Business of Baseball Report

Lerner Group Closes on Nationals and Other News Out of D.C.

MLB’s reign as owner of the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals ended on Monday. An ownership group led by real estate developer Ted Lerner closed on the sale of the Nationals for the agreed upon price of $450 million, and Stan Kasten took over as president of the team. Shortly after the closing, the Nationals announced that they had hired Arizona Diamondbacks vice president of scouting operations Mike Rizzo to be the assistant general manager to Jim Bowden.

In other Nationals news, MLB announced on Friday that Washington, D.C. is in default of its lease agreement with the league because of the city’s failure to meet several deadlines. This held up the closing of the sale to the Lerner group, but D.C. officials tried to spin it by saying the 11 violations were minor. The claim was also made that the league could no longer move the team out of Washington, D.C., so it’s interesting that the hammer has now passed out of the hands of MLB commissioner Bud Selig and into the hands of both the city and the new ownership group.

Finally, on Friday, the Washington Nationals held a grand reopening of RFK for the weekend. Free baseball caps were given out on Friday and t-shirts were passed out on Saturday. In addition, the menu at the stadium was expanded and in-game giveaways of food and drink were expanded so more people would be selected. Attendance at RFK is down to just over 27,000 this season. This is a substantial decrease from last year’s 33,651 average attendance, so the team is doing everything possible to try to put fans in the seats.

Baseball Is Thriving in 2006

Tim Lemke at The Washington Times penned an excellent article last week about the state of the game. Fans are coming to the ballpark in what could once again be record numbers, and the leagues are making money hand over fist from radio, television and internet revenue sources. Probably the most interesting line is where he talks about baseball sources indicating that the Marlins could turn things around if only they were given a new stadium. Lemke also mentions that the big topic in the upcoming Collective Bargaining Agreement will be a possible increase in the revenue-sharing percentage, which is currently 34%.

Harold Reynolds Fired by ESPN

In an unexpected move, Harold Reynolds was fired by ESPN earlier this week. Reynolds served as an analyst on Baseball Tonight for 11 years and when asked for a reason, ESPN vice president Josh Krulewitz refused to comment. There’s not much to say here until we get the facts.

MASN and Comcast Could be Heading to Arbitration

The Federal Communication Commission is giving cable giant Comcast Corp. and the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) until August 4, 2006 to iron out their differences or an arbitrator will step in to bring an end to their dispute. At issue is Comcast’s refusal to provide its viewer with content from MASN because Comcast feels it was shut out of negotiations to air Baltimore Orioles games. The Orioles are owned by Peter Angelos and MASN is owned by Peter Angelos. So Comcast is sticking it to Nationals fans in order to get back at the Orioles’ owner.

The problem is that the arbitration process is slow, and this might not even get resolved this year. There’s also an opportunity of an appeal, so this could drag out for a very long time. Comcast claims that MASN is overcharging for its content and that’s the reason they’re carrying the network. In the meantime, millions of Washington, D.C. residents can’t watch their home team on television. It’ll be interesting to see what goes down next week.

Bonds Isn’t Indicted by Grand Jury

Once again, you can’t believe everything you read or hear. It sounded like a flat-out fact that Barry Bonds was going to be busted for perjury and tax evasion last week, and while the grand jury extended the time for their investigation, no charges have been handed down. Now, in the ongoing saga, Barry Bonds’ attorney is asking authorities to investigate some leaks that occurred with regard to the grand jury investigation. Just like anything with baseball, I don’t see this resolving itself for quite some time.

Yankees Clear Final Hurdles for New Stadium

Last week, the Yankees finally got the approvals they needed to move forward with the construction of their new ballpark. Construction is supposed to begin by the end of the summer, and the stadium is scheduled to open in 2009. All that was needed was Internal Revenue Service approval for the financing plan and the National Park Service’s approval so the team could pave over some parks. The Yankees will be paying for most of the construction with $920 million in tax-exempt bonds which will be sold in the upcoming weeks.

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