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"I tell 'em, 'Hey, if I didn't have to do this, if I could charge you two dollars to come to the ball park, put every game on free television, I would do it,' " Einhorn says. "We're not unlimited rich guys. You want to see my statement? Come see it. I lost three million dollars last year. I'm projected to lose another three million dollars this year. You want [Steve] Kemp? You want me to sign Kemp? You want [Greg] Luzinski? You want a team you can be proud of here, or you want the Cubs?"
In short, Einhorn wants Chicagoans to believe he's doing them a favor by selling them pay TV. Try this sales pitch on for chutzpah: "Compared to two years ago, a person can say they're paying for something they got for nothing.... But say we just stayed at the 60 White Sox games we had [on free TV] last year. Well, on SportsVision, you get 60-plus." Besides, Einhorn says, he's only copying the movie moguls. "They found out they could make money by moving the movie theater into your home and charging less than a dollar for you to see it. I'm doing the same thing. I'm taking the ball park and enlarging it."
"People say it's the wave of the future, but I don't really buy it," says Caray. "You don't think a guy's suddenly going to subscribe to this thing after the baseball season is over, do you?"
To date, Einhorn says, SportsVision has 20,000 subscribers—25,000 fewer than it needs to break even. In a town with the third-highest unemployment rate among major cities, sales have been less than phenomenal. But Eddie and his Sox do seem to be riding the crest of a big green wave. For one thing, he sells ads on his pay-TV games, milking the new technology for every baseball-loving cent. Unlike some other owners, he has resisted the quick-buck temptation of selling his rights to middlemen. And just as the Sox seem more competitive on the field, SportsVision is about to tap the cable market, which includes a potential 2.7 million subscribers in Illinois.
Say 15% of those cable homes take the sports tier at an average of $7.50 a month. That would bring in $36.4 million, of which 45% of the net would go to the White Sox, who provide approximately 44% of the programming. By the late 1980s, three million more homes in Chicago proper are scheduled to receive cable. The club's annual take then would rise to $27 million, $6.5 million more than Einhorn and Reinsdorf paid for the entire franchise.
So how about Eddie? Hero or villain?
The guess here is that he's entitled to take his bow, if only for being the shrewdest operator in both leagues. A Mother Teresa come to bring charity to the poor, he's not. But an extra $27 million a year should buy a lot of home runs from a lot of Luzinskis.