As one of just two MLB clubs owned by a publicly traded company, the Braves are the rare team whose books are regularly opened to the public. That leads to some yearly insight into the team’s revenues and operating budget. This morning, Liberty Media announced its 2021 earnings, reporting $568MM in total Braves revenue, $104MM in OIBDA (operating income before debt and amortization) and a $20MM operating income (Twitter links via Eric Fisher of SportBusiness Group and Jeff Passan of ESPN, the latter of whom has screenshots of the report).
Those numbers are specific to the Braves, not Liberty Media as a whole, and they represent (as one would expect) marked increases over the previous year’s revenues, when the MLB season was played without fans and shortened to 60 games in length. In 2020, Liberty reported a total of $178MM in revenue and operating losses both in OIBDA (-$53MM) and operating income (-$128MM).
It’s worth pointing out, too, that the Braves and other MLB teams opened the season without home stadiums at full capacity — although the Braves were the first team to shift to full capacity near the end of April. Still, their season began with Truist Park at 33% capacity for their initial seven-game homestand and moved to 50% capacity for their second homestand — another seven-game set later in the month. Atlanta averaged 13,006 fans per game during that first homestand (per the attendance figures available at Baseball-Reference) and 19,224 fans per day in that second homestand (which included a seven-inning doubleheader). Over the remainder of the season, the Braves averaged 32,181 fans per game, according to those same attendance figures.
Of course, while the Braves, like every other team, surely lost some early-season gate revenue due to capacity restrictions of varying levels, the Braves also reeled in more postseason revenue than any other organization in the sport. Truist Park hosted eight playoff contests as the Braves eventually took home a World Series championship. Liberty Media lists 79 regular-season home games (accounting for a pair of doubleheaders) and eight postseason home games, with a reported $6MM in “baseball revenue” (not “profit”) per home game.
Future regular-season earnings for the Braves seem quite likely to rise — not only because they’ll very likely be able to open the 2022 season at full capacity but also because the team’s 2021 success has paved the way for a considerable hike in ticket sales. Liberty Media president Greg Maffei said today that the Braves’ 2022 season ticket sales are already the highest they’ve been since 2000 (Twitter link via Jeff Schultz of The Athletic). David O’Brien of The Athletic adds that premium seating at Truist Park has already been sold out.
The earnings report from Liberty Media comes at a time when eyes are more fixated on the financial component of the game than ever before. Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association are deadlocked in labor strife that, at its core, boils down to how the two parties ought to divide the billions of dollars generated by the league on a yearly basis. Commissioner Rob Manfred has already taken a great deal of flak for his claims that the “return on those investments (into owning a baseball team) is below what you’d expect to get in the stock market,” and his critics have already meted out a fresh set of barbs on social media today in the wake of Liberty’s books being opened.
Braves fans, in particular, are taking note of the team’s financials, as an understandably vocal majority has grown frustrated with the lack of a new contract for franchise cornerstone Freddie Freeman. Today’s report will do little to deter fans’ belief that the team can “afford” to re-sign Freeman, but that does not mean that ownership and/or general manager Alex Anthopoulos will make it happen at all costs. It’s never really been a question of whether the Braves have the pure funds to outbid the field, after all, but rather one of whether ownership is comfortable making a commitment of that magnitude and perhaps whether the front office deems it to be prudent.
With regard to the labor discord, both the league and the union will interpret the figures differently for the purposes of negotiations. Ownership will presumably point to the $20MM operating income. The union will likely more heavily weight the OIBDA and note that these figures do not include (as pointed out by Ben Nicholson-Smith, on Twitter) tax benefits/write-offs, baseball-adjacent revenues from The Battery (the mixed-use development surrounding Truist Park) or the general appreciation in franchise value. The Battery, according to Liberty’s figures, generated an additional $42MM in revenue and added another $7MM onto the Braves’ OIBDA (for a total of $111MM). At the end of the day, while it’s new information for fans and the MLBPA, the league has surely been aware of these figures and their timeline for release and already has a sense of the role the specifics will play in negotiations.