Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner basked in the glow of an adoring crowd when he sat on stage last Monday night at the premiere of the 2019 World Series documentary.
He seemed to enjoy being the toast of the town, and why not? His baseball team was about to be featured in the game’s annual film tribute to the World Series, the trophy sitting just a few feet away.
More than 3,000 people gave Lerner a standing ovation.
I’ll bet that never happened when the Lerners opened a mall or an office building.
So why would he want that to stop? Why would he stop the cheers in an interview with NBC Sports Washington where he declared that one of the two heroes of this World Series championship team — free agents Anthony Rendon or Stephen Strasburg — would not be back for encore performance?
“We really can only afford to have one of those two guys,” Lerner said in a portion of the interview posted last week on the network’s website. “They’re huge numbers. We already have a really large payroll to begin with. So we’re pursuing them, we’re pursuing other free agents in case they decide to go elsewhere.”
This could be clumsy negotiating language, which seems foolish at this point. After all, they are dealing with Scott Boras, the agent for both Nationals stars who is often treated by the Nationals as though he were a member of the Lerner family.
After more than 10 years of dealing with each other, there are no surprises when it comes to the Lerners and Boras.
Maybe Mark Lerner’s comments were just for public consumption — but why? Why throw a wet blanket on the party? To prepare fans for a disappointment that doesn’t have to happen?
The truth is the Lerners actually can afford both Strasburg and Rendon. It might put the team slightly over the luxury tax and result in a penalty, but that penalty would be insignificant, compared to the revenue that would be generated if they keep this party going. It’s a mistake to think that one World Series championship will protect this team from the market forces that were dragging numbers down before October happened.
Make no mistake — the Lerners needed this World Series championship.
Attendance was down to 2.26 million in 2019, the lowest since 2011. Fans were getting tired of the narrative: Success in the regular season (four National League East titles), followed by early postseason exits. Local television ratings were embarrassingly low, beaten by their MASN partners, the Baltimore Orioles, a team that lost 108 games last year.
The Nationals, still trying to establish a fan base foundation in a city that went without baseball from 1972 to 2004, needed a jolt.
The World Series title will create a significant bounce in all those measurements.
Boras told The Athletic the Nationals “are experiencing a revenue festival in 2020. World Series momentum has blossomed, millions in D.C. The franchise value has increased by nearly $2 billion since their purchase.”
Actually, the value has likely gone up about $1.5 billion, but, hey, why quibble over $500 million?
Boras continued: “The Nationals made an extra $30 million winning the World Series. Attendance will increase by more than four to five hundred thousand. TV ratings and advertising rates all skyrocketed. Everyone in D.C. knows special cherry trees create revenue bloom.”
But why not build a forest to last a long time?
What’s better than one World Series championship? How about two? Or three? The Lerners have an opportunity here to build something that would grow deep, strong roots in this city. Take advantage of this window of talent — Rendon and Strasburg in their prime — and the Nationals would have the cornerstones to seriously complete for multiple championships.
Everyone talks about the Washington Redskins’ central place in the local sports landscape and the power of the NFL in most cities at the top of the food chain. But a baseball team that establishes itself as a multi-year championship franchise would establish in Washington a new pecking order — one in which the Nationals outrank a Redskins franchise that has little chance of changing its dysfunctional narrative.
The Lerners tried for decades to buy a sports team. They tried to buy the Orioles in 1979, and bid on the Redskins after Jack Kent Cooke passed away and the team was put up for sale in 1999. They finally won one in 2005 when they were selected to take over the Nationals from Major League Baseball in 2006.
Did they do that to run the team like a mall?
⦁ Hear Thom Loverro on 106.7 The Fan Wednesday afternoons and Saturday mornings and on the Kevin Sheehan podcast Tuesdays and Thursdays.
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