Two Days in the Life of Jerry Reinsdorf

by Jason Epstein

On Tuesday, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was quoted in an official team Tweet saying, “Basketball is a game. Baseball is a religion. Baseball is American.” (Well, at least he didn’t say “Anglo-Saxon.”)

Naturally, this did not go over particularly well with Bulls fans. (Oh, did I fail to mention that Reinsdorf also owns the town’s basketball team?) Count Ricky O’Donnell of SB Nation as among those who were not amused.

Under Reinsdorf’s watch, the Bulls have become a bulging cash cow, the franchise some estimate as the league’s most profitable. A 2012 report in Forbes said eight NBA teams made over an average of $15 million in operating revenue over the last five seasons, with the top five teams averaging $37 million in profits. Forbes estimates the Bulls have pulled in $55 million per year, more than any other team over the same time frame.

Doug Thonus projects Reinsdorf has made over $1 billion off the Bulls, and it doesn’t seem off-base (via B-a-B). The Bulls make money, lots of it. What’s distressing for the fanbase is Reinsdorf’s steadfast refusal to pay the luxury tax and help put the Bulls in the best position to win their seventh title. While less profitable teams like the Dallas Mavericks spend money to win championships, Chicago plays under self-imposed restrictions. In 2010, Dallas spent $93 million to win the title, when the dollar-for-dollar luxury tax was set at $70 million. The most recent Forbes report had the Mavs losing $3.7 million for the season.

The Bulls have never paid the luxury tax under Reinsdorf, though they are currently slated to for the first time in the upcoming season. Remember, the tax is assessed after the season ends, so just watch as the Bulls deal Rip Hamilton at the trade deadline to avoid paying the penalty.

Meanwhile, Reinsdorf’s beloved White Sox continue to spend as attendance [wanes]. The Bulls have essentially sold out every game for over two decades at this point; the Sox struggle to break the top 20 in attendance. While the Bulls annually limit their own payroll to about $70 million, the White Sox have spent at or near $100 million multiple times. In 2010, the Sox traded for starter Jake Peavy, who was set to earn around $17 million per year for the next two seasons, while the right-hander was on the disabled list. Could you ever [imagine] Reinsdorf signing off a similar deal for the Bulls?

On Wednesday, Jerry was on a panel at a local foundraising event to support baseball in Israel. As Jon Greenberg of ESPN Chicago reports, when asked if baseball was considering international expansion, Reinsdorf responded by suggesting that, were the decision up to him, au contraire, two teams would be contracted. He refused to say which of the 30 teams would be targets.

Reinsdorf is known to be a close confidant of commissioner Bud Selig so this may be viewed as a means of placing additional pressure on Tampa Bay–area taxpayers to pony up several hundred million dollars for a new ballpark. This is not the first time that he has broached the subject: Reinsdorf was a vocal backer of Selig’s 2001–02 highly controversial and ultimately abandoned plan to axe the Expos and Twins.

Right Field

Brief chronicles of our sporting times.