Bob Smizik: Mariners crazy like a fox

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The conventional wisdom, as news broke late Thursday night and was confirmed before noon Friday, was that the Seattle Mariners had lost their minds -- absolutely and completely. They had foolishly signed a very good but not great baseball player to a 10-year contract valued at $240 million.

Those complete idiots were going to be paying Robinson Cano an average of $24 million a year into his 40s.

Except for this: The Mariners new TV deal reportedly is worth an estimated $2 billion. It covers 17 years, which means the annual value could be as much as $117 million. All of a sudden, the Mariners don’t look like idiots. They look like savvy businessmen whose spending appears to be very much in line with their revenue.

And that won’t change if the Mariners charge into the marketplace throwing money at the likes of Nelson Cruz, Carlos Beltran or Kendrys Morales. Or seek out the available David Price in a trade.

The Mariners were 24th in MLB in payroll last season at $73 million and 25th in attendance a 1.75 million. They were behind the Pirates in both categories.

There’s an ever-so-slight Pittsburgh angle to the Mariners new wealth.

The Mariners and the Pirates both have their television deals with ROOT sports, which is owned by DirecTV. The Pirates have a modest deal with ROOT, believed to pay them about $18 to $20 million a year. The Mariners deal was for $45 million.

But with the regional sports network the Mariners have formed with DirecTV, they are huge players in the ever-changing revenue landscape of MLB. The exact details of the partnership are not known. But the Mariners are the major shareholder.

Forbes.com wrote this about the Mariners TV deal:

''As part of this new agreement, the network will televise Mariners baseball through the conclusion of the 2030 Major League Baseball season. In addition to the Mariners, the network will provide other professional, collegiate and high school sports programming year-round.

''New York investment bank Allen & Company, led by Steve Greenberg, who is a board member of MLB’s New York Mets, advised the Mariners on this transaction, guiding the club through the development and creation of this new venture. Apparently forgetting about the Mets, in a press release about the Mariners new RSN Greenberg said, ‘MLB clubs that own a substantial stake in their own RSN’s tend to be among the strongest and most stable franchises in the league.’ ”

Regional sports networks definitely are the way to go. It was with the promise of their own RSN that the Penguins, banked by owner Ron Burkle’s billions, approached Bob Nutting a few years ago about buying the Pirates. Nutting rejected the offer.

ROOT Sports owns the television rights to the Pirates and Penguins and over the years, under various other names, has kept the two teams in line by making certain their contract never expired at the same time.

The Seattle market is considerably larger than the Pirates, which accounts for their larger television revenue. The Pirates are hemmed in on all sides by larger markets with multiple major-league teams. The Mariners share the entire Pacific Northwest, about 12 million people, with the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers.


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