During those 100 baseball seasons before Comerica Park opened in 2000, the Tigers drew 2 million or more fans in six years: 1968, 1984-85, 1987-88, and in Tiger Stadium’s farewell season of 1999. In the past six seasons at downtown’s hottest destination, Comerica Park, the Tigers three times have slammed the 3-million mark. It should be noted Comerica Park has about 11,000 fewer seats than Tiger Stadium.
Business is good. And, not coincidentally, so are the Tigers. Mike Ilitch, the team’s 83-year-old owner, always knew what most baseball fans came to understand about Tiger Stadium, even some of the diehards who were hopelessly in love with the old barn at Michigan and Trumbull. It was poorly located. It was old. And it was no longer suitable for the 21st-century cash streams that are more easily constructed and provided by way of a new ballpark.
Although the Tigers won’t offer so much as a peek at their books, nor will they breathe a word about their profits and losses in a given year, it is estimated the Tigers in 2012 exceeded $250 million in revenue. Their expenses were likewise hefty, even beyond a payroll that in 2012 was the fifth highest in all of baseball at $132 million, trailing only teams from New York, Boston, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles.
Salaries for players, management, and full-time and part-time personnel are estimated to have topped $170 million in 2012. Scouting and the minor leagues (best guess: $8 million), big-league travel ($2 million), insurance on contracts (typically 7 percent of major salaries), as well as debt service on the $145-million Ilitch spent from his own pocket on Comerica Park push expenditures well past $200 million.
Forbes calculated the Tigers’ 2011 operating income (net revenue ahead of taxes, interest, depreciation, amortization) at $8.2 million. Based on last season’s ticket boost of nearly 400,000, it is safe to assume the Tigers were splashed with a reasonable pool of black ink in 2012.
Local television ratings were another sign of the Tigers’ business vigor. The Tigers’ ratings on their cable carrier, FSD, rose 42 percent in 2012. Their 9.13 rating (168,000 households per game) was the largest of any market in the big leagues, and beat second-place Cincinnati’s 8.64 mark. Radio broadcasts were also winners, climbing 19 percent in 2012, to a 25.9 ranking — second among big-league teams.
If there is any downside to the Tigers’ TV bonanza, it is in the estimated cash the Tigers assume from their cable outlet, FSD, and advertising sales compared with newer deals in Los Angeles, Texas, San Diego, and even Houston. Those teams are projected to bring in anywhere from $80 million a year in local TV cash to as much as $280 million.
Although neither party will offer figures, the Tigers are believed to be beneath $60 million a year in local TV money. That figure isn’t likely to change dramatically until the current 25-year contract expands a decade from now.