All spring, we've heard speculation that some baseball teams will be running a financial gauntlet this season as the discretionary spending of Americans disappears faster than the stardom of Dontrelle Willis and Travis Hafner.
For the most part, that talk has been pure conjecture, a logical guess based on the other worn down areas of the economy. While we assumed a ballpark slowdown was a certainty, the absence of any evidence made us believe there might be a slight chance that pro sports might prove to be relatively recession-proof.
Yet it's time to pull our heads up from the sand, folks. We can't hold out hope any longer.
In what might prove to be the initial warning siren to an approaching storm, the Detroit Free Press reported today that the Tigers season ticket holder base has fallen from 27,000 in 2008 to only 15,000 for the season ahead. ESPN's Buster Olney then reported that the Tigers might be the team most susceptible to an early fire sale if single-game ticket sales can't come close to covering payroll, which was the second-highest in baseball last year.
From Olney's blog (subscription req'd):
"Many executives expect that within weeks of the start of the season, there will be a veritable fire sale of players throughout the game. Financially troubled teams will look to dump assets, like companies unloading stocks to maintain some liquidity. The Tigers are one of the teams most frequently mentioned as a candidate to employ that kind of sell-off."
Now, it's true that the Tigers have a couple of unusual factors working when it comes to the decrease in season ticket sales. For one, they play in Detroit, one of the most affected economies in the nation. For another, they had a poor last-place record of 74-88 in 2008, a mark that's sure to drive down sales in almost any market.
Still, there's no way you can think this news portends any good news on the horizon for most baseball teams or that anyone else would be immune to a mass dumping of players at cut-rate prices. Before I'm done with work for the day, I should probably make sure we create a special category especially for stories like these on The Stew. They're not going anywhere.
A big BLS head nod to Mack Avenue Tigers, which provides a good analysis of this situation from the local perspective in Detroit Rock City.