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Smulyan Gives 'Move' Veto To Local Group Members

[October 29th] -- Indiana businessman Jeff Smulyan, acknowledging concerns of having an owner with no ties to the area, announced Friday that local investors [including former Redskins Charles Mann and Art Monk] will have the ability to stop any potential move of the Nationals by veto vote. This, Smulyan believes, will allay the fears of the Washington faithful.

Wrong.

I don't think that anyone really believes that Smulyan, or any new owner, would move the team from Washington. The Nationals drew 2.7 million people to an old and poorly located stadium. The team did minimal advertising, relying on "word of mouth" to put fannies in the seats. And it worked. The "cash cow" of a new stadium, a revamped cable deal and advertising that actually reaches the fan base is enough to keep any owner ensconced inside the beltway for decades to come. No, moving isn't the problem.

Jeff Smulyan has owned a baseball team before, and THAT is the problem.

He was an underfunded owner in Seattle, unable to generate the revenues necessary to at first pay the bills, and later to build a top-flight organization. Smulyan says that it wasn't his fault, that Seattle was a "small market" team that was losing money. D.C. is different, he says. Well, maybe that's true. But it's also true that he might turn the Nationals into the new Tampa Bay Devil Rays. Vince Namoli, the managing general partner of Tampa who was just recently ousted from his leadership role, had the lowest payroll in Major League Baseball while reaping some of the largest profits in the league. There was no incentive to make the team competitive. He just needed 25 players named "Joe" to fill the uniforms.

Mr. Smulyan, that's what we're worried about. When that new stadium is built, when the wrinkles in the cable deal are ironed out, you could put the J.E.B. Stuart Raiders high school baseball team out there [yes, that's my alma mater] and draw 3 million fans and make a fortune. We want this to be a interactive relationship between fan and owner. We supply the funds, you supply the players. You didn't do such a great job in Seattle, and there is nothing to indicate that the same thing won't happen here. Promise us that you'll fund the payroll so that it remains in the upper third of all major league teams, and we've got a deal.

But until that happens, you're just a better dressed version of Bob Short.


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