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Changing financial landscape puts Braves in a pinch

There is a startling and sobering story about the finances of the Braves on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution's website.

According to an interview with Braves President and CEO Terry McGuirk, his squad is stretched as far as it can go with a $94 million payroll for the 2012 season. The reason is the Braves, who ranked 15th in MLB attendance last season, have their revenue stream choked by a lousy local television rights contract that spans an unfathomable 25 years.

It doesn't seem like that long ago when the Braves were turned from sad sack National League East doormat into a powerhouse on the backs of former owner Ted Turner's media empire. The Braves enjoyed a national fan base thanks to "superstation" TBS. But that once beneficial relationship may have contributed to an unusually comfortable situation between the club and its television partners that facilitated the quarter-century long deal. Now that local TV rights are going through the roof, the Braves are unable to cash in and keep up.

"Let's just say that it's not an advantage," McGuirk told the Journal Constitution.

TV deals that most teams could only dream of allowed the Braves to have the best rotation in baseball -- Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz as the anchors. Anything the club needed, it purchased on the free agent market. Now the Braves, to the irritation of their fans, have dropped to the middle of the MLB pecking order.

There is little doubt Atlanta is going to have a tough time competing as the years tick by. Division rival Philadelphia is expected to have a payroll of about $163 million in 2012. The Marlins are expected to have a $106 million payroll and the Mets have checked in at $105 million. 

It will be interesting to watch this once powerful franchise try to survive as the marketplace changes. And it makes me wonder what the future holds for the Cardinals, a team in a much, much smaller media market. Baseball hasn't seem to care enough to do anything about the Royals, Pirates or Athletics as they sank beyond the ability to compete financially. Will it do the same with Atlanta? Or will baseball finally come up with a reasonable revenue sharing program that allows all teams a chance to compete both on the field and at the ticket window?