Signaling for the first time publicly that he might be persuaded to drop his opposition to a team in Washington, Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos said yesterday that he could go along if a deal were struck to protect his franchise and, in turn, the state's investment in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"If those two goals can be accomplished, and I feel the franchise would be secure and the revenue stream is protected and the asset value is secure, it might be possible to make a deal," Angelos said in a telephone interview with The Sun.
Major League Baseball President and Chief Operating Officer Bob DuPuy, the point man for the effort to find a new home for the Montreal Expos, will return to Baltimore today to meet with Angelos, according to two sources familiar with his plans, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
DuPuy met for several hours with Angelos in his downtown law office Friday, but no progress was reported.
Negotiations between Major League Baseball and officials in the District of Columbia to move the Expos to a $400 million stadium proposed for the Anacostia waterfront in southeast Washington are nearing an end. A deal appears imminent.
The Expos, facing declining attendance and distressed finances, were bought by the other 29 major league clubs in 2002 with the intention of steadying the franchise - with a move to a new home if necessary - and finding a new owner.
Locations vying for the Expos included Northern Virginia; Norfolk, Va.; Las Vegas; Portland, Ore.; Monterrey, Mexico; and San Juan, Puerto Rico.
But in recent weeks, the focus has shifted to Washington, the nation's biggest city without its own team.
"I still stand by my original position, that there should not be a team in Washington," Angelos said.
However, he said he would consider an arrangement between Major League Baseball and the Orioles that meets two standards: "Does the deal protect the value of the franchise? Does it protect the state and the taxpayers' investment in Camden Yards?"
DuPuy, through a spokesman, declined to comment yesterday.
Advocates of returning baseball to D.C. say the Orioles, under their franchise agreement and the rules of Major League Baseball, might be able to keep an American League competitor out of Washington but not a National League franchise such as the Expos.
Nevertheless, the Orioles have been prepared for some time to mount a legal challenge to moving the Expos 44 miles away.
Among the issues that could be raised are whether Angelos has been given assurances by baseball's leaders that he would not face competition inside the Washington-Baltimore market. The state of Maryland, too, could make a claim that the security of the debt it issued to construct Oriole Park could be put at risk.
Softening the blow
Sources familiar with baseball's deliberations say the sport's executives have discussed several ways to soften the blow for the Orioles, including a cash payment and a mechanism for guaranteeing the Orioles' future resale value.
There has been talk of creating a regional television network, to be controlled by the Orioles, that would continue to televise Orioles games to fans in Washington and Virginia - but not Washington's games in Baltimore.
"As far as my personal interests are concerned, as far as paying me $100 million or $150 million, all that would do is take care of Peter Angelos. That's not what it is about," Angelos said.
John Moag, chairman of Moag & Co., a Baltimore-based investment banking firm with a specialty in sports, said the talks between Angelos and baseball are a recognition of the impact a Washington franchise might have.
"I think this is an acknowledgement by Major League Baseball that there is some impact on the Orioles," he said. At the same time, he said, "I think Mr. Angelos sees that Major League Baseball is serious about Washington."
Reaching an accommodation that would avoid time-consuming litigation is no sure thing, Moag said. For one thing, the other team owners will be reluctant to agree to anything that diminishes the price they can charge for the Expos.
"You have to start with the premise that baseball already has $170 million into the Expos, in the purchase price and operating losses. They want to recover that," Moag said. "I don't think it's in baseball's best interest to put encumbrances on the Expos."
Boosting the value of the Expos would be a lucrative deal that baseball has struck with the Washington Sports & Entertainment Commission.
According to sources familiar with the plan, the city has agreed to finance and build the stadium and let the team keep all the revenue from tickets, the rights to sell the stadium name to a corporate sponsor, concessions and game-day parking on 1,100 spots.
The team would cover the operating cost of the stadium and pay rent based on an escalating scale, which begins at $3.5 million and will average $5.5 million over a 30-year term.