- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 9, 2004

What a vigilant governor the state of Maryland has.

Robert Ehrlich claims he is trying to protect the interests of Maryland taxpayers by exerting political pressure on Major League Baseball to give Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos a sweetheart deal so that the Montreal Expos can relocate to Washington.

“With the numbers I’ve been provided and given what I know, the answer is, yes, I’m satisfied,” Ehrlich told the (Baltimore) Sun. “In that sense, it’s obviously a win-win for Maryland. I’m governor of Maryland, and there are baseball fans in suburban Washington — Montgomery, Prince George’s, Southern Maryland. Those fans are quite pleased with a baseball team in Washington, at least a large percentage are.

“On the other hand, the Baltimore Orioles are a valuable asset to the state of Maryland. Obviously, the stadium authority and the bonds we’ve floated are very relevant in this mix.”

The most relevant part of what Ehrlich said is that he is governor of Maryland. That clears something up, because it sounds like he’s Angelos’ pit boss. Could Ehrlich be protecting Angelos in order to get the owner’s support for slot machines in Maryland?

If the governor is so concerned about the Orioles’ lost revenue, where was he last year when the club drew just 2.4million fans — the worst attendance in Camden Yards history — and 1.3million less than the attendance high they drew in 1997?

Based on the average ticket price last year, with a 10 percent amusement tax per ticket, the state lost an estimated $2.9million. That is the difference between the franchise high in 1997 and last year’s low. Where was the governor then?

In fact, based on the Orioles season high of 3.7 million attendance, the state has lost nearly $10million in ticket tax revenues on the Orioles since 1997, the last time the team had a winning record. Angelos has exerted more energy battling against Washington baseball than he has trying to make his team competitive again. He claims it’s “to protect and preserve the Orioles franchise and the economic benefits it has generated for Baltimore for the past 50 years. Equally important have been our efforts to protect Maryland’s investment in Camden Yards.”

Protecting Maryland’s investment? Where was Ehrlich when the Orioles gave Omar Daal $7.5million two years ago? What was the governor doing then to protect Maryland taxpayers?

Has Ehrlich ever threatened to sue the owner if Angelos continued to meddle in baseball operations, which seems to put the state’s tax revenue at risk?

A spokesman for the governor said the difference is that “competition was never a factor. Now it is, and the governor’s concentration right now lies with ensuring that Maryland maintain their revenue stream with the Orioles.”

You get it? Now that there is competition, it is a problem. Strange words from a Republican governor.

The Angelos appeasement deal is strange for baseball fans in Washington, but whatever it takes to close the deal to move the Expos to the District is OK with them. What happens in Baltimore is not relevant as long as it doesn’t get in the way of baseball here.

But among the many disturbing components being discussed to assure Angelos of guaranteed revenue, one in particular could have relevance for Washington baseball — the reported $360million guaranteed sale price by baseball should Angelos put the team on the market.

If the Baltimore Orioles are worth $360million, what is a team worth playing in a brand-new ballpark in Washington — to be fair, a far more attractive market than Baltimore — with little financial obligation for the prospective owners?

Those locally seeking to buy the Expos grind their teeth every time they see a figure of $300million being tossed around in the papers. They argue it is an inflated figure for a decimated franchise that Forbes magazine pegged at a value of $108million in Montreal.

Talking about a decimated franchise, the Milwaukee Brewers were just sold for a reported $220million. This is a franchise that has had more losing seasons than the Expos over the past 10 years and drew just 2million to a ballpark that has been a disaster since it opened two years ago. Plus, did I mention this was in Milwaukee?

People in the industry point to the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year to real estate developer Frank McCourt as an accurate measure of what the Expos cost. The Dodgers reportedly sold for $421million, but it actually will wind up being $371million based on the deal in which Fox agreed to refund $50million to McCourt next year. The deal included Dodger Stadium and valuable real estate (a possible home for a football stadium) surrounding it.

No one is getting real estate in this Washington deal, so you could argue that the $300million figure seems like an accurate estimate — except baseball, which owns the Expos, will be agreeing to a deal with Angelos that values the Orioles at $360million. MLB is not likely to expect less for a team each owner will make money off selling.

Maybe Ehrlich can get Angelos to drop that figure a little to protect those taxpayers in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as well as Southern Maryland, whose ticket costs will obviously depend on how much the owners have to pay for the Washington franchise.

That scenario, though, comes up lemons.

LOAD COMMENTS ()

 

Click to Read More

Click to Hide