Friend of the site Cork Gaines posted a very interesting chart on Rays Index yesterday estimated how much the Rays might make on their next TV contract. With the current contract expiring in 2016, thoughts of renegotiation are far away.
A few random thoughts:
The biggest admitted flaw in Cork’s study is that he looked only at other teams’ ratings for 2014. I would be curious to see their five year ratings, especially in markets much bigger than Tampa Bay. According to another chart Cork published, the Rays have only been over 100,000 households per game once, in 2010. The Phillies did that last year, and they haven’t had a team record over .500 since 2011. The Philadelphia market is more double the size of Tampa Bay (6 million vs 2.9 million), so potentially many more people could be watching the Phillies if they were better?
What do I mean by this? I think the Rays household viewing potential is 80-85,000. Which means there isn’t much room for growth barring a drastic increase in the fanbase. Would Sun Sports accept paying 4x more for a fanbase with limited growth?
If we look at other teams with similar TV market size (Detroit, Arizona, Seattle, Minnesota, Miami, Denver), the top TV revenue team is the Mariners with $115 million. Overall, however, the Rays are not in a good neighborhood. While there is much more correlation between ratings and TV rights revenue, this might go against them in negotiations. After all, households watching the game can’t exceed TV market size.
According to their 2014 ratings, the Mariners had an average of 110,000 households watching an 87-75 team. Again, the Rays have only topped 100,000 households once, in 2010. The Tampa Bay baseball market is far too fragmented for the Rays to reach the Mariners level of households. While the Facebook/NY Times fan study claims King County, Washington as 57% Mariners, and 7% Yankees and Sox (very similar to the 56/9/7 of Pinellas County, the area of predominantly Mariners fans is much greater than the area of Florida that is predominantly Rays fans.
Perhaps a deal worth 75% of the Mariners revenue is fair. That would be $86.25 million per year, well within Cork’s estimate.
But not so fast …
Here is a thought: could the Rays new contract actually shrink their TV market size? What if local cable providers balk at carrying both Sun Sports and Fox Sports Florida? Especially those outside of the Tampa Bay area, such as perhaps the Florida’s east coast or southwest. What if cable providers opt to only carry the Marlins games and not the Rays?
Right now, most Florida cable providers carry both Fox Sports affiliates. But is it a package deal? Do they have to carry both? What if the price of carrying Sun Sports goes too high for cable providers outside of the Rays major fanbase areas?
I am no expert by any means, and these are just random thoughts. I agree with Cork that the Rays TV revenue is due for a large increase, and that’s a great thing. And TV is one of the reasons Major League Baseball is not giving up in the Tampa Bay area anytime soon.
But if you know any of the answers to the questions I posed above, feel free to chime in. Thanks!