We are impassioned critics of baseball. But in judging the game, most of the time, we don’t want to think of it as a business.
This mentality extends from everyday fans to the most powerful judicial body in the land. Baseball is exempt from federal antitrust laws because the Supreme Court didn’t want to think of it as a business.
But business people know that baseball is big business. The Yankees franchise alone is worth $3.2 billion, according to the latest annual Forbes report titled, “The Business of Baseball.”
Every once in a while, a news story appears that reorients baseball fans’ thinking a bit. Helping them imagine baseball players as employees, in situations relatable to their own workplaces.
The Adam LaRoche saga is a prime example. In wake of news that club president Kenny Williams confronted the Sox DH about his son’s presence at the team’s facilities, the Chicago Tribune reported, “[V]ocal Sox fans seem to agree with [Williams’] decision to curb Drake LaRoche’s clubhouse time. Many believe it’s a workplace issue.”
For whatever reason, stories like this strike a collective nerve. And fans are often quick to judge athletes who are seemingly overpaid, entitled, and oblivious to real work in the real world—especially those who significantly underperform, like LaRoche.
But rarely does this contempt extend to coddled sports team owners. It should.
The White Sox ownership group, led by Jerry Reinsdorf, are not necessarily given special favors in the workplace (although accommodations were made by the club for Reinsdorf’s grandson), but in real, material terms—i.e. money!—by the state and city, in ways that businesses employing most Sox fans couldn’t dream.
For example, how many Sox fans’ half-billion dollar business facilities were built, maintained, and renovated upon request by the state?
Because U.S. Cellular Field, the White Sox place of business, is paid for by taxpayers. Every year, the city and state contribute $5 million apiece to maintain the ballpark. An additional $40 million or more comes in annually from hotel taxes. And when the Sox request stadium upgrades, like new video boards, a legal agreement obligates the state to pony up.
And how many Sox fans’ businesses don’t pay property taxes? Or are exempt from tax increases?
Although built almost exclusively for private use, U.S. Cellular Field is publicly owned. Therefore, taxing bodies receive no revenue from the property. And the White Sox agreement with the state protects the team against any future tax increases or new taxes imposed by the city, county, or state.
Most of this information can be found in the White Sox management agreement and annual reports from the Illinois Sports Facilities Authority, some of which can be found here.
Also, the White Sox, like all MLB teams, benefit from an industry structure that functions like a cartel (as a result of the aforementioned antitrust exemption). Through collusion, MLB owners have been able to leverage things like, additional television revenues, and reduced player (i.e. employee) salaries via team control and arbitration.
Because they are propped up by taxpayer subsidies and legalized price fixing, White Sox operators have remained highly profitable, and have seen the estimated value of their franchise triple over ten years, all while being pretty bad at their business: assembling a successful baseball team.
Likewise, Adam LaRoche was pretty bad at his business—hitting—last season. And fans turned on him when he then scoffed at his locker room privileges being revoked.
I don’t want to conflate the special treatment of LaRoche and the White Sox—one has an effect on team chemistry in sport and the other on the local economy and distribution of taxpayer resources—other than to say this:
If business performance is the standard by which fans justify special privileges in the work world, the White Sox should be catching hell right now.
Lead Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski // USA Today Sports Images