The Seattle Mariners are not — repeat NOT — for sale. But they could be soon, or in the not-too-distant future — for a variety of reasons outlined by Baseball Prospectus, which describes the Mariners as the major league franchise ripest for unloading. Again, the Mariners ARE NOT on the market, but could be for the following reasons:
- The owners are in financial distress, at least compared to their previous positions.
- The majority owner, Hiroshi Yamauchi, has reached his mid-80s (84) and took a financial bath less than a year ago when Nintendo stock, of which Yamauchi is the largest shareholder, halved in value.
- The team’s largest minority owner, Chris Larson, is going through a costly divorce. Baseball Prospectus says Larson needs the money from a Mariners’ sale to cover the cost of the divorce.
- The Mariners have a manageable — and attractive (especially when contrasted with the Rangers and Angels) — payroll at $82.1 million.
- The Mariners’ 10-year TV contract with ROOT Sports has an opt-out provision in 2015, and the Mariners would leave to new owners the right to negotiate a new TV deal, which figures, according to Baseball Prospectus, to be in the $2 billion-plus range, up from the current $450 million over 10 years.
- Based on the recent sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2.15 billion, which closes in two weeks, the Mariners could be sold for an estimated $750 million, more than the $550 million listed by Forbes as well as the $641 million value placed upon the club by the judge overseeing the Larson divorce. Yamauchi/Nintendo own 55 percent of the club, and Larson 30 percent.
- While the Mariners have no competition for sponsorship dollars other than the Seahawks/Sounders, they could have competition from NBA and NHL franchises if San Francisco hedge fund manager Chris Hansen is successful is his attempt to build a $490 million arena near Safeco Field in Seattle’s SoDo district.
In addition, current Mariners ownership has retrenched by shedding payroll (making a buy more attractive), and even going so far as to not to make a long-term commitment to a potential successor for the late broadcaster Dave Niehaus.
Finally, the Mariners have been unable to reverse a negative trend since 2002 of dwindling attendance.
In 2002, the Mariners led the American League at 3,542,938, following their wildly successful, 116-win season of 2001. In 2011, following a string of losing seasons, the Mariners drew just 1,896,321, the nadir in the history of Safeco Field, and the main reason the franchise declared a $7.3 million loss for fiscal 2011.
Mariners’ owners may have zero intention to sell, now or ever. But if they did, now is the time.