Owners aware of 'tumultuous' economy
Volatile financial landscape among Selig's topics for meetings
NEW YORK -- Just as it was at the General Managers' Meetings two weeks ago in California, the struggling economy and how it affects Major League Baseball figures to be a source of discussion at this year's final quarterly meetings of owners scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday."There will be an update on the Cubs [sale], an update on the economy and what steps we are taking," Bob DuPuy, Major League Baseball's president and chief operating officer, said in response to an e-mail message. As he did via video conference to the GMs, Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to tell the owners and their representatives -- this time in person -- to try to improve their teams in the open market this offseason, as always, but to do so with some awareness of the sensitivity and unpredictability of the times. At the GM Meetings, Selig "talked about the overwhelming unsteadiness of our economy," said Jimmie Lee Solomon, MLB's executive vice president of baseball operations. "He wanted everyone to recognize that while we need to move forward to do our business, we need to be cognizant about our economy." Selig's message to the general managers was short, and similarly it won't take long to cover that topic when the owners gather on Thursday morning for their only joint meeting of the session. Wednesday is always reserved for committee meetings, including the nine-owner executive council that advises the Commissioner. "We're living in a tumultuous economic period," Selig said, recalling his talk. "I view these coming months with trepidation." The Cubs' ownership situation will be another matter. Owner Sam Zell has been trying to sell the team since he purchased the Tribune Co. in April 2007, but Zell still hasn't submitted the name of a buyer to MLB's ownership committee, which is expected to meet on Wednesday, a high-ranking MLB official said. Thus, the Cubs are not expected to be addressed in a formal overall setting this week. Selig said all postseason that although MLB's gross revenues had grown to new levels and attendance was virtually even with levels from 2007, the full weight of the country's economic issues may have yet to be felt. Many clubs have taken the fiscal realities to heart. For 2009, the Padres have dropped ticket prices at PETCO Park and the Red Sox have frozen the cost of tickets at Fenway Park for the first time in 14 years. The Astros also froze prices, and some have not yet made public their pricing plans. In other spots -- like Philadelphia, Kansas City and Phoenix -- ticket prices have gone up only a couple of dollars for certain seats. The Yankees, who open the new Yankee Stadium next season, say that more than half of the seats there cost $45 or less, including the bleachers, which are locked in at $12 a ticket -- the same price as they were last year in the old ballpark. "We wanted to make sure that the average family can afford to go there, and that's the way it's going to be," Yankees co-chairman Hal Steinbrenner said. The Yankees, though, based on a projected increase in local revenue because of the new stadium, made the first big splash of the Hot Stove season on Friday by offering left-hander CC Sabathia a deal believed to be worth six years and $140 million, which would be a record for a pitcher. The league's competitive-balance threshold increases to $162 million this year, and that probably will affect only the Yankees, who must pay a 40 percent repeater's tax for every dollar above that figure they spend on player payroll. Last year, they were the only Major League team to exceed what was then a $155 million threshold. The Padres, who are trying to trade ace starter Jake Peavy and have broken off talks with free-agent closer Trevor Hoffman, dropped the prices of about 10,000 seats at 42,000-seat PETCO Park by as much as $8 a ticket. "The economy has created some uncertainty for all of us, and we are working to ensure that support of the Padres as a season-ticket holder remains an affordable option," Padres CEO Sandy Alderson said. "We are constantly looking to add value to season-ticket packages and are glad to offer more options and flexibility for our most loyal fans." As far as the Cubs are concerned, Zell asked for a new set of bids by Nov. 27. The last time through that process, the bidders were reportedly topped by Mark Cuban's $1.3 billion. But because of liquidity in the economy, that deadline has been scratched, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday. Cuban, the owner of the National Basketball Association's Dallas Mavericks, declined to discuss whether he's still part of the process when asked by MLB.com via e-mail. Zell recently said he'd consider keeping 50 percent of the team if that would make it easier for potential buyers to get credit. But his own debt issues running the Tribune Co.'s newspaper empire make that potentially problematic.
Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.