- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 9, 2006

So Major League Baseball is “very concerned” over what changes may show up in the lease agreement the D.C. Council made Tuesday night and early yesterday morning for the Washington Nationals’ new Southeast ballpark.

They should be very relieved.

What may concern MLB the most is the part that specifically mentions the team owner among a list of those other than the city that would be responsible for paying for cost overruns. (Here’s a suggestion: get a copy of the document or read it online. Your name may be among those responsible for cost overruns.)

Part of the problem here is everyone keeps referring to these as cost overruns, which conjures up in everyone’s mind the vision of the developer who told you it would cost $2,000 to renovate your bathroom and two months later hands you a $5,000 bill.

Who can’t identify with that?

So let’s not call them cost overruns. Instead, let us refer to them as maybe “ballpark enhancements” or “construction improvements.” Put a more positive spin on it.

Or better yet, why not sell the naming rights to cost overruns? The words have been used so many times in the media that some company probably would pay a few bucks to have them referred to as the “Budweiser Cost Overruns” or something like that.

By the way, how’s that RFK naming rights deal going?

As far as baseball probably is concerned, the finalized ballpark deal and lease document could have anyone except for the team owner listed to pony up for those ballpark enhancements. Not that anyone inside this deal — including those groups bidding to buy the Nationals — doesn’t already realize he likely will have to kick in some money for the ballpark. But baseball just doesn’t want it down on paper. It wants to operate under the assumption it won’t happen, even though everyone believes it will.

D.C. Sports Commission chairman Mark Tuohey refers to the ballpark cost cap as “value engineering.” But these are multimillionaires who already are willing to spend $450million for this franchise. When’s the last time you think any of these guys shopped any place with the name “Value” in it?

The question following the council’s vote now would seem to shift toward which will be the lucky group that reaps the rewards of this “value construction?”

The consensus has been that the winner will come from among Indianapolis radio executive Jeff Smulyan and his group of minority local investors; the Lerner family; and the Washington Baseball Club, led by Jeff Zients and Fred Malek. But the race probably is over and has been for some time. All everyone is waiting for is baseball commissioner Cadillac Bud Selig to announce the winner.

The plan was back in December to announce the new owner shortly after the lease was approved by the council. But after all the chaos involved in this deal and the uncertainty of doing any business with the District, it is likely baseball will hold off announcing an owner until ground is broken for the new ballpark. They may want to wait until the construction agreement is approved, land is acquired and construction has began at least to have some degree of certainty.

It is not as if naming the owner now will have any impact on the Nationals on the field. The team is set, such as it is, though it certainly could have a big impact on marketing the team.

There likely will be some pressure from the city to name an owner soon, but after being pummeled by the politics of the District, the one thing baseball has total control over is the owner, and it will decide who owns the team and when that decision will be announced.

While the District found itself in a position of leverage when it came to the lease agreement, it never has had any with the selection of an owner. And if there ever was any goodwill between baseball and the District that could have influenced the ownership selection, there isn’t any now.


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