Mariners fans deserve ownership’s investment in their team, not financial uncertainty

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A couple of caveats before the main course: 

1. Whether one’s net worth is $10 or $10 billion, financial concerns escape nobody. It’s easy to tell other people how to spend their money, but not always fair. 

2. The fiscal fallout from struggling regional sports networks — or RSNs — is impacting MLB teams across the country. Organizations are shedding payrolls, and with cable subscriptions plummeting from 3.4 million to roughly 1.2 million in the local market over the past 10 years, an industry source told The Times, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Mariners followed suit.

At the start of next year, the organization will take full control of ROOT Sports Northwest as Warner Bros. Discovery — the M’s current ROOT partner — is withdrawing from all its local sports business. The move signals an economic quagmire for the franchise, with an industry source telling The Times that “the financial impact is real. ROOT Sports is feeling that, and the Mariners are feeling that.”

I have little doubt that the uncertainty surrounding one of the Mariners’ chief revenue streams will affect the team’s approach to fielding its 2024 roster. It makes the idea of ever signing Shohei Ohtani this offseason laughable in retrospect (although many would have characterized it that way from the start). 

It’s an unfortunate situation for M’s chairman John Stanton. I also can’t help but wonder … if it’s a built-in excuse. 

Pardon the cynicism there, but I’m guessing every Mariners fan on the globe is thinking the same thing right now. The M’s haven’t had a top-10 payroll in the past five years and haven’t been higher than 18th in the past four. 

Meanwhile, the division rival Texas Rangers just won the World Series after upping their payroll from 15th to fourth. And earlier this month, the M’s unloaded more than $30 million of salary when they traded Eugenio Suarez, Marco Gonzales and Jarred Kelenic away. 

If you want to be charitable, you could trust president of baseball operations Jerry Dipoto’s words that his team was simply trying to free up room to sign impact players later this offseason. If you want to be realistic, you should probably prepare for another season in which the Mariners spend less than at least 20 other teams. 

And though I suppose the reasons would be understandable, that’s a whole lot different than justifiable. With respect, Mr. Stanton: Invest in this team.

I’m not going to pretend to know what the local sports broadcasts are going to look like for the Mariners going forward or to what extent it will affect them financially. I don’t think anybody, the Mariners included, can speak to that with any real authority.

I do know, however, that they have been profitable year in and year out. If you trust Forbes — they were the most profitable in 2022. That same publication reported that the valuation of MLB teams has risen by about 12 percent despite all the regional TV woes. 

More than anything, though, Mariners fans have been waiting decades for a World Series appearance while remaining loyal — sometimes astonishingly loyal — to this franchise. Investing in this team is investing in them. 

Remember, it was Dipoto himself who told this club’s supporters to be patient during the “step back” season of 2019. It was an admirable moment of transparency, but the indication was that a payoff was coming. What followed was a 90-win season in 2021, the snapping of a 21-year playoff drought in 2022, and 88 wins in 2023.

It’s a far cry from incredible — but it led to plenty of T-Mobile Park sellouts … even if many of the attendees were still irked by the organization’s penny-pinching ways. Are you to tell me that was the run? That fans should be grateful for those three years of the M’s not being horrible and brace for mediocrity going forward? 

T-Mobile Park is a publicly funded stadium. And going to a game isn’t always cheap, especially with ticket prices soaring. The people have invested — with their emotions and their wallets. They deserve a return on that. 

There are image concerns as well. The Mariners have struggled with landing marquee free agents in the past. They will continue to do so if the perception is that winning is not ownership’s primary incentive. The same will be true when it comes to retaining players. 

Again, next season’s roster still has to be filled out. Maybe we’ll be surprised. But history has given everyone with an eye on this team the right to be skeptical, and this RSN-related financial cloud will only heighten said skepticism. 

Nobody enjoys navigating fiscal uncertainty. In fact, being financially responsible is often how people become billionaires in the first place. But there’s a responsibility to this city and fan base, too. That should be ownership’s top priority.

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