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"We have a very serious financial problem here, and in baseball," Werner says. "We lost more money last year—$7 million—than in the first 23 years of this franchise combined. We're facing what other teams are facing, and others are going to face. Last year we lost an unconscionable amount of money. If we had kept the same team as last year and finished third again this year, we would lose $15 million. When you lose the money we lost, it's a prescription for long-range disaster."
Season-ticket-plan sales in San Diego for 1993 are down compared with 1992's, from 16,000 to around 11,500. and they could drop further if there are cancellations because Jackson is traded. In December the Padres sent a letter to '92 season-ticket holders assuring them that everything possible would be done to keep Jackson. Instead, alter Jackson won a $2.1 million arbitration award (San Diego offered $1.5 million) last month, the Padres have worked hard to deal him. Attendance is San Diego's main revenue source, because it makes only about $7 million on local radio and TV rights. The Padres drew 1.7 million fans to Jack Murphy Stadium in '92, a bit below average for the past 10 years. They will have a hard time matching that in '93.
More than most major league teams, the Padres have to win to be a big hit at the gate. That's just the way it is in San Diego, where there are many diversions and a comparatively small geographic region to draw from. Tucked into the southwest corner of California, San Diego is bordered mostly by desert to the east, Mexico to the south and the Pacific Ocean to the west. "Right now there's zero interest in us." says a Padre who lives in the San Diego area in the off-season.
In the middle of this mess is Werner, a soft-spoken, engaging native of New York City who drives a 1988 station wagon and often sits in the stands while watching the Padres. Werner, 42, is a television producer whose shows include hits The Cosby Show, Roseanne and A Different World. As chairman of the San Diego ownership group and its managing partner, he serves as spokesman for the Padres' other owners and also as the target for fan outrage and media blasts.
Werner is sincere in his belief that what the ownership group is trying to accomplish is in the best interest of the Padres, their fans and major league baseball, which he fears is on the verge of financial ruin. He is a leader of baseball's small-market owners in their fight with large-market owners over whether or not baseball should establish a revenue-sharing system. Rumors persist that Werner's group might sell the Padres if the financial structure of the game isn't changed significantly in the next year.
"It's frustrating," Werner says of the criticism he and his partners have received. "And on a personal level, it isn't fun. But I think the team will be competitive. We're not dismantling the team. We're not doing this to make a profit. If we wanted to make a profit, we would have really cut the payroll, like the Astros did a few years ago."
But why is San Diego cutting the payroll as much as it is? Although Werner says the Padres lost $7 million in 1992, San Diego actually finished in the black when its $12 million share of the expansion fees paid by the new Colorado Rockies and the Florida Marlins is factored in. (A club source says the expansion money went toward paying off a $20 million loan that the ownership group took out four years ago, when it bought the Padres for $75 million.) The combined wealth of the ownership group, which consists mainly of Southern California businessmen, is believed to be among the highest in the league.
"Here's Tom Werner, a guru of the entertainment business, who, more than anyone, should realize that people don't come to watch you if you don't have the talent," says a business associate of Werner's. "What's happening with the Padres is like having The Cosby Show...without Cosby."
Apparently Werner has found that baseball is a much different world than anything he has encountered in television. According to one player agent, soon after the current owners bought the Padres, Werner said to him, "Do you know how much it costs to run a major league team?" The agent says now, incredulously, "What? He didn't know that when he bought in?"
Werner has the largest financial stake in the Padres, but according to one former employee, he runs the team "like a democracy"—all of the partners have a say in decisions. The result is a cumbersome, 15-headed monster that, the ex-employee says, "fights like cats and dogs." Yet Werner refuses to step forward and exert more authority.