Thursday, April 13, 2006

Baseball and communism: sports parity and Robin Hood

Great article from Yahoo sports by Passan, "The Great Divide," on revenue sharing.

I was always under the impression that there was no significant Robin Hood transfer, because if there were, the Royals' payroll would simply have to be bigger than it is. I was right about that small point--the Royals payroll is mighty small. But there is a luxury tax taken from rich teams. And it does go to small teams. It just doesn't have to be spent on the team. It can go into the owners' pockets. And it does.

This might make the poorer team owners look a little ungenerous to their fans. But you'd need to find out what the profit margins of the big and small teams are to know how the owners are faring. All I know is this: according to the Kansas City Star's discussion of whether revenue sharing is working, the Royals got about $55m (about $20m in Robin Hood money, and $30m from a general fund). That's about 50% larger than their payroll. So, basically, the owners are not paying for their players, and are getting a fair bit of operational and collective-bargaining fees taken care of, too. The fact that the Royals still can't compete is somewhat of an argument against increasing revenue sharing. Maybe. Interestingly, the Cardinals, Yankees, Red Sox, and Dodgers all made the playoffs but lost money. The Royals haven't seen the postseason since Methusaleh celebrated his 21st birthday party, and made a (very small) profit.

One thing is clear: poor teams can make no mistakes with their personnel. The Yankees can spend $10m on a half-baked idea: if the Royals do, and it doesn't pan out, for the next two or three seasons the failed player's position will be staffed by promising high-school students.

It's great that the last six seasons have been won by six different teams--each somewhat of a surprise, in fact, except for the 2000 victory of the Yankees over the Mets (which was a pretty cool series anyway). But the big guys are always near the pinnacle, while the little guys, basically, just take turns occasionally getting a little-guy representative deep into the playoffs. So five teams always succeed, and the other three playoff slots rotate among fifteen less well-endowed hopefuls. Admittedly, this doesn't correlate exactly with payroll--the rich Mets almost never get very far, yet the poor Athletics are always competitive. But can small-market fans survive on just a little bit of success once per decade? Or, in the Royals' case, once every quarter-century?


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