Baseball is an entertainment business, first and foremost, and a massive one at that.
MLB raked in a record $9 billion in revenue during the 2014 season, and as of March of 2015 the league and its franchises were valued at an estimated $36 billion as a whole. People drive to games, pay to park, pay for tickets, buy a hot dog, buy a shirt, buy ice cream in little helmets, drink overpriced beers from companies that pay big bucks to have their names prominently displayed on posters at the parks, and go home and talk about their team on MLB.com (and other less accountable places) to drive online ad-revenue through page clicks. They do it in droves across two countries and thousands of square miles, and they do it for nearly eight months out of the year.
In the tri-state area where southwest Ohio, northern Kentucky, and southeast Indiana run together, fans of the Cincinnati Reds continued to play their part in the 2015 season. Turnstiles saw 2,419,506 tickets sold to watch the Reds play last place baseball with largely unknown players, their attendance good for 18th among the 30 MLB franchises and ahead of teams with one-time legitimate postseason dreams such as the Minnesota Twins, Baltimore Orioles, and playoff-bound Houston Astros.
The 2010 Reds that won the NL Central title and went back to the playoffs for the first time in a decade and a half drew just 2,060,550 folks to their games, by the way. Based on this estimate of average ticket prices for Reds games, that's a difference of nearly $14 million in revenue on ticket sales before even mentioning the parking, the hot dogs, the shirts, the ice creams and the little helmets, the overpriced beers, and the click, click, clicking.
The Reds shed millions in salary obligations by dumping Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, and Marlon Byrd for inexpensive youngsters during the middle of the 2015 season, and by finishing with the 2nd overall pick in the 2016 MLB Draft, they've received a larger pool of money with which to sign their next draft class (while also obviously getting to pick higher than they have since 1983). Shedding liabilities and being granted additional assets is, generally speaking, a boon to the pocketbooks and provides ample future opportunities.
The Reds have a new television contract to discuss over the course of the 2016 season, one that could land them an increase of some $25-30 million per year in revenue over what their previous deal has provided them - if negotiated correctly. As usual, the Cincinnati Reds have held steady as one of the most watched teams in their local market per-capita of any in the game.
Couple that with a career best bWAR (7.6) resurgence from Joey Votto, the player in whom the team has made its most significant investment, and from a bottom line perspective, 2015 has been a reasonably successful year for the Reds.
For the most part, sports fans don't give a damn about rich team owners getting richer. They care about the visceral reaction they get when the team they so irrationally love does what they do better than their counterparts and the pride that can be worn on sleeves in the wake.
In baseball, that's borne by wins on the field, and the 2015 Cincinnati Reds provided next to none of those.
At 64-98, the team sputtered early, sputtered often, and collapsed late, dropping 14 of their final 15 games to finish with the second worst record in franchise history since MLB seasons were lengthened to 162 games some 53 years ago. They saw their two most recently extended former draftees go down with season-ending injuries before the heat of summer hit the forecasts, watched as their three most intimate division rivals won at least 97 games and made the post-season, and sat mystified as their inexperienced manager made a public ass of himself in a way few imagined survivable.
The 2015 Reds stunk, and it hurt. It hurt not just for how awful it was to endure on a daily basis, but also for how closely it followed the run that brought joy and fun and life back to being a fan of the franchise. 53 weeks ago, the Reds had a roster rife with the stars of the 2012 season, having consorted with them on the heels of a 98 win season that, 'til my death, will go down as one of the best and most dominant I'll witness the Reds achieve.
But in game 162 yesterday, despite having expanded rosters and ample playing time available, just five of the twenty-five members of the 2012 Opening Day Reds roster remained active for Cincinnati's game against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The proximity to prior success paired with the team's management failing to read the tea leaves (or, at least, making an awful attempt at ignoring the obvious flaws in the team as such publicly) made it all sting. We knew Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake were likely gone once we watched Mat Latos and Alfredo Simon get shipped out the door. We'd waived goodbye to Jonathan Broxton, watched Sean Marshall's arm explode, and seen the last of Ryan Ludwick, Jack Hannahan, and Miguel Cairo on the bench. There was no Dusty Baker, no Bronson Arroyo, and no Scott Rolen, since they'd all long since moved on.
In fact, while just Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Aroldis Chapman, Jay Bruce, and Walt Jocketty remain as central pieces from the 2012 season, the Reds themselves have been ripping those books from their shelves and selling them back at the woeful used, end-of-semester prices.
They've been rebooting for almost two full years. They've gutted their kitchen and been forced to eat TV dinners and Chinese take-out while they wait on the new one to get installed. And, all told, it's exactly what they should be doing, even if you know you're going to grimace when you pull back the cellophane on a Stouffer's cream chipped beef and pop it in to zap-fry for the 64th consecutive time.
2015 stunk. It still stinks, and anyone who watched it from start to finish will reference the stench when any future season even has a glimmer of stinking. But with so few established names left that could be on the move, at least the gutting may well be coming to a close, the last vestiges of a winning era filed away in a separate folder than the expectations for the franchise going forward. Which is exactly what we all need, since while watching awful baseball is painful in itself, nothing's as painful as watching awful baseball featuring a team that's being dismantled from head to toe. The latter was 2015 to a T, one part disappointment on the field matched by one part anticipation of more things being torn away.
Here's to hoping this, right now, at the end of the worst season I've ever been old enough to follow is rock bottom for the Reds. If so, there's nowhere to go but up.