Fan interest drives Phillies' signings

Fan interest drives Phillies' signings

The Phillies picked a fine time to win the World Series.

OK, there isn't a bad time to win a Fall Classic, but winning one in 2008 seemed especially fortuitous.

The country is in one of its longest recessions since the Great Depression, and the unemployment rate is at a 25-year high. That means people have less money to spend, even at the ballpark. That reality has hit some Major League teams -- USA Today reports 14 of 30 teams have reduced payroll from 2008 -- but the Phillies find themselves relatively insulated from the troubled economy.

"The interest this offseason has been very, very strong, and there's no question that has enabled us to perhaps be more aggressive than we might have been otherwise," club president David Montgomery said in an interview in February.

Philadelphia opened the 2009 season on Sunday night with a franchise-record $132.3 million payroll, a 25 percent increase from '08.

Had the Phillies not won the World Series, they likely would not have seen an 18.6 percent increase in season-ticket sales from 20,400 in 2008 to 24,200 in '09. They also likely would not have seen increases in sponsorship revenue and merchandise sales.

And had the Phils not seen increases in those areas, they likely would have tackled their offseason much differently.

"We probably wouldn't be sitting here saying we know we have sold nearly 24,000 season tickets," Montgomery said. "It would probably be a number similar to last year, maybe not even as strong, so we would have definitely been doing the offseason differently. I don't know if it would have manifested itself in multi-year deals or whether it would have manifested itself in not being able to add a player like [Raul] Ibanez.

"It's tough for me to be able to say specifically what would have been different, but the answer is, yes, it absolutely would have been different. We are where we are because of the team's success and the resulting fan support."

Philadelphia signed Ibanez to a three-year, $31.5 million contract to replace Pat Burrell in left field. The Phils signed Ryan Howard to a three-year, $54 million extension and Cole Hamels to a three-year, $30.5 million extension. They also signed Jayson Werth, Ryan Madson and Greg Dobbs to extensions.

Maybe the Phillies would've signed only Howard to an extension if they hadn't won the World Series.

Or maybe they would've only signed Hamels.

But Philadelphia will need to keep winning to maintain that support and payroll. If season-ticket sales shrink in 2010, '11 or beyond, the club might have tough decisions to make. For the moment, the Phillies have a talented core of players signed for the next few seasons.

Howard, Brad Lidge, Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Jamie Moyer, Hamels, J.C. Romero, Werth, Madson, Dobbs and Ibanez are signed for next season at $95.5 million. Philadelphia has four players (Howard, Lidge, Utley and Ibanez) signed for 2011 at $58 million. That number would jump to $66.5 million if the Phillies pick up Rollins' 2011 club option.

Potentially $66.5 million committed to just five players in 2011 means Philadelphia must continue to develop young talent as well.

Players like Carlos Carrasco, Jason Donald, Lou Marson and others must start contributing at some point.

"We better start developing some zero-to-three [years of service time] guys, because the last thing you want to do is be so dependent on your group that you can't augment it," Montgomery said. "Hopefully, we've done that well. And hopefully, we'll get some of the guys currently in the Minors to join us shortly."

But right now, the Phillies are enjoying the fruits of their World Series championship.

MLB senior vice president of licensing Howard Smith said Phils merchandise sales following the World Series were the highest besides Boston's championship teams.

"Things really haven't slowed down, either," Smith said.

Phillies director of merchandising Scott Brandreth said sales in November and December at the team's store at Citizens Bank Park jumped 287 percent from the same time in 2007.

Sales on Opening Night on Sunday were up 18 percent at the clubhouse store from Opening Day a year ago.

"I would have loved to have seen those numbers in a normal economy," Smith said about merchandise sales in the months following the World Series. "But they're still great. Business was strong following the postseason. The rest of the world really went to sleep a little bit, the Phillies were over the top."

The Phillies hope it continues as long as possible.

Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.