MLB owners and their reliable valets in the C suite seemingly love nothing so much as feigning impoverishment. Providing the latest example of this tiresome and risible phenomenon is Chicago Cubs president of business operations Crane Kenney.
Here's something he recently said regarding the current financial status of the Cubs:
Cubs Biz President Crane Kenney says on The Score that Cubs will lose money this year, but losses are going down with more attendance. Cash will not be a limiting factor in midseason moves, though.— Bleacher Nation Cubs (@BleacherNation) June 7, 2021
Attendance has been limited at Wrigley Field and most other big-league ballparks this season because of the COVID-19 pandemic. In Chicago, the Cubs and crosstown White Sox were limited to 20 percent capacity to start the season. In late May, the city of Chicago allowed the Cubs and White Sox to increase to 60 percent of capacity, and the Cubs have held multiple home games since then. Wrigley Field has been given the all-clear for 100 percent capacity starting Friday. So for the comfortably majority of the season, the Cubs will be operating in a pre-pandemic fashion. Given how profitable they are during a normal season -- and given how many sources of franchise revenue aren't affected by limited game-day revenues -- it's hard to believe that two-and-half months of limiting capacity ballgames has put a team like the Cubs in the red for 2021.
At this point, two key things bear repeating and recalling. First, with the exception of the Braves, MLB teams are not publicly traded entities, and as such they are under no obligation to publicly disclose their finances. When they do say things about their finances, it's not by accident. It's a calculated disclosure, almost certainly not accurate, designed to sway public opinion. At times, teams want to turn the public against the players, and at other times they want to float excuses for not investing in payroll at adequate levels. Sometimes, it's both. Because teams don't have to show their work when making such claims of hardship, there's no reason to believe them.
When we do get an accidental peek behind the curtain, however, we find that teams are highly profitable. The Braves, for instance, are doing just fine. Leaked documents from baseball's supposed underclass of teams also showed healthy profits in the not-so-distant past. Every year Forbes undertakes some forensic accounting of the financial health of MLB's teams, and its findings are almost universally promising. Beyond that, when MLB franchises are sold, they inevitably bestow upon their outgoing owner capital gains that are hard to find in any other market. That wouldn't happen if MLB franchises were consistent money losers.
Yes, profits were no doubt way down in 2020, when fans were not present until the late rounds of the postseason, but don't forget that players also agreed to heavily prorate their salaries, which in turn heavily reduced expenses for teams. Fans haven't been back at pre-pandemic numbers so far this season, but that's changing.
Second, note that "will lose money this year" does not necessarily mean "will operate in the red this year." Sure, if you compare 2021 to 2019, the last year of full wire-to-wire full attendance in the majors, then the Cubs will "lose" money this year relative to that baseline. The Cubs, however, are a wildly well-heeled franchise with multiple revenue streams that aren't tied to attendance. No doubt, Kenney is hoping you won't think of that possible meaning and instead assume that one of baseball's richest franchises is presently saddled with negative operating income.
Absent some outside forensic accounting that MLB and its constituent teams would never permit, there's just no reason to believe anything teams say about their finances.