If Orioles' for sale sign is still out, only Jacobs can see it

August 02, 1991|By Jon Morgan | Jon Morgan,Evening Sun Staff

It's been nearly two months since Eli Jacobs announced that he was considering selling the Orioles Inc. and many fans are asking the obvious question: Is the team still for sale?

They won't get any satisfaction by contacting the publicity-shy businessman's New York offices. He refers the calls to a public relations firm where a spokesman declines all comment.

"He just didn't want to address it," said the spokesman.

Even state officials aren't sure of the status of Baltimore's major-league baseball team, for which the state is building a $200 million stadium.

"No one knows if he is going to sell the team but him," said Gov. William Donald Schaefer. "He hasn't made up his mind yet, that's my analysis."

Businessman and former Baltimorean Boogie Weinglass made a splash in June when he said he and filmmaker Barry Levinson were interested in the team. Now neither of them will comment, and other sources say city fathers have made it clear they would rather see investors helping to lure a National Football League team to town.

According to this logic, the Orioles' lease with the Maryland Stadium Authority requires the team to stay for 15 years regardless of who owns the team.

Weinglass is said to be exploring a football bid as well, according to one source familiar with the effort.

Jacobs revealed on June 6 that he had received some inquiries by potential buyers and had hired an investment banker to explore selling

the team. He didn't say he would definitely sell, but he said he was weary of the demands of owning the team.

Local investors who have contacted the investment banker say they are being quoted prices of up to $180 million for the team. Jacobs paid $70 million for it three years ago.

The investment bankers are explaining the price this way: Professional baseball is charging a $95 million franchise fee for the two new expansion teams. Other start-up costs, lining up players and a stadium, are expected to cost about $40 million. And Baltimore's new stadium and proven fan support should add another $50 million in value on top of that.

"When local people hear something like that they stop the conversation," said one source active in professional sports in Baltimore.

Edwin Hale, local transportation executive and owner of the Baltimore Blast, said, "When you take a look at the economics of it, it's a tough deal to make sense."

But fans should not read too much into the lack of news on the Orioles' status, said Gene McHale, former president of the New York Yankees and now head of the sports marketing and consulting group, American Sports Associates.

"It is not unusual. It can take a long time," said McHale, who has performed consulting work for the Stadium Authority. Both buyers and sellers need time to work through complicated financial projections and negotiations, he said.

"I think most serious buyers don't want to have it known. People in that bracket do things quietly," McHale said.

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