SBJ/20100816/This Week's News

Rapid turnover atop teams brings in younger MLB owners

With the Chuck Greenberg-led purchase of the Texas Rangers approved last week, MLB continues its active pace of franchise turnover and executive control change.

The arrival of Greenberg, leading a group called Rangers Baseball Express that includes team President Nolan Ryan, marked the 10th MLB franchise sale since the beginning of 2005. In addition, the lead control executives for five other franchises have changed in the same period, with a sixth expected to arrive later this year once Cleveland Indians President Paul Dolan takes over for his father, Larry.

That means half the league will have seen a primary leadership change in barely more than half a decade, a run that comes right after eight more franchise sales between 2002 and 2004.

“There’s unquestionably been quite a lot of turnover,” said the Houston Astros’ Drayton McLane, who himself has periodically entertained offers for the team during his 18 years as owner. “But fortunately, what I’m seeing now is a lot more well-financed individuals coming in that are really solid [and] well-backed, and that’s going to be a big benefit to the game going forward.”

The turnover is also rapidly making the fraternity of team owners significantly younger. The forthcoming Dolan transition mirrors recent moves in New York, Minnesota and Toronto, in which Hal Steinbrenner, Jim Pohlad and Edward Rogers, respectively, took over for their now-deceased fathers. Chicago Cubs owner Tom Ricketts is 44 years old, and Greenberg at 48 is 15 years younger than outgoing Rangers owner Tom Hicks.

The other common denominator is a significant loyalty to MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. There has not been a franchise transfer since he became fully fledged commissioner in 1998 in which the club sale did not yield a preferred party of his as the victor.

“The profile of the group has definitely changed in recent years,” said Derrick Hall, Arizona Diamondbacks president and chief executive officer. “There’s a ton of energy in the group, and I think a lot of common commitment to making this sport better.”

In-market pace slows: The San Diego Padres, one of two MLB teams to date that have pursued live online in-market streaming of their games, announced last week it would make four games available for free later this year, the first two coming this week against the Cubs in Chicago. The club and MLB Advanced Media, manager of baseball’s interactive rights, said the move was not a signal that in-market streaming in baseball is a failed proposition, despite the fact that the quick succession of teams following the Padres and New York Yankees predicted by several league executives has yet to occur.

The Padres, one of only two MLB teams on board with
live online in-market streaming of games, will offer four
games for free this season.

“These were games that Cox was not scheduled to show locally on TV, so it was simply about making them available a different way to our fans,” said Tom Garfinkel, Padres president and chief operating officer.

Bob Bowman, MLBAM president and chief executive, said the move will also help expose fans to the in-market product, similar to how MLBAM offers free previews on its other subscription video products.

“Sampling continues to be important, and to the extent that happens here, that’s certainly a good thing,” Bowman said. “We still need to get a critical mass of teams involved, and we’ll likely be in a better position on this in 2011.”

Target Field fete: The owners and general managers gathered last Wednesday night at Target Field for their typical owners meeting dinner party, giving many of the executives their first opportunity to see the much-celebrated outdoor ballpark that opened in April in downtown Minneapolis. Even veteran owners and executives who have traveled extensively around the league raved the following day about the stadium’s sight lines, intimacy, integration into the downtown landscape and success overcoming numerous engineering obstacles given the locale’s extremely tight footprint.

“It’s an absolutely fabulous setting,” Selig said. “Just a sensational ballpark, and we really enjoyed ourselves.”

The gathering included remembrances for Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who died last month, as well as the late Twins owner Carl Pohlad, who fought for years for a new facility to replace the Metrodome but did not survive to see the opening of Target Field.

The Twins were not in town during the meetings, preventing the owners from taking in a game as well. But team President Dave St. Peter said that was actually preferable; not having to navigate groups around a packed facility made it easier to accommodate the many requests for ballpark tours from the visiting executives.

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