The Atlanta Braves and their fans have had to sit back and watch the last few years as team after team around the league has signed big dollar television contracts. Meanwhile, the Braves are just six years into a 20-year contract with Fox that covers 105 locally televised games on Fox Sports South and SportSouth, and is a low-dollar deal relative to these other, newer contracts. That's the bad news.
The good news is that the Braves have just signed a deal to move the 45 remaining locally televised games from Peachtree TV to the Fox South networks.
Neither the Braves nor Fox would reveal terms of the deal. But the Braves acknowledged it will somewhat improve their local TV revenue, which has been a source of concern because of long-term contracts signed before a recent explosion in rights fees.
"Suffice it to say that this is a better deal for us," Schiller said. "But we're only talking about (a change affecting) 45 games.
That is good news. It won't be the windfall of profit$ that other teams have experienced in recent years, but it should help the Braves remain more competitive. We may have already seen some of this expansion of payroll, as the Braves announced this year their payroll could expand to just under $100 million -- an expansion of around $10 million from last year.
They have yet to use all that expanded payroll space. Their payroll so far this year only seems to be around $88 million, leaving around $10 million of additional money for them to add players. Many Braves fans would like to see the team sign several of their young stars long term, though the team doesn't seem to be in too big of a rush to do so. But remember that when the Braves signed Brian McCann to his current long term contract it was during spring training in 2007. So we could yet see some movement on that front.
The real advantage I see with this new deal (or mini-deal), beyond the obvious expansion of revenue, is that the Braves have become accustomed to operating within tight budget parameters the past few years -- and have gotten quite good at it, especially in certain areas. If they continue to exploit these efficiencies they've created and add highly effective players to certain parts of the team at a low cost from within their system, while at the same time using the additional revenue to add impact free agents or players via trade, then that could give them a big competitive advantage.
The biggest area of advantage that I see the Braves holding is in the bullpen. While other teams have signed big-dollar relievers and closers, the Braves have relied almost entirely on their player development system and one or two key waiver claims or trades. As this spring training is demonstrating, the pipeline of young relievers in the Braves system is as promising as it has ever been. This has been a huge focus of their recent drafts, and if they continue this pipeline of talented relievers to the Majors, then unlike other teams they won't have to drop $27 million on setup guys like Brandon League.
(The Braves bullpen payroll has been less than $12 million since 2004, when John Smoltz was the closer. Even in the Wagner-Saito and Soriano-Gonzalez years, those contracts were below market and a good value for the team, while the rest of the bullpen was buttressed with low-cost home grown relievers.)
Talking Chop will keep a close eye on the Braves payroll and TV contract. Improving the cash flow situation like this also makes me think the team becomes eminently more sellable. We haven't talked about Liberty Media selling the Braves in some time, but this could be a move to make the team more attractive to potential buyers (whether that was the intention of the deal or not).
And now the sad part of the deal:
Turner will be out of the Braves TV business for the first time since the mid-1970s. It also means the last of the Braves' telecasts are moving from a free over-the-air station, which Peachtree TV is in Atlanta, to cable.
They used to all be free and over-the-air. #change
This also means that the Fox pre-game and post-game shows will be around for every game (all 150 anyway). Host Jerome Jurenovich will be joined by analysts and former Braves Brian Jordan and new in 2013, Paul Byrd. Tom Hart and Elizabeth Moreau will continue as the on-field and clubhouse interview people.