We're going to read and hear a lot of happy talk about new Padres ownership in coming weeks, assuming that major league owners approve the O'Malley/Fowler/Mickelson group, which I'm told also includes other significant investors not yet mentioned in the maintstream press. It's my hope that all of the happy talk is justified. Take this to the bank: If Ron Fowler's Padres teams are 80 percent as entertaining as his San Diego Sockers teams, we're headed for a fun ride.
No doubt the new owners will talk about "building within," about the need for a "strong farm system," about "wanting to win," and about being "willing to spend if it makes sense."
Bulletin: All owners say this stuff.
New owners grab headlines by spending money on ballplayers, too. Think back, and it happened here. Yes, boys and girls, there was a time when John Moores was a sainted figure in San Diego and not only because he gave millions of dollars to hospitals, San Diego Diego State and local charities.
Padres fans loved the guy, never more so, as it turned out, than when he doubled the player payroll within two years of buying the team in late 1994 and by October 1996 the Padres were in the playoffs for the first time since 1984. The spike in spending extended to marketing and community relations. True, Moores had extra incentive to excite San Diego's taxpayers about their local baseball club. He wanted a downtown ballpark built as part of a gigantic real-estate play. To get the ballpark built, he needed voters' support. In the end he got $300 million in public money.
If there's a real-estate play tied to this purchase of the Padres, it's been kept quiet. Does that mean there's less incentive now than in the mid-1990s for new ownership to invest ahead of the club's revenues? I don't know. But in one big aspect, the baseball industry isn't the same as it was in 1994. The revenue pie chart for teams like the Padres has changed for the better, thanks in part to Moores, who admired the NFL's business model and tirelessly pushed for more revenue-sharing within MLB. (Moores also sought a larger postseason, a wish that was granted this year with the addition of one wild-card berth per league.)
This remains an under-appreciated fact: The Padres are getting far more financial aid from within the industry than they did in Moores's first 10 years as owner. From what I'm told, the total annual assistance is $60-75 million, which includes not only revenue sharing from other teams but monies from MLB's wildly successful advanced media ventures. No one will confuse me with Warren Buffett. But if I wanted to buy a small-market baseball team, I'd probably be more interested if I knew that regardless of whether the team succeeded on the field, I'd still get scores of millions of dollars in revenue from outside sources. The Padres, in that sense, have a safety net underneath them that they didn't have when Moores bought the team.