Amid the unproductive wrangling over baseball's proposed
realignment, last week's owners' meetings quietly produced a
decision that could prove nearly as significant as scrambling
the leagues. The lords of baseball passed rules that will allow
teams to sell shares to the public. That doesn't mean 10,000
Minnesota Twins fans can pony up $8,000 apiece and buy the team
from Carl Pohlad or that a Bostonian can amass 400 shares of the
Red Sox and demand general manager Dan Duquette's dismissal. No
more than 49% of any team may be sold to the public, and
shareholders' rights will be severely limited.
Financially strapped teams are the most likely to raise money
through stock offerings, and the transfer of part ownership
could have real benefits for fans. Franchise movement might
become more difficult if locals snap up the stock. Also, stock
sales would likely strengthen teams by raising funds for talent.
The Montreal Expos, say, could sell a quarter of the team and
raise enough to cover the cost of a long-term deal for ace Pedro
Martinez. Businesses often issue stock to raise funds for
investment; there's no reason baseball teams should operate
One probable beneficiary of the new rules is the Florida
Marlins' Wayne Huizenga. Last year Huizenga held a public sale
of his NHL franchise, the Florida Panthers, with
stockholder-rights restrictions similar to those the baseball
owners have instituted. Less than half the equity of the
Panthers sold for $70 million--more than the entire team's
estimated value--and Huizenga retained control of the club.
Huizenga wants to sell the Marlins, which Financial World valued
at $123 million in June. The team's strong play this season has
surely increased its worth, and a public offering for slightly
less than half the club could net $150 million or more.
Investments in the Panthers and the Boston Celtics, the only
publicly traded major league teams, have provided solid returns.
Celtics stock, first sold at $18.50 a share in 1986, closed at
$25 last week and has yielded a 10% annual dividend; the
Panthers stock has jumped from $10 to $22 a share in 11 months.
Investing in a baseball team probably won't provide great
opportunity for sustained growth, but it can be a wise
short-term move--and it can give your favorite team a boost.