The Most Fascinating Argument Against the Phillies Selling

Video from the time me, my Dad, Ruben Amaro and Ed Wade all watched a game together

Jonah Keri’s Week 17 rankings on Grantland included a lengthy take on the Phillies, whom he ranked 17th in baseball (generous). He listed all the usual reasons why the Phillies should sell (totally eviscerating Ruben Amaro in the process). And he gave the main reason why the Philies shouldn’t sell: an influx of cash from a new local TV deal in 2015 will allow them to continue to spend like assholes.

But then, he gave another reason why they should keep treading water flailing about like an injured seal… and it’s a good one:

But really, those are micro decisions that don’t matter as much as the macro factors that govern how this team is run and will be run, no matter who carries out ownership’s marching orders. What has really happening is this: The Phillies could be on the cusp of joining those three teams as a true revenue superpower of their own. But to cross the final barriers toward massive riches, they’ll need to play their cards perfectly. As Wendy Thurm of FanGraphs recently reported, the Phillies’ TV deal expires in 2015, which could set up a windfall deal. Unfortunately, ratings for Phillies games on CSN Philadelphia fell 36 percent in the first half of the season, compared to the same period last year. Moreover, as Thurm’s piece explains, there’s a debate going on in Washington that could eventually lead to increased customer choice for cable subscribers in the form of à la carte options. In a nutshell, we could see fewer people choose to pay for the regional sports networks that carry games. If that happens and RSNs notice that trend (which they surely would), the next step would be for them to lower the dollar amounts they’d bid in the future on the rights to major league games. And none of that even touches the Phillies’ attendance scare, in which 5,200 fewer fans a game are showing up compared to last year.

So from the point of view of Phillies ownership and management, you want to take every step to convince potential future carriers that you’re worth the big bucks. That could mean overpaying an aging Utley to stay put so that casual fans who’ve developed an attachment to the star second baseman don’t become disenchanted when he signs elsewhere (or gets traded elsewhere). It could mean chucking more promising prospects — especially those at lower levels of the minors — if they’ll fetch big league–ready talent in return.

And it certainly will mean spending big bucks whenever possible on any half-intriguing players on the open market. Last week, the Phillies announced they had signed 26-year-old Cuban right-hander Miguel Alfredo Gonzalez to a six-year deal worth up to $59 million. Gonzalez has been described by talent evaluators as having the upside of a mid-rotation starter, with the downside of a long man out of the bullpen. Though six years is a really long commitment for a no. 3 man, that average annual value isn’t far from Joe Blanton territory, so that could be a reasonable investment. But there is no WAR-per-anything scenario in which roughly $10 million a year would be worth it to sign a glorified Bill Sampen.

Basically, what Keri is saying is that for the Phillies to get the type of cash they’ve been banking on from a local TV deal, they might need to continue to bring in the big ratings. And that means they will need to continue winning (HAHA). Spend more to make more. Business 101.

Their ratings peaked in 2011, when they averaged a 9.1 rating on CSN— the highest in the league that season. The network is understandably a bit more shy about making viewership numbers public (the last time I got a press release touting Phillies ratings was last March… and that was for the 2011 season), but the 36% decrease from last season, when ratings fell 39% from 2011… well, that’s a lot, and it will undoubtedly hurt the Phillies when it comes time to negotiate a new deal.

Keri, of course, is just trying to explain why Amaro continues to do really dumb things (he said Amaro is “overpaid to make terrible decisions on how to run the team”). But, interestingly, one reason he gives for why the Phillies should worry about their payday – segmentation of TV content – is a topic that we’ve talked about before.

In 2012, Matt Gelb wrote an article in the Inquirer about the Phillies’ impending TV deal. At the time I commented on how the cable industry is changing and products like Apple TV and streaming services could impact negotiations. I probably got a bit ahead of myself speculating that the Phillies could essentially produce their own games as part of an a la carte service, but the sentiment was the same– the changing cable landscape could impact the Phillies’ new TV deal, and the team’s future.

I went on the WIP Morning Show to discuss my take, and Gelb’s article. Gelb chided Rhea Hughes on Twitter for having me on to (partially) discuss his work, which was understandable even though he completely misconstrued my abstract comments about the future TV. Yet here we are, a year and a half later, and that changing cable landscape is a real thing (hey there, House of Cards, Apple TV and Chromecast). We’re still a long way off from sports being streamed exclusively online, but the prospect of unbundled TV packages* means that niche networks like ESPN, CSN and others might soon no longer be guaranteed a slice of every. single. cable. bill. And, as Keri pointed out, that means smaller payouts to teams like the Phillies. Which might be why they’re trying so damn hard to eek two more years out of this group.

*As an example, one estimate says that unbundling would mean a subscription to ESPN would cost roughly $30 per month since they would no longer be getting $6 from every cable bill. Yikes.


20 Responses

  1. It doesn’t matter how much money you spend, maintaining the status quo as currently constituted with the same players getting older and not better makes absolutely NO goddamn sense. The current atmosphere with the Phillies is bordering on toxic, given all the losing, and now the yapping by Papelbon and Rollins, to keep this kennel of mutts intact and bring them all back for 2014 would be worse than foolish. I’ve said this before, and I’ll keep on saying it until I’m blue in the face, it’s time to lob a few hand grenades in the clubhouse, either Wednesday morning or right after the season ends and blow this fucking mess sky high.

  2. Just orderd Netflix to watch orange is the new black because the phils are unwatchable . Pathetic

  3. they will get the tv contract $$$ because of the expansion of fox sports. fox sports is in a war with espn and nbc. nbc sports just landed the nascar contract in 2014 or 2015 and they are rebranding the nbcsportsnetwork into NBCSN. no way nbc sports nor comcast would want to lose phillies.

  4. The looming TV deal has been driving Rube’s decisions for a few seasons now. He is a bit of a knob, but I certainly don’t envy him dealing with the shit that’s on his plate. I hope everything swings his way and we come out as the #3 richest bastards in MLB for the next five or six years. Not that being rich guarantees jack shit, but it doesn’t exactly hurt either.

    1. The shit on his plate came from his trip to the buffet. This is a guy that was handed a WS winning team and he proceeded to regress every single year. Lost WS, Lost NLCS, Lost division series, missed playoffs…(below .500 team seems to be the next stop on this jagoffs parade). And he was the first GM to ever operate with an open checkbook. He signed Howard two years before he needed to. He’s the guy that have Howard an above market value contract when he was bidding against exactly no other teams. He’s the guy that sold the farm and tried to restock by picking up slop. He’s the guy that resigned Rollins and the guy that will resign Utley. He’s the guy that gave Papelbon 50 million reason to come here, and not one of the reasons was to lose as Papsmear noted this weekend. So while Jimmy looks to stack stats while this team rides an 8 game losing streak into August and while Manuel is a lame duck manager just waiting in line to be slaughtered like a turkey in late November and while Ruin Tomorrow Jr tries to put on his auction uniform as Wednesday approaches and starts asking for the sun, moon and stars in any deal lets remember that as this team ages and as 2008 becomes smaller and smaller in the rear view mirror we need to thank Pat Gillick for this run. (Finally a period).

      God Bless the Phillies, God Bless Ryan Howard’s knee and God Bless America.

      1. Well said! I miss Pat Gillick… If only he had not passed the reins on to RAJ, who has performed at an extraordinarily sub-par and irresponsible level. If Gillick had stuck around, who knows what the Phils couldve accomplished by bringing guys up through the farm system, rather than blowing all the team’s money on big name deals/contracts.

      2. Well said. Ruben’s errors have wrecked the Phillies, and since Dave Montgomery, loyal to a fault refuses to even call Amaro on the carpet, much less consider firing him, the blunders will continue to sink this team.

  5. I’d be much more inclined to watch a game this fall and next spring with a starting lineup that had Revere, Brown, Asche, Franco, Hernandez, Galvis & Ruf in it as opposed to this current slop that they are currently serving up. I think they’ll be getting their TV money no matter what the team looks like next year. This is a major market that has shown huge ratings recently. And huge changes to cable coming from Congress? Of these United States? Dude that’s not how we do things days. It’s not Congress’s job to reach reasonable compromises on needed legislation. Both sides have one job and that is to get reelected godamnit! I mean that’s how things are supposed to work right?

  6. If I am not mistaking it doesn’t matter what TV contract a team has/gets from it. The MLB made a rule not too long ago teams could not use TV Revenue from their own networks towards player contracts, hence how the Angels were able to throw a shit ton of money at Pujols, Wilson, etc over the past few seasons.

  7. A la carte is not happening any time soon, because the real owners (Disney, Viacom, etc.) that own the high demand sports channels have a vested interest in their other channels being purchased in bundles.

  8. God, grantland is the most pretentious sports website out there this side of The Good Phight. And the phillies didn’t announce that they signed Gonzalez. The team certainly did not confirm anything last week. Also Hunter Pence was not a big help the Phillies winnning 102 games in 2011. They were already ahead of that pace (by one game) when they traded for him at the deadline… Maybe if that site spent less time trying to show how fucking smart it is by using obscure vocabulary and dropping indie hipster movie, music and book references, it could actually get its facts straight and cite some proper sources.

    1. Thats one thing i have to give kyle credit for. So many sports bloggers these days are goddamn annoying hipsters, who think they understand sports better than everyone else, when in reality, they only recently became interested in the Phillies, after the team started to succeed. Though I will say that the hipster douche craft beers Kyle is sometimes wont to rave about makes me cringe, but other than that its koo

      1. Youre not a hipster for drinking craft brews, you dumb fag. Hipsters drink pbr and steel reserve.

        1. Thank you Con. Out of everything on this page, that comment about hipsters drinking craft beers annoyed me the most. Although they are working on ruining PBR for me.

      2. Thanks. Though I’ll disagree on the hipster beers thing. Your Bud Light and Coors Light and Miller Lite etc. are all processed, watered-down imitations of beer. They taste fine for a night out drinking, and I’d still prefer them if I’m planning on drinking for six hours, but it’s like comparing fruit snacks to actual fruit. It’s just big corporate knockoffs of the real thing. Fuck, don’t get me started.

  9. I don’t know what these internet goofballs are talking about. Raul Valdez just got squeezed out there the other day, and Steve Sosdorf could be a great addition for this team as we come into the stretch run. And these people don’t even know what a great guy Ruben is. He let me buy him lunch three times this week!

  10. If there’s a God in Heaven,he’ll make sure my Dodgers get to the World Series to beat up on the hated Red Sox.

    GO DODGERS!!!!!

  11. In my fridge, A sixtel of Maharaja IPA, Sierra Summer, and a bottle of Pollyodd Lemoncello and Buffalo Trace and of course a bottle of Orange pedialite for mornings.

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