Owners make no move on Mariners Seattle tries to bridge large financial gap

September 13, 1991|By Mark Hyman

A quarterly meeting of major-league owners ended quietly yesterday in Baltimore with no big news but a few intriguing items.

During two days of meetings, the owners approved a slight revision in their network television contract and discussed deadlines for two National League expansion teams to pay their $95 million entry fees.

The issue that seemingly had aroused the most interest before the meetings, though, barely was broached. The owners heard briefly from Seattle Mariners chairman Jeff Smulyan, but weren't asked to make any decisions about the financially strapped franchise.

Mariners officials are negotiating with civic and corporate leaders on a financial package to ensure the team's future in Seattle. One proposed arrangement would guarantee the team 90 percent of 1992 revenue of the average American League team. The two sides have set a Nov. 1 deadline for an agreement.

After updating team owners yesterday, Smulyan said he was confident they understood the seriousness of the team's financial bind.

"I think they recognize that we have to bridge the gap between where we are and where the rest of the American League is," Smulyan said.

The Mariners' revenues have fallen short of those of many American League teams, in large part, because the team plays in one of the smallest markets. That has put the club at sharp disadvantage when negotiating some broadcast contracts. For instance, the Mariners have no cable television contract. At the other end of the spectrum, the New York Yankees earn about $43 million a year from their cable deal.

Despite that, Smulyan said: "There's no reason it shouldn't work [in Seattle]. We keep falling further and further behind. We've not found a way to generate revenue. But we want to work this out."

That also is Fay Vincent's strong preference. At a news conference at the conclusion of the meetings, the commissioner repeated his long-standing policy of objecting to franchise moves except in situations in which attendance and other factors suggest the team isn't wanted.

"I am not an advocate of easy transfers of franchises," Vincent said yesterday. "I do not think that is a sound policy for baseball. I am generally willing to consider transfers only in the direst of circumstances, where the alternative is not attractive. Can I say a franchise will never move? No, I can't say that. I can never say never."

Vincent also outlined a change in baseball's agreement with CBS. The network always has had the rights to televise games on the last two days of the season, but, during the meeting, the owners agreed to give the network an exclusive right, meaning local television stations must give up those games.

The owners did not decide on any changes, but contemplated a few in the June amateur draft. Vincent said that baseball is exploring ways that high school and college players might be able to preserve their amateur status temporarily after signing pro contracts.

Vincent said the ownership committee reported no developments in the possible sales of the Baltimore Orioles and the Houston Astros.

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