November 30, 2012 at 9:35 pm

Lynn Henning

Tigers say Fox Sports Detroit deal a good one

The Tigers and Fox Sports Detroit have a deal that lasts into the "early 2020s," according to a source. (Robin Buckson/Detroit News)

Now that the Dodgers are closing in on a $6 billion-$7 billion television deal, their haul for granting Fox Sports the privilege to carry their games, it's understandable if the Tigers and other teams are jealous, angry, or even a tad homicidal.

They'd appreciate even half of that $240 million-$280 million per year the Dodgers are projected to pull in once the new contract's ink is dry within a few days or weeks. Nice money, particularly when you're loading up on hundreds of millions of dollars worth of player paychecks, as the Dodgers have been doing since July, all with visions in mind of that TV cash-cow, ready for milking.

The Tigers have to think — and plan — smaller. Even with some of the best TV ratings in America, they pull in about $40 million per year in local TV treasure, which is what was estimated in an article that appeared this week on FanGraphs.com.

Each team's local contract is unique. Some teams — Yankees, Red Sox, Mets, Orioles, Nationals, White Sox, Cubs, etc. — own portions of their networks, which helps explain why their annual local TV take can approach $100 million per season. Some have equity stakes in their carriers, which is nice when the equity revenue is protected from Major League Baseball's revenue-sharing pool.

Those equity stakes, by the way, are how teams like the bottom-rung Astros ($80 million per year, estimated) and relatively small-market Padres ($60 million per year, according to FanGraphs) have been able to pump new cash into their yearly allowances.

Those deals were recently done. The Tigers?

They're a few years into a pact with FSD that won't expire until "the early 2020s," according to a front-office executive who would just as soon stay out of the discussion.

It's just as important to know that contract is non-negotiable ahead of its expiration. The Tigers and FSD are partners for the next decade. They'll deal with a different pre-nuptial arrangement, for sure, if and when they renew vows in 2022 or so.

But nothing will be altered or revisited until then.

Huge audience

And yet here's the surprise.

Both parties say, with conviction, they're happy with this current arrangement.

I get it as far as FSD is concerned. Although the Tigers play in America's 11th-largest TV market, telecasts had the highest local ratings — 9.13 percent of households — of any team in 2012.

The audience soared 41 percent during 2012. The team's average audience size (168,000) was third in baseball behind the Yankees and Mets. It's no wonder advertisers have been pushing and shoving like Black Friday customers, aching to get time so precious the FSD broadcast team of Mario Impemba and Rod Allen last season saw its introduction chopped to make room for ad customers.

And this is a supposedly mid-sized market in which the Tigers and FSD do business. You wouldn't know it by the numbers. Nor would you gauge it by that $40 million the Tigers are believed to be hauling in, which is one-half the take of baseball's worst team in 2012, the Astros.

More to the picture

Then why are the Tigers — genuinely — smiling?

It's because the estimates of what teams are taking in from their local TV deals aren't necessarily a dollars-for-dollars comparison. The secrets are in-house and aren't being shared, at least by the Tigers and FSD. But the Tigers have all but written in a Comerica Park accountant's blood that they're doing just fine with the arrangement, well beyond that alleged $40 million the Dodgers are threatening by comparison to turn into pauper pay.

"I will tell you that the Tigers have an outstanding working partnership with FOX Sports Detroit," Tigers vice president of communications Ron Colangelo said Wednesday during an otherwise tight-lipped conversation.

I don't know what else Colangelo could say about a marriage the Tigers and FSD are obliged to share for the next 10 years. But I also know Colangelo well enough to believe he was being straight with me about the Tigers' comfort level. There was an assurance by him and others privy to this arrangement that estimated dollar figures don't necessarily convey the entire story about teams, their TV partners, and their profits.

Greg Hammaren, senior vice president and general manager for FSD, had this to say about the Tigers and their ratings-popping TV carrier: "We have a long-term agreement in place and look forward to being the Tigers TV partner for many years to come."

Happy partners, these two. But if you think you're living the good life, have a drink with the Dodgers. They're buying.

lynn.henning@detnews.com

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