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Oh Yes, You're In Deep D'Oh Now

It's springtime, my friends, and the grass is green. The sky is bright overcast, and the weather is seasonable too cold for baseball. And, praise Michael Ozanian, it's time for Forbes Magazine's annual MLB franchise valuations.

The Forbes list is worth the price of a pop-up ad if only for the cognitive dissonance it evokes from the Seligulans. Typically, it is phrased as The numbers are wrong; we're losing way more money than that. But given the peachy state of MLB financials and, coincidentally, baseball labor relations, the response will probably be something even more intellectually patronizing, like The numbers overstate the industry's profit; oh, and by the way, we're witnessing a Baseball Golden Age, what with interleague play and the wild card and the internet and all. Watch for that.

Anyway, the unofficial Forbes tagline this time around is "Damn! These bastahds are LOADED!" as recounted below:

Three years ago, the 30 Major League Baseball (MLB) teams posted an operating loss (in the sense of earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $57 million. Last season, they earned a record $496 million. . . .

In 2006, a record 76 million fans poured through the turnstiles at big league parks. . . . With the average ticket price of a big league game increasing 5% last season, to $22, gate receipts (including premium club seating) came in at $1.9 billion, 8% above 2005. . . .

With business humming at ballparks and on television, MLB's revenues totaled $5.1 billion last season, 9% more than 2005. The combination of revenue growth and investments in new, revenue-rich ballparks (the St. Louis Cardinals moved into their new home last season, while the Mets, Yankees, Minnesota Twins and Washington Nationals should all be in new stadiums by 2010) fueled a 15% increase in team values, to an average of $431 million.

As for the Nats, they're doing okay. I mean, the franchise's value isn't going to rise 114% again any time soon (as it did in 2004-05), and the previous year's gain of 42% seems outrageous compared to the 2006-07 uptick of two percent. But those things tend to happen when a franchise hits rock bottom, then lands in a fertile market willing to build a ballpark, and then the team is put up for sale. Speaking of which, having a stable ownership certainly doesn't hurt matters -- and while Forbes's methodology has inspired some criticism from the Hardball Times, it looks like the Lernastens struck a decent deal for the club.

Keeping in mind I know next to nothing about economics or finances (outside of the neat little carbon copies that come with my personal checks, which have a tiny picture of my favorite Ryan Freel-type, Ryan Freel, playing all scrappy-like in the top left corner), here's a summary table of the Forbes numbers on the Nats:

Category Forbes Finding (MLB Rank)
Current Value ($M) $447 (10th)
1-Year Value Change (%) 2% (T-29th)
Debt/Value (%) 56% (7th)
Revenues ($M) $144M (24th)
Operating Income ($M) $19.5M (T-12th)

Just by way of comparison, two years ago Forbes reported $80 million in revenues with a slight operating loss; one year ago, Forbes reported $145 million in revenues with an operating income of $27.9 million. Basically, the team is in a holding pattern until the new ballpark opens. [Pledge Your Allegiance! (To getting good seats in '08.)]

As for the debt/value category, that includes stadium debt. Hey, the Nats could be like the Blue Jays and have no stadium debt; then again, they could also be consigned to a hotel as a ballpark. Things could be worse, I suppose.