Fla. minor-league teams could reap major bonanza

April 28, 1991|By Linda Robertson | Linda Robertson,Knight-Ridder News Service

MIAMI -- The Miracle, a quirky minor-league weakling, could be a gold mine for its owners if South Florida is awarded a major-league franchise.

The Miracle's 11 owners may not own a Florida State League Class A winner, but they do own baseball's territorial rights to South Florida, rights that franchise applicant Wayne Huizenga would have to purchase.

"I remember all too clearly when our purchase of the Miracle 14 months ago was met with great hilarity," Miracle president Mike Veeck said. "It was the worst franchise in the country. Now, who knows what it will command?"

If Blockbuster chairman Huizenga is awarded a National League expansion franchise during the major-league owners meeting June 12-13, he can expect to sit down at the negotiating table with the Miracle's owners, who include Veeck, singer Jimmy Buffett, actor Bill Murray, car dealership magnate Alan Potamkin, Miami developer Michael Adler and New York banker Marvin Goldklang, the team's principal owner.

The Miracle, the only one of the 14 teams in the Florida State League not affiliated with a major-league parent, plays at Pompano Beach Municipal Stadium, the site of frequent whimsical diversionary tactics and occasional victories for the home team.

"We're not embarking on any negotiations with the Miracle until we're offered a franchise," said Don Smiley, Huizenga's spokesman. "There's no pressure from them. Nobody is pushing any panic buttons. We know we'll have to meet down the road."

Just what the intangible territorial rights are worth is subject to wild conjecture. Everyone is playing his cards close to the vest. If Huizenga and the Miracle cannot agree on a price, baseball commissioner Fay Vincent would appoint an arbitration panel.

Veeck, the brains behind such wacky Miracle trademarks as Jericho the ball-shagging dog and the barber chair in the bleachers, has heard a figure of more than $10 million. The Miami group led by Morton Davis that applied for a franchise last year budgeted $12 million in its proposal. Smiley said Huizenga also has set aside money, but won't say how much.

In St. Petersburg, South Florida's main rival for a major-league team, franchise applicant Stephen Porter also owns the local minor-league team, the St. Petersburg Cardinals. He is asking the city to pay his ownership group $2 million for territorial rights.

Others estimate the rights to be equal to the value of a Florida State League team, which probably would have a price tag in the $1 million to $2 million range, said Fort Lauderdale Yankees general manager Mark Zettelmeyer. The St. Petersburg Cardinals were bought for $1.5 million last year. The Miracle was bought for closer to $1 million. The league and the Yankees also would receive small cuts from the Miracle.

There are no recent precedents. When the Twins moved to Minneapolis in 1960, they purchased the territorial rights from two minor-league teams in Minneapolis and St. Paul for a total of $800,000.

"That was considered very expensive at the time," Twins spokesman Tom Mee said.

In 1976, when the Mariners moved to Seattle, the owner of the local Class A team was paid $60,000 and the Northwest League was paid $25,000. The Padres relocated a San Diego Class AAA team for about $300,000, former team executive Peter Bavasi said.

"There's been a crazy-quilt pattern of awards," Bavasi said. "They haven't been real substantial in the past. There's no sense of normal inflationary escalation. Some have been less than others made years earlier."

Goldklang said territorial rights are worth more than the value of the team. He said he has invested "in excess" of $1 million in the Miracle. The other 10 members of the ownership group invested "considerably less," he said.

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