NEW YORK: Forbes magazine threw Major League Baseball (MLB) a curve ball last week.After conducting an independent survey of the league's finances, the magazine reported that MLB made a $75 million profit last year - more than $307 million higher than the $232 million loss to which commissioner Bud Selig testified before the House Judiciary Committee in December 2000.
Forbes also reported that 20 of the league's 30 teams were profitable last year, while Selig testified that just nine teams operated in the black in 2001. The magazine said it gathered most of its information from individual teams, financial consultants, and public documents, adding that MLB offered it the same figures provided to Congress - which Forbes claimed lacked detail.
"Those numbers were not sufficiently broken down to know where they were coming from,
Forbes senior editor Mike Ozanian told PRWeek.
The league, seeking to defend its turf, has fired back at the magazine by challenging Forbes' figures and motives.
"We have made public more information concerning our finances than any other sports league in history,
Rich Levin, spokesman for MLB, retorted.
"The article was extremely dishonest, and we are not sure just where Forbes got its figures. I think it's an attempt to get attention for the magazine."
Critics have charged that the league manipulated its profit figures downward to gain sympathy in its continuing negotiations with the powerful Baseball Players Association and in its effort to eliminate two struggling franchises, the Minnesota Twins and Montreal Expos.
MLB's collective bargaining agreement with its players expired in November, and talks between labor and ownership have since been at a standstill.
Despite a history of public recriminations during past baseball labor negotiations, PR professionals say the league and the players would be well served to avoid such public acrimony this time around.
"From a PR standpoint, owners and players should remember that they have an interest in protecting the brand of baseball,
said Peter Land, EVP of Edelman Public Relations, who has worked with both the union and the league. "They might consider a collective PR strategy, because fans don't distinguish between owners and players, and each has an interest in protecting the brand."
Although the league has promised not to lock out the players during the current season, the specter of a work stoppage continues to loom. The league's most-recent work stoppage, which prematurely ended the 1994 season, alienated its fans for years.
"Both parties know the damage that another work stoppage could incur on the game,
said Bret Werner, VP at Alan Taylor Communications. "It took about four years for the league to bounce back last time, and a 1998 season that included Mark McGwire's home-run record, and a record-breaking season for the Yankees."