Baseball owners lost $105 million during the strike-shortened 1981 season and $206 million more in the following four years, according to management documents obtained by The Associated Press.
While the industry lost money from 1975 through 1985, it had operating profits from 1986 to 1993, according to the documents. Baseball's overall revenues increased from $162.6 million in 1975 to $1.879 billion in 1993.Documents of baseball's finances from 1975 through 1991 were released last Thursday by the House Judiciary Committee, which has been examining baseball's antitrust exemption. Figures for 1992 were obtained by the AP from management sources and 1993 estimates were provided by the owners' Player Relations Committee. No estimates for 1994 are available yet.
Teams made $762,955,000 in operating profits from 1986 through 1993. That does not include either the $190 million they received in expansion fees from Colorado and Florida or the $280 million they paid players to settle the three collusion grievances.
"Since 1978, this has been a virtually break-even industry if you include interest costs," acting commissioner Bud Selig said Sunday. "And that's pre-depreciation and pre-taxes."
Selig says he has shown the statements to bankers and accountants, and they verify management's claim that baseball loses money.
"When people see that since 1978 this is a virtually break-even industry, they're all stunned," Selig said. "They wonder why it's gone on this long."
The documents are called 8-10-8s because they list each category by the eight largest clubs, the 10 in the middle and the eight smallest. Union head Donald Fehr said they were unreliable because teams did not disclose many areas of their finances to their accountants.
"On their face, they don't tell you very much," Fehr said. "The best measure of the value of a team is the cost of a franchise."
No team has sold for less than it was purchased since 1973, when George Steinbrenner's group bought the New York Yankees for less than CBS had paid. The record price of $163 million was set last year when Peter Angelos bought the Baltimore Orioles.
In 1981, the owners' losses from the strike were partially offset by the $46.8 million in strike insurance that the owners received.
"We had some very tough years afterward," Selig said from his home in Scottsdale, Ariz. "I know in the Milwaukee case it was very difficult."
Selig said he understood there was a possibility of financial difficulty for teams following this strike.
"Let's hope not," he said. "But I don't want to get into it now."