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Sports: The Owners Club

An article in The Chicago Tribune earlier this week speculated that local businessman John A. Canning Jr. may be the leading candidate to purchase the Cubs when the season ends, even if he is not the highest bidder.

An article in The Chicago Tribune earlier this week speculated that local businessman John A. Canning Jr. may be the leading candidate to purchase the Cubs when the season ends, even if he is not the highest bidder.

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His competition? Well, most notably there’s Mark Cuban, the billionaire entrepreneur and owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. Cuban is considered a controversial bidder, having been fined well over $1 million by the NBA since taking over the Mavs — mainly for publicly criticizing the referees and other league policies.

Canning, who is chairman of the private equity firm Madison Dearborn Partners, currently owns a minority share of the Milwaukee Brewers — the team previously owned by MLB commissioner Bud Selig. As a result, Selig may try to steer the sale of the Cubbies toward Canning, the article suggests.

In addition, the transfer of any team requires the approval of 23 of 30 MLB owners. And while the owners could block a sale to Cuban, they would likely be quick to approve one to Canning, who is already a member of their club, so to speak.

The article quotes a former MLB executive, who said, “you’re asking to be a member of a club, and the club has a right to say no.”

Technically, he may be right. But his interpretation is oversimplified. The reason the owners have a say is that, while they compete against each other on the field, they work collectively off of it to deliver a product. The system is in place, in theory, to help ensure the future quality of the overall product that is Major League Baseball — not to maintain exclusivity in the owners’ Old Boy’s Club.

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The media often portrays Cuban as a spoiled fan who hit the jackpot. I don’t disagree, but if he is a spoiled fan, I say even more reason to let him buy the team. He’ll be obsessed with improving the Cubs and the league. It’s certainly hard to argue that he hasn’t been good for the Mavs.

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