There is a heated debate about why this MLB season is beginning with so many players remaining unsigned. While one theory is that Moneyball-style analytics have led to a new equilibrium where teams have learned not to overpay for players, a simpler explanation might be that teams realized that losses could be more valuable than wins.
This sounds perverse. How could losses be undervalued? The goal in sports is to win, and winning typically means spending money on players, coaches, scouts and front-office brains tasked with assembling a winning team.
While this might be true, professional sports are a business, and the goal of business is to make money. Unfortunately for players and fans, in the MLB, losing games has never been more profitable.
It has taken a long time to get to the point where losing has become such an attractive strategy for teams, beginning about 15 years ago, when Michael Lewis wrote Moneyball about how the Oakland Athletics built a perennial winner for cheap by using analytics to find undervalued players.
In the early to mid-2000s, a big problem was the financial discrepancy between large-market teams such as the New York Yankees and small-market teams such as the Tampa Bay Rays.
In 2004, after acquiring Alex Rodriguez from the Texas Rangers, the Yankees had a payroll that was about six times that of the Rays, with Rodriguez earning almost as much as the entire Rays roster. How could small-market teams compete?
Over the ensuing 15 years, multiple changes have occurred to lower the on-field disparity between large and small-market teams.
The growth of national TV contracts have given all teams a steady source of shared revenue, even when large-market teams are on TV much more frequently than small-market teams.
The sale of BAMTech, the service the MLB created to stream games online, provided a one-time windfall to team owners. A luxury tax on payrolls penalized spending by large-market teams, which has restrained spending on players.
A bigger change might have been teams becoming thoughtful about what they are trying to accomplish in a given year.
Rather than trying to win as many games as possible, teams began by asking themselves: “Are we positioned to make the playoffs or win a championship this year?” If the answer was yes, they would be more willing to spend money on players to win, but if not, they realized they would be better off spending as little money as possible, even if that meant being one of the worst teams in the league.
Essentially, there is more value in being a team that wins 60 games rather than one that wins 75 games.
There is a good rationale for this. As in all US pro sports leagues, the worst teams are given the best draft picks in the following year’s draft.
Additionally, the salary structure allows teams to control the rights to their draft picks and young talent for years, meaning that draft picks who become good players are often paid significantly less than fair market value would dictate.
Teams also decided there is not much financial penalty to being epically bad rather than mediocre. A certain number of fans will want to go to games regardless of the quality of play. Parents take their kids to eat hot dogs in the sun. People go on dates. The product on the field becomes a sideshow to the main event, which might be the stadium food or amenities.
The Atlanta Braves have taken this a step further by building a mixed-use development around their new ballpark, making the team an amenity for a lucrative real-estate venture.
Outside of the teams in Florida, the lowest-drawing teams in baseball still brought in about 1.5 million fans last year.
For the majority of teams, the new Moneyball logic says that you are either a championship contender or you are trying to spend as little money as possible.
If you are the latter, then you can count on TV money and the attendance floor to act as a profit engine while you wait for the day when you are a championship contender.
This is what has broken the game. If analytics say there is value in losing, then teams are going to try to lose, with player salaries and fan interest suffering accordingly.
Kamaru Usman put on a Fight Island masterclass yesterday to retain his UFC welterweight world title by grinding down a brave Jorge Masvidal in Abu Dhabi. “I’m at the top of the mountain and everyone’s looking at me,” said the 33-year-old Usman after scoring a unanimous points decision 50-45, 50-45 and 49-46 on the three judges’ cards. The Nigerian-American Usman (17-1) looked the fresher fighter, with Masvidal (35-14) having taken the UFC251 headline bout at just six days’ notice when Brazil’s Gilbert Burns (19-3) tested positive for COVID-19 and was unable to travel. The Las Vegas-based UFC pulled off a power-packed schedule with
Taipower on Sunday charged to their third straight win and took over first place in the Taiwan Football Premier League as previous leaders Taichung Futuro suffered their first defeat of the season, while Hang Yuan rallied from two goals down to complete a thrilling 3-2 victory over National Taiwan University of Sport (NTUS). Heading into the 10th round of matches, unbeaten Taichung Futuro led the league with 21 points, but they fell to their first defeat of the season, a 1-0 loss to Tatung at the National Stadium in Kaohsiung. In a match in which both defenses were on top and there
Thailand international Pitsamai Sornsai, a new arrival for Inter Taoyuan, is to lead her team against Taipei Bravo tomorrow in the 10th round of the Taiwan Mulan Football League. Sornsai, who is nicknamed Pui, has attracted interest from media and fans as the first foreigner signed to play in Taiwan’s women’s league. Inter are among six teams battling for the title this year. The addition of Sornsai is a boost for the international profile of women’s soccer in Taiwan and elevates the competition. The 31-year-old brings a wealth of experience, including from the Asian Football Confederation’s Women’s Championship, the Southeast Asian Games and
HOTSHOT: Luis Suarez scored his 194th goal for Barca, tying him with Ladislao Kubala as the club’s third-highest scorer, behind Cesar Rodriguez and Lionel Messi With another decisive penalty from Sergio Ramos, Real Madrid on Sunday extended their perfect run after the COVID-19 suspension and moved closer to their first Spanish title in three years. Ramos scored his fifth goal since the season resumed as Madrid defeated Athletic Bilbao 1-0 to maintain a four-point lead over Barcelona, who beat fifth-placed Villarreal 4-1. Luis Suarez and Antoine Griezmann were among the scorers for Barcelona after assists from Lionel Messi. Ramos converted a 73rd-minute penalty to give Madrid their seventh straight victory and they remain the only team with a perfect record since La Liga resumed. “These three points are very