Business of Baseball Report

D.C. Soap Opera Continues

Things finally appeared to be coming to a head. MLB and the Washington, D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission had agreed upon a lease, Mayor Anthony Williams registered it, and the debate was set for yesterday. Even I was naïve enough to think that everything would be settled in time for today’s report. But one thing I’ve learned is that when it comes to politics and MLB, it’s never, ever this easy.

Williams threw everyone a curveball by requesting that the D.C. Council delay the vote on the stadium lease. The official excuse was that city officials weren’t quite done making changes to the lease; however most speculate that the council didn’t have the votes to push the lease forward. In the process, they’ve annoyed MLB (is that a good thing?), and MLB President Bob Dupuy has threatened to send the lease to an arbitrator. The city had a contractual commitment to approve the lease by December 31, 2005, and now it appears it won’t be considered until after the holiday recess. January 3, 2006 is now the earliest that a vote can take place.

And of course this doesn’t resolve the other problem. D.C. Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi made it official by reporting that the final cost of the prospective stadium could increase to as much as $714 million. As it stands, Washington, D.C. is on the hook for any cost overruns. While they did get MLB to buy into a $20 million clause in the yet-to-be-finalized lease that would be used to offset any overruns, it appears that this won’t go very far because they could far exceed $100 million.

Time Warner Looking to Sell Atlanta Braves

Time Warner announced last week that it’s looking to sell the Atlanta Braves and the Braves regional sports network, Turner South. Scott Leith wrote a great column in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, in which he speculates that Turner South was the primary reason that the media giant is looking to unload the team. Leith also speculates that another media company, such as Comcast or News Corp., might be interested in purchasing the team, but it’s also possible the two could be sold separately.

Tropicana Field’s New Look

The Tampa Bay Devil Rays are dropping nearly $10 million into their stadium as they look to make the game more enjoyable for their fans. They’re adding a fresh coat of paint to the exterior, and they’re also improving the rest rooms. In addition, they’re going to overhaul their premium Kane’s Club, and painted cinder block walls will be covered with drywall.

Cuba World Baseball Classic Appearance Still in Jeopardy

Peter Angelos, who convinced former President Bill Clinton to allow the Cuban national team to play the Orioles twice in 1999, has joined the fight to try to help Cuba get into the World Baseball Classic (WBC). Last week, the United States Treasury Department told MLB that Cuba could not play in the WBC because the U.S. embargo with Cuba prohibits entering into contracts in which Cuba or Cuban nationals have an interest. It appears MLB is set to reapply for a license with the Office of Foreign Assets Control while making adjustments to their requests so it meets the requirements laid out in the sanction. If Cuba is out of the tournament, Nicaragua or Colombia would be the likely replacement

Boston Red Sox’s Two-Headed Front Office

The Boston Red Sox named Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington as co-general managers last week. Both worked under former GM Theo Epstein, who appears to be set to make a return to the Red Sox in an advisory role. The team’s CEO Larry Lucchino, along with Hoyer and Cherington, have all been in touch with Epstein, although it’s still unclear as to what capacity he’ll have with the Red Sox.

Hoyer started his career with the Red Sox as an intern in 2002, and Cherington, who hired Hoyer, has worked for the team since 1999. Both have been part of a GM-by-committee setup that the Red Sox have been using since Epstein’s departure. Former Tigers GM Bill Lajoie and Craig Shipley, who both worked in the Red Sox front office, were also part of the team.

MLB Earns an A-

Fitch Ratings affirmed MLB’s “A-” rating assigned to its $1.3 billion securitization facility, which consists of a $907 million variable funding note in addition to a $483 million term note. The debt is secured by MLB’s rights to receive certain payments that are shared by the MLB clubs. Interestingly, the National Football League’s (NFL) has an “A+” rating, and the reason MLB’s is lower is because the rating agency believes the NFL has a stronger economic model.

2004 World Series Ball Goes to Arbitration

In my last report (yes, it’s been two weeks), I noted that the Red Sox filed a lawsuit over possession of the ball Doug Mientkiewicz claimed as his own when he made the final out in the 2004 World Series. The Red Sox have since agreed to dismiss the suit, allowing the commissioner’s office to bail them out. MLB has filed a grievance with the player’s association and unless the case is settled, the case will be heard by an arbitrator.

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