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The Tigers had $19 million operating income in 2018, according to Forbes

After two years of losing money, the Tigers were back in the black in 2018.

MLB: Spring Training-Baltimore Orioles at Detroit Tigers Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

The value of the Detroit Tigers franchise increased to $1.3 billion in 2018, according to Forbes, an increase over the estimated value of $1.25 billion for 2017. Detroit again ranks 21st among the 30 major league clubs, whose average value is $1.78 billion. That is up eight percent over the previous year. The New York Yankees top the list with a franchise value of $4.6 billion, while the Miami Marlins are at the bottom, valued at $1 billion.

According to Forbes’ numbers, the Tigers posted operating income of $19 million for the season after losing $46 million the previous season and $34.6 million in 2016. Forbes estimates that the Detroit club had a net operating loss in four of the past six seasons, prior to 2018.

Revenues held steady for the Tigers, coming in at $276 million, just $1 million shy of the franchise record of $277 million set in 2017. The major league average was $330 million in revenue. The Tigers ranked 19th in MLB, but took in more revenue than other clubs in their division, with only the Cleveland Indians earning more.

Player expenses declined sharply, from $215 million in 2017 to $148 million last year. This number includes salaries and bonuses for the 40-man roster, plus about $14 million in player benefits. Payroll is down again in 2019. The average club spends $157 million on player expenses.

The Tigers also saw a decline in attendance, resulting in a further decrease in gate receipts to $59 million. This includes club seats and represents a 16 percent drop of $11 million from the previous year. The club drew 1,856,970 fans for the season, an average of 23,212 per game. Gate receipts are down for the seventh consecutive season as season attendance dipped below the 2.0 million mark for the first time since 2004. Attendance peaked at 3.2 million fans in 2007 while gate receipts topped out at $98 million in 2012, when the team went to the World Series.

Television ratings also declined by 41 percent, according to Crain’s Detroit. This comes on top of a 36 percent drop in 2017. The Tigers ranked among the top six clubs in the major leagues in local TV ratings since leading the majors in 2012 and 2013.

Tigers Television Ratings (Rank)

2018: 2.64 (18th)
2017: 4.48 (6th)
2016: 7.01 (3rd)
2015: 6.21 (4th)
2014: 7.72 (2nd)
2013: 9.59 (1st)
2012: 9.21 (1st)

The Los Angeles Dodgers ranked second with a franchise value of $3.3 billion, and led the major leagues with operating income of $95 million. The average operating club income is up to $40 million per club.

The Tigers benefit from a contract with Fox Sports Detroit that pays them a fixed amount of $50 million per season, win or lose. This is expected to increase, and perhaps double, when the contract expires after the 2021 season. Revenue from Major League Baseball’s central fund is also a steady stream of income, while the losses in gate receipts are lessened by the fact that a third of local revenues are shared with the other clubs, minimizing the impact of fans’ disapproval of the team’s record on the field.

The long-term financial health of the Tigers is in good shape, for reasons we explained here. Tigers baseball is unique entertainment during the summer for advertisers wishing to reach that market demographic. When the Tigers can once again put a winning team on the field, attendance, TV ratings, and local revenues will increase along with them.