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AL West

Still Financially Strong, but an Uncertain Future for the Seattle Mariners Looms

"seats" by JonathanIchikawa is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Just a fair warning, what you’re about to read might lead to temporary depression, reader discretion is advised. The Seattle Mariners have lived in perpetual mediocrity and disappointment since the end of the 2001 American League Championship series. That season the Mariners had a record-breaking 116 wins but failed to make it to the World Series. Losing the series 4-1 to the New York Yankees. After the Washington Nationals reached the World Series in 2019, the Mariners now remain the only MLB team to never make a World Series. The club has failed to make even a postseason appearance since 2001, the longest postseason drought in all major American sports.

The one thing that has been as consistent as the lack of postseason appearances over the last 18 years, is the revenue growth. After the 2001 season the Mariners revenue for the year was $166 million, at the end of the 2019 season it was $315 million. Which is down from $320 million in 2018. The M’s are currently ranked 14th in the league for total revenue per season. The franchise has been a dependable moneymaker for the last 18 seasons, a constant source of cash flow for their ownership group.

Majority owner John Stanton purchased the club in 2016 for $1.2 billion dollars. According to Forbes as of April 2020, the Mariner franchise is worth $1.6 billion dollars. That ranks the Mariners 16th in the MLB, the top franchise is the New York Yankees at $5 billion followed by the Dodgers at $3.4 billion. The least valued team in the MLB is the Miami Marlins at $980 million.

Forbes broke down the $1.6 billion dollar valuation:

-$652 million attributed to the Seattle market

-$535 million attributed to league revenue sharing

-$235 million attributed to the stadium

-$177 million attributed to the Mariner brand

The 2019 season was a disappointment on and off the field. The team finished with just 68 wins, 5th worst in the American League, and had the biggest revenue decline in a decade. The decline in revenue is mainly attributed to a lack of attendance in 2019. The team managed to average just 22,120 fans per game, which is down from 28,389 in 2018. Also, the team saw a 33% decline in television ratings.

The Seattle Mariners are in a very advantageous position when it comes to local television deals. The organization is the majority owner of Root Sports NW, which has the broadcast rights for the team until 2033. In 2013 when the deal was made, it was estimated the Mariners would earn $2 billion in TV revenue money. Since the team owns Root Sports NW, there is no middleman, they relish in most of the profits.

From a business perspective, the club has had huge successes over the last two decades, unfortunately, none of the financial winnings have resulted in much success on the ballfield.

If you explained to your average Mariner fan about how great the organization is at business it would probably just add to the frustration instead of relieving it. There’s a popular belief among Mariner fans that if the cash continues to come in the ownership group will remain content with the outcome on the field. Revenue takes precedent over making it to the World Series. Of course, majority owner John Stanton would never in a thousand years admit this, he’s gone on the attack when reporters have brought it up.

I tend to agree with Stanton, he’s a lifelong Seattle guy and has only owned the team since 2016. I think he genuinely wants nothing more than to bring a World Series to Seattle. The previous ownership group consisted of several minority owners, and a majority owner that lived in Japan, who by the way never saw a single game in person. With the former ownership group, I tend to believe that financial success was more important than winning.

Currently, the 2020 season is at great risk of not happening, the league/owners are asking the players to take a pay cut, and the players union is very unhappy with that proposal. MLB commissioner Rob Manfred has estimated team owners will lose ~$4 billion dollars if there is no season. As stated earlier in 2019 the Mariners saw a decline in revenue, attendance, and television ratings. Even though their financially healthy, ranked 14th in revenue, they’re still not in a really good position to take that big of a financial hit.

The team announced recently that their cutting salaries and will furlough employees. What’s getting reported is the organization will reduce salaries by 20% for anyone earning over $60,000 a year. The hope is by reducing salaries they’ll avoid more furloughs. That’s if we have a reduced season in 2020, without a season the cuts will be much more drastic. To put it into dollars, the Mariners generated $58 million in gate receipts alone last season, which doesn’t include the millions earned every year from in-stadium purchases.

The organization is in the same position as the rest of us, just waiting for the league and players to come to an agreement. A couple of weeks ago the hope was high, but after the recent disagreements regarding the financials, that hope has quickly dwindled. The organization is encouraging fans to do whatever they can to support the local businesses around the stadium by ordering food to go. No baseball in 2020 will be absolutely devastating to all the bars and restaurants that surround the stadium.

The Mariners have also created an Event Staff Disaster relief fund. This fund will help the 1,100 event staff workers that are unable to work baseball games. The club has already put $1 million towards the fund, to donate go to https://www.mlb.com/mariners/fans/resource-center/ways-to-give#donations

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