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Balanced Fare: We Report, You Deride

Thursday, August 15, 2002

Can Anyone Here Play This Game?

Jeff Hauser gives us an early start on the weekend by pitching us Derek Zumsteg, author of the modestly priced "Zumsteg Plan" to save Major League Baseball from itself. Briefly, "big market" teams pay a franchise fee based on Nielsen data estimates of their market size; "Small market" teams are compensated by the franchise fees for playing in, well, small markets. This will not penalize successful teams, or big spending teams, or teams with loyal fans. Also, the underlying data is a lot more objective than owner's Enron-like revenue figures.

My problem? Big market teams ought to win more. C'mon, do you want to make a few million folks in Kansas City happy, or give the twenty million people in the New York area a thrill? Look, George Steinbrenner isn't spending his money - he is spending the money the fans gave him. The fans bought that pennant, and I'm ready to buy another one. And another. And another. Baseball survived for decades with the Yankees ascendant, and it's my turn now.

And, somewhat more seriously, baseball is a regional game. Competitive balance may work for football, where fans from all over might tune in to watch the Buffalo Bills lose to some NFC team in the regular season or the Super Bowl. But here in baseball, nobody cares. If the Royals play the Brewers in the World Series, make it best out of five. Five innings, that is, because it can't end soon enough for the network execs. Baseball needs successful big-market teams. Hello, Philadelphia? Hello, Mets?

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