The Angels commitment of more than $325M to just two players is only the latest reminder of what the Cleveland Indians lack - money. Bill Shaikin, of the LA Times, writes that the Angels' spending spree is built on the back of an anticipated new television deal with Fox Sports that will likely earn the team more than $100M a year in television royalties, far out-stripping the Rangers recent deal expected to earn the team $80M per year. In case you have forgotten, the Indians opening day payroll last year was less than $50M. It is impossible to imagine the Indians competing on a level ground with larger local markets given the disparity in size and value. I only see one solution - and fortunately it is one with several residual benefits - expand into the emerging market of India.
The organization has already named its major league franchise the "Indians" after all. Making a formal connection to India (a place with more than 1.2 billion Indians), seems, given the current circumstances, an obvious way forward. No longer would we, as Indians fan, have to operate under some false pretense that there is a good reason the franchise is called the Indians (of course this would likely be the end of Chief Wahoo, but I'm sure many adequate replacements would be available). But why India?
India's economy, since 2000 (years that have not been kind to Cleveland's economy), has averaged a quarterly GDP growth rate of 7.45%. The total Indian economy surpasses $2 trillion. To say this makes Cleveland look like small samosas is an extreme understatement. Additionally, India, with its emerging middle-class, has a huge satellite television industry. India has more than 35 million official direct-to-home subscribers, a number likely to grow even further in the years ahead. India represents a huge potential market for revenue enhancement for...the Indians.
But why would India like the Indians? First, India's most popular sport is cricket. I have had several opportunities to watch cricket (mainly in South Africa) and each time I could not help but notice the similarities to baseball. Whenever speaking with someone in South Africa about cricket, I could see the sense of dread percolating up in their faces just knowing we were going to have the following exchange:
Me: I love cricket!
Them: Really?...(intrigue, mixed with concern)
Me: Yes, I am a big baseball fan, and it reminds me a lot of baseball.
Them: (resigned anger) No. Cricket is not baseball.
It is a sport where one guy throws a ball, another hits it with a stick and runs around while other guys field the ball, attempting to throw him out. No - it is nothing like baseball. Indians love cricket and are also very good at cricket. Just this week, famed Indian batsman, Virender Sehwag, broke an international record by going for 219 runs in a one-day match (notice the use of batsman and runs...the lexicon is already there!). But all is not rosy in the world of international cricket. Just last month three Pakistani players, India's biggest rivalry, pled guilty to match-fixing. This is not the first such incident in the sport. And about that rivalry with Pakistan...we exaggerate when we talk about the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry reaching nuclear proportions. India and Pakistan...not so much. The stability of South Asia might benefit from minimizing the extent of this sports rivalry. Perhaps baseball could serve to siphon off some of that tension.
How could the Indians take advantage of this natural historical alignment of interests? The first step is to continue the current moves aimed at creative revenue generation. Snow Days is nice, but it is nothing compared to what the Indians could achieve by tapping into the Indians market. Here is an initial proposal for the Indians front office:
Step 1: Film a bollywood style production in Cleveland next summer, centered around baseball. Think "Slumdog Millionaire" meets "Major League." The Indians would need to do this well, with established Bollywood stars and high production quality. Cleveland has a surprising staple of excellent writers who could be recruited into the task of co-writing the script with Indian professionals. Estimated Cost: $30M - this is steep, but it is the key first step. And if successful, will likely generate profits. India's highest grossing Bollywood film (2009's "3 Idiots") brought in well over $50M in revenue.
Step 2: Spin off a baseball-themed telenovella, delivered to India via a satellite DTH market. Once the movie is established, the brand needs to be maintained. Estimated cost: $5M per year.
Step 3: Establish a winter training facility in Mumbai. The climate is warm and dry from November-February, perfect for baseball. The Arizona market is already saturated with baseball teams, including a competing major league franchise. There are none in Mumbai, a city of more than 12 million people.
Step 4: Move Dominican Republic baseball academy to Mumbai winter training facility. Again, everyone is set up in the D.R. (a country with fewer people than Mumbai). The marginal gain to the Indians of being in the D.R. versus India...not even a comparison worth making. Sure, the Indians may not outcompete cricket for athletes in India, but they don't have to with so many people!
There you have it.
Consider this an open-letter to Indians president, Mark Shapiro. For the Indians to compete in major league baseball, they need to embrace their Indian-ness. There is no better way to do that than expand into the Indian sports and television market. Besides, who doesn't want to have naan and tandoori more available at Progressive Field?