Jacobs Puts Indians Up for Sale
CLEVELAND (AP) _ Owner Richard Jacobs put the Cleveland Indians on the market Thursday, hoping to find someone willing to keep the team in town and its reputation intact as one of baseball’s hottest properties.
``Let’s put it this way: I want to have a say in passing the torch,″ the 73-year-old Jacobs said. ``I don’t want an executor of mine to say, ’Well, Jacobs, he has no hand from the grave, he can’t do anything on this. Let’s make up our decision, who should be the owner of this team.‴
Jacobs, the Indians’ chairman, president, CEO and controlling stockholder since buying the laughingstock team with his late brother, David, for $45 million in 1986, said he decided a few weeks ago it was the right time to sell.
``It’s shocking,″ said Indians fan Selwyn Powell of Cleveland. ``I never, ever, ever thought this would happen. Not with the run they’ve had.″
Just 3 1/2 years ago, Browns owner Art Modell moved Cleveland’s beloved National Football League franchise to Baltimore. Only now is the sports-crazed city recovering from that as it welcomes back the new Browns, who start play this fall.
The Indians aren’t leaving, Jacobs said, seeking to reassure fans. ``Don’t worry,″ he said. ``This team’s not going anywhere. We have a lease for 15 more years. And anyway, who would want to move a team like this? We’re in a ballpark that has sold out 308 straight games. Moving is out of the realm of speculation.″
Several Cleveland-area candidates were among the bidders for the new Browns last year, and their names immediately came up as speculation began about who could buy the Indians.
But even potential suitors were caught off-guard by the Indians’ sudden availability.
The sale ``is a real surprise,″ said local lawyer Larry Dolan, who with his brother Charles, chairman of Cablevision Systems, unsuccessfully bid for the Browns. The Dolans also have tried to buy the Cincinnati Reds, New York Yankees and the NFL’s Washington Redskins.
Jacobs said the team’s board of directors hired two investment firms, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and McDonald Investments Inc., to identify potential buyers for the 99-year-old franchise.
Jacobs said he wants any prospective owner to be ``somebody committed to baseball and committed to Cleveland″ and that any sale would not be finalized until after this season.
He would prefer any potential owner or ownership group to be from the Cleveland area, and insisted that if the right offer didn’t come along, he would take the Indians off the market.
With the price for major sports teams skyrocketing _ the Redskins sale for $800 million is pending _ Jacobs understands that now may be the perfect time to sell.
``If the Redskins can command $800 million, the Indians should bask in that also,″ he said.
Last June, the Indians became the third pro sports team, along with the NHL’s Florida Panthers and NBA’s Boston Celtics, to offer stocks to the public. The club sold about four million shares at $15 per share, a move which raised about $60 million for Jacobs.
Jacobs said he has turned a healthy profit from his initial investment in the team and that the Indians, whose net revenues in 1998 were $144.6 million, are ``making money, very good money.″
The team’s stock soared $6.31 1/4 to $16.25 in trading on the Nasdaq stock market on the strength of the announcement.