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Liberty Media reports big financial gains for Braves Group in 2021

Not surprising, but substantial

MLB: NOV 05 Atlanta Braves World Series Championship Parade and Celebration Photo by David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s late February, which means it’s time for Liberty Media to publicly report on its earnings for 2021, which naturally includes disclosure of the Braves’ financial performance for the past year. If you’re the sort that wants to dive into it yourself, feel free to mosey on over here and glance at stuff yourself.

A few caveats before we quickly run down some takeaways: first, this information is from an “earnings” press release and not the formal annual filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. While Liberty Media doesn’t tend to restate much of anything between their earnings press release and the formal filing, we’ll have way more detail (on some things, not others, see the second point immediately below) when that filing goes out. Second, because the Braves are a(n independent) subset of Liberty Media’s operations, and Liberty Media pretty much does whatever it wants (within accepted accounting practice) on its financial reporting, there’s rarely a particularly deep dive available on the finances and operations of the Braves themselves. But, we’ll do the best we can as far as quick rundowns go.

The first place to start is revenue. For the sake of an actual useful comparison (the press release itself only has current and prior-year figures, the latter of which were of course affected by the pandemic), let’s go back to 2018.

Braves Group Revenue

  • 2018: $442 million
  • 2019: $476 million
  • 2020: $178 million
  • 2021: $568 million

For the year, the Braves made about 20 percent more in revenue than they had in 2019. This isn’t really unexpected, given the deep playoff run and the financial benefits that go with it, but now we know the extent of those extra inflows. Fourth quarter revenue, which includes the playoffs (and not much else), was between $30 and $35 million in both 2019 and 2020, but shot up to $102 million in 2021, which explains over 70 percent of the overall increase in revenue from 2019 to 2021.

Operating income is an accounting standard that subtracts operating (that is, mostly routine) expenses from revenue. The Braves posted positive operating income in 2021 for the first time since a marginal $1 million gain in 2018.

Braves Group Operating Income

  • 2018: $1 million
  • 2019: ($39) million — the parentheses reflect a loss
  • 2020: ($128) million
  • 2021: $20 million

For the fourth quarter, the Braves posted an operating loss of $1 million, which is an improvement over losses of $35 to $45 million in the prior two years. (Remember, the playoffs occur over like a month, but there are other expenses nonetheless.)

Liberty Media also presents financial performance in terms of OIBDA, which is really just operating income (the thing above) before depreciation and amortization expenses. The point of OIBDA is to show the performance and profitability of a business segment, in this case, the Braves — without considering drags on that performance and profitability from things like paying interest on debt or capital improvements.

Braves Group OIBDA

  • 2018: $88 million
  • 2019: $49 million
  • 2020: ($53) million
  • 2021: $104 million

So, by Liberty Media’s own somewhat non-standard accounting measure, the Braves had a really good 2021, with a nearly 20-percent gain relative to their 2018 OIBDA. OIBDA was positive in the fourth quarter of 2021 at $4 million, compared to an $18 million loss in 2020.

There’s a bit more detail that I’ll just snip for your perusal:

Revenue per home game skyrocketed relative to 2020, but that’s not particularly interesting. What’s perhaps more interesting is that relative to 2019, the gains were not huge despite some World Series games — though the presence of some regular season games after the Braves clinched makes it hard to figure out the exact effect. In short, the Braves made $8.5 million per home game in the fourth quarter of 2021, compared to $3.8 million during 2020, and $7.7 million in 2019. (However, those 2019 numbers include just three playoff games and no regular-season games.) Overall, the Braves pulled in $6.0 million per home game, including their playoff schedule, in 2021, up from $5.2 million in 2019, which is interesting when you consider the context of the 2021 season relative to 2019. Relative to 2019, the other line items don’t show too much of a change.

At year’s end 2021, the Braves continue to carry $700 million in debt (up by about $30 million from year’s end 2020) on their books.

Stay tuned for the actual release of their annual filing, which should be a bit more interesting (but probably not too much more).

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