The good cheer in the front office of the Baltimore Orioles merely reflects the current high spirits throughout baseball. This is the week when lucky old baseball got itself saved again.
A billion dollars will do that.
The Orioles are an ideal example of the impact baseball's new five-year, billion-dollar television contract will have on the game.
Suddenly, a sport that has spent the last five years moaning about its various financial crises finds itself swimming in black ink. Like many teams, the Orioles have, in a day, gone from a team that scrimped to break even into one that is virtually assured of a seven-figure annual profit margin.
Last season, the Orioles drew 1,613,031 to Memorial Stadium, a figure that placed them in the middle of the pack--eighth in the American League. Despite the third-highest attendance in the franchise's history, the Orioles say they finished the season in the red. That's now a nightmare from the past.
"If all these figures we hear are correct, then each team is going to get about $7.5 million a season from national TV revenue for the next five years," said delighted General Manager Hank Peters today. "That's an increase of about $5.5 million or more from our current split of $1.9 million. Obviously, that's going to provide more income for a lot of teams. And, believe me, there aren't many that don't need it.
"Look at a club like Oakland. They drew 1.7 million at the gate last year, and they showed losses of $3.5 million," said Peters, citing the most extreme example of baseball poverty. "Now, even they ought to be able to break even."
And, if the A's can break even, everybody else ought to get healthy fast.
"We don't know yet what we are going to be asked to give up," adds Peters, aware that the players association has already said that it wants a third of that billion dollars for its pension fund. "The issue of who owns the TV rights--the players or the clubs--is in the (law) courts right now."
Peters cites two examples of the dimension of baseball's TV windfall.
"To show a net increase in revenue of $5.5 million in a season, a team like ours would probably have to increase its attendance by a million," said Peters. "Now, of course, that's if nobody touched the gross (increase). But it's going to get touched. The 'net' and 'gross' dollars out of this TV package are going to be very different . . ."
The first half of the billion-dollar deal has been signed by NBC-TV, with ABC having the right of first refusal on the second half.
Ken Moffett, director of the players association, was in the Orioles camp today to get the team's reaction to the owners' current proposal to extend the league championship series from five games to seven. As expected, he reported the Orioles were "cool to aloof" toward the idea; it's a near certainty that all teams will have such a view, since threatening to reject the owners' made-for-TV pennant playoff proposal is one of the union's few levers to try to pry some of that billion out of the owners' vaults.
Moffett's reaction to news of the TV deal was predictably jubilant. "It's mind boggling.It's got to be great for the game. I'm heavy into solvency," said Moffett, formerly a mediator with the National Labor Relations Board. "In all the mediating I did involving Westinghouse, Ford and industries like that, I never heard the word 'billion' used in any connection . . . What we're seeing is just the first part of what lies ahead in terms of big dollars in this entertainment industry (baseball)
"It sure looks like the owners knew this was coming," continued Moffett, referring to the quadrupling of the revenue from the previous TV contract. "That would explain their total turnaround from the winter of '81-82, when we charged them with conspiracy in trying to hold down contract offers, and this past winter, with them signing people to all these out-of-sight contracts."
Baseball has two years before its labor agreement expires to work on splitting its new-found wealth. "I hope everybody is coherent, has their senses about them and is not interest in waging (labor) war," said Moffett.
Now, at least until 1988, baseball should not have to enter the nation's public forum with a single poor-mouth word. In a time of national austerity, the game has far more than enough wealth to go around.
If the sport's owners and players can't find a satisfactory way to split a billion-dollar TV pot, plus the proceeds of all-time record attendance and all-time-high ticket prices, then they will find themselves without a shred of public sympathy.