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Reported impending sale of STO to Fox could give Indians some financial flexibility - and they should use it

Dec 03, 2012 -- 7:04am

By: T.J. Zuppe

The rumored impending sale of Sports Time Ohio to Fox - along with the rights to broadcast Cleveland Indians games - has been a hot topic on ESPN 850 WKNR over the last couple of weeks. Those discussions should continue to accelerate over the next few weeks and prior to the holidays.

As the sale inched closer, what had remained unclear was how much of a boost the possible sale would give the Tribe's ownership financially. We may have a better understanding of that now.

According to Paul Hoynes of the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the impending sale of STO by the Dolans will net them between $200 million and $250 million. In the report, Hoynes adds the deal would increase Indians' right fees to $40 million to broadcast the team's games.

The organization currently pulls in $30 million from it's current deal with STO which was only renewed on a year-to-year basis.

The sale may be pushed to get done prior to the first of the year to avoid 2013 tax ramifications.

ESPN Cleveland can also confirm the Plain Dealer's report that STO employees have been informed a sale was close recently via sources.

Fox has been busy buying teams' rights to broadcast games recently, most notably in their off-season deal to purchase the rights to broadcast the Los Angeles Dodgers games.

While the Dolans have yet to publicly acknowledge the sale or how it would impact their current financial state, the influx of income will provide at least some flexibility to a club that has kept a tight payroll in recent years.

The question is; how much of the money from the sale will be allocated specifically to acquiring players and maintaining the team's roster?

The Tribe continues to battle a perception - unfair or not - that the Dolans continue to make money while the club continues to struggle. Last year, the team heavily disputed a report from Forbes that said the team earned $178 million in revenue (debt ratio of 27% and operating income of $30.1 million) in 2011.

Whether that number was entirely correct or not, it only fed to a fan perception that the current ownership is not doing everything in their power to make the Indians a consistent winner. Take this sale, which appears to be closing in, and fans will be curious as to how this will benefit the organization.

There is no question an additional $10 million annually generated from Fox buying the team's broadcasting rights - on top of the income the Dolans gain from the networks sale - will help if applied in that direction. How could it not?

And what reason would they have not to?

Now, simply spending endless amounts of money guarantees nothing in baseball. It is far more important to allocate what funds you do have in smart places and beware the instant gratification of unsmart overspending.

But what it does allow is the flexibility to hold on to your own players beyond their initial control and the ability to be savvy in free-agency to plug holes not addressed via trades or drafting.

With the current state of the relationship between the Indians and their fan base - seemingly worsening day by inactive day - the Dolans owe it to their faithful to reward their patience by contributing more to the available funds of their franchise.

It is understood Cleveland cannot spend like New York or Boston markets, but the restraints that handcuff the organization need to be loosened for the sake of improving the current state of the club.

If they do not, right or wrong, they will only continue to perpetuate the perception that continues to plague them - and will not have any conceivable way to defend it.

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