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The year was 1950. Walter O'Malley, the cool businessman-lawyer who had just taken over as director of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team, cast an appraising eye on his club's prospects. He decided they were not good. To be sure, in the next few years the Dodgers were to show the largest pretax and net-profit take in the business. Before a House subcommittee in 1957 O'Malley admitted that the Dodgers from 1952 to 1956 had made $1,860,744 after taxes.
But O'Malley knew the symptoms of business decline. His team was operating in a saturated TV market, in an outmoded place of business and under conditions which O'Malley—but few others—foresaw would deteriorate in the coming years. With a prescience given only to those destined for success, O'Malley moved the Dodgers to Los Angeles.
The results of his migration are now in. And they show that O'Malley has made more money in a single season than any other franchise holder in the history of baseball. The Los Angeles Dodgers can show a return on investment that even the most glamorous space-age stock might well envy. Moreover, there is no end in sight to his avenue of dividends.
O'Malley, of course, is not going to tell anybody how much money he has made out of his master move west. The economics of baseball traditionally have been a clandestine rite, interrupted only occasionally by the sudden sobbing of a burned board of directors. Often, such a performance is just a front-office version of the hidden-ball trick calculated to hoodwink the team's leading hitters into signing a contract somewhat below their net worth. But even the banjo hitters are warming up for a crack at O'Malley's bank roll after his 1959 season.
Let's make a very conservative estimate of the Dodgers' 1959 take. To begin with, a total of 2,071,045 paid their way into the Los Angeles Coliseum to watch the Dodgers in regular-season play. Their average ticket cost about $2.40, or a total of approximately $5 million. Concession profits gave the club an additional $384,016, and baseball novelties like hats, bats and pennants $15,000.
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The Dodgers paid no rent to the Coliseum for the World Series, O'Malley having convinced the Coliseum that the Series is historically a benefit for the players and the Commissioner of Baseball but not for the clubs. This is true except when the crowd level reaches 90,000 a day, as it did in the Coliseum. When that happens everybody makes money. The Dodgers made $335,140.16.
On the road last year Los Angeles reaped $356,094 from 1,294,889 admissions. Radio broadcasting rights brought in another $885,000, or about what the Dodgers received in Brooklyn for both radio and TV. (Nielsen, the rating people, report that the third Series game had the largest audience—24.3 million homes—ever to view a single broadcast, so O'Malley has a good argument for higher broadcasting fees in 1960.)
Expenses in 1959 for the Dodgers balance out about as follows: player payroll $465,000, second highest in the league; Coliseum rental $281,282; field maintenance and crew $395,000; front-office personnel $350,000; bonuses to new rookies (an investment in the future) $850,000; loss on minor league operations $300,000; visiting teams' share of gate $569,537; indemnification payment to the National League office and the Pacific Coast League $250,000; air transportation $110,000.