Since the Braves are owned by the publicly-traded Liberty Media corporation, they are the only team in baseball required to disclose their finances, providing some insight into how the COVID-19 pandemic impacted business. Liberty Media revealed the particulars on Friday (Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the details), with the Braves accounting for an operating loss of $49MM before depreciation and amortization in 2020. In terms of pure revenues, the club generated $178MM.
As one might expect, these numbers each represent a significant decline from the Braves’ financial picture just one year ago. In 2019, the Braves generated $476MM in revenues and had a $54MM profit (before depreciation and amortization). The Braves also added $115MM in debt thanks to construction costs in and around Truist Park and at their new Spring Training complex, bringing their total debt to $674MM at the end of 2020.
In an interview last October, commissioner Rob Manfred claimed that MLB’s 30 teams were facing a collective operating loss of roughly $2.8 to $3 billion in 2020. Since each club’s financial situation obviously has a lot of individual differences, it’s hard to necessarily extrapolate Atlanta’s losses considering they are just one piece of a 30-team pie. For example, Truist Park is the second-newest ballpark in the league, thus providing the Braves with a fresher revenue source than most other clubs.
As Fangraphs’ Craig Edwards wrote in December, however, the Braves are a pretty decent sample team to act as a barometer for the league as a whole “since Atlanta has a slightly better than average local television deal and ran a slightly higher than average payroll last season.” Edwards estimated the Braves for roughly a $65MM operating loss in 2020, so the team actually bettered his analysis. And given the $54MM profit in 2019, the Braves would still seem to be in the black over the two-year span.
It remains to be seen how the 2021 season will play out from a financial perspective since many teams will have either reduced or zero attendance for at least much of the year. Many on the players’ side (such as MLBPA officials and agents like Scott Boras) have taken the stance that 2020-21 will end up being something of a relatively minor setback to Major League Baseball’s overall financial health, which runs counter to statements made by Manfred and some team owners about the sport’s alleged dire monetary losses. Expect this debate to loom large throughout the season and beyond, as the two sides will face a very tense set of negotiations over a new Collective Bargaining Agreement — the current CBA expires in December.