By Aki Franklin
After a mid-season comeback that gave them hope for a playoff bid, the San Diego Padres’ fire burned out resulting in another losing season. The Padres ended up finishing fourth in their division behind the World Series Champions San Francisco Giants, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Arizona Diamondbacks. Now, the Padres are in the process of rebuilding a team that will draw crowds on one of the lowest budgets in baseball.
The Padres have the second smallest team salary in all of major league baseball. With a team budget of around $55 million, compared to $117 million budget for the champion Giants, they are at a greater disadvantage to nearly every other team in the league when acquiring players.
“The biggest thing in building a team when you have a limited payroll is signing cost-control players,” said Alex Slater, a professional scout for the Padres.
Slater says a cost-control player is one who is just entering the majors and can be signed for the lowest possible amount. Signing cost-control players allows teams in the major league to sign young athletes for three years at the league minimum of $480,000 a season. But after 6 years in the league, players are eligible for free agency if they have not signed a contract for the next season, according to the Major League Baseball Players Association.
“It’s difficult for the Padres to keep players after that 6 years,” Slater said. “Players hit their prime in their late 20’s and early 30’s and can demand bigger contracts.”
Padres’ revenue dwarfed by top-paying clubs
How much a team can spend on its players depends on how much money the organization makes in a year.
Television rights can bolster a team’s income by a substantial amount. The Padres signed a deal with Fox Sports last year that will double their previous income from TV rights. According to Padres’ Business Analyst Eitan Alton, the Padres brought in $30 million in their first year of their contract with Fox Sports. Alton said they were making only $15 million a year while contracted with Cox.
By comparison, the New York Yankees partly own their broadcasting network, the YES Network. According to Forbes, the YES Network raked in $400 million this past year; a vast difference in comparison to the Padres’ TV revenue, and nearly the net worth of the entire Padres’ organization.
The biggest source of revenue for the Padres is season ticket sales, according to Rob Arnold, Supervisor of Event Operations. He says a large factor in driving ticket sales is having a winning team. The Padres had only four games this season with an attendance of 90 percent or more. In contrast, the champion Giants sold out or had an attendance of 90 percent or more for each of their 81 home games this season.
“People like a winner. If you don’t win, people don’t like it,” Arnold said.
Unfortunately for the Padres, they have not made it to the playoffs since 2006, and have never won a World Series Championship in their team’s history. This translates to their below-average ticket sales compared to the rest of the league. According to The Sports Business Journal, the Padres sold 2.12 million tickets this year, or about 378,000 less than the league average.
Aside from winning, another way the Padres and other ballparks try to fill seats is by enticing their fans with free giveaways such as jerseys, bobbleheads, or even a fireworks show.
Service extending beyond the ballpark
Although the Padres are not a franchise known for winning championships, they have built a reputation for providing a great experience and environment for the fans and their clients.
“I think people keep coming back to Petco because the staff and people who work for the Padres are trained to be very positive and happy and friendly and accommodate the fans as well as we can,” said Lexi Shapiro, an event crew member for the Padres. “And it doesn’t hurt that Petco Park is a beautiful building located right on the harbor.”
Shapiro has worked for the Padres for the past 3 years as a member of the Padres Events Operations. She says in addition to working baseball games, the event crew assists in the many non-baseball events hosted by Petco Park.
“During events people come to us to fix problems,” Shapiro said. “We are the henchmen for the clients and the event coordinators.”
The Padres’ budget for ballpark operations is more than $1 million, according to Arnold. He says this money covers departments like Shapiro’s, maintenance of the park, the cleaning staff, field maintenance, and more: all of the moving parts that help Petco Park operate.
“A million bucks doesn’t seem like a lot to pay for all of this,” Arnold said. “But it’s actually one of the biggest budgets in the major league, and allows us to offer the service and experience that we do.”
Aside from working games and events, the Padres offer their employees opportunities throughout the year to give back and volunteer their time and service to the city of San Diego. One of their more recent events was the Salvation Army’s Thanksgiving dinner for the homeless.
The Padres give their employees many opportunities throughout the year to volunteer their time and service to less fortunate communites and individuals throughout the year.
These people who volunteer their time throughout the year are the same people who interact with the fans during games. According to Arnold, these are the types they look for adding new employees to the Padres.
“We’re all out there on the front lines working with fans, our faces are the ones they see,” Arnold said. “It’s key that we have people who genuinely are happy to go the extra mile for a fan or co-worker. It makes everyone want to be here.”
The Fan Experience
Lifelong Padre fan Mike Merriam said he went to 12 games this year despite the Padres struggling throughout most of the season. Located in the heart of San Diego, he says you just can’t beat the atmosphere and good vibes of the stadium.
“It’s a really nice park altogether,” Merriam said. “You can look out from any direction from the park and have an amazing view.”
Walking around the perimeter of the park, Merriam said, “I love coming here. The sun, the beer, the ball game…it’s a San Diego tradition. Whether they win or lose, I’ll keep coming back.”