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Lerner on payroll, spring training site and Nats Park roof

Apr 4, 2014, 12:09 PM EST

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The Nationals’ $134 million payroll, by far their largest in 10 seasons since arriving in the District, can’t be stretched much more without new sources of revenue, principal owner Mark Lerner said Friday.

“We’re beyond topped out,” Lerner said prior to the Nationals’ home opener. “Our payroll, as you know, has skyrocketed to about $140 million. I don’t think we can go much farther with the revenue stream that we have.”

The Nationals enter 2014 with an increased payroll from last year’s $118 million figure, having traded for pitchers Doug Fister and Jerry Blevins, signed free agent outfielder Nate McLouth and seen several holdover players’ salaries rise.

If the club finds itself needing to make a midseason acquisition, the options might be limited, depending on any new revenue sources cropping up along the way.

To that end, Lerner said season-ticket sales are up slightly from last year, though still below the club’s self-imposed cap of 20,000. The Nationals drew a total of 2.65 million fans in 2013, an average of nearly 33,000 per game.

“I think we’re a little ahead of last year,” Lerner said. “We were pleased with it. … If we had gotten to 20,000, we would have cut it off. We were just short of it.”

Another potential source of increased revenue would be via a new or revised television deal, but no progress appears to have been made in the longstanding disagreement between the Nationals and Orioles over their annual rights fee. Lerner admitted future spending could be affected by the result of the TV contract negotiation.

“We certainly have to be careful in our projections and how we spend money,” he said. “We have to budget smartly. And if we get a better contract some day and we can use those funds to do more things, great. Right now, we don’t have anything more than we’re currently getting. And we’re budgeting accordingly. …

“We’ll look at it after this season, as far as looking at what we can do and what we can afford to do. We went into this saying it’s a business, and we have to run it smartly. We’re not going to do something where we’re losing tens of millions of dollars a year. Everybody can understand that. We have to be smart about it.”

Lerner confirmed the club is in negotiations with Palm Beach County about building a new spring training complex, likely one that would be shared with the Houston Astros. But even if a deal is struck soon, the Nationals would remain in Viera for at least one more spring, likely two.

“I’m hopeful,” Lerner said. “It’s been a long process, but hopefully sometime in the next few months we’ll finally be able to cut a deal with somebody and get that behind us.”

Lerner also addressed the story that emerged in November about the possibility of a retractable roof being constructed on top of Nationals Park. Echoing sentiments he expressed during a CSN Wizards broadcast from Orlando last month, Lerner shot down the notion that the club was actively asking the District to build a roof for the ballpark.

“We really weren’t pursuing it,” he said. “I think people got confused. My dad (managing principal owner Ted Lerner) was sitting with a group from the city, they were throwing around ideas. How can we make the park better? And the idea came up: How about putting a roof on it? You could have all kinds of events. But we didn’t specifically ask for it. I think that got a little out of whack there.”

  1. David Proctor - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:14 PM

    140M is more than enough to compete. If we can’t compete with a 140M payroll, then 140M is not being spent wisely. Having said that, the MASN deal continues to rear it’s ugly head.

    • jd - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:24 PM

      140M ought to be enough but with salary inflation and the fact that the Nats have many of their young stars approaching their top earning years it might not be enough to retain all or most of the core we know and love.

    • Nats128 - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:28 PM

      You are correct. Need that MASN money and by the way, screw Angelos

    • scbilly - Apr 4, 2014 at 1:32 PM

      I don’t think Selig was crazy to think the had to cut a deal to keep Angelos out of court on relocation (even winning a suit like that would have cost a lot of money and time), but having done so Selig has an obligation to make sure Angelos doesn’t use it to starve the Nats of revenue indefinitely. That said, it’s pretty clear he’s going to continue to stall until he can hand it off to the next Commissioner after the season. What a disaster that guy has been in so many ways.

    • adcwonk - Apr 4, 2014 at 2:29 PM

      Well . . . . there’s the little matter of what happens when Ian’s and JZ’s contracts come up. Yeah, we can compete without them, but we can compete _better_ with them, no?

  2. Eric - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:16 PM

    How common is it for one team owner to hold in their hands so directly the fate of another owner’s team? Or, maybe I misunderstand just how much Angelos controls the situation?

    • Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:23 PM

      Ask the A’s how common it is.

      • Eric - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:25 PM

        Damn…I’ve missed placed the contact info for my insider over there… 😉

        I have no idea what the situation is there…Giants got ’em down?

    • Hiram Hover - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:24 PM

      Situation in the Bay Area comes to mind – it involves a relocation rather than an RSN, but has left one team in the position to block another.

      I blame Bud more than Angelos, frankly. But that horse is almost dead.

      • Eric - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:26 PM

        A’s are trying to relocate, Giants are blocking it?

      • Hiram Hover - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:31 PM

        Correct, to San Jose.

    • texnat1 - Apr 4, 2014 at 2:39 PM

      Its extremely uncommon, Eric. As I understand it, what happened is that the MLB negotiated an absolutely terrible deal for the Nationals with the Orioles as far as TV goes. The only way that MLB was able to do this is because they owned the franchise at the time, and thus didn’t really look out for the franchise’s best interest the way a real owner would. Instead, they looked out for the other owners interests, especially Angelos. The owners were looking at having to pay Angelos some money to make up for the Nats relocation (or fight him, but they were too gutless to do that). But then someone got the bright idea that, instead of forcing existing owners to pay, lets just proactively screw over the not-yet existent Washington franchise. That way Angelos still gets paid off and we don’t have to pay anything either.

      The Lerners need to stop being polite and discreet about this and start calling a spade a spade publicly and viciously. Otherwise nothing will change. And as I understand it, this TV nonsense is permanent.

  3. Sec 3 My Sofa - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:22 PM

    “Lerner shot down the notion that the club was actively [____] the District to build a roof for the ballpark.”

    Wow, there’s a lot of verbs that come to mind for that slot.

    • adcwonk - Apr 4, 2014 at 2:28 PM


    • NatsNut - Apr 4, 2014 at 7:15 PM


  4. Hiram Hover - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:26 PM

    Mark Lerner, translated:

    We were throwing sh!t against the wall to see what stuck. This didn’t.

  5. philipd763 - Apr 4, 2014 at 12:43 PM

    Well, it looks like the Little Weasel from Baltimore (Peter Angelos) has finally succeeded in choking off the Nationals. This TV dispute will never be resolved as long as Bud Selig is around. He is totally responsible for this mess because he stuck the Nationals with a rotten TV deal even before the Lerners bought the team. Spineless Bud has had three years to get this resolved and he’s done nothing. I don’t think there is any legal recourse either because the very one-sided deal was accepted by the Nats ownership, which just happened at the time to be Major League Baseball and the deal was proposed by none other than the commissioner, Spineless Bud. The Lerners knew about this rotten deal when they bought the team so I fear they are stuck with it. Angelos may be a nasty weasel but he’s not stupid.

  6. texnat1 - Apr 4, 2014 at 2:31 PM

    The Nats need to seek political pressure to resolve the TV deal. Its the only thing that will do it.

  7. mrnat7 - Apr 4, 2014 at 5:00 PM

    Yes, the only way to get the MASN thing settled is to go to court! Tell Selig, even though it going to effect us also ( the Nats) we are going to ask Congress to take away the Tax exempt deal baseball as enjoyed for years. The rest of the teams will force Selig to take action with Angelos very quickly and this thing will be get settled.

    • TimDz - Apr 5, 2014 at 8:54 AM

      Actually, its the antitrust exemption…
      Here’s an interesting article….it focuses on Oakland, but the whole territory thing is what Angelos used as the basis of his threats, resulting in extorting that cruddy MASN agrrement….

      • sclairebear - Apr 5, 2014 at 12:05 PM

        I think that the fans should take action to embarrass baseball enough to do something about the terrible MASN TV rights deal. How about a #freetheNats day during the Nationals v. Orioles games or at a game that is nationally televised, where the fans would stage protests at the ballpark with signs, chants, etc. and make the hashtag #freetheNats trend for a day.

        I can’t believe that Selig struck a TV rights deal that would last FOREVER! The Lerners had to accept the deal as conditional to purchasing the ballclub, but they had the renegotiation clause that they thought would enable them to receive fair value for their TV rights. Wrong! They forgot to account for Mr. Angelos’ greed.

        How about it Nats Fans, People Power!

  8. Fred Monks - Apr 5, 2014 at 12:40 PM

    I think the best stream of revenue for the Nats is to cut ties with MASN and start there own network it seems that
    DeAngelos is not negotiating in good
    Faith. Think New England Yankees and the Dodgers

    • cayucosbaseballconservancy - Apr 5, 2014 at 3:23 PM

      Ted Lerner can’t. Its actually a deal that the MLB (Bud Selig) struck with Angelos to allow another team to enter his territory. From his perspective having the Nationals would steal fans and revenue he was garnering from the greater DC area.

      As a part of allowing the Lerner’s to purchase the team the Lerner’s had to agree to Angelos contract which said that his company MASN had exclusive rights to all Nationals television broadcasts. And that the Nationals could only get at most a 33% ownership stake in MASN. That happens in the next 5-7 currently the stake stands at a paltry 13%. In one of the larger multimedia areas nationwide. Its intentionally a losing proposition for the Lerners.

      Their only choice is to force Selig to honor the competitive clause that states that that share must increase if the average amount accessible in similar markets grows. The Phillies are one example where that has happened. Apparently, that hasn’t helped the Nats increase their revenue stream to 100 million from MASN as the Lerner’s projected. Angelos won’t move and Selig is apparently too incompetent to make him.





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