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Who Leaked the MLB Financial Statements?

This morning we mentioned the Deadspin story that presented leaked financial statements of several Major League Baseball teams. This included the Pittsburgh Pirates who have had 18 straight losing seasons yet remain profitable – making $14.4 million and $15 million in net income for the fiscal year ended October 31, 2008 and 2007 respectively.

The Seattle Mariners financials are also now available and the Texas Rangers numbers will be rolling out tomorrow, so there’s plenty of financial analysis treasure hunting for you to engage in, if that’s your thing.

For baseball fans, this is unprecedented access to the teams’ financial position and performance, PLUS! all the wonky details of their Summary of Significant Accounting Policies – everything from revenue recognition to prepaid signing bonuses, guaranteed contracts, so on and so forth.

However, it also includes details that give insight into MLB controversial revenue sharing program, such as the Pirates using $44 million in ’07 and ’08 to develop players, as reported by the New York Times. With the lowest payroll in baseball and perpetual loserness, baseball fans in the Steel City might rather see that money spent on some free agents so they have something to discuss between the hockey and football seasons.

But perhaps more importantly, the Times reports that MLB is not taking this breach lightly. Since these teams are privately held, the information is not widely shared and the suspects are few:

Access to the teams’ audited financial statements is usually limited to the commissioner’s office; baseball’s lead bankers, Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase; and two accounting firms, Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers. But [Florida Marlins President David] Samson said that “in the course of business, other entities have access.” Teams do not see one another’s financial reports, but receive a general accounting of where they rank compared with the other 29 clubs in profitability.

Of course this is the point in the post where you’d expect us to point the finger at E&Y or PwC but in reality, it seems unlikely that the leak would come from either firm. Likewise, it doesn’t make much sense for it to have come from BofA or JP Morgan. All these firms no doubt boast the services they provide to Major League Baseball and any professional servicing those clients wouldn’t dare risk damaging their firm and their career by exposing sensitive financial data of such a high profile client. Does it really make sense for an E&Y/PwC/BofA/JPM employee to leak the financials to Deadspin on a whim?

The leak has to be from within the commissioner’s office. First of all, someone there has the access to all these records and it is extremely more likely that Deadspin has sources in the commissioner’s office that would be willing to leak the information (especially teams no one gives a shit about). Secondly, we shouldn’t forget that baseball has had its share of squealers. There’s no reason to believe that the whole sport isn’t infested with them.

And as we mentioned – who gives a shit about the Pirates, Mariners or Marlins? These are low payroll teams whose financial information doesn’t cause much of a stir other than the fact that this is first time the data has been available to the public at large. If someone really wanted to bomb the hell out of us, the Yankees, Red Sox and Cubs financial statements would have been leaked and then the disparity (financial and thus, competitiveness) between the teams would really on display.

Baseball Chases Leak of Financial Documents [NYT]
MLB Confidential, Part 2: Seattle Mariners [Deadspin]