It’s October, 2015. You’re at the Roger’s Centre, watching the Toronto Blue Jays play the Texas Rangers in game five of the American League Division series. The game is tied 3-3 after a wild and tense seventh inning. Jose Bautista is up to bat with two runners on base. Bautista hits a no-doubter home run and you hear a crowd cheer louder than you’ve ever heard before; 50,000 people collectively experiencing the joy that is the whole reason anyone watches sports in the first place. You think to yourself, “Wouldn’t it be great to own a baseball team?”
So what do you have to consider?
The value of baseball teams has risen drastically in the last twenty years. In 2004, Frank McCourt acquired the Los Angeles Dodgers for $430 million. Eight years later, he sold the team for $2 billion. In 2002, Jeffrey Loria acquired the Florida (now Miami) Marlins for $158.5 million. This summer he will reportedly sell the team for as much as $1.6 billion, ten times as much as he paid for it.
However, before even considering the costs, there is the fact that there are only thirty Major League Baseball. At any given time, the supply of MLB teams available for purchase is very small. Furthermore, even if you outbid other potential investors, you must comply with the MLB rules and regulations for ownership and the sale must be approved by the league. There is no guarantee that being the highest bidder means acquiring the team.
So, maybe after finding that there are no MLB teams available, you decide instead to look for a minor league team. That’s what Vancouverites Jake Kerr and Jeff Mooney did in 2007, when they purchased the Vancouver Canadians for only $7 million.
At the time, the Canadians were not affiliated with any MLB team and were a money-losing franchise. On top of that, the stadium they played in, Nat Bailey Stadium, owned by the city, was in a state of disrepair. The stadium a team plays in is a major consideration when acquiring a baseball team. Is the stadium leased or does the previous owner own the stadium as well? Is the stadium in good shape or will it need significant repairs? Many owners, like Loria, or the Liberty Media Corporation, owners of the Atlanta Braves, negotiate deals with their home cities for funding of new stadiums (the prudence of such deals for cities is a whole other topic).
Kerr and Mooney themselves negotiated a 25-year lease for Nat Bailey Stadium with an agreement that they would invest $2.5 million in repairs and that the city would match it. In 2010, the Canadians became an affiliate of the Toronto Blue Jays, and won their league championship each of the next three years, setting team records for attendance in the process.
So you want to buy a baseball team. First you need to find one that’s available. If it’s an MLB team, the cost might exceed a billion dollars. Then you need to consider the state of the stadium or whether you’ll be able to fund a brand new stadium. You’ll also have to consider the state of the league’s collective agreement. While MLB has not had a strike since 1994, the players are unionized and any time the collective agreement is coming up for renewal, you have to keep in mind the possible consequences of a strike. You have to keep in mind the league’s rules and regulations, the state of the team’s attendance, and any deals for the team’s media rights. You also have to think about the state of the team’s brand and goodwill. It’s one thing to buy the New York Yankees. It’s another to buy the Tampa Bay Rays, who consistently place last in attendance in MLB.
Once you’ve got through all that and close the deal, you’ve only got one thing left to worry about. Winning.
The author would like to thank Kevin Schoenfeldt, Summer Student, for his assistance in preparing this legal update.
Stay informed on M&A developments and subscribe to our blog today.