SBD/May 17, 2011/Franchises

Crane Outlines Plans For Astros After Agreeing To $680M Deal For Team

The $680M McLane (l) is getting for Astros is second largest amount for MLB team
Astros Owner Drayton McLane yesterday announced the $680M sale of the franchise to Houston businessman Jim Crane, according to Steve Campbell of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. The deal is "subject to approval from Major League Baseball owners, who likely will take 30-60 days to review it." Due to that timeline, Crane "won't be officially in charge of the franchise" for the June 6-8 MLB First-Year Player Draft, but McLane "has offered to let Crane sit in on the draft meetings and discussions." Crane, who would "become the fifth owner in the history" of the Astros, purchased the team "after unsuccessful attempts to purchase the Astros, Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers in the past three years." He confirmed that former Rockets President George Postolos will serve as Astros CEO and "handle day-to-day operations." Crane said, "Our team will work hard to deliver a superior product and a great experience for the fans. I believe in running a first-class franchise, and everything we do will be built around building a championship team." However, Campbell notes there "will not be any New York Yankees-style spending sprees or attempts at quick fixes." Crane: "There's only a certain amount of money you can spend. I can guarantee the partners in this room will not be happy writing checks every year. We will spend every dollar wisely. We will appreciate every dollar spent here" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).

SECOND PRICIEST DEAL: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes the $680M price tag "trails only the $845 million purchase of the Chicago Cubs by the Ricketts family two years ago." The Red Sox were sold for $660M in '02. McLane purchased the Astros in '92 for about $117M. Crane is "probably paying more for the Astros than he would have in 2008 because McLane, the Houston Rockets and Comcast last year created" Comcast SportsNet Houston. The sale "has to be approved by three-quarters of baseball's owners." If approved, Crane would be a "rare team owner who actually played the game." He pitched for the Univ. of Central Missouri (N.Y. TIMES, 5/17). MLB.com's Brian McTaggart reported Crane "will take over as majority owner, and it won't be known until the deal is complete exactly how much stake he'll have in the club." He has a "sizable group of investors, which includes 8-10 principal investors who were on hand at the news conference." Crane's group "will take ownership of the Astros' stake" in CSN Houston, which will "begin airing Astros games in 2013 and Rockets games beginning with the '12 preseason" (MLB.com, 5/16).

READY TO TAKE CHARGE: In Houston, Jerome Solomon writes Crane yesterday "wasn't flustered being the center of attention, though he emphasized he will not be an out-front owner." Solomon: "He plans to hire good people and hold them accountable for doing the job" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17). Crane's wife, Franci, said that she believes Jim "will be less visible than McLane but is prepared ... to face scrutiny from talk radio and the blogosphere." She said, "You have to get your big-boy pants on. He's ready for that. He keeps his eyes on the big picture, and Houston should be glad that he won't be thin-skinned about things." Franci Crane added that the family "will not be consumed by baseball in the same manner McLane said he and his family were affected" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).

FRONT-OFFICE CHANGES: The HOUSTON CHRONICLE's Campbell notes Postolos' "accomplishments include seeing the Rockets through an arena referendum and a move to Toyota Center," as well as handling the "delicate negotiations that brought Yao Ming from China." He "left the Rockets in 2006 to form a company that helps groups buy sports franchises," and he "made runs at buying the Bobcats and Pistons before joining forces with Crane." NBA Commissioner David Stern said, "He is a work horse. He will do whatever it takes to get a particular project done -- day, night, every day, it doesn't matter. He has a goal, he sticks to it, he gets it done." Crane: "You always hire somebody as good or better than you are. I think George will do a good job of managing the day-to-day operations once he's able to sort out who he's got on the staff." Campbell notes the "impending arrival of a new regime casts doubt on the future of the current management team" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17). FS HOUSTON's MK Bower noted there is speculation that Crane "will reorganize the Astros' baseball operations currently led by president Tal Smith and general manager Ed Wade." Crane: "We'll hire the best people we can find to run the business, and moving forward we'll make those decisions and go along" (FOXSPORTSHOUSTON.com, 5/16).

PLAYING IT STRAIGHT
: In Houston, Richard Justice writes if fans were "expecting a song and dance" at Crane's press conference, they were "likely to be disappointed." Crane "spoke of building an organization by hiring competent people and holding them 'very accountable.'" He also "talked of building through the draft and spending money wisely." Justice: "In the end, it was impossible not to be excited about the new owner of the Astros. He'll bring fresh vision, different leadership and a completely new way of seeing the world" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).

MCLANE REFLECTS: MLB.com's McTaggart noted during McLane's tenure as owner, the Astros "made the playoffs six times in a nine-year span, including the team's first and only World Series berth in 2005." They had the "fourth-best record in the National League during his time as the owner." But "perhaps McLane's most-significant accomplishment as owner was the construction of Minute Maid Park, which opened in 2000 in downtown Houston and ushered in a new era of baseball" in the city. McLane "spoke fondly Monday about his tenure." McLane: "I'd like to say what a privilege it has been to be involved with the Houston Astros. We talk every day about being a champion, and these 18 1/2 years have been rewarding for me personally, for our family" (MLB.com, 5/16). McLane said that he now "will devote more time to family and other business interests." McLane: "I've got five grandsons under the age of 7, and I'll spend more time with them. And I still have eight to 10 businesses across the globe that I've been neglecting. And I want to get more involved in charitable projects through Texas" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 5/17).
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