The Tampa Bay Rays have more at stake than a championship in their drive to make the playoffs and the World Series. That playoff revenue can be the difference between losing money and making a modest profit for the year. That's just one observation culled from Rays' financial documents for 2007 and 2008 that recently were leaked to a website. When the season is over and stadium talks resume, the Rays should release more recent financial documents to make their case that they need a new home.
The financial documents that were leaked are in line with the statements made by Rays owner Stuart Sternberg. There is no evidence that the ownership group is making huge profits, and there is plenty of evidence that it is investing in the success of the franchise, from increasing payroll to marketing to player development. The Rays appear to have made more money with baseball's worst record in 2007 than when they went to the World Series in 2008 — even though the playoffs brought in an extra $11 million. In baseball's peculiar economics, it sometimes seems to be more profitable to cut expenses and have a lousy team in a smaller market than to invest in a competitive team that draws more fans.
A comparison to finances of several other teams whose financial statements were leaked also fills in some other aspects of the Rays' picture. The Rays invested far more in sales and marketing in 2008 ($23 million) than teams such as the Florida Marlins ($8.8 million) and the Seattle Mariners ($9.8 million). Yet they did not receive nearly the income from local broadcasts ($13.4 million for the Rays compared to $15.9 million for the Marlins and $64 million for the Mariners). The Rays' television contract has since been renegotiated, but the money compared to other teams is still expected to be substantially less.
The bottom line: While the owners of the Pittsburgh Pirates took $20 million out of the team for themselves in 2007, the Rays netted $11 million and appear to have reinvested much of it back into the franchise. While the Marlins net income with a lousy team was $29 million in 2008, the Rays went to the World Series and had a net income of $4 million. Since then, the Rays' player salaries have risen $17 million and the team did not collect the extra $11 million in 2009 that they received from the 2008 playoffs. So Sternberg's recent claim that the team is losing more than $10 million a year sounds plausible.
Yet the Tampa Bay community needs more than incomplete two-year-old team financial statements and plausible scenarios when discussions resume about a new stadium. The Rays should release their latest financial statements to give taxpayers a clearer picture and make their case for a new stadium to ensure the franchise's long-term future.
The familiar claims of secrecy don't hold up. The Rays are a private business, but they are in a partnership with taxpayers who would make a significant investment in a new stadium. Teams also have argued that releasing financial documents puts them at a competitive disadvantage, but the leaked documents have not created any sudden uproar.
There is nothing like a down-to-the-wire pennant race to excite a community, and the Rays are in the thick of a good one. But when the season is over and stadium talks resume, how the team fared financially should be as clear as how it finished on the field.