Business of Baseball Report

D.C. Council Approves Nationals Stadium Lease In Late-Night Session

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. A week ago Tuesday, I was a little floored that things ended so abruptly at the Washington, D.C. city council meeting. The stadium lease agreement was shot down, and the meeting went off the air at 9 p.m. Being naïve, I finished up last week’s column and went to bed when I should have known better. Nothing is that easy when it comes to D.C politics. In case you weren’t aware, later that night (or actually very early the next morning), the council finally came to an agreement and passed a stadium lease.

End of story? I’m not falling for that one again. MLB Chief Executive Officer Bob DuPuy didn’t waste much time issuing a statement that the lease was a concern because it deviates quite a bit from the original agreement that the district and MLB made way back in 2004. While he didn’t use the word “arbitration,” that’s the league’s hammer. Last week, things ended with the league wanting a buy-off from D.C. Chief Financial Officer Natwar Gandhi and from D.C.’s attorney general’s office.

On Monday, Gandhi put his seal of approval on the lease, and now the ball is in MLB’s court. They were supposed to come to some kind of a decision on Monday, but that deadline, like so many others in the past, have come and gone.

Jury Decides in Favor of Angels

After nearly a year of legal wranglings, the city of Anaheim lost its court case in an Orange County Superior Court. Not only can the Angels use their current name, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, but the jury didn’t award the city a single dime in damages. On top of that, the city could be forced to pay for the Angels’ legal costs, which could run as high as $7 million.

The Anaheim city council will have met yesterday evening to decide whether or not to appeal the decision. Several council members have stated that an appeal is unlikely, but the city is trying one more time to urge Orange County Superior Court Judge Peter Polos to force the Angels to change their name back to the Anaheim Angels despite their loss in court. Polos is set to make his decision on March 2, and I find it highly unlikely that he’ll reverse not only a past decision he’s made, but also the decision that the jury handed down.

In other Angels news, the team is reportedly close to signing a huge 10-year television deal with Fox Sports Network (FSN). Fans will benefit because the network would show almost 150 games during the season, and of course the Angels won’t mind the estimated $500 million that will be running into the team’s coffers. Last October, the Angels turned down a 10-year $340 million deal with FSN, so holding out was a prudent move.

Marlins Given Permission to Explore Relocation to Norfolk

This is one of those stories where conspiracy theories started filling my head after reading. The Florida Marlins are looking for a new home, preferably one that’s paid for. Norfolk, Virginia was one of the final contestants in the Montreal Expos lottery; however they came in second to Washington, D.C. With Norfolk’s proximity to D.C., Norfolk has been pretty much ruled out of any consideration for a major league team.

Now MLB has given the Marlins permission to talk to Norfolk about moving the team there. It’s very unlikely that a team will be allowed to move just across the river from the Nationals. Peter Angelos would have to be dealt with because yet another team would be planted right in what he feels is his backyard. In addition, there’s no real plan in place for a stadium. So it’s interesting to ponder whether this is MLB’s way of turning the screws on D.C. for the mess they’ve made of the lease.

In other Marlins news, MLB has agreed to take a more active role in the Marlins’ search for a new home once things in D.C. are resolved. Granted we could be waiting for this to happen sometime in 2008, but if anything, MLB and its owners are a pretty patient bunch.

Fenway’s New Look on Schedule

Renovations to historic Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox, are on schedule to be completed when the Toronto Blue Jays come to town for the home opener on April 11. Stadium capacity will increase to 38,805 fans, up from 36,298 last year. The .406 club is basically being split in half. The lower deck, called the EMC Club, will be heated and seats will run for $275 each. The upper half will be called the Home Plate Pavillion. Fenway Park will celebrate its 100th birthday in 2012, and by then capacity is expected to be 39,968.

Union Chief Predicts Smooth Sailing When CBA Expires

Donald Fehr, the head of the Major League Baseball Players Association, recently spoke at a luncheon hosted by Fox Sports Bay Area and said that this year’s labor negotiations should go relatively smoothly, at least when compared to negotiations in the past. Fehr indicated that attendance is setting records year over year, and that competitive balance is no longer an issue with six different franchises winning the last six World Series. He also dismissed the notion that things like contraction and a salary cap will be major issues once the two sides sit down to begin negotiating a new agreement.

Marlins’ Season Ticket Sales Disappointing

I think this is one of those times where only “duh” would be an appropriate response. The Marlins gutted their team this offseason, and when the season starts, payroll is expected to be a miniscule $18 million. Now it’s being reported that the team will be lucky to sell 5,000 season tickets just one season after selling 10,000.

Marlins owner Jeffrey Loria was optimistic though. While he contends the team won’t make money in 2006, he says that odds are the Marlins won’t lose money either. He contends that the Marlins have lost money in each of the seasons since he bought the team in 2003.

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