Bob Smizik: If Pirates' TV money is in top half of MLB, what about payroll?

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At a question-and-answer session at PirateFest, team president Frank Coonelly once again denied the commonly held belief that the team’s annual TV revenue from Root Sports was in the $18 million to $20 million range.

What’s more, he suggested that revenue was significantly higher. Although he would not divulge the exact figure -- he’s probably contractually not permitted to do so -- he did make this startling statement:

''Our TV contract places us in the top half of all Major League Baseball clubs even though our market ranks 27th out of 30. We are well positioned moving forward.”

That is a stunning comment and if flies in the face of almost everything that has been written on the subject. If the Pirates are in the top half, their TV revenue would figure to be in the $35 million to $40 million range and not $18 million to $20 million.

Coonelly's admission raises new questions about the team’s reluctance to significantly increase payroll.

The Pirates are no longer the laughing stock of baseball. They are a genuine contender and one, Coonelly tells us, that has considerably more money to spend than we had been led to believe. That being the case, a Pirates fan has a right to steal a line from ‘Jerry Maguire’ and tell Coonelly: 'Show me the money, Frank.’

Some background on this issue:

Wendy Thurm, who often writes about MLB television revenue for FanGraphs.com, last November had a lengthy rundown on all of TV deals by MLB teams. She put teams in six categories:

• Recent billion dollar deals: Los Angeles Dodgers, Los Angeles Angels, Houston, Texas, San Diego.

• Team owned regional sports networks: New York Yankees, New York Mets, Boston, Baltimore, Washington.

• Hybrid Comcast SportsNet Deals: Chicago White Sox, Chicago Cubs, San Francisco.

• Soon-To-Expire Deals: Philadelphia, Colorado, Arizona. Seattle, Tampa Bay, Cincinnati.

• Mid-markets: Detroit, Toronto, Minnesota, Cleveland.

• Have-nots: Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Miami, St. Louis, Milwaukee, Oakland, Atlanta.

Thurm has the Pirates in the bottom 25 percent. Coonelly has them in the upper 50 percent. That’s quite a discrepancy.

Since Coonelly has been, shall we say, less than truthful in some of his public utterances since taking over as Pirates president in 2007, it’s easy to dismiss his comments. After all, he is the man who cut the deal with Root. Why wouldn’t he want to put the best possible face on it?

But the other side, as Thurn acknowledges in her story, is that it’s difficult for the media to pin down the exact amounts being given to teams. Additionally, there were some major surprises on her list, notably Atlanta and St. Louis being among the have-nots.

If there are surprises at one end of the spectrum, Atlanta and St. Louis; and at the other end with San Diego, maybe the Pirates are just another surprise. Not saying that’s so, just saying it’s possible.

If Coonelly is to be believed, this sheds an entirely new light on the Pirates revenue and payroll.

If they are 15th or better in television revenue and 20th in attendance, why are they lagging in payroll? Why aren’t the Pirates pushing $90 million in payroll?


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