Braves' revenue up $36M last year says team owner

Owner says team better investment than expected

March 2, 2014 

Braves Tigers Spring Baseball

GENE J. PUSKAR/Associated PressAtlanta Braves' Jason Heyward follows through Thursday on a solo-home run off Detroit Tigers' pitcher Melvin Mercedes during the third inning of an exhibition spring training baseball game in Lakeland, Fla.

GENE J. PUSKAR — AP

The Braves' revenue increased by $36 million last year, a 16-percent boost over the previous year, team owner Liberty Media disclosed Friday.

The team's adjusted operating income (revenue less expenses) before depreciation and amortization also increased significantly in 2013 -- by $20 million, Liberty said in a financial filing.

Liberty did not disclose the Braves' total revenue or operating income for 2013. However, the company previously provided figures for 2012. Adding the increases reported Friday to the 2012 figures reveals that the Braves had revenue of $261 million and adjusted operating income before depreciation and amortization of $42 million in 2013 -- up from $225 million and $22 million, respectively, in 2012.

In Friday's filing, Liberty attributed the Braves' 2013 revenue increase to broadcast-rights issues -- an apparent reference to moving 45 games from Peachtree TV to Fox Sports South and SportSouth -- as well as "slightly greater fan attendance and slightly higher average prices per ticket and concession spend per turnstile." The Braves have said the increased revenue from local TV rights will continue, but have not disclosed the current annual value of the deal.

The Braves' player payroll has not kept pace with the revenue increase. The team has a payroll budget this year of about $100 million, while last year's payroll started the season at $90 million and ended at $95 million.

The Braves have made some major expenditures since the end of last year.

In January, they paid $34.2 million for 57 acres of land for a planned new stadium and mixed-use development in Cobb County. (Team officials wouldn't say at the time whether the purchase was all cash or included debt.) In addition, lucrative long-term contract extensions with four players in the past month included signing bonuses totaling almost $6 million.

Liberty Media broke out less financial information about the Braves in Friday's report than it had in previous years. The company attributed that change to the relative size of the Braves business diminishing in comparison with the rest of the company after Liberty acquired controlling interest in satellite radio provider Sirius XM last year. Liberty also owns major stakes in cable operator Charter Communications and entertainment company Live Nation, among other businesses.

Liberty Media's total revenue was $4 billion last year, the company said.

The Colorado-based conglomerate acquired the Braves from Time Warner in a complicated 2007 transaction. At the time, Liberty wanted to sell a huge block of Time Warner stock it had long held, and Time Warner wanted to buy back the stock. The Braves became a vehicle for Liberty to sell the stock without having to pay taxes on the gains.

Liberty swapped 68.5 million shares of Time Warner stock for the Braves, the Leisure Arts crafts magazines and $960 million in cash.

If Liberty had simply sold the stock for cash, it would have incurred a huge tax bill. But exchanging the stock for operating assets -- the baseball team and the magazines -- in addition to cash allowed the deal to be designed tax-free under the law.

The deal valued the Braves at $450 million. Last year, Forbes magazine valued the team at $629 million, which is expected to rise again with the new stadium and potentially larger revenue streams on the horizon.

When it acquired the Braves, Liberty Media made a contractual commitment to Major League Baseball that it would own the team at least through the 2011 season. But Greg Maffei, Liberty's president and CEO, told Wall Street analysts last year that the Braves had turned out to be a better investment than the company might have expected.

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