The 2019 season and its 8% increase in overall revenue for the Braves came at a great time… because 2020 sure was disappointing.
Back in early March of last year, I wrote about how Atlanta was “raking in the cash” as the Braves saw a franchise record revenue of $476 million from the season prior, thanks to a combination of attendance growth, completion of various projects around the stadium and, you know, just good, plain old fashioned winning (two-straight division titles tend to help). In 2018 and 2019 combined, the Atlanta Braves profited nearly $150 million for its owner, Liberty Media, and with a brand-new state of the art stadium to go along with a team projected to contend for many years to come, pre-COVID, the Braves were in a place very few mid-market teams had ever been.
However, for essentially anyone in the business of making money, 2020 was a baaad year… and the Braves certainly weren’t pardoned from the consequences of a global pandemic.
The numbers from 2020
In a nutshell, big league teams usually generate roughly 40% of their yearly revenue from fans attending games. At the end of the day, MLB is a source of entertainment, and getting fans to come to the stadium to watch that entertainment should be a big part of a franchise’s income. But in 2020, fans obviously weren’t allowed in MLB stadiums, meaning a ton of money simply remained in Braves fans’ pockets. And not only was there no fans, but the team also played fewer games last season altogether, slashing potential income even more.
All-in-all, by the end of the 3rd Quarter (which consists of July, August and September), Atlanta saw a 48% decrease in baseball revenue — a gross drop of roughly $100 million compared to the same quarter in 2019:
- 2019 Q3 revenue — $203 million
- 2020 Q3 revenue — $102 million
Now, of course, the lack of fan attendance isn’t solely responsible for that almost 50% drop. The term Baseball Revenue involves other things such as ballpark operations, shared MLB revenue streams as well as local and national TV rights. However, for the most part, those other revenues were somewhat taken into account and, in the end, could’ve actually helped the franchise (fewer home games meant fewer ballpark expenses… etc.). In fact, according to a FanGraphs piece by Craig Edwards back in December, once accounting for the drop in expenses due to 2020’s shortened campaign, the Braves actually turned a $6 million net profit over the course of the ’20 season. A net profit or not, though, MLB and the Braves missed out on a ton of money last season.
And to add to the disappointment, financially of course, Atlanta missed out on the normal returns associated with hosting playoff games as the team played two fan-less Wild Card games at Truist Park last October. If anything, the Braves postseason run most likely put the franchise further in the red, given Atlanta wound up making it to the League Championship (which added more expenses for travel and other associated costs).
Will 2021 be better?
Of course, it should be, right? As of right now, Spring Training and the 2021 MLB regular season is slated to start on time, meaning the Braves have a solid opportunity to recuperate some of the cash they missed out on last season. However, the benefits of a full-162 really don’t register unless fans are allowed to attend the games (remember… 40% of revenue). We still haven’t heard exactly how the league plans on handling the fan aspect of the coming season, but one would assume that given the existence of a COVID vaccine, sports would be a bit more open to fans in seats now over a year later. Although a quick look at the news and it’s clear the pandemic is far from over as deaths are still reaching daily highs.
The Braves still owe a ton of debt, roughly $714 million overall, stemming from projects like The Battery and the surrounding development around Truist Park. Although that huge number did come down a bit last year as the team reportedly paid down $4 million in total debts in 2020.
We’ll see what happens with the 2021 season, but for now, it’s probably safe to remain optimistic. Atlanta’s ’21 payroll sits at $135.4 million right now (per Spotrac), and the team is still essentially missing a starting outfielder, not to mention maybe a few bench bats and some bullpen help. By all accounts, GM Alex Anthopoulos is prepared to make a rather substantial signing this winter. However, he’s most likely waiting to see what the official word is regarding the universal DH. With almost $75 million in tax space, there’s no reason to believe AA won’t run a payroll this season that’s at least comparable to last year’s.
So overall, 2021 should be a better year for the Braves, especially financially. But just like with AA’s plan for improving the team this offseason, I guess we’ll have to wait and see what happens.