SEATTLE – Nintendo of America plans to sell its controlling stake in the Seattle Mariners to a group of minority owners led by John Stanton, who would become the team’s chairman and chief executive officer.
Current Chairman Howard Lincoln announced the intended transaction Wednesday along with his plan to retire from day-to-day oversight of the franchise. Nintendo, which took control of the team from Jeff Smulyan in 1992, is selling all but 10 per cent of its stake in the franchise and the regional sports network ROOT Sports.
Lincoln, instrumental in the sale to Nintendo that helped keep the Mariners in Seattle, said the intention always had been to eventually return to a local ownership majority.
“There was a Plan B,” Lincoln said. “We would have had to explore other options, potentially other owners, but that certainly was not what we wanted to do. We wanted to give our existing partners that we’ve had such a great relationship with for almost 25 years the opportunity to step up.”
The transition shifts the percentage of ownership shares within First Avenue Entertainment LLLP, which owns the franchise and a majority interest in ROOT Sports, holdings the team said are valued at $1.4 billion.
Stanton has been a minority owner and will take over daily operation of the franchise as Major League Baseball’s designated control person. He was a minority owner of the Seattle SuperSonics as part of the Basketball Club of Seattle.
Stanton said the minority ownership group includes 17 investors, and there will be no majority owner among the group. The ownership change is subject to MLB approval, which the club hopes to get during the August owners’ meetings.
“The number one goal of this ownership team is to win a World Series,” Stanton said. “We want to win a World Series here in Seattle and have a parade and celebration for that event. It’s time that we have that accomplishment.”
Lincoln was part of the investment group that helped save baseball in the Pacific Northwest and led to the building of Safeco Field after the Mariners’ memorable playoff run during the 1995 season. Lincoln took over full-time as CEO and chairman of the baseball team in 2000, moving over from his previous position as chairman of Nintendo of America.
But he has been criticized by fans as Seattle’s product on the field has struggled. The Mariners have never been to a World Series and have the longest current playoff drought in the big leagues, last reaching the post-season in 2001.
However, Lincoln has been impressed with the on-field performance this season under new general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais. Seattle has won seven of its last 10 to move into the AL West lead.
“You always have a few regrets,” Lincoln said. “There’s some trades that maybe we shouldn’t have made and things like that, but you can’t second-guess yourself. You’ve got to move forward. As I said, I’m really excited about what I’m seeing now. Quite frankly, I wish I’d seen it about 10 years ago.”
Lincoln said he would like to be remembered for the role he played in keeping the franchise in Seattle.
“I hope they understand that I played a big part in saving the Mariners for Seattle,” he said. “I worked a good six months on it, literally on a daily basis. I’m very proud of the fact that together with a number of other people, we were able to save this team, because otherwise they’d be playing in Florida now.”
Stanton joined the Mariners ownership group in 2000 and was a co-founder of three wireless companies. Stanton and the other minority owners were approached by Lincoln in February about the idea of purchasing majority interest and agreed in late March to pursue the transaction.
Lincoln said it was the wish of Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who died three years ago, that local owners regain control of the Mariners.
“I was a fan here before many of you were alive, in 1969 of the Seattle Pilots,” said Stanton, a Seattle native. “And I cried when that team left town, as a teenage boy. I was thrilled 16 years ago to have the opportunity to become one of the owners of the Seattle Mariners.”
Servais said he didn’t think on-field staff and players would be impacted.
“We’ve got a job to do,” he said. “We don’t really get involved in that stuff upstairs, certainly the players don’t.”