Tom Matlack thinks he can fix the game we all used to love.
I grew up in Western Massachusetts and have lived my entire adult life in Boston, save for two trips to Connecticut for education and one god-awful summer in Manhattan back in 1991. I was the Little League home run champ in my hometown during my 12-year-old year, 1976. I can tell you where I was for the Yankee playoff game, Billy Buckner, and the 2004 World Series win.
But this week, I made some pretty good pocket change betting with my friends against the hometown squad and on that team with heart and no payroll, the Rays. I took exquisite pleasure in watching the three minutes in which the Sox fell completely apart, with the poetic justice of Crawford missing a catchable fly ball to seal the deal, while the Rays roared back to beat none other than the Yankees.
You see, from the most diehard fan, I have become a cynic, only going to games a few times a year to visit with friends. My single buds are only there to catch a glimpse of Heidi Watney, the Miss California now the roving sideline as a reporter for NESN. None of us care about the game. After a couple hours of betting on whether the ball will land on “dirt” or “grass” between innings—even a tight game against the Yankees—we get up and leave. Who wants to sit in Fenway for five hours? I live a short walk from the park, so I amble on home and go to bed without even checking the score.
J.D. Drew, Carl Crawford, and John Lackey represent all that is wrong with baseball. Huge guaranteed money by a big market team, no heart, and frankly, limited talent over promised by agent Scott Boras.
But I have a plan to fix all that is wrong with the nation’s pastime. Listen up John Henry and Buddy Boy Selig. You have to do something before this game sputters into oblivion. If you have lost me, the rest of your fandom is soon to follow.
Sports in the modern era are all about money. So let’s review some of the economics that are standing in the way of a product that fans can endorse. The beauty of tennis and golf is that you actually have to win to get paid. The problem with baseball is that you just have to negotiate the best contract.
The NFL, still the best sports product out there with 16 regular season games that matter, will top $9 billion in revenue this year. The new deal with players shares 50% of that revenue, with owners able to earn another 3% if the league, as a whole, grows the pie. The NFL has the advantage of national TV deals and a hard salary cap that maintains parity and puts a premium on the team concept and coaching. You cannot even begin to try to buy a championship the way the Yankees and Red Sox do every year.
The MLB will do just over $7 billion this year. Markets are fragmented by the size of local market television audience (with YES and NESN being the biggest). There are 2,430 regular season games played each year in the 30 parks.
There is a revenue sharing system in place that moved $312 million from the most financially successful clubs to the less successful. No one likes this system. “Baseball has to address the disincentives created by large scale transfers of revenue from successful clubs to less successful clubs,” John Henry has said. The complaint is that bad teams just pocket the revenue sharing checks. There is no incentive to spend on players or winning.
So here’s the way to fix it.
Let’s start with the NFL math that sharing equally between ownership and players is fair. Then let’s split the players’ portion of the pot into two equal pots, one based on guaranteed money and the other on performance.
The 25% of MLB revenue paid to sign players remains unchanged. That $1.75 billion is used to acquire and keep the best talent that any given team can afford. Existing contracts would have to be renegotiated to comply with this new system, pushing some portion (like half) from guaranteed money to performance-based incentives. But all teams would be playing by the same rules.
Rather than the $312 million of revenue sharing, under this new system, the league would require a full 25% of all revenue to be centralized. In other words, the other $1.75 billion in performance pays for players. All teams have to contribute 25% of their revenues to the pool.
The incentive pool would be allocated: $750 million to the regular season and $1 billion to the playoffs.
The winning team in each of the 2,430 regular season games would receive $308,642 in incentive pay. Personally, I’d like to see all the players split the proceeds equally, but that’s a wrinkle that can be worked out later.
The $1 billion for the playoffs goes to the winner of the World Series in a winner-takes-all tournament. Each of the 25 players on the winning squad takes home $40 million.
Just to put those numbers in perspective, Lady Gaga gets $1 million a show, but she doesn’t have the chance to win the World Series.
What would this system accomplish? It would restore competition to baseball and flush all the grand posturing—the Theo and Boras and utter nonsense that is ruining the sport—down the toilet. It would put pressure on management to assemble winning teams, flipping the leverage from players looking for handouts to players looking for teams capable of winning the big dance. It would make baseball a team sport, where one player has a real stake in making sure that his teammate is doing his job and where team heart and chemistry matter more than anything else.
Players could certainly still make a lot of money, whether or not they ever win a game. But to make big money they would need to put together a 90-win season and bring home the trophy for their city. No longer would they be able to make $20 million a year for sucking.
Most of all it would make a great game great again.
(Oh, and one more thing: Can we all also install a pitch clock so Yankees-Red Sox games take two hours instead of five? Thanks.)