Staying Ahead in the Count

By Kranacher, Mary-Jo | The CPA Journal, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Staying Ahead in the Count


Kranacher, Mary-Jo, The CPA Journal


An Interview with Jonathan Mariner, CFO of Major League Baseball

After a recent speech to students at York College of the City University of New York (CUNY). Jonathan Mariner sat down with CPA Journal Editor-in-Chief Mary-Jo Kranacher for an exclusive interview. As executive vice president and chief financial officer for Major League Baseball (MLB), Mariner provided insight into a wide range of topics, including the so-called luxury tax on team payrolls, lhe steroid scandal, and the financial state of baseball in the current economic climate. At a time when many fans are struggling with their own finances. Mariner believes that America's favorite pastime can offer a family an evening of affordable entertainment. Mariner also di.scussed the unique challenges that face accountants working in a specialized, high-profile industry. Following is an edited transcript of the conversation.

A CPAs Career in Industry

The CPA Journal: TeB us about how you came to be the CFO of Major League Baseball

Jonathan Mariner: I ended up here not because this is a job that I have always had in my sights. My path here came from having been CFO for the Florida Marlins franchise for almost 10 years. Through that particular job, I had exposure to this office. When I spoke to the commissioner of baseball, he mentioned to me that he was reorganizing the office here and he had a job in mind for me. He wanted to know if I would come to New York, and at that point it was the right time in my life. My kids were going off to college, and I thought, TIl give it a shot."

I'm into my eighth year now, and I can honestly say that I absolutely have not looked back.

CPAJ: What are the most challenging aspects of your job?

Mariner: The challenging part is that this is one of the few industries where every single day you've got a dozen sports writers looking to do a story about you. When a business like Amtrak or General Motors is having a tough time, you don't get a lot of people saying, "I know what they need. I can fix that" In our business, everyone's got an answer. The biggest challenge we face is simply trying to get our story out in a factual way. Often, writers want to cover a story before it's done: "When are the Cubs going to be sold?' We say, "Well we don't know yet Let's get them sold and then we'll talk about it."

CPAJ: What would you change about your industry if you could?

Mariner: There's not a lot that I would change. Over the last five or six years, we've really done a lot of fine-tuning. We are at a peak in terms of our fan exposure and fan acceptance, as well as economically. We've got parity across our industry.

There are things that we talk about wanting to change in terms of some of the mechanics of the game, such as the draft. Our draft system needs to be changed a bit. I think we're going to talk about that at the next collective bargaining agreement in March 2011.

Budget Breakdown

CPAJ: What's the total budget for Major League Baseball? Does your organization have an annual audit?

Mariner: We have lots of audits. We have lots of entities. I don't know the exact count, but we have at least 12 to 15 entities that are all audited. Ernst & Young are our auditors, and they spend a lot of time here in the off-season. The best way to talk about our budget is to talk about the different entities that exist in central baseball, as compared to the teams. Each team handles its own budget, and the average team's budget is probably somewhere between $200 million and $300 million.

The newest entity that we set up this season is a new cable network. It will probably be somewhere in the range of $300 million to $400 million in terms of its budget. Another entity that I'm sure a lot of people who follow baseball have visited is our website [www.mlb.com], which is officially named Major League Baseball Advanced Media LP. Their budget is probably in the $450 million range. We also have an entity that handles all of our licensing. …

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