By David A. Wise
MILWAUKEE — Baseball commissioner Bud Selig said today that corporate sponsors have been keeping their commitments to teams despite the nation’s economic downturn.
“So far we’ve been very fortunate on that score,” Selig told a group at Marquette University as part of the “On the Issues with Mike Gousha” series.
Selig made his comments in response to a question about a Wall Street Journal report that Citigroup was considering dropping its $400 million, 20-year naming rights deal for the New York Mets’ new stadium because it has received government bailout money. The Mets and Citigroup both said the deal is still on.
Selig noted that he spoke with Mets owner Fred Wilpon regarding the report, but did not provide details of the call
But Selig noted that the economic downturn may have ramifications for baseball — an industry he once considered recession-proof as it has done well during other significant downturns.
“I think this is the most serious downturn since the Great Depression,” Selig said. “So this is different.”
He noted that during the playoffs he cautioned teams on raising ticket prices, and said that about eight have cut prices, 15 or 16 have kept them the same and those that raised them did so “very judiciously.”
“I think the clubs are watching themselves,” Selig said.
And while Selig declined to comment on whether he supports a salary cap for baseball teams, he did say there is a need to change baseball’s economic system.
He noted that the league has already made significant changes to help level the economic table and keep teams competitive, such as revenue sharing, a luxury tax and debt service rules.
“We have within our system a lot of restraints,” Selig said. “The system is mature, but we need to do more. But I’m not certain what that is yet.”
“We will do what we have to do … It’s our job to continue to provide hope and faith to as many places as possible,” Selig said. “So we’ll continue to tinker with the economic system.”
During the hour-long interview Selig commented on improved labor relations in the league; the steroid controversy, noting that baseball now has the toughest drug-testing policy in sports; and efforts to boost baseball’s popularity internationally.
Selig also said former Milwaukee Braves slugger Hank Aaron was his all-time favorite baseball player.
“When you look at his career, he was unbelievable,” Selig said.