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Apparently, instant replay is really expensive

Jun 1, 2012, 10:30 AM EDT

Video camera

Jeff Passan has a column up today chronicling the recent run-ins between players and umpires and talking about how replay would solve so much of it.  In the course of his argument, he drops this as a means of explaining one of the reasons Bud Selig is against replay:

There’s the financial factor, too. A football source said the NFL spends about $4 million a year on instant replay. With almost 10 times as many games, new equipment and a fifth umpire with each crew to monitor the replay booth, MLB’s annual costs could go well into eight figures.

Wow. That is somewhat shocking. I’d be curious to see a breakdown of this.  I mean, even if you added 15 umpires at max salary, that would be less than $4 million a year in salary. Entry-level umps would cost less than $1.5 million a year. If the recently-reported idea of a centrally-located replay bunker were to be implemented the personnel costs would even lower than that.

Beyond people, where does the rest of the cost come from?  All of the games are televised now, and rare is it the case that at least some existing camera angle doesn’t capture the disputed play clearly. Can’t we just use the existing TV feeds? What else has to happen here?

These are not rhetorical questions, by the way. I’m (for once) not trying to be cute. I really don’t know what replay would entail financially and how it would all break down.  Anyone have an idea about this?

  1. lembeck4 - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:37 AM

    Adding in the cost of 3 Dr. Peppers and a large Nachos per booth operator per game makes up most of the extra financial burden. Oh, and the quarter used to settle a tie, that costs like 25 cents right there.

    • pjmarn6 - Jun 1, 2012 at 6:39 PM

      I fail to see where mlb can say that paying to have instant replay at all the games is expensive. It is only 1/3 the salary of Rodriquez and the Dodgers were just sold for $2Billion dollars? About 80,000,000 fans visit ball parks and the revenue from tv and radio is staggering. With instant replay and the electronic gizmos, the fifth umpire is not needed.
      There will be a fight with the umpire union and they can take a hike. Get the instant replay in use with electronic measures to call correctly balls and strikes and get it over already!
      Yes human error before today’s era was a necessary evil. But not today. I still don’t understand really why an umpire has to sit behind the catcher and not be behind the pitcher. How can he see a low ball just below the knees or a ball just outside the plate? How if he is watching the ball see a checked swing and if the wrists went around? How can he see that a ball hit the ground and not the shoe? Yes they are trained and get 95% of the calls right but they should be forced to eat sh** and not carry the game and act like mobsters.
      With cell phones and reply each umpire could immediately be called on a blown call and reverse himself without being shown up. He just jumps up, makes a sign and if there is an argument he points to the reply box and tells the player, coach, manager to go up there and argue with them and walks up with his self esteem intact.

  2. dan1111 - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    Not having instant replay is expensive. It costs games.

    • hansob - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:44 AM

      yeah, but that’s a zero sum game. The true cost is fans thinking their team got screwed, and paying less attention to the product. And I don’t know that that’s worth “8 figures” ($10M, which is a ridiculous amount. That’s $4000+ a game to do somthing that I can do from my living room with a TV and a phone. If it’s about the money, get a little creative. You don’t need to get all CIA on it).

      • Jeremy Fox - Jun 1, 2012 at 2:05 PM

        I can do it from my living room with my TV and a phone too. How about we and some other HBT readers get together and put in a bid to MLB to do it for, say, 5 million dollars? Apparently they’d jump at the offer given how much money we’d be saving them.

  3. danaking - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:40 AM

    This might be a good question for someone over at Pro Hockey Talk. The NHL has used a centralized “war room” in Toronto for replay for years. I think they just use the teams’ feeds, maybe have one stationary camera of their own. That should give a pretty good idea of the costs.

  4. umrguy42 - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:48 AM

    One thing that I would say depends is – what’s the cost (equipment, bandwidth, etc) to get the network feeds (and access to the tapes, or bits, or whatever now) to either another booth in the stadium, or to a centralized war room?

    • jarathen - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:50 AM

      According to my mlb.tv account, roughly $125 a year. And you get the AtBat app for free!

      • jarathen - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:58 AM

        Obviously, they’d have to find a location with as few blackouts as possible. Iowa and Nevada are no-gos for that reason.

    • The Rabbit - Jun 1, 2012 at 3:32 PM

      Not much, apparently.
      According to other posts, umpires apparently hate it when managers go inside, watch the replay on TV, and bring it up during the game.

  5. heyblueyoustink - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:52 AM

    You use a quarter? Hmm, we use an eyeball.

  6. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:54 AM

    I pay about $125/month to time warner cable, and that includes my high-speed internet. That gives me access to every Yankees game and every Mets game all season long. Usually, the TV replays show a close play 5 or 6 times within one minute, usually determining conclusively whether the umpire’s call was correct (thank you, Coors Light Freeze Cam).

    I would assume Bud does not need the cable/internet package, but even if he did, let’s figure the costs. A cable subscription in every baseball market, nay for each team because the Mets and Yankees could each have their own subscription would cost $3,750 per month. (let’s not even discuss the fact that every game is now covered by 2 broadcast teams, so we could probably get away with half of that).

    $3,750*8 months (I’ll count March and October as full months here) is $30,000. There is your technology fee, including the gross concessions I have made to allow MLB to pump it up.

    As for personnel, we need to hire 15 people to watch baseball games and report the obvious. I am not saying anyone could do the job, but we are not talking about a highly specialized skill set here. If you can’t find 15 people competent to handle this job at $50K each for the season, you are just not looking. $50,000*15=750K.

    So I have this whole shebang coming in under $800K. My guess is that Armando Gallaraga would kick in half as seed money. If MLB as a multi-billion dollar enterprise does not think the integrity of the game is worth $800K, then we get a new sense of Bud as a scrooge McDuck character who can feel every gold doubloon in his swimming pool.

  7. Dusty Baker Clogs the Dugout - Jun 1, 2012 at 10:56 AM

    Without knowing for sure, I’ll just add that production equipment and the staff to run it don’t come cheap. To me, adding instant replay is almost like adding another television production, on a league-wide basis for the games. Even if it’s at a central location, you need all the equipment to record the feeds as they come in from around the country, plus the staff to log, edit and cut to those clips to present them to whoever’s viewing the replays (all essentially in real time).

    We take it all for granted, but if you ever get a chance to visit a production truck at a major sporting event, it’s quite the production (no pun intended), and the people who head up those production trucks are paid quite well. Basically, to review replay at a central location, you’re paying year-round for a top-notch production crew (or more than one of them, depending on what they think the workload will be). At least, that’s my best guess.

    • umrguy42 - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:31 AM

      Well said – exactly what I was trying to get at above, but better, and elaborated more upon with additional things I hadn’t even thought of.

    • savocabol1 - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:41 PM

      There are already two production crews at each game (home and away). You add one person in one of those crews to handle replay.

      Thank you and good night.

  8. Ben - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    Isn’t at least part of the infrastructure being paid for already anyway with homerun review? Apparently the homerun reviews are routed through an office in New York.

  9. Francisco (FC) - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    *snort* Even if the total cost is 40 million dollars a year, divide that by 30 teams and it comes to $1.33 million per team on average, or a cheap middle relief pitcher or bench guy. Teams have misspent many times this amount without blinking an eye.

    After raking in over $7 BILLION dollars in revenue, even 40 million is just a drop in the bucket. IF that’s what’s stopping replay MLB is seriously cheap.

    • The Rabbit - Jun 1, 2012 at 3:38 PM

      FC, of course, I agree with you.
      Does Bud need to appoint an astronomically compensated Blue Ribbon Panel to study this problem?

      • Francisco (FC) - Jun 3, 2012 at 11:27 AM

        If he does that where do I send my resume? I could use some astronomical compensation to make easy decisions.

  10. recoveringcubsfan - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:07 AM

    Could it maybe be a little specious to assume that the cost for the NFL = the cost for MLB if you just multiply it by 10? I think an economist would say there’s a fixed cost and then maybe a little more on top of that, marginally, for the extra games, but that replay equipment, once purchased and set up, doesn’t get more expensive because you use it more often. It costs what it costs. The personnel costs, as everybody rightly points out, are possibly significant, but they’re also adjustable depending on what MLB decided to do. I don’t see any place where MLB stands to lose X number of dollars every year no matter what if it goes with replay. This is a fairly complete straw man, in my opinion.

    Also, to the NHL commenter: the only camera I’ve ever seen for replay that isn’t part of the home feed is the top-down rafter cam pointed right at the goal line. Of course, if the NHL does what some say it will and puts a chip in the pucks, you won’t even need a replay booth, except as entertainment for fans who want to see the super-slo-mo of the puck going over the line.

  11. sabatimus - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:34 PM

    Replay is most expensive in this category: egos.

  12. sabatimus - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    Know how much 8 figures REALLY is to MLB? A pittance. The tv revenues alone across the league completely obliterate this number. Which says to me it’s not about finances. It’s about 1) the potential increase in length of games, and 2) a refusal to buck tradition. I think the former would be negligible if there’s a fifth umpire who could simply radio down to the field that the call needs to be overturned, and I think the latter is simple stubbornness at this point.

    • savocabol1 - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:45 PM

      If they want to fight the lengths of games then all they need to do is cut down on the time in between pitches. It isn’t fun to watch one pitch every two minutes.

  13. shanabartels - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:51 PM

    I agree with those who said this sum is barely a drop in the bucket for MLB. I’m not the only person paying $120/year for MLB.tv plus the cost of attending games. MLB makes obscene profits, so if they’re crying that they can’t afford the cost of replay, that’s BS.

    Unrelated point: in Passan’s article and others written by the mainstream press, they censor Russ Martin’s word choice. Is dick seriously that bad of a word? I never thought it was that controversial.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - Jun 1, 2012 at 2:16 PM

      Even back in the more censorious 1950s and ’60s, everyone reported that dick was Richard Nixon’s nickname, and it turned out that he certainly was one. Should be fine now.

  14. IdahoMariner - Jun 1, 2012 at 12:55 PM

    Also, it’s gotta be cheaper to have cameras on a baseball field than a football field – they should ask the broadcast companies what the difference is to cover the two sports. Because while the ball can be hit all over the field, most of what we need shots of are plays happening at fixed spots – home plate, the bases, along the foul lines. The less you need a human being to move the camera to follow the ball, the less it should cost, I would think. But football has stuff happening all over the freakin’ place. I would imagine fixed cameras (around the perimeter) only cover a fraction of what they use the replay for.

    And, yeah, get an agreement with the broadcasters already covering it to share their feed, one guy in the booth each game, you are done.

    Annnnnndddd yeah – even if it’s 30 mil a year, that’s a mil per team. Get it done, bud.

  15. paperlions - Jun 1, 2012 at 2:19 PM

    MLB pays Selig $20M/year….if they can afford that much for a Selig, they should be able to afford twice that for something useful.

    • jarathen - Jun 1, 2012 at 4:36 PM

      Like a cadaver.

  16. thetruth323 - Jun 1, 2012 at 5:39 PM

    I have never been a fan of replay for baseball and still think that it should only be used on a limited basis like it is now. The end game is getting calls correct and I think that can be accomplished by working to change how umpires are selected and trained. And also working hard on changing the “culture” of the job. Umpires need to be more open to discussing plays and get rid of the “it’s my call” attitude. Ask for help when there is a chance you missed something and be willing to accept that maybe you blew one and one of your partners had a better view of what just happened. And MLB must start holding umpires accountable for their performance on the field. I’ve been an umpire at various levels for 20+ years and my primary goal is to make sure the correct call is made, whether it is “my call” is not relevant. Umpires do have a hard job and must make decisions in the blink of an eye but with more cooperation and less “attitude” we might be able to satisfy the purists who detest replay in any form and the techies who can’t believe replay is used extensively.

  17. Walk - Jun 1, 2012 at 11:11 PM

    Note that i am kidding here but lifeline time, once a game call a fan.

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