The Rays are a small market club with revenue struggles, suffering under a television contract that pays among the lowest revenues in baseball to the team, despite quality ratings throughout Florida (a strong television market), and low gate receipts due to a stadium far from its fanbase.
Having little money to work with is a reality for Rays fans, and has resulted in trades of some of the team's best players just as their contracts became "too expensive" for the club to carry.
Case in point is David Price, whose contract was back-loaded by the Rays in 2014 in anticipation of his eventual trade, saving the team $4 million when he was dealt.
According to a recent report by Forbes, European revenue from jersey sponsorship will reached nearly $1 billion in 2016. The same should be true in the United States, but American Sports have long eschewed the same monetization of advertising on jerseys, with the exception of Major League Soccer.
That will no longer be the case in the very near future, with the NBA being the first of the big-four sports to take a leap into adding jersey logos in 2017:
"For brands, shirt sponsorship consistently returns the highest advertising values, but it is key to understand which clubs and leagues present the best opportunities," says Repucom managing director Jon Stainer in the release announcing the results of the study. "Given the number of deals and their increasing values, mapping European football's shirt sponsorship provides a fascinating look into the trends shaping the whole industry."
As in the EPL where deals range from $80 million a year to $1.5 million annually, different NBA clubs present different opportunities for sponsors with big market teams carrying the most cache. To alleviate this issue, the NBA's proposal calls for 50% of any jersey sponsor money to go into a revenue sharing pool.
The revenue sharing pool is key.
Photo credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
To illustrate the point, let's return to the story of David Price, who recently signed a seven year, $217 million contract with the Rays' bitter rivals in Boston. That same club was also able to sign the top Cuban prospect in baseball for $63 million, breaking the ceiling on MLB restrictions.
Those restrictions were put in place in the name of competitive balance, and have since banned Boston from signing players internationally for more than $300k for two seasons.
Unfortunately, the Rays signed a prospect that same off-season as well, bidding high at $3 million, and are now suffering the same international restriction as the Red Sox.
The difference is that the Rays don't have the same flexing ability to sign (or retain) free agents in the same way, as seen with David Price. The rules implemented in the name of competitive balance have completely backfired, and the Rays cannot respond.
Not only does Tampa Bay not have much money, but they are penalized when they spend the little they have. Jersey sponsorships -- and by extension, deepened revenue sharing pools -- could change that.
During yesterday's broadcast of the Rays exhibition game in Havana, Cuba, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred spoke about this discrepancy in competitive balance during an interview with ESPN:
Rob Manfred on possibility of an international draft: "There's nothing more important today [in baseball] than competitive balance." #Rays— DRaysBay (@draysbay) March 22, 2016
There is a clear desire to fix the international signing process, and perhaps learning from European soccer will assist in that as well.
But the immediate fix, for the benefit of the sport and for all the small market teams like the Rays, goes beyond the added face time of participating in ventures like the exhibition game in Cuba.
It's time for baseball to expand its revenue and marketing presence by adding jersey sponsorships, and allow the smallest of clubs -- like the Rays -- to have more opportunities in the market.