When Anaheim Angels owner Arte Moreno swooped into the Albert Pujols negotiations and shocked baseball with his massive 10 year, $254M contract proposal, many considered the move simply another case of Darwinian economics. Moreno was on the cusp of receiving a windfall from a new television contract – somewhere close to $2 billion dollars – and was able to lure Pujols away from the St. Louis Cardinals, a team that does not have that type of television deal.

The most compelling question is this: Why don’t the Cardinals have that type of television deal? 

In 2007 the Cardinals negotiated a 10-year contract with Fox Sports Midwest that runs through the 2017 season. The deal nets the team around $15 million annually. That is a ridiculously tiny sum considering the size and strength of the Cardinals’ market in America.

The current contract reflects the same “small market” thinking that has plagued the organization for years. Yes, the Cardinals play in a city with a population of just 3 million (after adding in surrounding counties), which is considerably smaller than many of the cities hosting a baseball team (by comparison, New York has a population of nearly 20 million). In the case of the Angels, Anaheim is a smaller city (400,000) but is quite affluent and surrounded by other affluent cities. Larger and wealthier population centers mean big television contracts for those fortunate franchises.

While the Cardinals do play in a smaller and less-affluent city (St. Louis is largely a middle class/lower middle class area), their fan base is by far one of the strongest in the game. The team’s attendance is always in the top ten, and often in the top five (and outdrawing “big market” teams like Boston and Philadelphia). This allows the team to compete with “big market” teams like Anaheim; in 2011, the Cardinals earned almost the same amount of money as the Angels ($220M). In no way are the Cardinals a struggling, abandoned franchise stuck in a poor, tiny little cow town.

And those Cardinals fans are watching television, too. In 2011, the Cardinals had the second-highest average television rating in baseball (a 9.0 rating, just below Philadelphia’s 9.1). However, this number does not include the multitudes of baseball fans across the country who cannot see the games on the restricted FSMidwest signal. Much of the interest in the Cardinals from people outside of St. Louis comes from the decades of Cardinal baseball broadcast over the powerful KMOX radio signal. Baseball fans living in places as far away as Texas were able to enjoy listening to Cardinals games over that signal, which accounts for the strong support for the Cardinals in Rangers territory. This is a huge market left untapped by the current Cardinals television contract.

So why don’t the Cardinals – baseball’s second-most-decorated franchise and third-oldest – have the kind of broadcast money lavishly bestowed on teams like the Angels? Some of the blame involves a peculiar short-sightedness on the part of owner Bill DeWitt, who clearly and repeatedly underestimates the strength and popularity of the franchise. How else can you explain a television deal that covers just a tiny portion of a huge fanbase in the middle-third of the country?

Now, I’m not suggesting that the Cardinals launch their own cable network like the New York Yankees did a few years back. The cost of such a start-up might reach $300 million, and the team cannot possibly hope to do that unless they can pay off the stadium in the next five years. However, the time has clearly come for the Cardinals to either re-negotiate their current deal, or prepare for a serious negotiation in 2017. There is simply no reason why this team flounders under the weight of such an awful and unfair television deal while being beaten by teams like Anaheim for top talent.

The Cardinals need to embrace the new media realities, and their status as one of the top franchises in the sport.

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About The Author

Lifelong Cardinal fan and general loudmouth.

  • Guest

    When was this posted? And how accurate is this today?

    I am a cardinals fan but have never lived in STL. Lived in Minneapolis, Omaha, even Iowa City– yet I never see my Cards!!! I’m getting fed up. Radio and twitter updates can only satisfy so much!

    So i’m about to go crazy on twitter– but want to know if a new deal is already in the works?

  • alevida

    When was this posted? And how accurate is this today?

    I am a cardinals fan but have never lived in STL. Lived in Minneapolis, Omaha, even Iowa City– yet I never see my Cards!!! I’m getting fed up. Radio and twitter updates can only satisfy so much!

    So i’m about to go crazy on twitter (@alioalonso )– but want to know if a new deal is already in the works?

    • http://www.stlcardinalbaseball.com/ Ray DeRousse

      I haven’t heard anything about the Cardinals actively pursuing a new television deal yet. You can be assured that they will be looking to widen their reach. As the article points out, the Cardinals have one of the largest cross-country fan bases in baseball. It’s a shame that so many fans like you are left out in this age of available technology.