion - as opposed to shifting existing franchises with financial problems to Miami and Denver, or other cities - is the best long-range solution for rejuvenating a sport facing some difficult times of late.

An industry with revenues of around $1.2 billion and pretax profits of over $200 million, the national pastime faces slipping attendance at some parks, soaring ticket prices, and expensive contracts for players signed as free agents.

Despite all the hand-wringing, "I'm upbeat" about baseball's future prospects, says Lawrence Ritter, a professor of finance at New York University's Stern School of Business and author of perhaps the most acclaimed book ever written about the game, "The Glory of Their Times."

"Everybody (in the sport) is making a mint," laughs Mr. Ritter. "Are the players wringing their hands? And if the owners are doing so badly, why don't they move?" he asks. "Have bat, will travel."

Ritter says television is now the driving force behind the sport and that expansion into two new viewing markets will add thousands of fans. And despite high ticket prices that make it harder to get to a stadium as often as in the past, he says youngsters "are as much in love" with baseball as ever, ensuring the game's future.

According to baseball commissioner Fay Vincent, the Miami/Denver recommendation of an NL expansion committee will likely be accepted by the team owners this week or during the next several weeks. Owners have been meeting in Los Angeles and are expected to wrap up their quarterly business today. …

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