Stephen W. Porter, a member of an investment group formed recently to bring a major league baseball team to the District of Columbia, discussed today the possibility of the Montreal Expos moving to the Washington area.
The D.C. group, known as Washington Baseball Club LLC, would compete with groups in Northern Virginia, Charlotte and Portland for the right to purchase the Expos if the team goes on sale.
washingtonpost.com: Good afternoon, Stephen, and thank you for joining us. Please get us started with an update on the latest developments in Montreal.
Stephen Porter: Because the Commissioner has not given permission to the Montreal ownership group to negotiate with groups which would seek to relocate the team I do not think we are in the best position to provide an update as to what is happening in Montreal. We understand that they are close to completing negotiations for a recapitalization and a stadium deal that would keep the team in Montreal but it has not happened yet.
Arlington, VA: When Mayor Williams announced his support for baseball last spring, it seemed as though the whole plan depended on federal funding for the big parking garage they planned to build near Mt. Vernon Square. This was before Mr. Porterís DC group was announced. Then this summer, the mayor backed away from that plan and was quoted as saying the Mt. Vernon plan was dead. Since RFK is out of the question for a long-term site, how do Mr. Porter and his group plan to build a new ballpark in D.C.? How much of their own money are they willing to spend on building the ballpark itself?
Stephen Porter: The District has several potential sites for a long term home for baseball which were identified by the Sports and Entertainment Commission including a refurbished or a brand new facility at the RFK site. It is premature at this time to finalize a site selection or to develop a financing package. We are convinced that a new stadium can be financed without the District enacting new taxes to pay for it. How much private money is invested depends on factors that have not yet developed.
washingtonpost.com: How much influence would Commissioner Bud Selig wield in determining which ownership group prevails?
Stephen Porter: Commissioner Selig is highly respected among baseball owners. He has a great deal of influence in the direction MLB will take in the future with respect to expansion and relocation. We consider his views to be extraordinarily important.
washingtonpost.com: How would you convince the commissioner that the District is a better choice than Northern Virginia, Charlotte or Portland?
Stephen Porter: The D.C. metro area is the seventh largest media market with 4.7 million people and more than 22 million tourists each year. Moreover, baseball has enjoyed its recent successes with stadiums in town and not in outlying areas. A successful franchise needs to be near a metro stop and in the center of a city. Finally, Washington is the only contender which has a major league facility in place ready to house a major league team.
Rockville, MD: What other teams will you pursue if the Expos stay in Montreal? Or will you lobby for expansion?
Stephen Porter: We will pursue any realistic possibility should a franchise be for sale in a city that is having difficulty supporting its team. Obviously, it might be more difficult to relocate an American League team given that under baseball rules, the Orioles ownership may have greater rights to influence a decision in that regard.
washingtonpost.com: Why do you believe Washington has been without a baseball team for so long?
Stephen Porter: There have been no franchise shifts since the Senators left after 1971. In the early years of expansion baseball seemed to prefer heading west or to other virgin territories particularly those who had triple AAA teams. Also Washington suffered from a negative impression that many owners held after the urban problems of the late 1960s and early 1970s. And, at the time the Senators left, there was no metro transit to RFK. In the early 1990s the impression was held inside baseball that ownership groups headed by two or three significant investors were not available in Washington. All of that has changed now, as has the political landscape changed with the exciting new administration now in place in City Hall.
Rosslyn, VA: What can we do to help persuade MLB to bring a team to DC?
Stephen Porter: Because the time is short for MLB to make a decision on the Expos we have not organized a civic effort. However, in the near future we plan to put together a consortium of business leaders to express support for a franchise by way of indicating their willingness to buy suites, club seats and season tickets for a major league team. Other booster efforts would also follow to demonstrate that the fan base and the enthusiasm exists in this community.
Arlington, VA: The Expos' strategy for staying in Montreal is to do nothing, because Selig has shown no evidence of forcing the issue. What is your reaction to the possibility of our having this same discussion at this same time next year, and the year after that?
Stephen Porter: I think that is very unlikely. We take the Commissioner seriously when he says that he wants this problem solved this year.
Great Falls, Virginia: Peter Angelos contends that a team in Northern Virginia would take market share from the Orioles. DC is even closer to Camden Yards. How do you propose to get agreement from Peter Angelos to locating a team in DC?
Stephen Porter: We do not expect Mr. Angelos to support the concept of a team in D.C. or Northern Virginia. What is certain is that Mr. Angelos is probably the only person in the Washington or Baltimore region who would contend that there is only one market in these two cities. It is interesting that Baltimorians had no problem separating the two markets when it came to the NFL, where, by the way, with the advent of Redskins Park in Landover, two franchises are located much closer to one another than two baseball franchises would be. Moreover, both Ravens and Redskins franchises have sold their sky suites and their club seats and are financially successful. We believe the same result would obtain in baseball.
Potomac, MD: Bottom of the ninth, two outs, two strikes on the batter. And now you guys walk out of the bullpen and want to get the team. Where have you guys been? By all rights, if a team comes here shouldn't the Virignia group get it?
Stephen Porter: It is up to baseball to decide where to locate a franchise and who has the best ownership group. We believe we are making a credible case that Washington, DC and our group constitute the best option for baseball's long term healthy future.
Stephen Porter: Portland is a lovely town. However, the nation's capital has a much better case to be made for the establishment of a baseball franchise.
Alexandria, VA: Baseball is the only sport where the league or other owners can block a team from moving to another city. I assume this is because of the exclusive anti-trust exemption afforded major league baseball. Why is this? and should something be done about it?
Stephen Porter: The anti trust laws as interpreted by the Supreme Court has allowed for this peculiarity for many decades. It would take congressional action to correct the situation.
washingtonpost.com: When your group gets a team, will you call them 'The Senators'? The name means a lot to longtime residents of the area.
Stephen Porter: We have not really talked about it, but as one person in the group, I agree with you.
Washington, DC: I suspect one of the biggest obstacles to baseball's return to Washington is Peter Angelos. One reason I gave up my season ticket plan because I got tired of hearing how Baltimore draws a quarter of its attendance from Washington. How can you address this issue to the satisfaction of the baseball owners?
Stephen Porter: In this regard we are obtaining independent economic studies which will be ready in the next few days which we believe will support the proposition that the negative effect on Orioles attendance will be minimal, at worst, and more likely neutral since any fans lost to Washington would clearly be replaced. Since Camden Yard was built it has been difficult to get any single game tickets even though there is an obvious market for people who do not have season tickets.
washington ,dc: What kind of a time frame do you suspect we are looking at before a decision is finally made on the expos? There have been several "deadlines" already.
Stephen Porter: We are operating under the assumption that the end of December or the conclusion of the post season is the drop dead date.
washington, D.C.: Delay serves Montreal. Could your group possibly put it together for next season in terms of ticket sales, stadium preparation, media contracts and hiring professional staff? We fans get more discouraged as each newsless day passes.
Stephen Porter: The Sports and Entertainment Commission assure us that the stadium could be ready. Obviously it would be a daunting task to conduct a sales and marketing campaign in a few short months but we believe it can be done. Even without sufficient time to do the most thorough campaign, we would out draw the 1999 Expos probably by 3 to 1.
Allentown, PA: If you had to put a percentage on the situation, what are the chances of the Expos or any other relocated franchise coming to D.C. within the next 5 years?
Stephen Porter: It is extremely difficult to put odds on a situtation that is out of your control. There are far more buyers than sellers in this business. Baseball does not yet seem ready to add another two teams. If they do, I am absolutely convinced that we can make the most compelling case for Washington compared with the case that any other city which has been mentioned can make. Some of the other cities which are major league "pretenders" barely have a track record in support of minor league baseball. In order to support a MLB franchise, you need a city and a region with sufficient population depth, transportation infra structure, media market, and stadium facility at the same time. We have it. No one else does.
Arlington, VA: As a proud supporter of Washington's only winning team, DC United, I'm concerned that any future MLB team will run roughshod over our home ground of RFK. It's perfectly clear that the dream of MLB far outweighs the reality of MLS for DC's woeful Stadium Authority. What steps, if any, would your group take to ensure a mutually productive relationship with DC United?
Stephen Porter: We are also proud of DC United and wholeheartedly support their continued success and will be very mindful of their facility needs if we are successful.
Great Falls, Virginia: You mentioned earlier that baseball has enjoyed its recent successes with stadiums in town and not in outlying areas. Baltimore and Cleveland are population centers. That's not the case with DC. Fairfax County, VA is larger and wealthier than DC. Doesn't it make more sense to locate a team in Northern Virginia?
Stephen Porter: I totally disagree. Washington is a major population base. It is also a place where millions of people work who could conveniently attend games at the end of the day. Even if Fairfax is a richer suburb, people in the rest of the region and in the city also attend games and the people in Fairfax could conveniently attend games in DC as well. And what about the 22 million tourists who spend all day in our museums and on our mall who might likely attend a baseball game if it is conveniently located in downtown Washington? One other thing: Washington, D.C. is the hub of this area and the time has come as Abe Pollin recognized to reinvigorate it, and make it more of a living city with all of the attractions a capital city should have. Many cities including Cleveland and Baltimore have surrounding suburbs that are what you might refer to as wealthier but nevertheless the sports and entertainment attractions are located downtown.
arlington, VA: Your obtacle in Montreal is not the managing partner, who owns 14%, but rather the consortium of minority partners, who own the other 86% and have vowed to stay in Montreal. How can they be forced to sell?
Stephen Porter: As we understand it, the managing partner who owns a minority interest, will have the right to sell the franchise at such time as the Commissioner concludes that Montreal has not put their financial house in order.
Mitchellville, MD: I truly applaud and support your efforts in bringing major league baseball to Washington. Baseball belongs in a city, near an easily accessible rail line, not in an exurb mired in traffic congestion. Do you think the traffic situation in No.Virginia will affect the decision?
Stephen Porter: It is obvious that after several years of trying the Virginia group has still not centered on a site. Perhaps they were having the same problem that the late Mr. Cooke had with citizen opposition to potential traffic and noise.
Stephen Porter: Thanks to everyone for their interest. We know that every contender for a franchise feels strongly about their home base. We feel that we have put together all the ingredients that baseball has ever indicated it wanted from a franchise, a location and an ownership group. We bring to the table the most beautiful city in America and one of its most visited, a giant population base of which we are the hub, an ownership group of experienced business people with the financial capacity to undertake this venture, a major league stadium already in place and alternate locations for an upgraded facility in the future. We enjoy the support of our mayor and council and we hope that we will be able to bring MLB to Washington... if not the Expos, then some other opportunity in the future.
Our thanks to Stephen Porter. One reader has asked whether washingtonpost.com will offer a similar forum to the Northern Virginia group led by Mr. Collins. We will extend Mr. Collins or his representative an opportunity to appear as well at his earliest convenience.
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