SBJ/August 20-26, 2012/Leagues and Governing Bodies

Selig confident Padres’ new owners will deliver

The arrival of the Ron Fowler-led ownership group to run the San Diego Padres, taking the reins from John Moores after 18 years, is being eyed as potential salvation for the franchise’s often-rocky fiscal prospects.

Playing in MLB’s fourth-smallest media market and sandwiched between Los Angeles and Mexico, the Padres have always had an uphill economic climb relative to most other clubs. Moores’ bitter divorce saga, a three-year battle that ended last year and prompted him to put the club up for sale, amplified the pressure.

Signs of club fiscal stress over the past four seasons were easy to see. Payroll shrank, several star players departed, losses mounted and attendance sagged, as did fan optimism.

But with the estimated $800 million deal, including a 21 percent stake in the new Fox Sports San Diego, now complete, league and team executives were bullish on the Padres’ outlook. Fowler is a longtime San Diego businessman who has been deeply involved in local sports and philanthropic activities.

After the vote approving the Padres’ sale, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig (second from left) joined owners group members (from left) Ron Fowler, Peter Seidler and Kevin O’Malley.
Photo by: AP IMAGES
“This group knows what it takes to compete,” said MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. “They’re very optimistic there. I’m optimistic. I’ve gone over their projections, gone over everything. I think their projections are optimistic, but realistic. This is a good day for baseball.”

The Fowler group last week was generally tight-lipped about details on its specific operational plans, preferring to wait until the purchase from Moores closes later this month. But revenue is now on the upswing with the $1.2 billion FS San Diego deal in place. Pro golfer Phil Mickelson, a significant part of the Fowler ownership group, lends credibility and star power. The club also signed contract extensions in the last three weeks or so, after it became apparent that the sale would move forward, with popular players Carlos Quentin, Huston Street and Mark Kotsay, signaling to fans that the frequent fire sales are over.

Also expected is some type of response to a frustrating television situation that has left 42 percent of the San Diego market unable to watch the Padres, since Fox Sports San Diego doesn’t yet have distribution with several major local carriers.

“We want the attention and spotlight to be on a great product on the field,” said Peter Seidler, among the key figures in the Fowler ownership group. “We’re going to be supportive and … run a good organization.”

‘AN OLYMPICS EVERY DAY’: NBC Sports recently broke new ground for live online streaming of the Summer Olympics, distributing more than 3,500 hours of content across 302 events. But MLB Advanced Media executives couldn’t help but notice NBC’s Olympic tonnage remained less than what the company does on a daily basis between live MLB games, live Class AAA minor league games, programming on ESPN3.com, political pundit Glenn Beck’s “GBTV” and the other live streaming events MLBAM hosts.

In all, during the July 27-Aug. 12 period of the London Games, MLBAM streamed 1,309 live events, more than triple NBC’s total, and 4,245 hours of live content. The relative scale of the two camps’ streaming efforts was discussed briefly during MLBAM’s board meeting last week.

“I applaud what NBC did. It was really great, and every big thing like this absolutely helps raise the bar for live streaming overall,” said Bob Bowman, MLBAM chief executive. “But you look at it, and we’re basically doing an Olympics every day in terms of that kind of scale.”

Beyond simple programming heft, MLBAM compared closely to NBC Sports on the traffic and engagement fronts. NBC Sports delivered 159.9 million video streams for its London Olympics online programming; MLBAM in the same period generated 120 million video streams for its MLB games alone, a fairly typical in-season number. That figure does not include any of the non-MLB traffic.

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