The Braves’ local television deal isn’t as bad as widely believed.
Through years of public criticism of the deal, often blamed for the team’s relatively low player payroll, the Braves have declined to divulge its value. Speculation has gone as low as $20 million to $30 million annually, and estimates of all MLB teams’ local TV revenue by baseball analysis website FanGraphs in 2016 put the Braves ninth lowest at $35 million.
But the chief executive of Braves parent company Liberty Media disclosed much higher annual figures when asked about the team’s local TV deal at a recent conference, according to a recording of the event.
“It’s … 83 million dollars, rising to, like, 113 (million) in 2028,” Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said during a presentation at the Moffett Nathanson Media and Communications Summit in New York last month. He later clarified that the final year of the deal is 2027.
Although many Braves fans will be surprised by an $83 million figure for this year, Maffei still considers the deal to be well below market value for a team whose telecasts are available across a large six-state territory on regional sports networks Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast.
“It’s one of the lowest fees out there,” Maffei said. “We knew that when we bought (the Braves) from Time Warner. It was one of the longest and lowest. You know, go look at how much the monetization is for many other teams. Take the Mariners, a team we were familiar with because we owned the RSN there for a while. … Go look at what the Dodgers are getting — multiples of that, three (times) that number on a territory that’s less than half the size.”
The Dodgers reportedly get more than $250 million per year from their local TV deal, even though a six-year-long carriage dispute with satellite and cable providers has kept many Los Angeles fans from being able to watch the games. A significant number of other teams, including the Braves’ NL East rival, the Philadelphia Phillies, reportedly have deals averaging more than $100 million annually for local TV rights.
It’s not known where the Braves’ deal now ranks among the 30 MLB teams. Details of deals generally aren’t public, and it seems one deal or another is being done or redone almost every year. Further complicating comparisons: Many teams own potentially lucrative equity stakes in the regional network that carries their games, while other teams, including the Braves, do not own a piece of the network.
Still, it seems likely that $83 million would rank at least around the middle of the pack among MLB teams in local TV revenue this year.
Informed of the figures stated by Maffei, Braves executives declined to comment for this article.
But look at it this way: $83 million is enough to pay about 64 percent of the Braves’ current major-league player payroll before a single ticket or hot dog is sold and before a single dollar is received from MLB’s national TV deals or from The Battery Atlanta.
So why is the Braves’ TV deal, even if still far from top-tier, worth considerably more than often speculated?
The answer goes back to 2013, when the Braves were able to renegotiate some of their local TV contracts. At that time, they moved 45 games from Turner Broadcasting’s Peachtree TV to Fox’s regional sports networks and extended the contract on 25 other games. The moves consolidated all of the Braves’ local telecasts on the Fox RSNs through 2027 and improved the TV deal that Liberty Media inherited when it bought the Braves from Time Warner in 2007.
The Braves acknowledged the TV deal’s improvement in 2013 without disclosing figures, but noted at the time that they were able to rework only some of the deal -- not the full 150-or-so-game package. The long-term rights to the 80-plus games per season that Fox acquired when it purchased Turner South from Time Warner for $375 million in 2006 weren’t affected.
While last month’s conference was the first time a Liberty Media executive is known to have publicly cited annual figures for the Braves’ local TV revenue, Maffei told Wall Street analysts in 2014 that the reworked contracts would generate “probably in the order of $500 million” in additional revenue for the team over the life of the deal.
Since issuing publicly traded stock in the Braves in 2016, Liberty Media has been required to regularly disclose team financial results. The disclosures include total revenue, but haven’t provided a breakdown of how much comes from TV. The Braves had total revenue of $442 million last year, up from $386 million in 2017 and $262 million in 2016. The TV revenue is included in those figures.
A deal was announced last month in which Fox Sports South, Fox Sports Southeast and 19 other regional sports networks will be sold to Sinclair Broadcast Group by the Walt Disney Co., which earlier acquired them as part of a larger deal for Fox’s entertainment assets. The Braves’ contract with Fox Sports South/Southeast will remain in force after Sinclair’s purchase closes later this year.
When the contract ends in 2027, the Braves may be in position to substantially increase their TV revenue, depending on the state of the evolving TV sports business at that time. But in the meantime, the current deal, combined with the growing revenue streams of SunTrust Park and The Battery, seems ample to support a higher player payroll if the Braves and Liberty Media choose to spend more.
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