Turner South could be the key

The Atlanta Braves could soon be placed up for sale. BravesCenter's Bill Shanks says the inclusion of the cable network Turner South could be a huge piece of the puzzle.

So the Braves may be up for sale. Well, that means we're probably in for six to twelve months of rumors and discussion about the long-term future of this franchise. It's very unsettling for fans to have so many questions, especially when the answers could come out of the blue at any time.

Right now Time Warner says they are investigating the sale of Turner South and/or the Atlanta Braves through a firm in New York. The Atlanta Constitution has reported that the sale of Turner South is equally important to the Time Warner people, since the regional network no longer fits in with the television goals the company has set.

Those goals include carriage fees and households for their national networks. It's more important for Time Warner to increase the households carrying CNN and TBS and TNT and The Cartoon Network, national networks that can have upwards of 100 million subscribers, than a regional network that may only have 12 million subscribers.

And that's simple advertising. The more subscribers you have, the more money you make. And a network that has a limited number of subscribers in a limited area is not as valuable as a national network that can go all over the country. Therefore, at least to the Time Warner folks, Turner South is no longer one of their core assets. It‘s more important for them to spend their time, money, and energy on their national networks.

But that doesn't mean that Turner South should not be important to anyone interested in buying the Braves. Yes, it will make the package more expensive. The Braves, on its own, could cost $400 million dollars, but if you throw in Turner South, the price could go to $600-$700 million dollars. That's quite a difference, and it could make a difference in the type of people that bid on the two entities.

Any group interested in the team should have a sincere interest in also buying the network. Turner South could easily became the Braves' version of YES, the network that carries many of the Yankees' games, or the new network the Mets are creating. These networks for these teams provide significant revenue, and it could ensure that the Braves' financial structure is sound for the long-term future of the franchise.

Right now, TBS airs about 70 games, Fox Sports Net airs 35, and Turner South airs around 50. But in a few years, the amount of games on TBS will drop to 45, meaning that nearly half the games could be available to Turner South. As many of you may know, having the Braves on TBS does not help them at all. They share the revenue with the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball, limiting the amount of television revenue that can go on their books.

But if almost half of their games are on their network, a Braves' network, then that could produce significant revenue for the team. Now they won't get as much as the Yankees get from YES, since the New York market is the largest in the nation. But having those extra games on their network will simply put more revenue in their hands, instead of having to share it with everybody else.

Chances are the new owners aren't going to care much about "Junkin" or "Blue Bird Café" or "Home Plate," Turner South's signature shows. If they're smart, they'll be more interested in "Bravesography" and Classic Braves' games and additional Braves' content. The network could be the perfect source to increase the Braves' fan base, thereby increasing the interest in the team, and increasing the revenues.

And if the revenues are increased, chances are the new owners will give General Manager John Schuerholz a larger payroll and more flexibility to improve the roster. He hasn't had that flexibility recently, as Time Warner has simply had other priorities. But a new owner has the opportunity, through Turner South, to make this franchise a revenue-generating machine, which is only going to keep the club competitive for a long time.

This is a very interesting time in the history of this club. They are loaded at every position, both in the majors and in the minor leagues. The talent should be available to keep the club competitive - no matter what happens with the ownership situation. But more revenue can only provide Schuerholz with more options, and that's what can make him the most dangerous man in baseball.

It really shouldn't be a big surprise that the club has not been to a World Series this decade. And I know, money doesn't guarantee everything. While the corporate structure of AOL/Time Warner has been solid, it has by no means been spectacular. Therefore, the prospect of having an owner that could adequately utilize a television network to increase visibility and revenues is very exciting. We've just got to hope that the prospective owners do not shy away from having Turner South as part of the Braves' deal. It could be the key to once again making this team a serious financial player in the baseball market.

Bill Shanks is the author of Scout's Honor: The Bravest Way To Build A Winning Team, a look inside the Braves‘ traditional scouting and player development philosophies. You can email Bill at thebravesshow@email.com.

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