Forbes Team Evaluations Release, I Don’t Know Who To Believe

Petco Park San Diego at SunsetOnce again Forbes Magazine has released its MLB team valuations, once again they make the Padres look pretty bad, once again (probably) the team will deny Forbes’ accuracy, and once again I’ll sit with a confused look on my face trying to figure out where the truth is.

Despite a modest payroll relative to years previous and teams in similar markets, Forbes reports the team’s operating income (defined as earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) at $29.9 million, good for third largest among all of MLB. This is likely to raise questions from fans about current payroll levels and why the gosh danged heck the team saw Jason Marquis as the only suitable free agent acquisition this offseason.

Of course Forbes is in the business of attracting attention, page views and ad / subscriber revenue. From that perspective, publishing any numbers that merely appear accurate might get the job done for those goals. On the other hand, should they ever get caught fudging and / or inventing they would lose all credibility, which in turn would cost a ton in terms of that delicious subscriber base and ad revenue.

The Padres on the other hand are in the business of memory making, or, selling tickets and broadcasting rights (mostly) for access to those memories. Their job is to convince fans they’re doing everything they can to create fun, which for most people involves winning baseball games. Fans tend not to like spending money that doesn’t contribute towards that goal.

The Padres will likely refute the numbers, as they have in years past, and us fans will be stuck with more questions than answers. The problem is that while both sides make lots of claims, neither is willing to actually show their work.

Got a handful of stacks, better grab an umbrella

The Padres “stand out” in another category of the Forbes numbers, their Debt/Value %, defined by Forbes to include stadium debt. It shows the team at 50% D/V, which is third highest among Major League Baseball teams. And while I majored in business, I’m not qualified to explain what that all means aside from probably not good.

The team’s reported debt has me thinking–the Padres aren’t the only small-mid market team in a new-ish stadium. Why is their debt / value so much larger than say, the Reds? A large part of that has to do with stadium debt, and while I am somewhat vaguely aware that the Padres are responsible for $153 million of  Petco Park’s $457 million total cost, I’m not all that sure sure what kind of context to put that in. So I set a browser tab or two to and Wikipedia (the references section, as any college student knows) to find out.

These are in millions:


City Team Public Total
San Diego $153 $304 $457
Arizona $111 $238 $349
Cincinnati $22.5 ($2.5/year) 280 + $45 naming rights $320
Pittsburgh $40 complicated $216
Washington, DC $165 (5.5/year) everything else, apparently $610
San Francisco complicated $0 $357
Detroit $185 $115 $300
Seattle $145 $340 $517
St Louis $90 complicated $365
Philadelphia $172 $174 $346


City Percentage Paid By Team
San Diego 33%
Arizona 32%
Cincinnati 7%
Pittsburgh 19%
Washington, DC 27%
San Francisco complicated, but 0% from public
Detroit 62%
Seattle 28%-30%
St Louis 25%
Philadelphia 50%

Before I get to talking about the numbers, I need to point out this isn’t any kind of grand research project. It’s merely an attempt to make some sense of the Padres’ stadium debt relative to other teams, so if anyone has insight into these numbers I’m all ears. There were a couple places where Wikipedia’s numbers were slightly different than, so I did my best. Also keep in mind that these numbers are not region or inflation adjusted, so the most important is the percentage of the park paid for by the team since that’s not affected by inflation.

While doing this research, one thing immediately became clear: comparing stadium monies across different deals is tough. San Francisco, Cincinnati, Washington DC were all complex, with Pittsburgh’s deal being the worst since it combined a stadium for the Steelers, a new convention center, and a bunch of other crap into one huge project.

Another lesson: these deals tend to vary a lot. When I started I expected a variance closer to 10%-20%, but some cities got great deals (Detroit, San Francisco) while others essentially handed private businesses a free stadium courtesy of taxpayers (Cincinnati).

The Padres fared near the middle, but the higher end of the middle. So after all that, we gain some context into the varying structures of these deals and where the Padres fit in, but it doesn’t help much with the question of why Forbes might report their Debt/Value % so high compared to other teams. Oh well. Enjoy this gif:

fan eats food from reporter

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  • Maybe the Padres got a really bad interest rate.

    • Neal White

      About 8% on the stadium bonds. It used to be on the internet, but it is gone now

  • This is way too confusing for a feeble-minded soul like me to comprehend. Maybe I learned something, maybe I didn’t. But I certainly enjoyed that GIF.

  • Did the Padres take on any debt for other things, like operating expenses?

    • Melvin

      No idea, but I hope not.

  • SDPads1

    I hate the Forbes reports because the team denies it, forbes claims they are right, and the public will never know the real truth (which is always rumored to be somewhere in between). It’s frustrating.

    • Agreed, although Forbes did earn a bit of credibility when team financial documents leaked to Deadspin. The truth is likely somewhere in-between, but it’s hard to imagine these numbers came from nowhere.

  • VM David

    I hope that guy gets a ticket to the Yankees series at Petco, because he looks like a fun dude.

  • I happened to capture Forbes data from last year (which is a good thing; the data page link from the 2012 story now goes to the 2013 data), where the Padres were reported as having a 44% debt/value ratio, with a value of $458MM.

    Using my wildly advanced math skills, their debt last year was therefore $202MM, and this year it’s $300MM — almost $100MM more. Uh, what? Even after making whatever last year’s stadium debt payment?

    Maybe they did a refi on the stadium and took some cash out? Or maybe Forbes pulls the data out of their asses? Or…?

    • Melvin

      Oh wow. That’s a big deal, either with Forbes numbers changing so much of the Padres taking on lots of debt.

      • It is odd. BTW, the 2011 numbers are still online at Forbes; there, the debt/value was 49%, with a valuation of $406MM, giving a total debt of just under $200MM. So the total debt went up from 2011 to 2012, but not by much. Then came the debt explosion of 2013!

        Which explains why they can’t afford more payroll, apparently.

        Or, once again, there is the Forbes SWAG theory.

        I’ve posted a comment to the story on Forbes, asking what up with that. Waiting to see if I get an answer.

      • I got an answer, of sorts. Ozanian said that the new owners…TOOK ON DEBT TO FINANCE THE PURCHASE. Someone else asked that and he didn’t say they’d done that. So…follow-up question asked. Curiouser and curiouser.

      • Melvin

        Holy crap @twitter-158174714:disqus!

        This deserves more attention. Could you send the email to

      • Melvin

        WOW. This is big news. Could you share exactly what he said or email it to

      • You can see the whole surreal comment thread in the article on Forbes.

        I asked, in an admittedly long-winded and pointed way, for clarification on that “they took on debt” thing. He responded, but not to that; instead he “corrected” my statements (which was equal parts hilarious and pompous). So I re-asked, in a succinct manner, where he got that info. Hope he replies with an answer and not a lecture, but he seems to have the deadly combination of low reading comprehension and condescension, so I’m not counting on it.

        But yeah–I’m not alone in not having heard of the new owners financing part of the purchase, yes? If true, people’s heads will explode. If false…well, then, I’ll be firmly in the camp that says Forbes makes up numbers (and the stories to back them) when they can’t get real data.

      • Melvin

        Oh man he is really annoying.

  • It was my understanding that there would be no math.

    Interesting read. More interesting comments. But mostly, great GIF.