You Can Own Derek Jeter

The cost to buy a professional sports team really hit me last spring, when the Mega Millions lottery jackpot reached $550 million. Like everyone else, I bought a ticket and dreamed big. Naturally, I set my sights on buying a baseball team, but that thought lasted as long as a Google search. When you’re dealing with numbers that big, it’s easy to forget a few zeroes. My beloved Mets were just valued by Forbes at $719 million. The lowest valued NFL team is the Jacksonville Jaguars at $725 million. The NBA’s Hornets were for sale until recently, and Forbes values their franchise at $285 million. If the biggest payout in lotto history can’t buy you a team, well, that really puts the cost in perspective.

Luckily, there’s Baseball-Reference.com. Earlier this month, I renewed my ownership of the 2006 New York Mets through the website for $70. That’s right, for the cost of a decent ticket to a Mets game, I was able to “own” the entire team—and not the current version, which is four games under .500, or the 2007 or 2008 versions, which choked away a playoff spot. I own the most successful Mets team in the last 25 years—the 2006 National League East champion New York Mets!

Sean Forman is the founder of Baseball-Reference.com, a great resource for baseball fans. Every statistic imaginable is on the site, if you can find it. Want to check the box score from the first game you ever attended? Interested in Chipper Jones’ batting average as a right-handed hitter in 1999? Maybe you’d like to know the how many stolen bases the Brooklyn Dodgers had in 1954? It’s there. It’s all there.

But it’s the sponsorship concept that makes Baseball-Reference especially fun. Forman needed donations to keep the site going and thought allowing the general public to sponsor individual pages would be a fun way to go about it. “Kind of like collecting baseball cards,” Forman told me in an email.

Here’s how it works: A price is set for every page based on anticipated page views, as a sponsorship takes the place of a more traditional advertisement (though the site has those as well). Therefore, popular players’ pages are more expensive than lesser-known players’ pages. If, during the season, an unsponsored player experiences a noteworthy event (e.g. throws a no-hitter or gets traded), you can expect the cost of his page to rise, as it would be expected that more people would visit his page.

Sponsorship lasts for a year, at which point the individual is offered first crack at renewal before it hits the open market. For your money, you get to include your name (which can be in the form of a hyperlink that directs to, say, your personal website) and a 255-character message. As long as the message isn’t profane, it will appear on the page for all visitors to see.

A majority of pages can be bought for very cheap (as little as $2), but these are typically for unknown players, guys who played in the early 1900’s for a season or two. If you want to sponsor a team page or a player you might have heard of, it will cost you at least $15.

Then, there’s the high-roller section. The most expensive page is the “team index” page, where all the franchises (and some basic facts about each) are listed: sponsorship is $2,615. The most expensive player available is, fittingly, Albert Pujols. The Los Angeles Angels paid $240 million for Pujols this past offseason, but you can sponsor his page for just $2,505. The most expensive player currently being sponsored is Alex Rodriguez, whose page went for $2,030 last August. Given what the Yankees paid for him ($275 million), if his page’s owner doesn’t renew it could be a steal.

I don’t get a referral fee if you sponsor a page. I realize, in the end, it’s sort of a waste of money. But it’s fun. My cousin Danny might want to sponsor Will Clark’s page and use his message to make the case for why his favorite player belongs in the Hall of Fame. He’ll have to wait until July 28, 2013 to get his chance. My brother Steve could offer his support to Kaz Matsui right now for only $35; he probably spent that much on Matsui’s jersey when he signed with the Mets.

Forman estimates that less than 10 percent of the pages are sponsored right now. “The site has gotten so popular that the prices have gotten a bit out of hand because we have to the set them to offset the loss of ad revenue,” he says. Forman doesn’t sponsor any pages anymore. In the past, he’s sponsored Mickey Mantle for his dad (currently available for $545), Darin Erstad for his brother ($75), and Ugueth Urbina for his wife ($35). That last one didn’t work out so well. In 2007, Urbina was sentenced to 14 years in prison for the attempted murder of five workers on his family’s Venezuelan ranch. Forman didn’t renew his sponsorship.

The two youngest players in baseball are both sponsored for big money. Harper went for somewhere around $750, placing him between Adam Dunn and Vlad Guerrero, who have played a combined 28 seasons and hit 844 home runs. Harper’s sponsor decided to link the page to “The definitive Blog about Florida Marlins Right Fielder Mike Stanton.” Trout may think his All Star appearance solidified him as a rising star, but he couldn’t say he had “made it” until yesterday, when his page was finally sponsored—for $650 no less.

So go ahead, sponsor a player. There are 175 Hall of Famers looking for a home, four of whom can be sponsored for just $10 (though none were players—two were managers, one was an umpire, and another was a general manager). Just don’t set your sights on the ’06 Mets; I plan on renewing.

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