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Interview w/ #Braves ownership shows depth of cluelessness

“The Braves have been a great asset, great for Liberty, and we are happy owners,” Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said.

And we are unhappy fans. To us, the Braves are not an asset but a big part of our lives since we were kids. They mean something to us. To Liberty, they are an asset to be monetized.

“I think there are a lot of great things ahead for the Braves, starting with the new stadium, but (also) longer-term potential,” he said, citing baseball’s rising TV and digital revenues. “I think there are a lot of ways the Braves continue to be a very interesting business for us, as well as a great team.”

Winning or losing doesn’t really matter to Maffei, though he dubiously claims he watches “as many games as I can” on TV and has been to Turner Field “many times.” Not surprisingly, he’s unaware (or, more likely, uninterested) that most Braves fans long for committed, local ownership.

“I only read the AJC occasionally, so I don’t (see) as much of that as some people do,” Maffei said. “But I would say: Look, we are people who believe in the team, but we don’t manage it day to day.

“We have experienced, accomplished, dedicated management who runs it on almost every decision.”

Besides, he said, “for all intents and purposes, there is local ownership.”

“There are a couple (decisions) that we usually assent to, but on pretty much everything day to day this team is run out of Atlanta.”

As for the asset, er, team’s every-shrinking payroll, don’t blame Liberty.

“What happens is, we have a budgeting process where the Braves’ management brings us a budget, a payroll budget included. And I don’t think we have once changed the number,” Maffei said. “It’s not like we come and say, ‘Nah, you got to cut that.’ I don’t think that has happened in the nine years that we have been involved.

“Really the management sets the direction on what they think the right place to invest is, the amounts they want to put in what parts of the operation, including payroll, and we have assented every year.”

Clearly, Maffei thinks we’re stupid. But although it’s easy, and therapeutic, to hate on Liberty, the brunt of your ire belongs with The Used Car Salesman, aka The Worst Commissioner Ever, aka Allan “Bud” Selig.

While Bud didn’t open the door to corporate ownership he certainly welcomed it like never before. We saw Fox buy the Dodgers and Disney take over the Angels. And, as is almost always the case (see CBS and the Yankees), corporations make lousy owners.

The Braves have spent the last 15 years under the thumb of two corporations, and here’s what they have to show for it:

  • Worst local TV rights deal in the game
  • Steadily shrinking payrolls
  • Bland, focus-grouped game day atmosphere
  • Ignorance of market
  • A move to the ‘burbs that’s already alienated a significant portion of fan base.

They could’ve easily had a local owner that sucked, or, worse, Jeffrey Loria. But at least we’d know who to hold accountable. At least they would care, even if for the wrong reasons.

Liberty could care less. Apathy breeds irrelevance, and increasingly the fan base is following the ownership group’s lead.

Thanks again, Bud.



Evaluating the #Braves’ ‘monetization thesis’

So how does ownership view the team’s winless start?

It’ll be awhile,” Liberty Media Chairman John Malone said to laughter upon being asked when the Braves will win their first game of the season. “Listen, we’re rebuilding.”

I’m surprised he knew that much. Clearly the Braves’ on-field performance isn’t a big concern to the media mogul, who probably doesn’t know the difference between Fredi and Freddie.

Malone also was asked what he thinks of Forbes magazine’s recent valuation of the Braves at $1.18 billion.

“I don’t have a clue,” he replied. “We’ll see shortly (when the Braves stock begins trading). We’ll see what the market puts on it and decide how efficient our monetization thesis is.

“Now, keep in mind the Braves now are a fairly major real-estate business as opposed to just a baseball club.”

He was referring to the mixed-use development, The Battery Atlanta, being built alongside the team’s Cobb County stadium, SunTrust Park. Both the stadium and the development are slated to open next year.

“I personally think that these are good real-estate assets, not just for the team but just as a broad development project,” Malone said. “It does give the team more heft. It gives the vision more heft than just the club itself.”

These are the guys Bud Selig preferred having in the game over, for instance, Mark Cuban. Score another one for The Used Car Salesman’s pitiable legacy.


Name that Cobb Internet mogul

Plenty of buzz generated by this item in The Marietta Daily Journal:

Recent back-fence talk describes the same scenario that circulated a couple years ago — current owner Liberty Media selling to an Internet mogul with strong ties to Cobb County.

Around Town first reported talk of a possible sale in September 2013 — prior to the announcement of the Braves move to Cobb County.

At the same time the rumor mill was churning, Liberty Media earlier this month announced plans to reclassify its common stock into three new tracking stock groups, one to be designated as the Liberty Braves Group, one to be designated as the Liberty Media Group and one to be designated as the Liberty Sirius Group, seemingly separating the Braves interests from other holdings.

This is potentially great news, particularly the part about the prospective owner having strong ties to Atlanta, er, Cobb County.

But I wouldn’t celebrate just yet. If I had a billion dollars to spend on a ball team I’m not sure I’d want to sink it into the Braves, what with all the uncertainties surrounding parking and traffic at the new mixed-use development/baseball stadium.

Those are potentially major issues, especially given the current state of the team. The current hierarchy doesn’t seem to understand the market, one filled with fickle front-runners unlikely to battle the clusterfuck surrounding the new park — “grand franchise” or not.


Liberty’s #Braves investment skyrockets in value

The Braves are now worth $1.15 billion, up 58 percent in just one year and two-and-a-half times what the club was worth when Liberty Media acquired it in 2007. Hooray, Liberty! I’m sure the Cobb County taxpayers footing a big chunk of the bill for the new ball yard are popping champagne corks while they’re stuck on I-75 today.

Not many things appreciate 58 percent in a year, or 155 percent in eight years. (The S&P 500 went up 13.5 percent last year, and that’s a damn good year.) A 58 percent jump in a year is 2005 Miami condo-like. Except the Braves’ value might well keep climbing, albeit not quite as rapidly as it did over the past year. Liberty’s CEO Greg Maffei–you know, the guy we see at all the games, riding the emotional roller coaster along with all us fans–said a few months back that the new Cobb stadium/mall would boost the club’s value. Dude knows business.

And his emotional attachment to the Braves is palpable. Just look at these quotes from an investor conference call last month:

“I don’t think we have a need to monetize (by selling the team). I don’t think we have a current plan to monetize. We remain very happy with (the Braves’ financial) prospects…..We’re pleased; we continue to move forward there; we’re happy to see the value creation. And go Braves,” Maffei said.

Sounds just like vintage Ted Turner, doesn’t it?

Anyhow, the Braves, according to Forbes, are the 12th most valuable MLB franchise. You wouldn’t know it from this offseason’s transactions, though. And at $1.15 billion, the team now represents 9 percent of Liberty’s total market value of $13 billion.

So there’s that.

Moving on, among the revelations I’ve gained from the flagship radio station’s beat reporter this spring:

Jason Grilli really liked Pittsburgh. But he really likes Atlanta now, and a two-year contract here will make him even more comfortable.

Grilli, AJ Pierzynski, Gomes, Markakis, –am I forgetting any other old retreads?–are solid veterans who lead by example. Grilli and AJ have taken young Braves pitchers and catchers under their wings and are sharing all kinds of wisdom.

Speaking of wings and being taken under them, the team chemistry is terrific, unlike last year. This club has really come together quickly and they all love each other.

Kevin Seitzer is having great success and the Braves are going to manufacture runs and cut down on the strikeouts. Did you know they scored 14 runs with just one strikeout in a recent practice game!?!?!?

Mike Foltynewicz is trying too hard to impress his new team. And, you know, Grilli and Markakis, et al, even though they’re veterans, also have to find their place on a new team.

Freddie Freeman can hit.

Fredi Gonzalez likes the makeup of his team.

Markakis has been killing the ball in BP.

OK. Seriously, I actually find myself becoming a little more optimistic about the season. It’s mainly just fandom, I suspect, but when predictions are nearly unanimous they tend to be wrong. Don’t they? Sometimes? Maybe Jace Peterson will hit .280 and steal 30 bases. He’s a decent prospect, so we’ll see. Maybe Minor will only miss a few starts. Perhaps Jim Johnson and Grilli will find their stuff. It’s certainly happened. Perhaps Simmons really will shorten his swing. Chris Johnson might hit .300 again. And maybe platoons in left and center field will produce.

We’ll start finding out soon enough. Thanks for reading, and go Braves!

Bizarro Braves world

I’m glad that two-week run as a small market franchise is over.

I can live with that.

Within the same article, beyond a paywall, we learn that the Braves local TV deal was enhanced by $20 million last season. It still sucks, but that’ll buy you a fourth starter these days.

Here’s why Liberty is holding onto the Braves

Why is the media conglomerate from Colorado — the one that as of today is worth $15.29 billion on the open market — holding onto our baseball team, or that tax write-off/asset that somehow greased the conglomerate’s big deal with Time Warner a few years ago?

I’m thinking it has something to do with the figure 47 percent. That is how much the value of the Braves franchise has increased just since Liberty bought it in 2007. You and I probably don’t own anything that’s appreciated that much since the recession started. As of October 2013, our Bravos were worth $760 million, according to Bloomberg, which crunches numbers for a damned good living. So even after accounting for inflation, the value of the Braves has soared by nearly half since Liberty took them off Time Warner’s hands.

Not a bad return for the work Liberty’s put in. Why, the conglomerate has ….um, reduced payroll since 2007 by nearly 10 percent in inflation-adjusted terms while slightly raising the cost of attending a game and convincing a county government whose busiest highway is named after a dead president of the John Birch Society to hand over $300 million to help fund a suburban ballpark/office park/shopping center.

Whatever money Liberty has pumped into the Braves has been spent on real estate, video screens and arcade games, not on starting pitching and outfielders. But it’s their asset. They can do as they please. We’re just ticket buyers/bloggers/TV viewers. But this is our blog, and we can type what we please.

Speaking of real estate, I assume the Braves will partner with experts to build their mixed use development. Of course, that’ll mean splitting whatever money they might make from the development. Lord knows, another shopping center and office park in Cobb County is a sure-fire success, isn’t it? That’s what worries me. The Braves have not come out and said it — JS and Co. are about as publicly candid as the North Korean government — but it seems obvious this real estate gambit is at least partly a result of the horrific local TV deal the Braves ended up with after all those genius media execs finished their transacting.

So because supposedly shrewd businesspeople saddled our team with a financially crippling TV arrangement that lasts a quarter century, our team, along with Cobb County taxpayers, are embarking on a massive real estate venture that may or may not ever pay off. I’m no real estate pro, but you don’t have to look far to find similar boondoggles. Check out the ajc’s story about the Cincinnati project, for example. Toby Keith owns a restaurant in the complex next to the Reds’ ballpark. Cool!

This might be an oversimplification. But there is at very least a big kernel of truth here: While third-tier organizations like the Astros and Padres rake in newfound TV riches, the team with the biggest regional radio network in pro sports and so a large following to watch games on TV — yes, our Atlanta Braves — is left to gamble its future on a real estate project. What could possibly go wrong? Maybe it’s sadly appropriate that in a place long ruled by real estate developers, the Braves have to pin their hopes on a shopping center. Hey, maybe the Braves can give Heyward, Freeman and Andrelton a cut of the take from the bars and restaurants out there at 285 and I-75. I joke, but it would be intriguing to see if MLB and the players union would OK an arrangement like that. Maybe Braves Acres could work after all!

Or maybe if Braves Acres becomes a pipe farm — PVC poking out of the ground everywhere with no buildings to hook to — Liberty will rush to sell and we’ll get a decent owner. Then that owner would have to spend a few years getting out from under the real estate disaster.

On the bright side, pitchers and catchers report in less than a month. And Lucas Sims and Jason Hursh appear to be progressing nicely.

Braves TV deal worse than we thought

The LA Times reports the Dodgers will receive $240 to $280 million per year for local broadcasting rights.

According to DOB, the Braves take in roughly $20-to-$25 million annually from their local TV rights — a deal Jeff Passan calls “the sport’s worst television contract,” negotiated as “a term of its sale” from Time Warner to Liberty Media.

A sale that was approved by Hapless Bud. Remember where to direct the blame when Jay Hey, Freddie and Med Dog are playing elsewhere a few years from now.

The deal doesn’t expire for another 20 years. God knows what shape the Braves will be in then.


More revenue coming in, but Braves payroll to remain same

The new national TV contracts mean each team will receive an additional $27 million, starting next year.

Alas, Liberty won’t be using that money to acquire new talent. According to Mark Bowman, the Braves’ payroll will remain around $94 million.

The descent into small marketdom continues, thanks to indifferent ownership.

I bet they would’ve attended a corporate sponsor’s funeral

I think most would agree that, of all Braves blogs, the Office has the keenest sense of the team’s history. But we blew it last week in our post about Furman Bisher’s death when we neglected to mention the pivotal role he played in bringing the Braves to Atlanta. Sure, the city’s size and status as a regional capital would’ve guaranteed major league baseball here at some point, but without the yeoman efforts of Bisher, Mayor Ivan Allen and C&S Bank President Mills B. Lane we’d be cheering the Atlanta Senators or some expansion franchise.

Bisher’s funeral was held the other day and I’m told the Braves didn’t bother to send a representative. Not one. Even the Hawks sent someone and Bisher hardly ever wrote about basketball.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. A few years back CD chimed in on this very topic after attending “Sid and Frankie Day” at the old ballyard-turned-parking lot:

I’m probably naïve to think so, but it would seem that at least a flak from the Braves could walk across the street to have a slice of pizza and cake with people who care so much about the team that they’re hanging out in the middle of a parking lot at lunch hour on a Friday to watch a tape of a 13-year-old ball game. …

Let some corporate sponsor stroll by with a big check and the Braves brass will escort them to the Turner Field mound to throw out the first pitch on Opening Day. That’s not hyperbole. Sadly, that’s who actually throws out the ceremonial pitch at a lot of signature games at Turner Field – not Henry Aaron or Phil Niekro or Dale Murphy or a charter member of the 400 Club, but some regional VP for Wachovia or Kroger.

That’s what you get with corporate ownership. Liberty hasn’t wrecked the franchise or imposed wholly unreasonable salary caps. They just don’t seem to give a shit.

Thanks again, Bud

From Tim Tucker’s review of Liberty’s financials:

In a conference call that Liberty executives held with investment analysts Thursday, the Braves were mentioned once. That was in the context of a discussion about taxes.

Is there a team in baseball that has benefited from corporate ownership? The Cubs (Tribune), the Angels (Disney) and the Dodgers (Fox) were all mismanaged by their corporate overlords.

The Braves are nothing but an asset with tax benefits to Liberty. I don’t blame the company as much as I do the sorriest excuse for a commissioner in the history of professional sports.

Liberty Media’s financials

So Liberty reported the Braves had an operating loss last year because of Derek Lowe. Appropriate.

In addition to what Tim Tucker reported from Liberty’s 10-K Securities and Exchange Commission filing, there were a couple other interesting nuggets. First, I’m pretty sure that in past reports, Liberty has disclosed far less detail about the Braves’ finances. I looked at three previous annual reports, and the company was not nearly as forthcoming about the Bravos. Maybe someone knows if there is some new disclosure requirement, or another reason why Liberty would report more specifics on the Atlanta National League Baseball Club Inc., as the actual entity that owns the Braves is named. Or would it be in Liberty’s interest to make it clear the Braves lost money on some kind of operating basis?

Second, we all know the Braves don’t have a lot of money committed to long-term contracts in the next couple seasons. But Liberty’s filing spells out exactly how much. And it ain’t much: , $20 million in 2013, $13 million in 2014, $13 million in 2015. Uggla is the only guy signed beyond this season. The club holds options on McCann, Chipper and Huddy, all of which will probably be exercised. As of now, Uggla is the only player under contract beyond 2013.

Obviously a lot of younger players will get raises. But that should still leave Wren some room to make moves. For one, it would appear he could make a serious run at signing Bourn if he chooses to do so. He could also preemptively lock up guys like Heyward, Freeman and Hanson, if it looks like a good idea.

Finally, one more note from Liberty’s securities filing. It includes this statement: “Similarly the success of the Atlanta National League Baseball Club depends on the record of the Atlanta Braves Major League baseball team during each season, which is directly impacted by their ability to employ and retain top performing players, coaches and managers.” Let’s hope Liberty truly wants “success” for our Bravos.

A dead-on assessment of the Liberty Braves

Talking Chop led us to a Grantland piece by Jonah Kari that pretty much nails the current state of the Braves.

Tyler Pastornicky, Braves: There’s nothing inherently wrong with giving young players a chance, and Pastornicky does have some real talent. Scouts like his defense, and the 22-year-old shortstop has stolen 120 bases over the past three seasons in the Jays’ and Braves’ minor league systems. What’s frustrating is Atlanta’s pathological urge to hold the line on salaries, perpetually plopping them into the middle of the pack among major league teams ($87 million payroll in 2011, 15th in MLB). Nothing inherently wrong with controlling costs either, and as one of the few corporate-owned teams left in baseball, perhaps it’s to be expected. But the Braves have seemingly been one player away in each of the past three years, winning 86 games or more each time, but with just one first-round playoff exit to show for it. They could have made a run at Jose Reyes or Jimmy Rollins in lieu of depending on a rookie, cashed in some of their amazing young pitching depth for a legitimate middle-of-the-order bat, done anything to push them closer to an NL East title that should be in play with the Phillies aging and the Marlins and Nationals possibly a year or two away. Instead we get more Braves hara hachi bu, and a starting shortstop with zero power and iffy on-base skills. Pastornicky could pan out. But the Braves could have done better.

I find it interesting that Pastornicky suddenly became a top prospect when the Braves decided they couldn’t afford a veteran shortstop. Remember when Scott Thorman suddenly became the answer at first base?

Padres get Carlos Quentin for nothing

I doubt anyone was naive enough to believe the Braves were going to add significant payroll this offseason — today’s trade of Carlos Quentin to the Padres is further proof that if there is a hike, it’ll likely be measured in pennies.

San Diego’s new GM Josh Byrnes swapped pocket lint for Quentin, a right-handed hitter whose .838 OPS in 2011 would’ve led the Braves. The two minor league pitchers sent to Chicago (Ken Williams is running neck-and-neck with Billy Beane for the title of Worst GM Who Was Once Respected) barely register as prospects.

Neither prospect was ranked among the top 25 in San Diego’s system by John Sickels of Minor League Ball while Kevin Goldstein of Baseball Prospectus had Castro tabbed at No. 20.  Goldstein writes that Castro has “gone backwards from [his] big prospect days” and cites the fastball as his only dependable pitch.

I’d rather have Alexei Ramirez than Quentin but that ain’t happening , not unless the Braves free up resources by trading Jurrjens or Prado. What we see is likely what we’ll get in 2012, which isn’t bad, but not good enough.

I repeat: Teams with playoff aspirations don’t head into the season with Tyler Pastornicky at SS.

Holding Liberty accountable

I just paid $54 for two upper box seats. The cheap seats, they used to call ’em.

Three years ago, those seats were $12 apiece. The team raised the price slightly for “premium” games in the ensuing years — $16, $18 most. Suddenly they’re $27, despite a recession. No wonder attendance is down.

Typical of the tone deaf ownership of Liberty Media. And let’s not give figurehead CEO Terry McGuirk a pass, as he must’ve hired he guy or gal who decided “Gone with the Wind” night was a good idea. Ticket prices have gone up while the stadium experience has worsened.

Now we approach another trading deadline with ownership clinging to austerity even though Liberty’s CEO, Greg Maffei, makes $87 million — three mil more than this year’s payroll. Three mil could be the difference between another first round exit and the team’s first World Series berth of the 21st Century.

You can bet it won’t be spent. Hell, Greg Maffei has probably never attended a Braves game. What does he care if they reach the Fall Classic?

That indifference marks Liberty’s tenure, though, to be fair, it could be worse.

The 'spirit' of Atlanta ownership groups

The next Braves owner (we wish)

It won’t happen, but it’s fun to dream.

Elton is local — more local than Liberty, at least. And he’s a serious Braves fan; according to Atlanta magazine, he has a backstage assistant relay score updates to him each summer when he’s on tour. (Check out EJ talking baseball with JS, the Lemmer and Knucksie.)

He has a background in sports ownership, too. John was chairman and director of the Watford Football Club and part-owner of the North American Soccer League’s Los Angeles Aztecs.

So what do you say, Sir Elton? Your Braves need you.

Forbes: Liberty looking to sell Bravos

The mag also reports that while the absentee owners have cut payroll, the club’s revenue and profits have climbed, a lot.

Braves prez Terry McGuirk is shocked, shocked. He tells the local organ’s Jeff Schultz he has heard no such thing from Liberty. Schultz quotes McGuirk calling the Forbes report “amateurish,” even though he also tells Schultz he has not seen the report. 

It is, of course, no revelation that Liberty might be looking to unload the Bravos. That was supposedly the plan from the start. Cash in on the tax benefit, then move along. Schultz notes that Liberty CEO Greg Maffei “earned” $87 million last year, more than the entire Braves roster.

Liberty would not be looking to sell our Bravos until 2012, according to Forbes. If the team fetches what Forbes says it is worth — about $480 million — that would be $80 million more than Liberty paid. So the absentee landlord would make a tidy profit on the sale as it’s making tidy profits operating the team, as it’s saving a shitload of money on taxes. 

Pity the poor American corporation and the awful tax and regulatory burdens it must bear.

Ellsbury just became more available

The Red Sox are about to acquire Adrian Gonzalez for a package of prospects. Jacoby Ellsbury is still with the Sox — for now. 

Buster Olney sez Boston has enough payroll flexibility to afford either Crawford or Werth. If they add one of those All-Stars, Ellsbury appears the odd man out. I’m assuming Theo Epstein will try to swap him for prospects, having depleted his farm system to get Gonzalez.

It’s revealing that Boston can acquire an elite power hitter and STILL be shopping in the gourmet section while we cross our fingers hoping management splurges for mac and cheese knowing we’ll have to settle for Ramen noodles. Perhaps FW can convince them Ellsbury, or someone like him, makes the Braves legit World Series contenders, but I’m sure John Malone could care less.

Gammons: Liberty ‘watching costs’

The Braves have all kinds of pitching coming, but the current ownership has given indications that they’re watching costs for a future sale; the fact that they’re not interested in extending Frank Wren long-term after the job he did last season has been taken by many in the organization as a bad sign.

Troubling news, though I’m glad to hear Liberty is pondering a sale.

McGuirk: Liberty “enjoying” owning Braves

And according to the team’s CEO, Liberty has no plans to sell the team once they’re permitted to do so in 2011. McGuirk adds the media conglomerate hasn’t cut payroll, even though it has.

I’ll be interested to see whether FW gets approval to add  an outfield bat. Probably not. “Maybe they’d do it for Bobby, being his last year and all.”

You think John Malone gives a shit?