- The Washington Times - Friday, March 29, 2002

Add Forbes Magazine to the list of skeptical parties regarding Major League Baseball's finances.

Three months after MLB commissioner Bud Selig claimed the 30 clubs lost a total of $519million in 2001, the magazine said yesterday that 20 teams posted profits and baseball ended the year $74.2million in the black overall. In the magazine's annual survey of franchise valuations, Forbes also said the average MLB club grew 9 percent in value last year to $286million.

The difference in fiscal results highlights an increasing scrutiny of MLB's accounting procedures. Since the public release of an unprecedented amount of financial data in December, Congress, various state governments, many fans and the MLB Players Association have publicly questioned the losses, pointing to fast-growing overall revenues, attendance totals and media contracts.

Forbes, which for years has painted a more positive picture of baseball finances, made similar arguments in the new survey, particularly due to still-strong broadcast revenues.

"A few teams are struggling, but baseball as an industry is in strong financial shape," said Forbes senior editor Michael Ozanian.

Selig and other MLB officials, however, have long contended Forbes has not had access to its full financial data, and as a result, the valuations were incomplete and inaccurate. This year Forbes received all the financial data first given to Congress in December. It was in that data where MLB outlined the operating losses, as well as $3.1billion in total debt and $8billion in future guaranteed obligations to players.

But Forbes arrived at different conclusions, again raising the ire of MLB.

"Once again, pure fiction, fiction of the highest order," said MLB spokesman Vince Wladika.

The mighty New York Yankees, now armed with the new YES network on cable and satellite TV, ranked as baseball's most valuable franchise for the fifth straight year with an estimated worth of$720 million, 15 percent higher than in 2001. The Baltimore Orioles ranked 12th highest with a value of $319million. The Orioles, who have dropped in attendance four straight years, were one of five teams in Forbes' survey to lose value in the last year.

The Montreal Expos, now a league-run franchise after a February takeover by MLB owners, ranked last with a value of $108million, 17 percent higher than a year ago despite an 31 percent drop in attendance to a paltry 643,000.

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