FOR SALE: AAA-baseball franchise. Get access to all minor league and regular-season major league games. Get up close and personal with the players. Sit in the owner's box at major league affiliate, without paying major league prices. No labor disputes. Many other perks.
The logic of that imaginary ad is drawing quite a few real buyers who want to live the dream of sports team ownership without a monster price tag or the headaches of prima donna players. Among the takers are comedian Bill Murray, movie magnate Peter Guber and the former CEOs of Cap Cities/ABC and Kmart. What they signed up for are professional baseball teams at much cheaper prices than major league franchises ($650,000 for rookie clubs to about $15 million for top Triple-A teams) in a market that has doubled in size since 1985.
Club prices have far exceeded the increase in revenue stream over the years and most owners make their money through resale. But even if your team just pays for itself, nonfiscal rewards can be enviable: access to players, seats in the owner's box at the stadium of the parent team, tickets to major league playoff and World Series games, the chance to develop the stars of tomorrow without the hassles. Parent clubs pay the players and deal with salary negotiations. When the big leagues go on strike, fans are driven to your stadium. When things go bad, you can commiserate with fellow owners/retired stars Nolan Ryan (Round Rock Express) and Cal Ripken Jr. (Utica Blue Sox).
Minor league clubs go on the block more often, too. At press time, the Tacoma Rainiers, the Seattle Mariners' Triple-A team, were up for grabs. Potential team sales are often advertised in baseball publications, and you contact Minor League Baseball to inquire as well. Buyers may be subject to a background check and financial disclosure, and the sale has to be approved by the club's league office and the office of Major League Baseball.
"The major cost that we deal with at the Triple-A level is airline travel, and the investment is nowhere near the cost of a Major League franchise," says Tacoma owner George Foster (the chicken magnate, not the former major league outfielder). Now, if you can just sign the next Babe Ruth…
Visit www.minorleaguebaseball.com. For more on the Tacoma Rainiers, visit GZavoral@RS-E.com.