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Thursday, May 17, 2007

Braves sale is approved

Liberty Media taking control of franchise from Time Warner
By Barry M. Bloom / MLB.com

NEW YORK -- The sale of the Atlanta Braves from Time Warner to Liberty Media was unanimously approved by Major League Baseball's owners at a special meeting on Wednesday.

The complicated stock-for-franchise deal had a deadline of midnight ET because of a change in the federal tax code affecting such transactions, that Commissioner Bud Selig said was far too complicated to explain. That change occurs on Friday.

The 30 owners met in a late-afternoon session to vote on the deal, which was in the process of being closed by the appointed hour. The ownership committee and the executive council had earlier in the day also cleared the deal. All the owners or their representatives are together this week for the second quarterly meeting of the year, one that has become a May staple at MLB's New York offices.

"There are a lot of reasons that I'm happy today, but one of the things I said right from the outset was we wanted to preserve what I thought was a great management structure," Selig said at a press conference almost immediately after the special vote. "They certainly have the record to prove that. A lot of (Braves) fans should be happy tonight because we've not only created great stability here, but it's in the best interest of the Braves and baseball."

The owners will still meet to take care of other business at their regularly scheduled joint meeting on Thursday morning.

Asked if he had any doubt that the deal would close by midnight, Selig said, "I would be stunned if it doesn't. I would say the chances are better than excellent. That was the reason we had the special meeting."

Under terms of the transaction, in which the franchise itself was valued at $450 million, Terry McGuirk will remain as president, John Schuerholz as general manager, Bobby Cox as manager and Hank Aaron, the Hall of Famer and current Major League Baseball home run leader with 755, will have an increased role in his position of senior vice president.

City-owned Turner Field will remain under the Braves control and the name will not change.

McGuirk said it was stipulated in writing that new ownership could not go below the team's current player payroll of $87.3 million, but was certainly encouraged to invest in the franchise. Under Ted Turner and Time Warner, the Braves won 14 division titles in a row -- a streak that ended last season -- captured five National League pennants and were victorious in the 1995 World Series over the Indians.

"Continuity seems to be the word that has triumphed here," McGuirk said during the press conference. "The championship level baseball that has been played here for the last 15 years, the management, all of that continues on unabated, thanks to the Commissioner and the owners and their confidence in this group. So we think it's a great day for the Braves. We're ready for the job and we're looking for many more championship seasons."

The approval effectively ends an era of Braves ownership, which began when the franchise was purchased in 1976 by Turner, who also had taken over the NBA's Atlanta Hawks. The cable television mogul used the ballclub as a national tool to bring attention to his burgeoning cable empire that eventually evolved into CNN, Turner South and TBS.

Originally the home of old movies, TBS has carried Braves games nationally for the last 31 years, a relationship that will expire at the conclusion of this season.

Turner remained associated with the ballclub and his cable product when Turner Broadcasting merged with Time Warner in 1995. He was vice chairman of the company, which eventually also merged with AOL, until his resignation in 2003. Three years later, Turner severed his relationship with the board of directors and hasn't been involved since.

Time Warner has been shedding itself of its sports properties, previously having sold the Hawks, the NHL's Thrashers, and Philips Arena, the downtown home of both indoor teams.

For a large block of Liberty stock, Time Warner is reportedly exchanging the Braves, a number of craft magazines and $1 billion. Liberty owns about four percent of Time Warner.

As has become a pattern in recent years, MLB was concerned about leaving the operational control of the team in familiar hands and wanted to make sure McGuirk remained with the club. The owners had previously been assured of that condition when the deal was formally announced in February.

"There are no changes," McGuirk said. "There will be a continuation of past practices."

Last year, as a condition of selling the Nationals to the Lerner family, MLB insisted in the last phases of the deal that Stan Kasten be brought in as part of the group. Kasten, at one time the president of all the Time Warner sports properties, was made a minority owner and was placed in charge of running the team.

Since late 1999, 18 MLB franchises have either been sold or have experienced a change in control of majority ownership, including the Expos/Nationals twice. The sale of the Cubs by the Tribune Co. is next on the table.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.


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