There is a constant struggle between the on-field and off-field performance of a sports franchise. Spend a lot of money on player salaries and hopefully improve the on-field performance (see the New York Yankees), but risk trapping the team in bad contracts (see the New York Knicks) or actually start losing money (see multiple NHL franchises). This brings me to the topic of Barry Bonds.
There is little doubt that Barry Bonds is one of the most talented players in the history of MLB. And yet, even though he has clearly not retired (here’s the video proof), no team is willing to sign him. Several of my friends from school have been discussing this, specifically talking about why the Arizona Diamondbacks should or shouldn’t sign him. Let’s take a look at this option, from a performance and business perspective.
- Significant improvement to the team’s offense (which is needed), potentially leading to the playoffs, which would definitely lead to more revenue for the organization.
- Potential attendance spike from people interested in seeing one of the most prolific players in baseball history.
- Potential increase in merchandise sales (a Bonds DBacks jersey would have some buyers).
- Definite increase in media exposure (free advertising, if you will).
- Definite increase in media exposure. Even though it is free advertising, there is a high risk of backlash.
- Risk of alienating some of the core fan base. Season ticket holders are a team’s most important ticket-based revenue stream. Since Bonds would only be a short-term player, is it worth damaging next season’s potential revenue?
- Conflict with the team’s culture. In this case, the team has made a clear commitment to developing their young players. Signing Bonds goes against this, and could have a ripple effect both in and out of the clubhouse.
- Risk of driving away corporate sponsors, that would not want any association with the controversial figure.
I know there are more reasons on both sides of the coin, but this is a quick summary. From my perspective, it comes down to short-term gain vs. long-term stability. The Diamondbacks have been making great strides over the past 2-3 years in building a stronger fan base, which helps ticket sales and corporate sponsorship revenue. Even with the spike they’d get financially over the next two months, both on the field and off, they’ve made a strategic decision to stick with their youth-oriented plan. It will be unfortunate if they don’t make the playoffs and lose out on the additional revenue this year, but they seem to believe that the short-term risk is still much safer than the long-term one.