Thursday, March 29, 2012

D-ger Deal Viability Questioned But Maybe New Owners Have Grander Plans

Very interesting article on ESPN regarding the D-ger sale deal.  Economists are also shocked at the $2.15B price tag (the actual details seems to vary with the wind, but the latest I understand is it is $2B for the team, and $150M for the parking lot, where they own half and McCourt owns half, but the team would control everything and receive all monies generated, but any development would then benefit both).

Andrew Zimbalist, an economist who writes a lot of articles and books on team valuation, noted "At the end of the day, you have to question the deal."  Mark Rosentraub, a University of Michigan sports management professor said "It's the craziest deal ever; it makes no sense.  That's why you saw so many groups drop out.  I don't get it.  The numbers just don't work.  It doesn't make business sense.  ... [it] is over $800 million more than what pencils out for a profitable investment for a baseball team.  If making money doesn't count, this is a great move.  But now we're into buying art and I can't value art.  I can just run the model numbers and it doesn't make sense."  That extra money is basically McCourt's profit off the deal, from what I can tell from the articles I've read, he is suppose to come out of this with $7-800M after paying off debts and his ex-wife.

The article noted, "The problem economists have with the sale of the team being tied to the television contract is teams use their television deals as revenue to improve the team, not to offset the costs of overpaying for a franchise."

One of the economists also noted McCourt's continued involvement as a stunner, but as I noted above, subsequent info from the buying group stated clearly that McCourt's involvement is nil except as an equity partner.  Though I agree with the economists, for the money they paid, they should have been able to buy out everything and push him out completely, when you are overpaying by that much.  They also make the interesting point that McCourt has been in court frequently in the past suing his partners for one thing or another, which would be a headache that the new owners would have to deal with.

Lots of good info on TV deals reiterated here, so I thought I would bring that up.  Fox had offered McCourt a 20-year, $3B deal, which was basically what the Angels got last December from Fox, worth "at least $3B" and apparently the Rangers got a similar deal at similar terms as well. It also noted that a TV deal is not a done deal, that they could start their own regional sports network like the Yankees have with the YES Network (and Red Sox with their NES Network).  Looking this up on Wikipedia, the Giants own 30% of CSN Bay Area, with 45% owned by NBCUniversal (formerly Comcast) and 25% owned by Fox.

Giants Thoughts

Nothing like good D-ger turmoil to warm a Giants fan's heart.  Baer had his "play nice with your neighbors" message about it being good to have a competitive D-ger team, but I am more than happy to see the D-gers fall on their faces for an eternity.

I didn't look too deeply at the numbers, but I thought the deal looked kind of squirrelly financially, but I couldn't put my finger on it.  But the comment above confirmed the thought I had, that the potential TV deal appears to pay for the valuation, but then where is the money for the team?

But either economist noted that most teams are not bought for their financial flow into their owner's coffers.  They are usually bought for their long-term appreciation, which is when they would get their money back.  Still, overpaying by double is a sure way to reduce your ROI by a lot.

Here is how I think the value works out for the owners.  It has to do with the land involved and the new owners wanted to be aggressive and win the bidding outright, without much thinking on the part of McCourt or the MLB before they agree on the deal.  So that's why I think Magic's group went with their "Buy It NOW" bid, a la eBay (this article on Yahoo supports this notion, noting the new owner wanted to "win by two touchdowns."; this article has another figure on a TV deal, $4M over 20 years).

As Mark Purdy notes in his column, the new owner is the CEO of a huge $125B financial firm called Guggenheim Partners, and the official name of the new D-gers ownership group is Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC, and not named after Walters or anything else, implying that the assets of this firm could be intertwined with the D-gers in some way.  What is the mission statement for the new owner?  "all I want to do is get to the World Series."  (Sidenote:  obviously, he's never spoken with Barry Bonds, who, after losing the 2002 World Series, his wife at that time told him, "well, you got what you wished for, you wanted to get to the World Series, and you did...").

In the Purdy article, he noted that Andy Dolich, a long-time sports management executive in the Bay Area (stints with A's, Warriors, and 49ers), who was an advisor to one of the bidders, had his financial people run a financial model and came up with a bid of $1.2-1.3B as the one that made the most economic sense, which is in line with what one of the professors was quoted (he noted it was $800M over).  So he was blown out by the actual winning bid.

One of the theories he came up with that could explain the grander plans is one where Dodger Stadium would be razed and a new one built near the Staples Center, in the L.A. Live District, which is owned and run by Anschutz Entertainment Group.  AEG would partner with Guggenheim to build the new baseball park, which would benefit the L.A. Live District since there are 81 baseball dates each year (and 3-10 more if playoffs), while Dodger Stadium would be razed to build a new football stadium complex at Chavez Ravine.

And that is basically what I thought is how they plan on making the big money, doing something with the Chavez Ravine property, because it is a huge tract of mostly undeveloped land in land-locked LA, though this baseball-football plan is way beyond what I would have thought.  Kind of like what was envisioned for the 49ers, where there would be a hotel and commercial complex built around the stadium, where synergies would feed off each other for additional revenues beyond just the team itself.

Purdy also noted that Jed York once worked for Guggenheim, so Walter could have perhaps contacted him to discuss the NFL.  It makes sense, as Walter, per this theory, would be very interested in the 49er's quest for their stadium.  But this theory is a bit of a stretch, Walter won't know every employee who has ever worked in his $125B company, and it is not like people from rich families will necessarily seek either other out.  Still, you never know, maybe York sought out Walter's advice at some point, for some reason, when he was pursuing his 49er's stadium deal.

Meanwhile, Walter/Guggenheim has so much money that they do not need to pocket the $150-200M per year TV deal in order to make their investment work for them, cash flow is not the only way to benefit from an investment, which is what the economists above statically assumed.  This reminded me of the situation when the Texas Rangers were sold to their prior owner, he bought up all sorts of land around the stadium, with plans to build, build, build and profit off the synergies thereof.

It didn't work for him, but this football-baseball stadium theory makes a lot of sense.  As nice as I've heard Dodger Stadium to be, it is now around 50 years old, and even Yankee Stadium, the House that Ruth built, was razed (though Fenway and Wrigley still are kicking).  Stadium technology is way beyond now, and you know L.A. love their glitz and glam, and as nice as Dodger Stadium might be, it is neither.

And as the Giants park showed, and I'm sure other parks too, there can be a lot of commercial synergies between the park and the surrounding area, which will show up in the financial statements of the owners in some way, just not necessarily from their Dodger's investment (which was the Texas owner, Hicks, idea).  The owner does not care how the money gets into their pockets, whether through the Dodgers or their other investments, as long as it gets into their pockets.  And given the high probability that the new L.A. NFL franchise should be a huge money maker for the new owner (remember, Walter has many more billions that he can tap into, $2B is pocket change for him), if they can come in with a grand plan for a stadium/commercial complex, the NFL will probably come hat in hand with the coveted L.A. franchise.  

Which means that however the Dodgers go with their TV situation - a deal with a cable outlet or their own network (better bet given the big money involved) - that money stream will probably go straight to the team to be used for payroll and everything, not retained by the owners to get a return on their $2B investment.  And thus they will be a big bidder for free agent riches next offseason, much like the Angels were this off-season, when they signed Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.

So hopefully Baggerly's report that the negotiations between the Giants and Cain "have picked up talks again" is accurate and shows that both sides want to get things done.  As I noted in my post yesterday, it made sense that there would be a stall in negotiations to see what happens with the D-ger sale, to get a better feel - for both sides - of how much of a threat the new D-ger owner might be in the free agent market next off-season.  I think this boosts Cain's leverage a lot, and think something in the $110-120M range for 5 years is now possible, though anywhere from $100-120M is possible I think, the only clear thing now is that he probably will reach 9 figures.

Baggerly reported today that Baer participated in a chat via Twitter with fans and said that it is a mischaracterization to say that there is a hard deadline or that the Giants are lowballing Cain.  Given that talks have started up again, I rather doubt that the Giants were lowballing Cain (else, at this point, why bother continue talking with the Giants?), but rather, Cain's agents have been asking for the moon on the assumption that the new D-gers owners would be spending big bucks next season.  Particularly given the rumor that the Giants were willing to meet them halfway between their offer and Cain's agent's asking but was turned down.

While I think that the D-gers will be spending, that is not a certainty given what is known right now about the situation, it does look like the new owners overpaid and that they will be soaking in the TV deal to make their return on investment, per what the economists said.  And that situation will not be clarified for a long while, perhaps not even by next off-season, so if Cain's agents were to wait for free agency, they could be taking the chance that the D-gers might pass on free agents next off-season and not get into free agency in a big way until they get all their plans lined up.

Cain does not appear to be a dice roller, so I expect the negotiations to move a lot faster now that the D-ger situation is cleared up for his agents, and a deal will get signed at some point.  I would guess given Baer's statement, most likely no deal will get done before the start of the season, but that there will be more media  announcements like this that the two sides are continuing to talk and moving closer to agreement.  You have to talk tough as a negotiator and nicely once the deal is done, for maximum image as a negotiator in the public eye.

I still think that $20M per season is fair market value for Cain.  I have seen comments that C.J. Wilson's deal sets Cain's price higher, but in researching it now, I see that most of those people were mixing contract numbers.  They saw him signing for 5 years and $78M and assumed the Marlin's $100M deal was for 5 years, but all the instances I found stated that was for 6 years, so really, the Angel's offer was actually very similar to the Marlins, only one year less.  So he only got roughly $16M per season, not the $20M that I saw some quote.

But the D-gers are now a wild card bidder that will provide some upward loft on Cain's salary.  While no sure thing, it is enough of a threat that the Giants will move higher than they had intended, but enough of a question mark that Cain's side must drop their asking price, because not many teams can afford $20M per season and most of the big spenders have spent their money already.  Cain's agents don't want to get into a situation like Madson this off-season or Ivan Rodriguez in 2003, where a very good player has to take a one year deal to wait for a big money team to offer big bucks to him.

That's huge additional risk to take when your client is a pitcher, as Ryan Madson's agent found out, pitching for a contract year to year.  His agents can't advise Cain to leave a 9 digit deal on the table, that would be fiduciary incompetence on the part of his agents, especially in light of the slow growth in the U.S. economy that threatens to implode if the EU or China hits a speed bump in their economies (or debt deals), as well as the possibility that the number of MLB bidders might be limited (the Mets are surely out).

But agents and players have done stupid things before.  There have been players before who turn down big deals (like the Red Sox's Nomar Garciaparra) or asked for contracts way beyond the market interest (like the Giants's Rich Aurilia) who lived to regret doing that.  And I don't want the Giants to accede to stupid outrageous salary demands, should Cain's agents be doing that as a big show for their big new client.

For as sure as it is now that Giants fans complains about the Zito signing, if Cain signs an outrageous deal and, say, his elbow implodes and he's no longer productive (see Noah Lowry for how fast things can change), you will find the same fans who derided the Giants for not giving Cain all the money in the world will be the same ones saying what idiots the Giants were to sign Cain to such a huge contract.

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