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The Controversy That is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ TV Deal

January 21st, 2014 at 4:02 PM
By Allan Smith

Much has been discussed this offseason in relation to the Pittsburgh Pirates' TV deal with Root Sports Pittsburgh after Pirates' President Frank Coonelly said the team had a deal that was in the top half of baseball in terms of value.

Yet, a 2012 report listed the Pirates' TV Deal as being worth a mere $18 million per-season. While $18 million isn't chump change to laugh at, when teams like the Cleveland Indians are signing deals that will bring in $40 million per-season, it's obvious the Pirates have screwed up. Add in the fact the Pirates are locked into this deal until 2019, which could potentially be through the entire window of the team's competitiveness, it's obvious the Pirates signed a deal at the worst possible time.

'PNC Park' photo (c) 2009, Jon Dawson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

With Coonelly coming out and making the bold statement that the contract is actually in the top half in terms of value without providing any numbers or context for why he was making that claim, fans have only gotten more enraged as teams like the Indians, Cincinnati Reds and Minnesota Twins all earn more annually.

When comparing the Pirates' TV deal to the teams at the top they're competing with, such as the Los Angeles Dodgers, who earn around $280 million from their deal each season, it seems as if the team has no hope to compete when it comes to signing the guys they want.

It's not as if the Pirates couldn't get a more valuable deal. Pittsburgh is known as one of the best sports television markets in the country, with the Penguins netting the highest local TV ratings in the NHL and the Steelers always being a big draw. In 2013, the Pirates notched the top 20 rated games in Root Sports' network history, and the team has seen massive increases in rating the past few years. In 2011, the team saw a 50 percent increase in rating from 2010, in 2012, the team saw a 31 percent increase from 2011 and in 2013, the team saw a 30 percent increase from 2012. Every month in 2013 saw ratings increase from the same month in 2012, and each month of 2013 saw better ratings than the previous month.

So how did the Pirates not sign a deal that would reflect this potential change? It's a poor business plan to lock into a fixed rate when that rate is far below market value. Plus, the deal was made at a time when ratings hit a likely low point before GM Neal Huntington's plan came to full fruition. Even worse is the fact the team locked themselves into the deal for so long.

What the Pirates have now, however, is greater leverage. Their product is now in high-demand, and it wouldn't be a surprise if another television entity wanted to swoop in and offer a more valuable deal, especially since they would only have to top one of the least-valuable contracts in the business.

It's time for the Pirates to either void their deal with Root Sports with the intention of renegotiating or finding a new host station, or else the team may blow one of their best windows to compete for a World Series since the 1970's.

Tags: Baseball, MLB, Pittsburgh, Pittsburgh Pirates, ROOT Sports, TV deal

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