Now that baseball's main sources of cash flow have been wiped out by the players' strike, banks are coming in to pinch hit.
Millions of dollars in anticipated ticket and television revenue from pennant races and postseason play evaporated when the national pastime ground to a halt Aug. 12.
To make up the shortfall and cover their operating expenses, some ball clubs are drawing on existing bank credit lines, while others are taking out new ones. Still others are tapping a shared loan facility, funded by more than a dozen banks, that was arranged by Major League Baseball in 1992.
The Los Angeles Dodgers, for instance, hadn't used any borrowings besides an overdraft line since their stadium was bulk in 1962. But the club recently turned to BankAmerica Corp. for a $20 million revolving line of credit to cover operating expenses.
"The loan was explicitly because of the strike," said Bill Foltz, the Dodgers' director of accounting and finance.
BankAmerica said it has handled the Dodgers' banking needs since 1958, when the team moved to the West Coast from Brooklyn.
The San Francisco-based company is also the primary banker for the San Diego Padres, San Francisco Giants, and Seattle Mariners.
Some banks had already lined up handsome credit lines before the strike. The Baltimore Orioles, for instance, can fall back on a $40 million revolving line of credit from NationsBank Corp.
The loan is part of a $100 million credit facility that NationsBank extended last year when a group led by Peter Angelos bought the team for $173 million. The balance is a 15-year term loan to fund the acquisition.
NationsBank was aware of the possibility of a baseball strike when it crafted the Orioles' line of credit, said Jim Berens, the company's Baltimore commercial market manager.
But that didn't deter the bank from aggressively pursuing the team's business. For one thing, he noted, season attendance has grown by one million since the club's stadium, Orioles Park at Camden Yards, opened in 1992.
"The stadium makes the deal very sweet," Mr. Berens said.
Another borrowing option open to clubs is the central line of credit that was established in 1992.
Citibank is the lead bank for a consortium of approximately 15 lenders, including some Japanese banks, that provide the credit line. Major League Baseball officials won't disclose the loan limit or any details about which teams have used it.
But published reports suggest that as many as a dozen teams, mostly in smaller markets, have tapped the credit line since its inception. At one point, the credit line exceeded $300 million, according to sources at Citibank and Greg Smith, a sports industry consultant for KPMG Peat Marwick, New York.
Ken Curcio, vice president of finance for the Pittsburgh Pirates, confirmed that his club is among those that have tapped the credit facility since the strike pinched their finances.
Other borrowers have included the Minnesota Twins, the Houston Astros, and the Padres, Mr. Curcio said.
A source at Citibank said the strike hasn't jeopardized the future of the credit facility.
"We plan for everything," the banker said. "We have a great relationship with baseball."
Baseball's central credit line is collateralized with revenues from its television contracts, according to Mr. Smith, the sports consultant. When the line was established, baseball had TV contracts with CBS and ESPN worth $365 million per year. However, baseball's financial picture has changed dramatically since then.
Because of declining ratings, Major League Baseball declined a lower CBS offer and formed a joint venture called the Baseball Network with ABC and NBC for 12 regular season telecasts and an expanded postseason.
The Associated Press reports that the Baseball Network had $130 million in ad commitments for 1994 with most of the revenues targeted for the postseason. However, few of the commitments were realized because only four regular season games plus the All-Star Game were shown before the strike.
Joe Foss, a former banker who is now vice chairman of business for the Orioles, says he sees no signs that banks will back away from doing business with baseball clubs, the strike notwithstanding.
A bank's image benefits greatly from its relationship with a professional sports team, said Mr. Foss, a former chairman of First American Bank, Washington.
"It is and continues to be a great marketing tool," he said. "To be the lender or accounting firm or law firm for a team is viewed as having a prestigious account."
Jeffrey White, vice president of finance for the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball, agreed. He said there is no shortage of interest from banks in doing business with his organization now, but he recognizes that the strike needs to be resolved. "Obviously it's going to help us when business is functioning," he said.
Mr. Nielsen writes for the Medill News Service.In the Ball GameWhere some Major League Baseball teams turn for creditBank of Citibank-led nationsBankAmerica consortium* Los Angeles * Pittsburgh * Baltimore Dodgers Pirates Orioles* San Francisco * Minnesota Giants Twins* Seattle * Houston Mariners Astros* San Diego * Sna Diego Padres* Padres* * padres have banking relationships with both