COVID-19 has cut a wide path through professional sports and pro leagues are still not sure what they are going to do in order to get started again.
Foremost of these is Major League Baseball, the true “Boys of Summer” sport. Owners and players are still negotiating terms for kickstarting an aborted season and whatever happens, there is no question that both sides are losing a lot of money.
Which is very bad for them but could prove to be very beneficial for the Portland Diamond Project.
Expansion in baseball over the years has often not been about the simple need for adding worthy cities or creating more jobs for players. It’s frequently been used as the quickest and best cash grab for owners facing big debt.
Which is exactly the situation those owners are going to be facing soon -- whether they play a shortened season (likely without fans in their ballparks) or not.
Time for a quick look back:
The players’ strike in 1994, which cost millions, sparked an expansion wave in 1998, with the new franchises having to begin paying their franchise fees in 1995. A previous expansion followed a collusion settlement with the players’ association that meant owners needed to come up with a lot of quick cash.
There hasn’t been expansion in 22 years because baseball owners have been running a money machine, with rich revenue from television (regional sports networks, especially), merchandise and their successful digital presence. They didn’t want to share their pot of gold and didn’t need the quick cash infusion.
Now, though, those expansion fees are going to look very tempting to owners who are likely going to be decimated by the pandemic.
It is estimated an expansion fee these days would be priced somewhere between $1 and $1.5 billion. Adding two teams at $1.5 billion would net the 30 existing franchises $50 million apiece -- which would do a lot to take the sting out of the expected losses this summer.
It would also mean MLB could go with a sensible eight-team, four-division setup that could mean less travel for each team, appeasing players and saving money.
Of course, realignment like that would require progressive thinking baseball may not be capable of conjuring. More likely they’d try eight, four-team divisions -- so more teams could win “pennants.”
Could the Portland Diamond Project handle that sort of heavy expansion fee, then build its own ballpark, too?
It is believed the answer is yes. They seem confident -- they were likely going to have to pay in the neighborhood of a billion dollars (or more) for an existing team. The Miami Marlins sold for $1.2 billion in 2017.
The PDP has been quiet of late but very active behind the scenes, staying in touch with its contacts inside MLB and continuing to do its due diligence on local ballpark sites.
But competition for those expansion teams is expected to be heated, with new cities popping up all the time. Lately, Charlotte, Vancouver, B.C., Nashville and even New Orleans have been mentioned along with standbys Portland, Montreal and Las Vegas.
But in a time when the Oakland A’s can’t even make their stadium rent payments and a lot of teams are going to be going from riches to rags, expansion seems to be the easiest and quickest way to solve MLB’s looming financial problems.
It’s up to the PDP to be ready when the moment comes. And I believe it is.