As we all know Major League Baseball is made up of the haves and the have-nots. We can count the number of real contenders each year on our fingers and those teams rarely change. You have the Yankees, Red Sox, Angels, Cubs, and White Sox. The Mets could be included, but the money they spend ends up in the pockets of oft-injured players and the Phillies and Cardinals are on the cusp of entering into the top tier of organizations. The haves blame the disparity on the frugal ownership of the have-nots and the have-nots blame it on the lack of significant revenue sharing in baseball. The haves are right but it’s not the fault of the have-nots that they need to be frugal when it comes to player salaries. Baseball has failed some of its franchises by expanding into areas that have proven that they cannot support a professional baseball team. The quick fix to baseball’s problem is to adopt policies that will mirror those of the NBA and NFL. A salary floor based off the prior year’s luxury tax threshold would resolve the problem. However baseball has shied away from this policy implementation, which puts the burden of failing organizations on the league as a whole and not on the frugal owners of small market teams that are trying to do what all business people do, turn a profit.

From 2006 through the 2009 season two organizations have performed in the bottom 15% (bottom four) of Major League Baseball in three major financial and operational areas (value, revenue, and attendance). Unlike the NBA, baseball’s talent pool is not watered down and contraction isn’t needed, but baseball needs to do something to shrink the gap between the haves and have-nots. The classic example of a small market team that can’t find fans and struggles financially year-in and year-out is the Florida Marlins.

The state of Florida is a hot bed for young baseball talent and its major universities have baseball programs that are among the best in collegiate athletics. However, as we have seen over the past decade and a half, Florida’s overall interest in professional baseball is minimal. Over the past four reported seasons, the Marlins’ attendance record broke 50% once and that was in 2009 when it hit 51.7%. On average the organization’s attendance record over that time has remained in the mid forties and as a consequence its revenues have suffered greatly. Due to the lack of fanship in its market it is hard for the Marlins to generate revenue through television deals because very few watch the games. The organization’s front office has proven that it can build a champion. It did so in 1997 and 2003, but it has also proven that it cannot hold onto its players due to financial restraints. The Marlins are re-building once again. With a young superstar in Hanley Ramirez and good young talent in Anibal Sanchez, Mike Stanton, and Chris Coughlin, the Marlins are building another team to make a run at a title. However, whether or not they succeed in winning the World Series in the next five years, the team will have to undergo another fire sale of its pieces because it simply can’t afford to keep them like the organization did following its 1997 and 2003 titles.

The value and revenue increases of the Marlins from 2006 to 2009 are in line with the league average growth, but remained in baseball’s bottom 15%. For example, in 2006 the Marlins were worth $244 MM, while the Seattle Mariners were valued at $436 MM and the Yankees at $1.2 BB. This disparity seen between just the Mariners and Marlins, two teams that are similar in on-field performance, reveal the lack of a following for the Marlins in its southern Florida territory. Lately the question has been “how can the Marlins attract fans?” The answer is, they can’t. People say that “if you build it, they will come” but life isn’t a movie. The Marlins have built it twice and “they” don’t come. Perhaps what would be best for the organization is a nice change of scenery.

The Tampa Bay Rays have been facing the same issues and questions in central Florida since their establishment in 1997. The two years prior to the Rays World Series run the team couldn’t give tickets away. In 2006 attendance for their games was at 38.7% and 40.6% in 2007. Then in 2008 the Rays made their run to the World Series. The team was good and it was winning. The Rays had “built it.” More people came but still the stadium was only half full in 2008 and 2009. The Rays value peaked in 2008 at $320 MM, not among the worst four in baseball that season, but for a contending team the organization’s value was laughable. Comparably the Twins were worth $356 MM, the Houston Astros were valued at $445 MM, and the Diamondbacks at $390 MM in 2008. Only two years removed from its World Series appearance the Rays have had to let go of or move three of its key players (Carl Crawford, Carlos Pena, and Scott Kazmir) due to the organization’s financial restrictions.

Since 1997, Florida has been the home of two professional baseball teams that have made three combined World Series appearances and won two of them and still neither can draw fans. Florida has proven itself as an inadequate base for professional baseball and the best thing for baseball and its two organizations in Florida would be to relocate them out of the state.

When looking at baseball’s territorial map, there are three markets that have been left untapped by professional baseball: the Carolinas, Kentucky/Tennessee, and Oklahoma. All three have shown they can support professional sport organizations and have a liking for baseball. With both the Rays and Marlins struggling in Florida, baseball should look to move them out of the state. Currently both organizations were playing in parks that Forbes has ranked 28th (Rays) and 30th (Marlins) in baseball. The Rays plans for their “sailboat” park were abandoned in 2009 after the city of Tampa Bay and its people showed little interest in a new stadium, whereas the Marlins are moving into their new home in 2012.

It would be hard for baseball to move either team due to the lease commitments both franchises are in with their current cities and venues. Baseball and the Marlins made a mistake in requesting a new park for the team. While they will see a significant bump in attendance in 2012 and 2013, the fan base is what it is and once the newness of the stadium wears off attendance numbers will return to their current levels. For the Rays, the organization is stuck in a lease agreement through 2027 with the city of St. Petersburg. Despite the penalties that the Rays’ owners would incur for breaching their agreement with the city, in the long run it would behoove the team to cut its losses, pay the breach of lease penalty and move. Baseball and the owners of the Rays and Marlins should accept the reality that sits in front of them in that Florida is not the baseball haven it appears to be at first glance and move out as quickly as possible. Both organizations would benefit a change of scenery and maybe then they could build sustainable contenders instead of building for a two-year window and immediately going into rebuilding mode.