O's, MLB take aim at common goal: Get D.C. deal done

Stringing out process of relocating Expos won't do either side any good


October 08, 2004|By Ed Waldman | Ed Waldman,SUN STAFF

As negotiations continued yesterday over the financial cushion that Major League Baseball will give the Orioles to protect them from a team in Washington, at least the experts agreed on one thing:

Neither side gains an advantage from stringing out the process.

"The longer this goes, the more harmful it is to both parties," said John Moag, founder and principal of Moag & Co., a Baltimore-based financial consulting firm active in the sports industry. "Baseball needs to go into [the] market and find a new owner for this team. And it needs to remove any clouds that might impair that transaction.

"Having said that, the longer it goes on, the less sympathy there might be among the ownership ranks of baseball to accommodate the Orioles. So I think both parties have a very strong motivation to get something done and get something done quick."

Eight days ago, after a process that took more than two years, Major League Baseball announced it would relocate the troubled Montreal Expos franchise to the nation's capital for the 2005 season.

Baseball's owners are scheduled to meet in Chicago on Nov. 16-17 to approve the move.

Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos had fought to keep the team out of Washington, arguing the move would create two weak franchises in a region where one strong franchise already existed.

Just two days before the announcement, Angelos said he would consider dropping his opposition if a deal could be struck that met two standards: protecting the value of the Orioles and protecting the state and the taxpayers' investment in Camden Yards.

The Orioles and MLB have been negotiating since, and the broad framework of a deal has been worked out. But the agreement has not been completed.

"They moved very quickly to get to the point of an announcement sufficient for Washington to go forward," said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a Chicago-based consulting firm. "It wouldn't be a surprise that they didn't address every issue before that occurred.

"Details are very important in deals like this. The old line that the devil is in the details is a truism."

Angelos could not be reached for comment yesterday on the status of the talks. Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

Ganis, too, said neither side would benefit from taking longer to get the deal done.

"You could argue that if it takes long enough and [the sale] gets approved by MLB at their November meeting and [the negotiating] goes beyond that, it might harm the Orioles. But I don't think it will ever go that far.

"A few days of extended discussions, I don't know that it helps or hurts anybody. I don't know it's in either party's interest to do so other than they need to make sure they get it right rather than get it fast."

Bob Leffler, president of the Baltimore-based Leffler Agency, said there is urgency to complete the negotiations so that MLB, which owns the Expos, can sell the team to an owner who can begin a marketing campaign.

"This can't drag on," said Leffler, whose advertising agency does work for the Orioles. "You've got certain things you've got to do in a timely manner or you're not going to sell. You can't sell all your tickets on game day. You have to sell season tickets, get money in the till, do your broadcast deal. There is a huge amount of stuff to do on the part of this franchise."

Ganis said it's possible the talks could break down and the deal could fall apart, but it's not likely.

"It happens every day," he said. "But far more often than not, deals that are this far along and this public tend to get done."

In other relocation-related news yesterday, the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority said it would stay in business just in case problems arise in Washington. The authority had tried to persuade MLB to move the Expos to a new stadium that would have been built near Dulles International Airport in Loudoun County. Much of Virginia's ballpark financing legislation expires Jan. 1.

"In the event that Major League Baseball may find it necessary to seek other options, the Authority will remain available to explore any possibilities," it said in a statement.

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