Braves’ McGuirk disputes report of team’s potential sale

The Braves have been profitable for Liberty Media. But if they're for sale, CEO Terry McGuirk doesn't know about it yet.

The Braves have been profitable for Liberty Media. But if they're for sale, CEO Terry McGuirk doesn't know about it.

(First posted: 1:28 p.m.)

(Last updated: 4:50 p.m.)

If Liberty Media is preparing to put the Braves up for sale, as a report suggests, the team’s highest ranking executive doesn’t know about it.

“I speak with Liberty people fairly frequently and there’s absolutely nothing new here,” Braves chairman and CEO Terry McGuirk said. “The whole article looks pretty amateurish to me. Liberty has no interest in selling right now. Life is good. The team is good. I’m the person in position to know these things and that’s the most informed comment you’re going to get.”

McGuirk is upset because at a time when he would prefer people focus on a potential World Series contender, one week before the season opens, Forbes Magazine is reporting Liberty Media may be preparing to sell the team. In its annual valuation of major league baseball franchises, Forbes ranked the Braves 13th out of 30 teams with a value of $482 million and included this comment:  “It appears as though Liberty Media is preparing to unload the Braves. The tax advantages to Liberty’s purchase of the Braves from Time Warner [in] 2007 expire after five years and ownership has slashed player payroll from $102 million to $84 million since 2008 despite higher revenue.”

That’s actually somewhat misleading. Liberty already has secured the tax advantages of its complicated May of 2007 purchase from Time Warner. The only time stamp related to ownership was an agreement between Liberty and MLB that they remain as owner for at least 4½ years — effectively, after the 2011 season.

There’s also a belief that a quick attempt to sell by Liberty, after tax benefits had been secured, would trigger problems with the IRS. But it might be past that point.

A phone call to Liberty Media’s headquarters in Colorado brought the expected response.

“We don’t comment on speculation like this,” said Courtnee Ulrich, vice president of investor relations.

I considered asking her where Kenshin Kawakami would be playing next week, but I passed.

Liberty Media generally has not been popular with the fan base. The company represents faceless ownership that is based far from Atlanta. The fact that the company allows McGuirk to run the franchise doesn’t matter for the simple reason he’s not the owner.

There’s also the matter of payroll having been reduced the past few years. McGuirk has long vehemently disputed the reported numbers, saying Braves’ payroll “has gone up.” But every team computes salaries differently, and various databases all show Braves’ payroll has dropped. Most show that total payroll was at, or close to, $102.3 million in 2008, $96.7 million in 2009 and $84.4 million in 2010. The fact general manager Frank Wren has rebuilt the club back into a playoff team is commendable, given the backdrop.

Is private ownership always better than corporate ownership? Hardly. The Atlanta Spirit is the only proof you need of that. But at least when something goes wrong, people know who to scream at. You can’t scream at an annual stock report.

The potential sale of the franchise makes sense. As the Denver Business Journal wrote: “Liberty Media has not announced any plans to unload the Atlanta team. But John Malone, Liberty Media chairman and founder, is famous for making use of tax advantages, and he has said Liberty Media doesn’t consider the baseball team a strategic asset.”

See, that’s the problem: Most people don’t want their sports teams known as a “strategic asset” — or worse, a non-strategic asset.

Four months ago, the Wall Street Journal’s list of highest paid CEO’s was topped by Liberty’s Gregory B. Maffei. His compensation: $87.1 million. The Braves’ 2010 reported payroll: $84.4 million. But Maffei kept stockholders happy. Forbes reported the  franchise’s 2011 value at $482 million (up from $446 million in 2009) and operating income at $22.2 million (up from $5 million in ‘09 and $2 million in ‘10).

In Colorado, ownership is achieving its financial objectives.

In Atlanta, McGuirk would prefer the focus be elsewhere.

“This is not a subject that’s even in my thinking right now,” he said of a potential sale. “We’re getting ready for the current season.”

He need not worry about distractions. If anything happens, it won’t be until after the World Series.

By Jeff Schultz

Follow me on Twitter @JeffSchultzAJC; friend me at Facebook.com/JeffSchultzAJC

195 comments Add your comment

Will

March 24th, 2011
1:31 pm

First!

The sale of the team would be the highlight of the season!

Art Vandelay

March 24th, 2011
1:34 pm

Paging Mr. Cuban, Mr. Mark Cuban. White courtesy phone, please.

Smitty

March 24th, 2011
1:36 pm

The Braves are a gem because they can evaluate and develop talent. Those are 2 skills the Hawks and Thrashers don’t have.

QWDH

March 24th, 2011
1:38 pm

Please, yes.

boots

March 24th, 2011
1:40 pm

Great news! Liberty sucks. Who are they anyway, and why are taxpayers giving them a tax break for anything??? Honestly, I am an Atlanta native, huge baseball fan, and a sports freak. I have never met anyone who works for Liberty, I don’t have any idea what they do (are they a cable company?) and I certainly object to them getting my tax money.

Ted Turner, Mark Cuban, or any number of rich guys would make better owners.

Peter

March 24th, 2011
1:41 pm

Biff P

March 24th, 2011
1:41 pm

Ted Turner or Arthur Blank…we are looking for you guys to step up!

Marshall

March 24th, 2011
1:41 pm

Great news! The Braves could be much more competitive with that 2008 payroll of $102 million.

Belcher

March 24th, 2011
1:41 pm

Sell the team to authur funk!!!!

Casual Observer

March 24th, 2011
1:41 pm

uhh Duh. We all know Liberty is not in the Baseball business but the business of business. Good riddance, can’t wait. Hell we should have a parade down P’tree when they sell. Unless of course if they sell to another conglomerate looking for a tax break. Come on can we have our Braves back? PLEASE!!!!!!

jarvis

March 24th, 2011
1:42 pm

Smitty, it’s hardly fair to throw the Thrashers in that same boat. They are given nothing by their ownership. They are the redheaded stepchild of an already cheap owner.

SOUTH GA DAWG FAN

March 24th, 2011
1:42 pm

this group sounds kinda like the NFL owners
more income less payout and forget the fans

DaTruth

March 24th, 2011
1:42 pm

Step right up Arthur Blank!! Let’s make this a winning franchise again!!

Investor

March 24th, 2011
1:43 pm

I think Tom Glavine, Greg Maddox, John Smoltz, Hank Aaron and a few others would have the dough to buy the franchise.

Deion S.

March 24th, 2011
1:45 pm

I want Arthur Blank!

supsalemgr

March 24th, 2011
1:45 pm

This would also give Arthur Blank an outside stadium.

TERRY P.

March 24th, 2011
1:46 pm

hmmm i would like to see mark cuban buy the team. i like the single owner that wants to win.

The Man

March 24th, 2011
1:46 pm

I wish someone that had some deep pockets would buy the Braves.. we need to get back to Championship stauts and fast!! Playoffs is not good enough.. we need to have a shot at the title..year in and year out.. this is one of the best franchises in baseball.. let’s start acting like it!!

Buzz killar

March 24th, 2011
1:46 pm

David

March 24th, 2011
1:47 pm

Turner said a couple years ago he did not have enough money to buy the Braves or CNN. In a few years the Braves are going to be considered a small market team, with a small market owner. The big markets are So Cal, NYC, Chicago, and Boston. Since there is no real revenue sharing in baseball, there will always be a major gap between big market teams and small market teams.

gg

March 24th, 2011
1:48 pm

Don’t toy with me. Say it IS so! And please, please…NOT A CORPORATION! Needs to be a private individual who cares about the city, and the team, and wants to win…like Mark Cuban, but NOT Mark Cuban.

CARMEN

March 24th, 2011
1:48 pm

Sounds like a Atlanta Spirit smoke and mirror comment! So it must true.

Buzz killar

March 24th, 2011
1:50 pm

Thank you baseball gods …if this is true.

Yea right.............

March 24th, 2011
1:50 pm

Any single owner who wants to win and will stand back and let the organization work the way it has for years is good for me. What bothers me when the team is sold will the new owner change things? This might not be good as you think! It all depends on who buys them and who they bring with them to run the team.

Rupert

March 24th, 2011
1:51 pm

I think this is great news for the team. I think all along this was the plan and comments to the contrary were simply to make MLB go along with the orginal sell. I will say that I have done a bit of a 180 on Liberty. As a FAN I hate that payroll has gone down, and I HATE hearing Wren and Co. spew this BS about sweet spots for payroll when everyone knows if others are spending more, you are starting out the game essentially behind. However, Liberty is not a person. It is a business, and its sole responsibility is to its shareholders, to maximize their profits. They have done this with the Braves by both retaining the franchise’s value, while ellimnating an operating loss and creating an actual net gain. So the Liberty’s board is simply doing what it is being paid to do. This is why big corporations should not own sports teams. By the letter of the law their fiduciary duty is to the shareholders, not the fans of a small asset. It’s darn frustrating as a Braves fan, and I hope Blank or Rickets or someone buys the team who cares about the Braves and spends, but you can’t be angry at Liberty for doing what it does. That’s what makes it successfull.

Jerry

March 24th, 2011
1:52 pm

No matter who would be willing to buy the team, it has to be an individual, or several individuals and not a corporation. Ted screwed us when he became greedy and aligned himself with Time-Warner. Now he says he doesn’t have the capital to buy the team, or at least that is what he said a few years ago. When he went with Time Warner, he didn’t have to include the Braves, but he chose to anyway. Hell no to Ted.

brilliant....not

March 24th, 2011
1:54 pm

yeah, brilliant vandelay. just when the team is getting it’s groove back bring in a big moron like cuban to cause all sorts of distractions. maybe he could get his buddy charlie sheen to announce the games, since he needs a job.

MountainJam

March 24th, 2011
1:55 pm

The tax advantage is simply a long term / short term hold. You get taxed differently on the gain of a home depending on how long you hold. You get taxed at different rates depending on how long you hold a stock. Same applies to the Liberty purchase of the Braves (just different time periods than my two examples).

Forbes knows about the 5 year mark and are simply speculating.

mike

March 24th, 2011
1:56 pm

The NFL will not allow Blank to own both the Falcons and Braves….

Come on Ted Tunner!

heartofdarkness

March 24th, 2011
1:56 pm

Is your thesis that the Braves are on the block enhanced or demolished by the fact Mr. McGuirk knows nothing about it?

Augusta Jacket

March 24th, 2011
1:58 pm

For all calling for Ted–Have you seen him lately he looks about like Al Davis, I’ll pass.

Patrick

March 24th, 2011
1:59 pm

Man, it’ll never happen, at least not until Arthur gets his stadium… but isn’t it fun to dream about him owning ALL 4 sports teams? That would be sick.

cl

March 24th, 2011
1:59 pm

Everyone knew this would come from the day they acquired the Braves. It was based on a huge stock swap with Time Warner and by holding the Braves until 2012 they could avoid taxes on the sale. The organization has done a wonderful job of keeping a competitive product on the field while Liberty insisted on cutting payroll and other operating cost. The good news is they shouldn’t have too much trouble selling the team to local interests. Broadcast mogul David Dickie has expressed a strong interest (when asked about purchasing the Thrashers, Dickie said no, he was waiting to buy the Braves) and Arthur Blank did hint at an interest during the original sale to Liberty.

David

March 24th, 2011
1:59 pm

The NFL would allow that mike, Paul Allen owns the Seahawks and the Trailblazers. Wayne also owned the Marlins and the Dolphins at the same time.

Tron5000

March 24th, 2011
1:59 pm

Imagine what that extra $18 million the team has slashed in payroll could do for the Braves. That’s almost Carl Crawford money.

Jeff Schultz

March 24th, 2011
2:00 pm

Folks, just updated this blog.

59bulldawg

March 24th, 2011
2:00 pm

Please God . . . send us an owner who takes an interest in the Braves and sees them more than just a tax write-off! I’d even take crazy Ted back . . . in a heartbeat!

WJ

March 24th, 2011
2:01 pm

sell baby sell !!!!!!! Buy Blanks Buy!!!!!!!!!!!

put CEO TM on the road.

kenali

March 24th, 2011
2:02 pm

The Braves can’t evaluate and develop talent. Look at A. Wainwrigh, yes he maybe hurt now, but the Braves did not develop that talent when they had him. The St.Louis Cardinals saw the talent in him and with Dave Duncan’s help developed that guy into a high caliber pitcher. Yes! He did bring STL a World Series. The only person on the Braves team with any real talent is Brian McCann

Herschel Talker

March 24th, 2011
2:04 pm

Schultzie:

The sooner the better. We need a real owner, not these corporate pinheads.

HT

Harry The Hawk

March 24th, 2011
2:04 pm

Indoor baseball at Philips Arena….hmmmmm

59bulldawg

March 24th, 2011
2:06 pm

Dude . . . what does that comment have to do with thisn story? Plus you’re wrong!

ryan

March 24th, 2011
2:08 pm

I hope its true Blank, or Cuban just hope the Braves stay in Atlanta Liberty group had no intention of owning the Braves long term anyway .

lanier

March 24th, 2011
2:10 pm

be careful for what you wish. i remember when those pirates in Chicago owned them . never want to see those days again

ExBrave Fan

March 24th, 2011
2:10 pm

Kenali: If you talke a long look at the so called great Braves minor leagurers, for the few they actually have come too fruit, they have a ton of rotten ones. The road is long and littered with Braves potential greats that mainly were trade bait and did not develope. A long long road of failures compared to the very few they have developed.

South Georgia Fan

March 24th, 2011
2:11 pm

I’ll buy them. I got $491.77 in the savings account. Will you take that?

Kennesaw Dave

March 24th, 2011
2:11 pm

I’m with some of the other posters in here. I think this would be a great opportunity for Arthur Blanc if he is in a position to buy the team. Not to mention, it may give the Braves some more spending flexability to replace players like Chipper when he retires as well as further develop our pitching.

Marie

March 24th, 2011
2:12 pm

I hope they sell! COME BACK TED!!!!

hmmmmm......

March 24th, 2011
2:14 pm

It’d be our luck that atlanta spirit unloads the hawks and thrashers and buys the braves.
Im in favor of cuban buying the team he’s done alot with the mavs. He cant be a bigger distraction than jane fonda was

P. Bull Terrier

March 24th, 2011
2:14 pm

The Atlanta Spirit Group.plans to purchase the Atlanta Braves from Liberty Media. A person familiar with the negotiations says Charlie Sheen will join the Atlanta Spirit Group as the new President of Baseball operations. In addition to his investment of $34.16 in the financially troubled partnership, Sheen gives the ASG an investor with baseball experience and provides the group with a more credible public image.

Upon completion of the sale, the ASG plans to give Chipper Jones a very large 10 year contract to ensure that the star player will anchor the line-up long after he is able to do so, and to play more hip-hop music between innings.