Baseball owners seem to have learned something from the pro football owners’ boycott of Colin Kaepernick: They learned that owners can stick together, violate anti-trust laws, and get away with it. So, now, they’re doing the same thing, except in this case, it’s for economic reasons. As the Feb. 12 SF Chronicle reports, “more than 100 free agents remain unsigned, including pitchers Jake Arrieta, Alex Cobb, Lance Lynn and Greg Holland and hitters J.D. Martinez, Eric Hosmer, Mike Moustakas and Jonathan Lucroy.” In the past, there would have been bidding wars for almost all of these players. Now? They can’t even get an offer.
What’s happening here?
Part of it is that they’ve figured out how to evade the law. But another part is that the “product” – a top, winning team – is not so important anymore. Increasingly, owning a sports franchise is not about the franchise itself, it’s about using the franchise for profitable real estate development. The NY Times (1/19/18) explains it: ”
Across the country, in more than a dozen cities, downtowns are being remade as developers abandon the suburbs to combine new sports arenas with mixed-used residential, retail and office space back in the city.” Nowhere is this more true than in the San Francisco Bay area, one of the hottest real estate markets in the country. The SF (baseball) Giants ball park – built in 1999 – was one of the first of this sort. Now, the entire area around that ball park is being developed. As the Times reports, “Just blocks away, the privately financed Chase Center, the new home of the N.B.A. Warriors, is under construction. And just like in Sacramento, the 18,000-seat arena, which opens next year, anchors a $1 billion, 11-acre, 680,000 square foot mixed-use development of office and retail space, and a nearly 6-acre San Francisco Bayfront park.”
Across the Bay, Oakland A’s owner John Fisher, a real estate developer, tried to do the same thing with his plan to build a new stadium near Oakland’s downtown and across the street from Laney College. In that case, the community got together and stopped him, at least temporarily. But from Columbus to Cincinnati Ohio to Inglewood California, sports franchises are being parlayed into an opening for profitable real estate development.
In part, this reflects the accelerating gentrification of central urban areas, which in turn has resulted from deindustrialization and the spread of high tech. This has brought with it all the “techies”.
This trend also represents what’s happening in capitalism in general. Due to the tendency for the rate of profit to fall, capitalists are increasingly reluctant to invest in producing a product – whether it be an automobile or a baseball team. Instead, they are using their capital for speculation – again on the stock market, on complex derivatives or on real estate. And on the side, they are using this to drive down wages.