Moores to stay Padres' majority owner for now
With big TV deal approved, team's future brightens considerably
SAN DIEGO -- John Moores will retain his 51-percent majority ownership stake in the Padres, at least for the foreseeable future, while he determines whether he still wants to sell the team.In an extensive interview during the club's Opening Day 5-3 loss to the Dodgers at Petco Park on Thursday, Moores told MLB.com that his agreement to sell the franchise to former chief executive Jeff Moorad has been terminated. The group headed by Moorad had two more years to close what was a $530 million transaction signed three years ago, but those rights are no longer in force, Moores said. When asked whether he still intends to sell the team, Moores said, "Not definitely, but I think so. I have absolutely no idea how long it's going to take to make that decision. It's safe to say that it's open-ended now, that I'm going to own the team for the foreseeable future. But that's not to say that my reign isn't going to end tomorrow. We've already talked to some bankers. I'll take some time to figure this all out." A spokesperson for MLB and Moorad each declined to comment on the matter.
The lull in Moores' attempt to sell the team comes at an opportune time, as he said that Major League Baseball has approved a 20-year, $1.2 billion deal with FOX to establish a regional sports network in San Diego County with a $200 million up-front bonus. The Padres will receive an average better than $50 million a year and put them in mid-market status among Major League franchises. Moores will own 51 percent of the Padres' portion of the new network.Couple that with the eight-year-old jewel that is Petco Park, and Moores will have the Padres where he always wanted them to be.
He purchased the team in the middle of the 1994-95 players' strike for about $70 million. Even he isn't sure of the current value of the franchise in the wake of Dodgers owner Frank McCourt agreeing to sell his club and its stadium to a group headed by Mark Walter, chief executive of Guggenheim Partners, longtime sports executive Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson for $2.15 billion."You tell me. Everybody's opinion is better than mine. That's why we need somebody to be an adviser," Moores said. "I'm still shocked at the Dodgers deal. We have to re-evaluate everything based on the new TV contract and the Dodgers sale. It's just incredible." Both Johnson, part of the new ownership group, and McCourt were in the house on Thursday, seated to the left of Los Angeles' dugout. Moores met with McCourt before the game for a friendly chat, and he also met with seven members of his own minority ownership to try to get a handle on what they want. He hadn't been introduced to many of the silent partners. "It was mostly about whether they'd still have their tickets for the games and that kind of stuff," Moores said. "Of course I told them yes. Do they want to stay involved? I'm not sure. It seems like some of them do and some of them don't." Moorad has been replaced as the point man for the minority partners by Ron Fowler, a local businessman who once owned the Sockers, a San Diego indoor soccer team. Fowler, a friend of Moores, is well known in the San Diego sports community. He not only chaired the San Diego International Sports Council and Super Bowl Committee, he chaired one of the Ballpark Task Forces that ultimately determined 15 years ago that a new yard for the Padres should be located in what is called the East Village neighborhood of downtown San Diego. From 1969-2003, the Padres played in San Diego Jack Murphy/Qualcomm Stadium, a multipurpose facility in Mission Valley where the NFL's Chargers have always been the primary tenant. "He's a hard-working guy," Moores said of Fowler. "He's going to be on our executive committee. So everything I know, he will instantly know. But this is not a big part of his investment portfolio." Moorad resigned as chief executive on Feb. 23 and has retained a position with the club as vice chairman and an undisclosed portion of the 49-percent minority share. But Moorad no longer has an office at Petco Park, and for all intents and purposes, his tenure with the team is at an end, Moores said. Moorad's bid to buy out Moores was quashed at the quarterly owners meetings in January, when it was taken off the agenda. He subsequently withdrew his application for control of the franchise when it became evident he didn't have the required 75-percent support of the other 29 owners to close the deal. Moorad then stepped down as minority point man for his ownership group and left his leadership position with the team. "That was by mutual agreement," Moores said. "It no longer made any sense. Jeff was here solely because he represented his group. I presume that he left his group because he couldn't get the deal done with MLB. He never shared that with me, but if he couldn't deliver control, he was done." Moores was upset in January when his deal to sell the team fell apart, but he said that if he decides to sell again, the vetting process will be more extensive than it was three years ago, when he conjured up the deal with Moorad, then a general partner and chief executive of the D-backs. Moores probably wouldn't make that same deal now. "The TV money is going to put us on a completely different plateau," he said. "We're going to go up instantly from $11 million a year to $30 million, and then the payout will continue to increase every year. We're going to average, over 20 years, more than $50 million. That's going to be a big change. And what McCourt did is going to have a strong ripple effect on everybody in baseball. There are only 29 other franchises, and I don't think anybody is up for sale right now. "Arguably, we could be, but not necessarily, the next club to get sold."
Barry M. Bloom is national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.