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Why an MLB Return Is Not a Sure Thing for Investors

By Bradley Freeman – May 28, 2020 at 10:27AM

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MLB officials, players, and entertainment companies all need to play ball.

This week, MLB officials met with the MLB Players Association to discuss logistics on having a season in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. The tone exiting the gathering was one of disappointment for player-reps and frustration for owners.

While other leagues like the NBA avoided compensation disputes becoming headlines, the same is not true for America's pastime. Why?

Empty seats in a baseball stadium

Image source: Getty Images.

The problem

The NBA generates 60% of revenue from broadcasting. Baseball leans more on ticket and concession revenue, generating only 50% of sales from TV. In a business of very large numbers, a 10% gap is significant.

Complicating things further, baseball organizations run anywhere from six to nine minor league teams, which depend solely on ticket and concession sales. Conversely, the NBA's only minor league affiliate is the Gatorade Leagues (G-League). 

What baseball players see as unfair pay cuts, organizations see as generosity during a financially difficult season. Players want more regardless; that's not changing. If a baseball season does not happen, other sports returning should benefit.

Where to focus

Entertainment companies like Walt Disney (DIS -0.83%) have sporting content returning, but Disney also owns ESPN and 60% of Fox, both of which own MLB television rights. The companies with exposure to different sports are ViacomCBS (NASDAQ: VIAC) with the PGA and AT&T (T -0.48%) with the NBA.

Both of those trade at steep valuation discounts to the market and Disney, and both have the ideal kind of baseball-less exposure. If the MLB is unable to return, this is where I plan to focus.

Bradley Freeman owns shares of AT&T and ViacomCBS Inc. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Walt Disney and recommends the following options: long January 2021 $60 calls on Walt Disney and short July 2020 $115 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.

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