Angelos denies O's are for sale

Possible D.C. team helps fuel rumors of sale, N.Y. buyer

April 06, 2002|By Joe Christensen | Joe Christensen,SUN STAFF

In a recent study of baseball's economics, Forbes magazine estimated the value of the Orioles' franchise at $319 million, nearly double the amount the group led by Peter Angelos paid for the team in a bankruptcy auction less than nine years ago.

Now, with Major League Baseball considering a move to the Washington area, speculation has surfaced that Angelos might decide to sell the Orioles if the right offer comes along.

This week, a rumor spread through Camden Yards that a New York buyer had come forward with interest in the Orioles, but Angelos denied that possibility yesterday from his Baltimore law offices.

"No," Angelos said. "There isn't such a buyer."

Angelos said the Orioles were not for sale and declined further comment, but baseball sources said potential buyers have made inquiries about his team's availability.

If Angelos were to sell the Orioles, his track record suggests he would hold out for a local buyer. Industry analysts have suggested Angelos, a Baltimore native, originally overpaid for the franchise by up to $40 million to ensure the club would have local ownership.

Since buying the club for $173 million in August 1993, Angelos has seen it advance to the American League Championship Series twice before slumping through a franchise-record stretch of four consecutive losing seasons.

The Orioles have trimmed their payroll from $84 million two years ago to about $60 million this year, with only about $41 million of that going to players currently on the 25-man roster.

Some suggest now might be the optimal time to sell. By all accounts, if baseball relocated a franchise to Washington, it would devalue the Orioles' franchise, cutting into their revenues from broadcast rights and ticket sales.

In an interview last month, Angelos said both his team and the new team in Washington would suffer if such a relocation took place.

"The simple economics of baseball say that to put two major-league franchises so close together would detract from each other very substantially," Angelos said, "and make both of them incapable of generating the revenues necessary to provide competitive teams for their fans."

Baseball recently went through a string of ownership changes. Former Florida Marlins owner John Henry recently spent $660 million to buy the Boston Red Sox, who began a three-game series with the Orioles last night at Camden Yards.

Former Montreal Expos owner Jeffrey Loria bought the Marlins for $158.5 million after getting $120 million to sell the Expos to Major League Baseball to be run by the commissioner's office.

The Expos are believed to be the leading candidates to move to Washington after this season, although Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig has threatened to contract that and one other franchise.

Other changes could be on the horizon. Alabama businessman Donald Watkins reportedly has two offers on the table to buy teams, including $250 million for the Anaheim Angels and between $125 million and $150 million for the Minnesota Twins.

Angelos has the same complaints as other owners, who say the players' salaries have escalated beyond control, making owning a team a losing proposition.

Selig went before Congress in November, claiming the industry suffered $232 million in operating losses, though the Major League Baseball Players Association disputes those claims.

The Forbes magazine study, which has been disputed by the commissioner's office, also said the Orioles were one of only five teams in baseball that lost value in the past year.

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