Braves: 2019 revenues were at an all-time high

suntrust park opening day 2017

For a team widely known as a mid-market franchise, the Braves’ earnings have grown beyond its perceived market size. A new state-of-the-art stadium and the prosperous surrounding area of The Battery, coupled with the team’s successful climb out of the division’s cellar in 2018, currently has the franchise — and its owner, Liberty Media — raking in cash. 

A combination of attendance growth, completion of various projects around the stadium, and just plain old fashioned winning resulted in record-breaking revenues for the Braves in 2019 (or should I say Liberty Media…?). Thanks to a ridiculous $212-million third-quarter last season, the Braves finished up with $476 million in overall revenue for the year of 2019, an 8% increase (or $35 million) compared to 2018. According to Craig Edwards — found in his recent piece at FanGraphs — the Braves have provided LM with nearly $150 million in profits in just the last two seasons combined. And even more shocking is the fact that LM originally had no intention of holding on to the Braves when the company purchased the team in 2007. I bet they’ve had quite a change of heart recently. 

But the truth is the Braves are in a perfect spot, both from a performance and business standpoint. Consider an excerpt from LM’s press release on Wednesday:

“For the full year 2019, baseball revenue grew primarily due to increased ballpark operations revenue driven by higher attendance as well as growth in local and national broadcast rights. Development revenue grew modestly in the fourth quarter primarily due to increased retail tenant rental income. For the full year 2019, development revenue was flat despite the absence of revenue from the residential portion of the Battery in the current year due to its sale on October 9, 2018.”

And it’s just going to get better as the team continues to separate itself from the debt that came from building a brand new ballpark north of Atlanta and what is essentially a small town around it. The newly named Truist Park and The Battery cost a whopping $1.1 billion altogether, though the Braves are on the hook for about $700 million of that total cost, given public funds (Cobb County) contributed $400 million. On top of that, the Braves just started playing in its brand new $139 million Spring Training facility in Northport, FL (CoolToday Park), which seems like a beautiful place from what’s been shown so far on TV in the last week or so; however, the Braves portion of that price tag comes to about $50 million. 

In other words…. the Braves are making more money, but they’re also spending more, as the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported Wednesday that they saw a 28% increase ($265 million to $340 million) in operating expenses from 2018 to 2019. The team’s actual payroll is also increasing this season, up to an all-time high of around $150.5 million in major league salaries (roughly $175.1 million when adding player benefits and MiLB contracts). 

Regardless of the team’s finances, the excitement for Braves baseball hasn’t been this high in a while, and frankly, the hype has already begun. Earlier this month, the Chronicle also reported that the Braves had sold 2,000 season tickets for the team’s Spring Training games. The new stadium is obviously a nice draw, but it’s a good sign when the team is practically selling out exhibition games in Florida. In terms of the games that matter, the Braves ranked 12th in the majors (8th in the NL) in regular-season attendance in 2019, drawing 2.6 million fans to SunTrust Park and an average of 32,779 per game. Compared to 2018, that’s an increase of 99,319 and 1,226, respectively, which was the 7th-largest jump in attendance among the majors — an excellent improvement when considering MLB lost over 1.1 million fans across the board last season.

Also, the Braves’ current TV deal isn’t as bad as many believed it to be when it started in 2007, and when it was reworked in 2014. The original agreement was said to pay the Braves between $10 and $20 million annually for 20 years, making it one of the worst deals in baseball; though the changes made seven years later supposedly unlocked $500 million in total revenue over the life of the contract, which raised that yearly figure to around $35 million per year (according to FanGraphs). Well, last June the AJC came back with another report, indicating that the Braves’ earnings are much more than that from the deal, sharing a quote from Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei:

“It’s … 83 million dollars, rising to, like, 113 (million) in 2028,” Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei said during a presentation at the Moffett Nathanson Media and Communications Summit in New York last month. He later clarified that the final year of the deal is 2027.”

It’s still a bad deal, especially when the Dodgers are earning over $250 million a year from their local TV deal, and the Phillies over $100 million. But at least we now know the Braves are currently earning roughly three times more than what we first thought… and even more towards the back end of the deal. 

All-in-all, it’s safe to say that things are going well for the Braves, and the team’s future appears bright. On the field, Atlanta currently wields a cheap young core that will allow for plenty of payroll flexibility in the future (only $61.8 million committed for 2021 and just $39.8 million for 2022, according to Spotrac). And off the field, the franchise’s most-recent developments are paying off handsomely. There’s only one last way to top it all off…and that’s to win a World Series.

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