Prince Fielder to Detroit Tigers: Why TV Deals Are Best Worst Things in Sports

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Prince Fielder to Detroit Tigers: Why TV Deals Are Best Worst Things in Sports
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images
Congrats to the Tigers and Angels, who landed these two guys bankrolled by big-time TV deals. Almost makes you wonder whether the extra cash is worth it.
They might be the best worst things in sports: mega TV deals that vault baseball teams to riches.

They're the alternative to filthy rich owners. Or, if you’re the Tigers—who on Tuesday became the proud over-payers of Prince Fielder’s nine-year, $214 million deal—and you do have a filthy rich owner, the multipliers.

Michael Ilitch, former minor leaguer and founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza, worth an estimated of $1.5 billion, is that filthy rich owner. But before 2008, he hadn’t cozied up to the idea of spending it, at least enough to, you know, actually spend it.

What happened in 2008, you ask?

The Tigers landed a monster network TV deal with Fox Sports Net Detroit worth $1 billion.

And then?

Justin Verlander pulled a five-year pact worth $80 million. Miguel Cabrera inked a $153.3 million deal over eight years in 2008. With Fielder’s deal, that makes the Tigers twice the givers of the fourth-biggest contract in the history of the sport.

Just like that.

And they’re not the only ones. Remember the mop-up job the Angels did this offseason, landing both Albert Pujols (10 years, $240 million) and C.J. Wilson (five years, $77.5 million) shortly after raking $3 billion thanks to a 20-year TV deal with Fox Sports?

That deal was largely influenced by another: Fox Sports’ $1.6 billion deal in Sept. 2010 with the Rangers.

What then? The team spent over $100 million on Japanese pitching phenom Yu Darvish. (His contract is worth $60 million over six years, but the team had to shell out a $51.7 million posting fee to his old Japanese club for the right to negotiate with him.)

Tigers fans, do you like the Prince Fielder deal, for the price?

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In case you’ve dozed off amid all this numbers-dense money talk, that’s a lot of flawed spending.

You can make a solid case against every one of the deals. Hell, you can even wallop on the principle.

The 30 contracts in the history of the sport (excluding Fielder and Pujols, for obvious reasons) have yielded nine World Series rings. Yeah. That’s all.

Even with the two rings Manny Ramirez brought to Beantown during the life of his $160 million deal between 2001 and 2008, four—Alex Rodriguez, C.C. Sabathia, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter—came from the same championship roster. Kind of diminishes that accomplishment more than a little, as does Barry Zito’s, won in 2010, when he wasn’t even on the Giants active roster.

Not only don’t mega player contracts make winners, but they often mean bad things for the teams that give them.

The worst implosion in the history of the sport immediately followed the Red Sox $137 million on Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. It cost the team maybe baseball’s best GM (Theo Epstein), manager (Terry Francona) and chemistry (cue: Four Nights in an October long since passed).

The Phillies are in a similar rut. They’ve had a stepwise descent toward mediocrity following their 2009 World Series loss, after which they’ve been bounced from the postseason one round earlier per year. Which also coincided with the 2008 hiring (and consequent spending) of GM Ruben Amaro.

Do you think there's a corollary between team payroll and team chemistry

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The current conundrum: how the hell they’re going to re-sign soon-to-be-stud free agent Cole Hamels, easily worth $20 million per, with a second-highest-in-baseball $178 million team payroll and 204 consecutive home sellouts (meaning they can’t be hopeful about profit potential of unsold tickets).


I have to imagine the problem only gets worse in 2013 and 2015, when the team's network deals with PHL17 and CSNPhilly end.

That’s what the Angels and Tigers just signed themselves into and what the Dodgers—reportedly the target of YES Network man Leo Hindrey, an inkling that there might be a Dodgers cable network in the works—might.

That’s just not the way teams win in baseball anymore. Since 2002, World Series winners have averaged $99.98 million and a No. 12-rank in team payroll. That’s a testament to team chemistry, but more importantly, team-wide urgency of players who know each and every one of them will be counted on at a given time.

You lose that, or at least are tempted to lose it, when you crack the sport’s upper echelon of earnings.

So, go ahead. Debate whether conceding the back end of mega deals is worth contending for the first few years. Shout out the possibility that Cabrera (whose reputation isn’t exactly that of a company man) and Fielder (who’s tried and failed at more diets than the combined history of high school wrestlers and Kirstie Alley). Laud the business savvy of Ilitch and Arte Moreno (Angels) and Nolan Ryan (Rangers) for landing their teams über bucks and buzz with regional broadcast deals.

Just so long as you know they’re the best worst things in sports.

Matt Hammond is a producer for 97.3 ESPN Radio Atlantic City, and writes for He's also the founder of the sports blog Follow Matt on Twitter at @MattHammond973.

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