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MLB Financial Documents Leaked, Marlins President Promises Legal Action

Aug 23, 2010 – 8:22 PM
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Pat Lackey

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For a long time, the real finances behind Major League Baseball have been something of a mystery to the public. Forbes estimates each team's profit every year, but the reliability of the Forbes numbers is always up for debate.

The last two days, though, have brought a whirlwind of information that's shed new light on how baseball does business.

Yesterday, the AP obtained a copy of the Pittsburgh Pirates' financial records and published a story about their profit margins in the past few years. The team responded by opening their books to local reporters to explain where the money had gone. Then, early this morning Deadspin posted a ream of financial documents belonging to the Pirates, Marlins, Angels, Rays and Mariners with a promise of more to come in the next few days.

And with that, baseball's finances suddenly aren't so secret. The Biz of Baseball's Maury Brown has posted the numbers in slightly more digestible form at his website. As the AP reported, the Pirates pulled in about $30 million in total net profit in 2007 and 2008, while the Marlins nearly matched that number in 2008 with a whopping $29.46 million and another $4-plus million coming in in 2009. For reference, former Marlin Miguel Cabrera made $26.3 million total in 2008 and 2009. Both clubs were recipients of large amounts of revenue-sharing money

There's also some interesting information about playoff revenue. The Rays reported a total of about $16 million in net profit in 2007 and 2008, but their World Series run in 2008 more than doubled that total with a $17 million haul. They also saw a big bounce in concessions that season as their attendance increased with their playoff run. The small-market Pirates, Rays and Marlins, meanwhile, all spend much more money on player development than their larger-market cousins in Seattle and Los Angeles. And who could've guessed that the Pirates' TV revenue is only $5 million per year less than the Angels?

So far, the only real response has been from the Pirates, who tried to explain what happens to their net profits while their team continues to lose (they've already clinched their record 18th consecutive losing season). The Pirates say that besides a $20 million payment in 2007 used partially to cover the ownership group's taxes on profits from 2006 and 2007 and partially to repay the interest on a loan given to the team by current owner Bob Nutting (Nutting converted most of the loan into equity with the team but the remainder of the ownership group refused to allow him to convert the equity as well; the vote to repay the interest was taking with Nutting and his family recusing themselves from voting) the owners haven't taken any money out of club and all of the profit has gone toward either paying down the team's debt or funding projects like the team's new $5 million academy in the Dominican Republic.

The only other statement made so far were from Marlins' President David Samson, who only said that the league will be looking into the leak that resulted in Deadspin's obtaining of the documents, and that they'd be seeking legal recourse.

The Marlins were warned by the Player's Association earlier this year that the club's big profit margins and low spending were in violation of the league's revenue-sharing agreement.
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