Drayton Keeps On Raking In The Dough, Even As The Team Goes Nowhere

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Here's a little something to remember the next time you venture out to Minute Maid Park. The Houston Astros are the 11th most valuable franchise in major league baseball. In fact, the team's franchise value increased over its value from last season, despite dropping attendance and awful play.

So keep that in mind when Drayton McLane, as he will soon do, starts to bitch about declining revenue.

According to Forbes magazine, which tracks this info yearly, the Astros, this year, are worth $453 million, which is a two-percent increase from their value last season. This is despite a severe recession, declining Astros ticket sales, and an awful team.

Drayton's spin doctors will probably soon emerge and call the value a sham based on dubious bookkeeping. Yet he will refuse to open the books, and as always, the writers over at the Houston Chronicle will take him at face value when he claims poverty.

The Astros are having problems. That I do not doubt. They drew just over 21,000 for Wednesday's afternoon game with the Giants, and they were only in the mid-20,000 range for Tuesday's night game. If you check the ticket section of the Astros web page, you'll see the team is offering up just about every type of ticket gimmick in town, including all-you-can eat sections, value days, and various other ways to buy tickets at less than full value.

And I'm sure they're not happy with how the dynamic pricing concept is working because the basic idea is that the price of the ticket, driven by demand, will increase in value so that the purchaser is paying way more than face value for the ticket. But as I discovered the other day, the demand for tickets is so low at the moment that I was able to buy field box seats at a highly, highly discounted rate.

So how did the team's value increase?

Well, the Astros have not lowered concession prices -- I saw 20-ounce beers being sold for over $7.50 on Monday, and 20-ounce sodas are going at $4.25. The food prices make the cost of food sold at airports look cheap. And since the Astros are the only team in major league baseball that doesn't allow fans to bring in their own food or drinks, fans are forced to pay Drayton's prices if they're hungry or thirsty while at the game.

And shed of the contracts of Miguel Tejada and Jose Valverde, the Astros payroll has dropped slightly. Most of the team's current salary structure is currently centered around large payments to Roy Oswalt, Lance Berkman, and Hunter Pence Carlos Lee. Berkman's contract might be off the books after this season, and Oswalt has said in the past that he's agreeable to being traded -- that would drop the team's payroll even more.

The team's two best players, Michael Bourn and Hunter Pence, are still not eligible for arbitration or free agency, so their contracts are low. While overpaying for Pedro Feliz and Brandon Lyon this off season, the team is still paying them less than they would have been paying Tejada and Valverde.

I'm sure that sometime soon we'll get the inevitable Richard Justice column or blog post where he talks about the dire financial condition of his good friend Drayton -- no proof of the dire financial condition will be provided expect for the declining ticket sales and how much money Drayton is paying out in salary. Then we'll get the usual canard about how Drayton saved baseball in Houston, and about how we're disrespecting Drayton and the team by not showing up for the games.

And we'll be told this makes everything worse because it further devalues the team which hurts Drayton's pocketbook which hurts Drayton because Drayton has never done anything but do his best to put a terrific product out on the field.

When that moment comes, remember this: the Houston Astros are the 11th most valuable franchise in baseball. And that the value of the team has increased while the product on the field has decreased. And know that the franchises that are more valuable are big-market franchises (excepting San Francisco and St. Louis) that actually have a history of winning games and going to the World Series -- except for the Chicago Cubs.

When asked to take pity on Drayton McLane and his imagined financial woes, remember that he has no financial woes and that he doesn't believe in pity. His franchise, despite fielding an awful, awful product, is actually increasing in value. So don't feel guilty about not paying full price to watch the Astros play the Washington Nationals.

And do yourself a favor, eat before you go the game. You'll save a few more bucks that way.

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