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Commentary: MLB Owners Change With The Times01:58
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MLB teams no longer sell seats on the field -- nevertheless, teams like the San Francisco Giants have found ways to make money: Forbes estimates the team is worth $2 billion. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
MLB teams no longer sell seats on the field -- nevertheless, teams like the San Francisco Giants have found ways to make money: Forbes estimates the team is worth $2 billion. (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
This article is more than 5 years old.

This story is part of Only A Game’sTime Show” which examines how the passage of time influences sports.

Athletes and their circumstances change over time, and the most adaptable of those athletes thrive.

The same is true of team owners.

I have been looking at photographs from the early days of the World Series, 1903, 1905, and 1906.

No contemporary owner would dream of trying to increase profits by setting up a row folding chairs in front of the third base dugout.

They feature fans sitting and standing on the field. Some occupy the edges of the outfield. Some sit where a catcher or first baseman might have caught a pop-up if those fans hadn’t been in the way.

The fans are separated from the players by ropes. Lots of them are dressed in suits, and many are wearing derbies. They appear respectable. Maybe that’s why the club owners felt mere ropes would discourage them from grabbing the outfielders by the belt or stealing their hats.

Increasing the capacity at those World Series games increased the take for the owners, never mind that the policy turned foul pops into second chances for the hitters and made ground-rule doubles of fly balls that fell among the gents who’d been leaning over the center fielder’s shoulder.

No contemporary owner would dream of trying to increase profits by setting up a row of folding chairs in front of the third base dugout. Now they cash in by building luxury boxes in parks they’ve financed by threatening to move their teams.

The luxury box money, the concessions the owners get from various mayors and governors, and the broadcast revenues add up. That’s part of the reason today’s teams annually increase in value, no matter how badly they play. In the days when fans stood behind ropes, Major League Baseball teams sometimes went under. Whither the Cleveland Spiders of yesteryear?

So, sure, it was good to be an owner back in the day when the reserve clause prevented players from testing the market, but perhaps it’s even better to be one today, when Major League Baseball can take advantage of in-stadium arcades, restaurants, and malls; video games, fantasy teams, replica jerseys, and lots of other revenue streams those fellows peddling standing room in the outfield couldn’t have imagined.

This segment aired on August 22, 2015.

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