Mehno: Pirates’ next TV deal needs to be fruitful

Commentary

PITTSBURGH — The Pirates’ TV deal is up for renewal after next season, and what happens with that could have an impact on franchise finances for at least a decade.

The Pirates are currently in a contract with AT&T Sports Net. It’s been reported — but never confirmed — that it pays less than $20 million per season.

These days in baseball, $20 million buys about two OK players. On the Pirates, that amount basically covers Josh Harrison and Ivan Nova. Stars cost a lot more.

Some people are looking for a lot more in the next deal, but a number of circumstances conspire against that.

Consider:

n Pittsburgh is not a growth market. What was once TV market No. 9 in the 1970s is now market No. 24. Unlike the St. Louis Cardinals, who are a regional franchise with a wide fan base, the Pirates are boxed in by Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore and Philadelphia. Go too far in any direction, and you’re in someone else’s territory.

n If there’s no competition for the TV rights, what incentive is there for AT&T Sports Net to raise its bid?

n The Pirates and Penguins could partner on a regional sports channel that would have year-round play-by-play, but there hasn’t been a whisper about that. The three main TV stations in Pittsburgh all have sub-channels that could be converted into a local sports channel, but no one seems to be talking about that, either.

n There’s also the issue of more people cutting the cord and relying less on cable. That puts a damper on how much an entity is willing to invest in rights fees.

It’s not an environment that seems ripe for leading to an increase in broadcast fees to a level that so many other teams get. There might not be a lot of room for improvement.

Want to help? Increase the population. Have babies. Lots of them. Better yet, have twins.

Missing wide

Joe West umpired the Pirates series in Minnesota last week, and his work behind the plate made the game infinitely more interesting.

There was no telling whether he would call pitches ball or strikes, no matter where they were.

West is 65 and his best days are behind him. He wobbles on bad knees and from the looks of his work last week, his vision may not be very good either.

But he’s hanging on to chase the record for most games umpired in a career. West moved into second place during the Pirates’ series, passing Bruce Froemming.

West now trails only Hall of Famer Bill Klem’s 5,164 games, and he’s intent on overtaking that. Assuming he can continue to work a full-time schedule, he’s on track to surpass Klem sometime in the 2020 season.

West is so serious about the record that when his crew is assigned to replay duty in New York, he gets an assignment with another crew so he can stay on the field and accumulate games worked.

He doesn’t mind being noticed, and has released a couple of country music CDs. On trips to Pittsburgh, he enjoyed holding court at a North Side saloon that had his music on the jukebox.

As long as he’s going after the record, MLB will potentially be ill-served by games like last week’s, where balls were strikes and strikes were balls.

Plug city

Per an announcement on a game radio broadcast last week, the Pirates have an official bourbon.

Who knew?

Mehno can be reached at johnmehnocolumn@gmail.com

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