Miller clobbered the owners back then, and his successors have done a pretty good job ever since. They have been able to avoid the one thing that the unions in the other sports couldn’t: Baseball doesn’t have a salary cap.
The impact now becomes more acute in the wake of the recent local TV rights deals being signed by teams. The Dodgers are set to cash in on a ridiculous $280 million per year deal from Fox in Los Angeles. That’s $1.73 million per game, or almost as much as the Miami Marlins’ current payroll for 2013.
The Dodgers’ haul makes recent TV deals by the Angels and Texas Rangers (both in the $3 billion range) seem like petty cash. And both of those teams were more than pleased with what they got.
With the regional TV market exploding, the key now is to have a local deal that is set to expire in the next couple of years. The Philadelphia Phillies, Chicago Cubs and Seattle Mariners are among the teams on deck for the big TV money upgrade.
The Atlanta Braves, meanwhile, are stuck with a 25-year deal with their local outlet that pays in the $12 million range. Let’s see: $280 million compared to $12 million. How are the Braves supposed to compete with that?
Answer: They won’t.
The TV disparity wouldn’t be as dramatic if there was a salary cap in place, much like the NFL, NBA, and NHL (whenever they resolve their dispute). But baseball is cap-less, meaning almost anything goes.
I know, I know. MLB Commissioner Bud Selig will point to the low budget Oakland A’s winning the AL West this year, and the Tampa Bay Rays have been competitive with a minimal payroll. Money isn’t everything. Just ask the Cubs and Mets, big spenders and big losers.
Still, it helps to have some cash on hand to not only get players, but also to be able to keep your stars in the fold. Clearly, without a salary cap, teams aren’t competing on a level playing field.
The Dodgers now will have a huge advantage thanks to their TV deal. And the other teams with new local packages in upcoming years also will have more to spend.
Yet another reason for players to give thanks to Marvin Miller.