No matter the professional baseball league in question, the issue of money is impossible to escape. This site doesn’t write about the financial side of unaffiliated baseball as much because for most leagues the money side of things isn’t as in your face as in affiliated baseball. Reading up on the latest Major League Baseball news it is far too easy to get upset about owners crying poor, laborers not being paid, etc. To think that these issues are present in MLB and MLB alone would be naivete of the highest order.
One need not look far to find an unaffiliated league that has money issues. In fact, if one looks throughout Mexico there are a host of unaffiliated leagues with major money issues. The leader of the bunch has to be Liga Mexicana de Béisbol. Mexico’s premier summer baseball league is always crying about their lack of finances. Year in and year out LMB executives and team owners are quick to remind fans that the league is either barely making any money or not making any money at all.
LMB operates much like MLB in that they don’t have to be honest and forthright about their financial numbers. The one key difference is that there’s no annual report about how much LMB teams are worth or the profits the league raked in during the previous year. Rather, we get bits and bobs from various news sources and have to do our best to piece together the actual health of the league. That’s a major reason why LMB can struggle mightily and the common fan doesn’t realize it or do really well and the players are in the dark.
Going into the 2020 season all the LMB talk centered on new President Horacio de la Vega trying to right the rickety ship he had been left by ousted President Javier Salinas. The nuts and bolts were that Salinas had caused too much harm with bad equipment deals, specifically a deal with Rawlings for new baseballs, and a questionable decision to play two completely separate seasons in 2018. LMB owners were quick to move on from Salinas and he became the scapegoat for the league’s money problems.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t know how bad the league’s finances truly are. However, there are some key pieces of evidence that point to a league that may be walking an even tighter rope than previously thought. Exhibit A is the dire financial situation of some of the cities that house LMB teams. Attendance has been down throughout the bottom half of the league for years. Even in seasons with good attendance, the numbers reported aren’t enough to financially help the teams in question. If the cities are struggling them their teams are struggling. If the teams are struggling then the league is struggling.
The current pandemic has springboarded talk among LMB players of unionizing. While that hasn’t happened yet it has allowed some anonymous reports about the financial status of the teams to leak to the press. The general picture painted by the players is of teams that can’t afford to pay their players, at least among the bottom half of the league. Obviously Guerreros de Oaxaca and Sultanes de Monterrey can afford to pay their players. For teams like Rieleros de Aguascalientes and Piratas de Campeche, it is clear that they are struggling. Their solution has been to play a game of salary dump. A bottom-half team will sign a bigger name free agent, pay him decent money while neglecting the rest of the team. Then during the season, they will sell their star player to a top-half team for plenty of money. This money is what keeps the team afloat until the next year when the cycle repeats itself. That sort of cannibalism isn’t sustainable and it’s surprising that LMB clubs have been able to sustain it for as many years as they have.
Living in a COVID-19 world one thing has become clear, LMB is in trouble. Years of bad business decisions, bad leadership, and a willingness to feed on the bottom-half teams have left the league in dire straits. Without the money from live baseball being played, the television deals, or team gear being sold it’s hard to see LMB continuing as it was constituted before the shutdown. It may not be right away, but at some point in the near future the roost will come to roast for LMB and it wouldn’t surprise me to see the league cut in half. That may seem severe, but eventually even the best tight rope walker slips and falls.
Lead photo courtesy of Unknown – El Fildeo