Houston Astros v Seattle Mariners

The Seattle Mariners already purchased one of the largest televisions in the world and are owned by a company best known for creating some of the most popular video games in history. Why not complete the entertainment trifecta and buy up the company which current owns the team’s broadcasting rights?

The good people at Seattle Mariners Inc are going to do just that, as reports indicate the Mariners ownership group will buy a controlling interest in ROOT Sports, the regional sports network that broadcasts the Mariners and partner with DirectTV to create a new regional sports network partnership. The Mariners deal with ROOT features an opt out clause after the 2015, at which point the new DirecTV partnership will take over, one can only assume.

Though there are early warning signs that the local sports bubble is groaning under the strain of too much free money, the Mariners gaining control of their own broadcast rights is seen as a positive move for the club. Many teams use their pet RSN (regional sports networks) as offshore bank accounts, hiding revenue from the MLB luxury tax system and infusing the club with cash.

Geoff Baker of the Seattle Times says while it isn’t selling the team to local owner (rather than one located primarily in Japan), this is the next best thing:

As owner of the network, the team charges itself a nominal sum for the right to broadcast games. That sum gets reported to MLB by the team as the revenue taken in for the rights to those games.

In some cases, the revenue might actually be two, three or even four times higher. But that gets run through the TV network’s books and is not associated with MLB revenue sharing. It’s a neat little trick and it’s done all the time.

Now, the Mariners will be able to take advantage like other teams have.

Controlling your own network also enables a team to dictate the programming content. Usually, a team partners with an existing network in order to buy up its infrastructure and on-air talent so it does not have to start from scratch.

The San Diego Padres demonstrate that sometimes a new RSN deal isn’t as good as expected, as cable providers balk at paying higher subscriber rates, as the customers themselves balk in unison.

What will the Mariners transaction provide? More cash to improve the team? The ownership group, while flawed, isn’t hesitant to spend cash on the team, as evidenced by the ballpark upgrades and lucrative contract for Felix Hernandez. More money means…more upgrades? More astronomical contracts? The sky is limit, right up until the moment it begins falling.

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