Thursday, November 04, 1999

Reds could afford Griffey, but is it worth it?

Added revenues wouldn't be that significant

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        What a difference a name makes. Because the name is Ken Griffey Jr., native son and the best player in baseball, the Reds are trying to structure a deal for the Seattle Mariners star and trying to see if they can afford his salary.

        Three years ago, when the name was Fred McGriff, whose salary was $5 million, Reds managing executive John Allen decided the price was too high.

        Now comes Griffey ... And nobody is closing any doors.

        If Griffey would take less to play here — the same way Barry Larkin did several years ago — he probably still would want close to $15 million a season. (Seattle was offering him $17 million).

        Despite this, the Reds are trying to put together a trade. Allen has given General Manager Jim Bowden the green light to try to work something out.

        “There is much more of an intangible with this one,” Allen said Wednesday. “I've often looked at the Big Red Machine and wondered, "What would some of those guys get (in today's market)?' He (Griffey) is worth a lot. The question is: "Can you afford it? Does he fit the budget? What do you have to give up to get him?'”

        The difficult part for the Reds is that, on most nights, they already sell out the best seats at Cinergy Field — the blue box seats.

        The additional seats they'd be selling if they landed Griffey probably would average about $8-$9 a ticket, mostly green reserved and red-level seats.

        The math isn't complicated.Even if the Reds sold an average of 10,000 more tickets a night and generated another $4-$5 a head for concessions and merchandise, that's only $10 million to $11 million more in annual gross revenues. That still would leave the Reds more than $5 million short of being able to afford Griffey. Most additional revenue streams — including local television and radio rights and signage in the ballpark — already have been negotiated for next year. And expecting 10,000 additional fans a game is probably optimistic. The Reds drew 2 mil lion fans this year. The franchise's all-time high is 2.6 million in 1976, when the Big Red Machine was at its zenith. (Actually, that 2.6 million should be considered 2.8 million, for apples-to-apple purposes. In 1976, National League franchises announced paid tickets in the house; today, the standard is paid tickets, which includes no-shows.)

        So the question becomes: Does the addition of Griffey mean the Reds would match the attendance of the Big Red Machine?

        And even if the Reds somehow did draw 10,000 more fans a game, how many of them would have been coming out anyway because of last year's 96-victory season?

        Not to mention this: Whatever deal the Reds might structure to land Griffey better not hurt the team's chances of winning. Because in Cincinnati, fans aren't going to come out long-term to see anybody if the team isn't winning.

        “You can't afford to destroy the core of this ballclub,” said Marty Brennaman, the Reds' radio broadcaster. “The novelty of Ken Griffey Jr. being in a Reds uniform will wear off quickly (if the Reds aren't winning.)”

        He thinks Griffey's presence would manifest itself most im pressively in game-by-game sales, because kids would flock to the park.

        Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College who is the author of Baseball and Billions, believes the Reds can afford Griffey — as long as he stays healthy and productive. “It (paying Griffey) is something that is doable,” Zimbalist said. “But yes, it's a gamble. That's the main kicker. You crunch the numbers and you see you can do it, but you don't have as large a fudge factor in your budget — if any at all — as say, Atlanta.”


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