When Alfred Lord Tennyson penned "Locksley Hall" in 1835, he surmised, "In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love."
Had Tennyson been an American just ten short years later, he might have chosen baseball as the focus of his young man's interest.
According to what's now acknowledged as popular myth, baseball didn't officially come into being until 1839, when Abner Doubleday reputedly "invented" the game in Cooperstown, N.Y.
The first official game – based on rules codified in 1845 by Alexander Cartwright – wasn't played until June 19, 1846.
The host New York Knickerbockers lost that game – contested against a group of local cricket players dubbed the New York Nine – by the embarrassing score of 23-1.
Whether or not that was the first game remains unclear, with some dating baseball's beginning to 1791 in Pittsfield, Mass., and others tracing its origins back to Europe earlier in the 18th century.
But regardless of when and where it began one thing is certain: Baseball became America's favorite game.
Quickly dubbed the "national pastime," its popularity continues to grow.
Baseball Might as Well be Moneyball
Though the recent recession did cut into attendance at Major League Baseball games somewhat, 73,425,665 fans visited ballparks in 2011.
That's down only slightly from 2007 when 79,502,524 filed through the turnstiles, setting an all-time record.
And, while this year probably won't quite challenge the 2007 high, another increase is expected during the 2012 season, which opens today at the new ballpark of the renamed Miami Marlins in downtown Miami. Six more opening-day games will follow on Thursday.
Revenues for Major League teams also continue to grow, approaching $7 billion in 2011, including television contracts and concession and memorabilia sales.
Meanwhile, the value of the teams themselves is certainly not in question – not given the $2 billion just offered for the L.A. Dodgers by a group headed by basketball great Magic Johnson.
Strangely, however, for a sport considered the national pastime and drawing nearly 75 million fans a year, with many more watching on TV and listening to games on the radio, baseball offers a very limited number of opportunities for the average investor.
Indeed, only three of the 30 major league teams are currently owned by publicly traded companies, and baseball represents only a modest portion of their total businesses.
How Buy a Piece of Your Own Baseball Team
Thus, if you want to be an actual owner of a major league baseball team today – at least through your portfolio – you're limited to buying shares in:
Liberty Media Corp. (Nasdaq: LMCA), recent price $88.15 – Liberty covers the baseball market both inside the park and via the airways. The company purchased the Atlanta Braves from Time Warner in 2007 in a multi-part $1.48 billion deal that valued the Braves at $450 million.
Then, in 2009, Liberty rescued debt-plagued Sirius XM Radio Inc. (Nasdaq: SIRI) in exchange for convertible preferred stock, getting an effective 40% interest in the company that has the rights to provide satellite radio broadcasts of every 2012 Major League game.
Outside the baseball realm, Liberty owns the Starz pay television network, manufacturer TruePosition Inc.; a 21% share in concert promoter and ticket vendor Live Nation Entertainment Inc.(NYSE: LYV) and a 17% interest in bookseller Barnes & Noble Inc. (NYSE: BKS).
Rogers Communications Inc. (NYSE: RCI), recent price $39.70– With Rogers, you get not only access to baseball, but international diversification as well. Solely and through subsidiaries, this Canadian media company operates publishing, wireless telephone and communication services, cable television systems and sports broadcasting businesses.
Through Blue Jays Holdco Inc. and other subsidiaries, it also owns 100% of the American League's Toronto Blue Jays Baseball Club, as well as Rogers Centre (formerly the SkyDome), the covered downtown stadium the team calls home.
Nintendo Co. Ltd. ADR (OTC Pink Sheets: NTDOY), recent price $18.96 – This multinational consumer electronics company, based in Kyoto, Japan, also offers both global diversification and a baseball tie since it is the majority owner of the Seattle Mariners.
More than 110 years old, Nintendo has blossomed into the world's most influential video game maker and is Japan's third most valuable public company, with a market value of more than $85 billion.
Though traded primarily on the Tokyo Stock Exchange, American baseball fans can own shares in the form of ADR's traded on the U.S. over-the-counter (OTC) market.
Here's an aside: Loosely translated, the name Nintendo means "leave luck to Heaven" – which might actually make the company more suited to own the luckless Chicago Cubs than the Seattle Mariners.
Baseball's Better Side Bets
Of course, you don't have to own shares in Major League clubs themselves to profit from the popularity of professional baseball.
You can also check out the stocks of a couple of top Major League suppliers:
Jarden Corp. (NYSE: JAH), recent price $40.23 – JAH owns a variety of businesses, ranging from Bicycle playing cards and Coleman camping equipment to Sunbeam Appliances and Rawlings, America's leading manufacturer of baseballs and gloves, and the exclusive supplier of Major League Baseball helmets since 1977.
With its focus on leisure-time activities and discretionary consumer products, Jarden was hit hard by the recent recession and its stock fell to a long-time low of $7.92 in late 2008.
However, after working successfully to reduce debt, lower overhead and develop new products, JAH has boosted profits, earning $2.31 a share over the trailing 12 months, reinstituted a modest dividend and seen the stock price climb steadily over the past three years.
Under Armour Inc. (NYSE: UA), recent price $94.00 – Based in Baltimore, UA is an apparel manufacturer with a focus on athletic wear for men, women and kids. It has extensive distribution through more than 25,000 retail outlets worldwide, including Europe, Japan and, most recently, in China.
It also provides uniforms and other accessories made of its famous "moisture-wicking" material to a number of Major League Baseball clubs. UA saw its stock drop below $20 during the depths of the recession, but both profits – $1.83 per share over the past 12 months – and the stock price have rebounded nicely since.
Going Long Fantasy Baseball
Finally, if you love the game of baseball, but don't have the skills to play yourself – or simply don't want to dirty your pants and shirt sliding into second – you might try investing in:
Gannett Co. Inc. (NYSE: GCI), recent price $15.33 – Best known for its ownership of USA Today, this international media and marketing firm became a baseball "player" in January when it acquired Fantasy Sports Ventures (FSV).
Through its subsidiary, Big Lead Sports, FSV owns and/or operates a web-based network of more than 600 sites covering baseball, football, basketball, auto racing, hockey, soccer and college sports, providing news, statistics and support to fantasy sports leagues around the globe.
Ranked in the Top 5 among all U.S. sports sites, FSV also designs custom digital marketing programs for such major national sports advertisers as Coke, Gillette, Coors, McDonald's and many others.
Of course, Avid baseball fans always focus intensely on statistics – which this article hasn't done.
As such, check out the financial "statistics" for yourself before taking a home-run swing at any of the stocks listed above.
News and Related Story Links:
- Baseball Reference.com:
2011 Major League Baseball Attendance & Miscellaneous
Major League Baseball attendance records
Official website of Major League Baseball<
- Yahoo! Sports:
Magic Johnson group to buy Dodgers for record $2B
The Business of Baseball