Fixing baseball and the team just in time for the Orioles to sign a lease

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As our expert on the MASN wars for more than a decade, Eric Fisher of Front Office Sports joins Nestor for a deep dive discussion on MLB media problems, the Orioles torrid start and how we watch the games now and in the future.


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Eric Fisher, Nestor Aparicio

Nestor Aparicio  00:01

Looking back at W N S, T, Towson, Baltimore, and Baltimore positive, we’re positively getting into summer. Got a real pennant race going on around here and I’m doing the Maryland crabcake tour. It’s all presented by our friends at the Maryland lottery I have these 50th anniversary scratch offs are given away I’m gonna be given away the three seven sometime later on in the month here at the local last week, we had fancy Clancy Haskett on the program talking about pouring beer since 1974. Our friends at window nation also putting it on the road. 866 90 days you do what I did last summer, get yourself some new windows, you save some money on that AC and all of the energy costs. You’re coming up this summer. This guy hasn’t been on in a little while. I don’t know that it’s been it’s been a long time since he and I’ve talked about relevant baseball. He along with Marty Conway and some of my other folks has been the Masson insider to peel back the onion of the Angelo’s Lerner wars. We have since seen his former nationals as a longtime Washington time sports writer, win a World Series and now we’re in regional sports network. How am I Padres don’t even come on the television. Eric Fisher joins us for the first time in a long time. He has made a vocational move, longtime Sports Business Journal and then export business now doing things independently and as a new outfit he’s gonna tell us all about dude, it’s so good to have you on but the best part of this as a Camden Yards veteran and I know you are and you spent many years supporting the Orioles and being up here covenant with the times and all that before they were nationals. We have a relevant baseball team here. And this city has a different heartbeat about it when the baseball team is good. And I know you know that.

Eric Fisher  01:38

Yeah, they’re fun. They’re likable. These are good guys by and large. And it’s a fun team. You know, this is this Orioles franchise, obviously, he’s got a real historical lineage going back to the cow days and, you know, Brooks and Frank and all of that, uh, you know, great legacy, great history. And, you know, I’m not saying we’re necessarily going to be right back there World Series titles this year or next year, but like they are irrelevant team again, and they’re going to be and again, these are good young guys, this is a team that’s going to be reckoned with, if even if they’re not championship this year, next year, they’re going to be you’re gonna have to reckon with the Orioles for at least a good half decade. Now.

Nestor Aparicio  02:18

This new baseball cycle that we’ve grown into since we traded our baseball cards at the turn of the century, right? Like, you stink, and then you draft and and hope you draft well, then you get good for a little bit. And then you have to manage it again. Right. So the Orioles doing this for 55 million, how much money will be there? How many fans come back what the mass and train wreck turns out to be what they have to pay the learners to go away who owns the team five years now? Like they don’t have a lease? Do they don’t have a lease like so all of these things being said, I am just praying that they don’t screw this up. That you know, the Orioles best player right now should be Manny Machado under contract and be a venerable guy here. They didn’t want any of that they weren’t a part of any of that. Now, that’s for better for worse for the Padres that they did play a lot of baseball last last fall as I remember it. But for this group to see rutschman See had to see all these young players Mullins now with the injury. But to see all these guys and realize the Red Sox and the Yankees in the DOD. They’re all looming when ready to pay them and pay Shohei Otani or anybody else once it gets to that point, that these guys careers get pregnant with possibility. And I have no idea how they’re going to manage rehab and that he should manage it. But this is the next problem. People come up to me and say, well help you Oreos don’t get in that situation ravens got into with Lamar. And I’m thinking that’s the that’s the next problem is can you build something? And can you keep it sustainable? When you get as lucky as they’ve gotten at picking good foot picking good baseball players that you say with Adley? rutschman? Yeah, so

Eric Fisher  03:55

there’s a lot a lot of things in there. But you are correct. This, this core is all for the most part pre arbitration pre free agency, and they’re sort of playing above their market value. And that’s, that’s sort of the nature of the construct of basic player salaries that you have these good young players that are sort of playing above their value in those initial phases of their career. This is essentially year after year, how the rays have been able to sustain a contender is to get people playing above their sort of strict market value, so to speak,

Nestor Aparicio  04:29

and never paying them in their case. That’s been their model. I mean, that’s the Orioles model. Look at them.

Eric Fisher  04:36

Right by the time we get to the potential Wash, rinse repeat portion of this cycle for the Orioles when these when the bill starts, the big bills start coming due. Ideally, we’ll have a better sense of the entire landscape economically Major League Baseball we’ve got big questions as you alluded to in your opener about the entire macro landscape for rsmeans. What’s going on? happened with the ownership of one maybe both teams in the capital region. What’s going to happen with the stadium lease? You know what’s going to happen when Rob Manfred is next contract, etc. There’s a lot of big questions out there. And by the time again, when the big bills come due in three to five years on this core, ideally, a lot of that will be clarified in a way that those questions can be answered in the form of market value contract tenders.

Nestor Aparicio  05:31

It’s never going to get level playing field though, dude, you and I’ve been chasing for 31 years. I mean, I remember when the Oreos were the spenders, they were the ones buying Alomar. And in that era when the Blue Jays and them had money and the Yankees didn’t have a stadium and the Red Sox were you still you know the ghosts of the Curse of the Bambino like, like I go back that far. And the game’s changed so much. But this is the window for the Orioles to say what are we going to be? And I I would take it even further and saying I was there. 10 years ago, it feels like 10 years ago, I guess it was nine years ago. Now, the Royals thing. And you were in the press box threw out there. I remember seeing you there. And the Royals were back and everybody’s in powder blue, like my coons Ford shirt here, right. And they were all wearing George Brett jerseys, and most stockists, and these guys, I don’t remember their names anymore, right? They’re gone. Long gone, everything, there’s gone. Whatever they built is over with, nobody goes to the gate like all of that, man. It’s like a blank. And it happens for Matt Wieters is here. He’s gone. Nick Marcus is here. He’s gone. Brian Roberts is here. He’s gone. Adam Jones, look, he’s young, he’s gone. He’s in Japan. And it really does happen that fast. But then the franchise stays behind. And whether there’s real fans real money, real sponsorship, a real you know, what the Cardinals have, where they’re just always in it, what the Braves have managed to do by moving their stadium, that it feels like they have money to keep players spent, and be a part of the mix of Major League Baseball, not what the Royals have been, or the A’s, which is, we’ll try for a couple years and then we’re going to go to the cellar. And we’re going to bottom fish, the Astros did it bottom fish for years not have television ratings, and just tank our franchise in the hopes to build it back up. I mean, that’s been a pretty workable model for a lot of these owners.

Eric Fisher  07:16

Yeah, on the Orioles best day, they’re still essentially going to be the fourth banana economically in that division, the Yankees, the Red Sox and the Blue Jays pretty much always going to have more revenue opportunities,

Nestor Aparicio  07:29

that’s a bitter pill in it. I mean, you just really splash like poop on it like literally like that’s just, that’s just the fact right? Like really.

Eric Fisher  07:37

But having said all of that, you reference the Braves, the Braves in a lot of ways, are essentially the model franchise in the entire league right now in terms of their building, how they win, how they conduct their business, there’s a lot of good things happening in Atlanta. And you can make a very similar case that, you know, the Mets they’ve got the biggest payroll in the league, you’ve got the Phillies out there, you’ve got, you know, Washington that, you know, again, is a bigger market and should be, you know, rolling in bigger than what Atlanta is doing. But Atlanta just keeps doing it. And a lot of what they’ve done is locking up those guys on long term contracts before they hit their final arbitration and free agency years. And so there there is a and there’s a big, there’s a whole other discussion to have on that. And there’s a big sort of push pull. And, you know, there are folks, you know, within the agent community in the Union Committee, who are not in favor of those kinds of deals because players don’t necessarily have a chance to go to full free agency and, and maximize their potential value. But from the other side of the coin, Atlanta has built a sustained winner making a lot of those deals, that could be a pathway for the Orioles long term that, you know, instead of waiting for the big bill to come that I was referencing before, maybe in a year or two that you sort of okay, these are real guys that we want around for 578 years, whatever it is, and start making those contract offers sooner rather than later.

Nestor Aparicio  09:06

Eric Fisher’s our guest no one knows more about the business and certainly baseball and sports has covered it for a long, long time and a lot of ways you started the conversation as you’re always the smartest guy in the room, but you started with RSS and you said Alright, let’s start with that. I’ve already kicked the Padres in the groin. To begin with, I’d be kicking the Angelo’s learner relationship that was approved by you know, was a Bob to pay 17 years ago and it’s still not organized in any way 18 years ago, still not organized and you and I’ve had volumes of debate on that all these years. But at its core, when you talk about the macro model and how they’re going to generate revenue I see they’re asking Padres fans for 9095. Now, like direct to your television screen. Eric, my wife and I got food two Fridays ago and we came in here looking for the baseball game when the Orioles were winning they were like and we couldn’t find the game and Apple plus one of my credit card and I gave them the middle finger. And I’m like, and we didn’t watch the game. And so I, I don’t know what they’re doing. And I haven’t paid attention to most of it in React, but until it affects you and your team’s independent race, and you’re like, I want to watch the game and you’re like, I remember super TV here, we had to have a toaster oven, you know, to get the channel and a special antenna you put on your roof in the late, late 70s and early 80s. They should be making this easier. It should be easy for old people, young people to get games. And the whole model was so screwy and to the advantage of Angelo’s family, right? I mean, they’re the ones that made all the money on this. And wherever the yes network and nesting was with all that money. That feels over. I mean, the court, you know, we’ve been predicting this for 10 years, it feels over what is the next thing Do they even know what they’re doing

Eric Fisher  10:52

is really trying to chase a moving target here, the entire pay TV ecosystem is being redefined. Now in real time that you essentially, you’ve got the cord cutting that you’ve alluded to. And because of this massive amount of cord cutting, and dispersion of consumers into all various different kinds of platforms, trying to aggregate those audiences and put games on any particular platform is more difficult than ever. And it’s sort of at the basis of why diamond Sports Group, which is the parent of Valley sports, has the rights to 14 other MLB clubs, not the Orioles, but 14 others. They’re bankrupt right now. And as we’re taping this, there is a court hearing going on. And diamond is trying to reduce the fees to four clubs, saying that doesn’t comport with market realities. Right now, there’s a fifth San Diego that you reference it, they basically just said, we’re not paying you. And so MLB took that opportunity to seize the rights back. And they’re now distributing the games trying to figure out how to not only get the games out, but recreate that economic those sort of solid economics that the Padre is getting $60 million a year for Diamond, and all of this sort of patchwork that they’ve sort of built up just to at least get the games out. That’s great. They’re serving the fans. But then how do you sort of get that $60 million? Back? Nobody knows the answer to that question, whether it be in this near term solution, or even a long term solution. How you reconstruct that model. Again, it’s chasing a moving target.

Nestor Aparicio  12:31

I felt like these people have been stealing money for a long, long time, from little grandmothers that off the cable bill that wouldn’t care about baseball, people that would never watch baseball, don’t even know where the channel is half the time you get massive one, Eric and the nationals are on. So if you’re in a hospital or a hotel room where you only get one channel, you don’t even get the other you don’t get the Orioles in places. And now we want the oil so like, you know it’s become all the out of market issues that Luke Jones who covers the team for me lives 20 minutes from where I’m sitting in Shrewsbury Pennsylvania, and can’t because he’s in Pennsylvania, they want to get in Phillies games, right? So it’s, it’s a mess. But the mafia, they’ve had to say, to get money from people that aren’t fans at, you know, 35 bucks a year or whatever it is. And now having to go out to their actual fans, the only the people who want to pay for it and see what they’re willing to pay. How much am I and my wife willing to pay tonight to have the game on television tonight for the season, the season ticket, whatever, where they’re gonna bill me directly. And I Eric, I keep thinking about I’m a business guy. I’m an entrepreneur, and I’m thinking if I were John angelos, what would my big idea be? Well, let’s start with this. The people that are coming to the ballpark and buying season tickets, why wouldn’t you just add it on to their thing that they get the gate, you know, by the 26th game plan and will give you the games on TV for free? Right? You know what I mean? Like, there’s going to be some model where they build that in. Because if the new model is they stop stealing money from my mother, and my neighbors who don’t care about baseball, and they get on my block alone. 1000s of dollars every year for the cable bill and half for a generation for people that may or may not want Oriole baseball or may or may not want at Mass and if they’re just trying to swim from customers and P one customers, customers that want to be there 162 nights a year and pay for it. That’s a little different than buying the NFL ticket for Sunday’s. I mean and the affinity level you have to have for your team to stay with it and to pay for it. And how many of those fans are really willing to do that for the Miami Marlins or for the Tampa rays for these these teams that are moribund in regard to their brand. Oh my god like I how you say how do they get the $60 million back? They’re not and they better figure something else out some other way to make money.

Eric Fisher  14:58

Yeah, and we’ve seen some interesting experiments on some of the things you’re talking about. A couple of the NBA teams have bundled in local streaming access with the season ticket, I think those things are sort of smaller solutions on the margin. But writ large, your point is well taken that for literally decades, part of the economic model was deriving revenue from people who are not consuming the product. Now you have to get revenue, whether it be linear or streaming.

Nestor Aparicio  15:26

Think about how sleazy that is just in a just a general sense to say they were getting a lot of the revenue for people that just weren’t using it didn’t even know it existed, they were paying for it.

Eric Fisher  15:36

That’s, that’s not just sports, though. That’s a lot of cable companies

Nestor Aparicio  15:39

understood. I never watched the home garden network, but I’m sure they made $3.

Eric Fisher  15:44

That was the entire ecosystem. So now all of these people, sports and non sports are really having to get revenue from people who are specifically consuming their product. And again, you combine that with the cord cutting, again, really hard to aggregate audiences now.

Nestor Aparicio  16:01

Where are you with the rest of sports? Is sports healthy? It feels healthy? Some days here for sure. In Baltimore with the Orioles in the ravens, now the Orioles are back, but like the Preakness just blew through here and the horse racing industry, and then I watch all you sexy folks do that f1 thing that I don’t. Yeah, you know, it hasn’t gotten to me yet, but people dig it. And then I see the NBA in the NHL was sort of weird markets involvement. The NBA is a different animal because it’s so global. But I’m thinking like a Miami Vegas hockey tournament, where the games aren’t on TV. Speaking of how the mighty have fallen, I mean, the hockey games hard that I if I want to watch the Stanley Cup Finals, I have to have a secret code in order to figure out how to do it. Like it feels to me like sports is trying to figure itself out. I mean, the NHL and colleges is a disaster. Like there is a massive thing going on here with COVID and the aftermath and revenue that has been promised out and now how are we going to find the money?

Eric Fisher  16:58

Yeah, and I would say again, there’s there’s still a bit of a sort of resettling, that’s occurring and you in the COVID effects that you referenced there a very good point. But I would say to answer your original question, at the top of the pyramid, your big events, Super Bowl, NBA Finals, you know, NCAA Tournament, a lot of those are, you know, just as good as they ever were. numbers have been, you know, just as good as they ever were. And there’s a lot of health, they’re sort of that your lower tiers, it’s it’s much harder, and you’re hearing things about staff cutbacks and everything we just had a bit yesterday, when the XFL. Now the third version of the XFL is cutting staff. And it already feels like the beginning of the end of the third go round on this. And a lot of these smaller entities, it’s it’s a lot tougher. Eric Fisher’s

Nestor Aparicio  17:51

here, tell us about your entity, you moved around a little bit and taking it down semester, but nobody’s covered the business of sports longer and better than you. And I know you’re bringing that to where you are. And to our point, as we sit here, and we have any mentioned the A’s movie, like there’s 30 things happening, such as baseball, I mean, this guy doesn’t have a lease here and you’re trying still fighting with the Nationals. I mean, the business of sports still percolates at just an incredible level for interest, like people like you and me that think it’s as foundational as the standings or the batting averages.

Eric Fisher  18:25

Yeah, so I’ve got a super new opportunity that I’m really excited about that. I’ve just joined front office sports. This is another outlet that covers the business of sports, more in a consumer facing direction and some of my prior stops in my career path. But you know, this is a company that I’ve admired for a long time from afar. I’m now part of the team and I’m now working on, they’ve got a twice daily email newsletter for that there. It’s already a great product. And we’re already working on some new things to take that to even bigger and better places. And so just super excited with being part of this company where it’s going.

Nestor Aparicio  19:03

I had Joe and a half an hour. I don’t think we said anything about an f and l. And the Lamar Athan here sucked all the oxygen out of spring training out of the offseason. And you talk about the business at the NFL, where $52 million quarterbacks are now existing. And the NFL, I don’t know that it takes any downtime, but it feels like at least for a couple of weeks around here. Baseball has become so significant that the Ravens have moved below the fold on page one a little bit. And that’s an interesting thing, because that’s very hard to do to move the NFL off the top of the fold, right?

Eric Fisher  19:37

Yeah, we’re in the six week span. This is literally the quietest six weeks of the entire year between the schedule release and the beginning of training camp. This is it. This is when all the people who work at these teams this is when they get their vacation. This is Lake time. This is beach time, whatever you want to call it. This is this is the only quiet period of the entire year. Every schedule is out everybody’s made their plans for the fall. And winter training camp will start pretty soon here. And once we get into July, and then it’s go time again, on the way all the way into next spring. So this is the this is enjoy the silence, I guess in a relative sense, because, you know, for 46 weeks out of the 52 of the NFL will dominate and that that next go round is coming quick.

Nestor Aparicio  20:22

Were you amused by the Lamar and Aaron Rodgers sweepstakes that went on in the I mean, it was quite an off season, right? And then the the Eagles come and give all the money to hertz and that kind of changes things for Lamar. It’s been fast and even with the ravens and the way they do business, spending big money on Odell Beckham I mean, it’s, it’s been it’s been something around here sports has been relevant around here in Baltimore.

Eric Fisher  20:45

Yeah, although again, there’s a little bit of a question out there because the bangles are still the bangles and they have they that team is loaded. And I’ll sort of show my bias growing up a Steeler fan. That team has come around in a big way they’re going to make a jump this year. And so my point is that division is really tough. There’s a case to be made that even though Cleveland still Cleveland, but there’s a case to be made top to bottom. Perhaps the best division in the league.

Nestor Aparicio  21:11

Well, you said Joe burrow and that that’ll be the next contract situation right like that’s where you seen the Bengals their brand has exploded the last 36 months in the way that the Ravens did here.

Eric Fisher  21:23

You remember Jerry Jones yelling at Mike Brown to actually monetize this franchise? That wasn’t that long ago?

Nestor Aparicio  21:29

Yeah, and they have the white this and the jerseys and fans and like all of that’s happening, but you still equate them to the Angelo’s family and you say you know they the the Orioles can figure out Messina they couldn’t figure out Machado they can like can the Bengal or the Bengals really going to figure out Joe burrow and the one thing we know is there’s enough money there to pay him it’s not that they can’t afford it. I mean, I think there were times where the that family literally felt like they had no money and and operated in that way as poor people the borough thing that really is the litmus test for the whole franchise right is whether they get him done or not

Eric Fisher  22:08

Yeah, although there’s really no reason not to because again he’s a proven winner went to one Super Bowl almost got to another still a very young man he’s got a great career ahead of him and the NFL just prints money I mean keep in mind that we’re just now beginning $110 billion worth of of contracts of which they get obviously their their 1/32 Share and you know that’s before you do anything else and you greater internationalization and new betting contracts and you know we can go you know new Sunday Ticket we can go through the revenue lines there is money there so it’s really just a matter of will

Nestor Aparicio  22:47

I love when you go through the revenue lines Eric Fisher is here attorney journalist and the covering all things sports business, you can follow him he’s got a new twitter handle a Eric Fisher that’s a the letter E R I C F I S H E R he’s up in Jersey and at F O S so if you want to find him front office sports the business of sports I just gave it a follow up fo so you can do that too. Eric always good to chat with you but but even better when the Orioles are good that’s it’s been too long and at some point I’m gonna call you back to Eric what’s gonna happen with all this mass and money

Eric Fisher  23:27

I’ve been trying to answer that question for 20 years now I you know there’s a lot of people trying to figure that out so pointed

Nestor Aparicio  23:35

land right at some point John won’t on the team they’ll make and sell it they’ll get the free the learners from jail I don’t like and man for to your point like he’s got this circus fire going on in Oakland in Las Vegas right now. He’s trying to keep his job and get re up that’s the day I met you he got hired down at the Hyatt you’re a Baltimore like there are so many dumpster fires going on at the massive thing is moved to, you know, way into the back room

Eric Fisher  24:02

for a while. It feels like to me on the agate page to put it in your reference.

Nestor Aparicio  24:06

There you go. Scoreboard pages. I called it back in the day at the evening sun compiled by little Nestor Aparicio. Eric Fisher a good newspaperman longtime to Washington Times now up in Jersey doing it right give him a follow and follow them out and F O ‘s and front office sports you can follow me for crabcake and I gotta get Fisher down here for cracking last time I think we had a milkshakes and burgers at some nationals game. But we’re gonna be doing the Maryland crab cake tour all over the state. We’re doing the the oyster tour for our 25th anniversary in September. We will be celebrating on August 3 25 years here at AM 1570 wn St. We’re gonna be doing that all day cost this then we’re going to be a drug city. I’m taking the show to Dundalk, Radio Free Dundalk. It’s summertime around here big thanks to Goodwill as well for sponsoring our Maryland crab cake tour. I am Nestor we are wn sta and 1570, Towson Baltimore. And we never stop talking Baltimore positive

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