The Nashville Orioles?
Could the O's be on the move?
The conspiracy theory that the Orioles are gearing up to move to Nashville has come back into the spotlight. But why?
Well, this little nugget dropped via Justin Fenton and Tim Prudente of the Baltimore Banner: Angelos sons feud over future of Orioles, family fortune, lawsuit reveals
There are only 2 sentences in the article that mention Nashville. You really should read the article, but here are the relevant sentences:
Louis Angelos, 52, of Baltimore County, sued his brother and mother Thursday in Baltimore County Circuit Court. He claims his father intended for the two brothers to control the team equally, but that John, 54, of Nashville, has grabbed power.
The suit says John Angelos “co-opted” his father’s former attorney, Chris Jones, by helping boost Jones’ daughter, an aspiring country music singer named Carter Faith. John Angelos’ wife, Margaret Valentine, runs a Nashville-based music production company that took Faith under her wing, the suit says. She has performed multiple times at Camden Yards.
But the real humdinger is buried *all the way* at the end:
While the lawsuit speculates that John Angelos might want to move the team, there are no allegations that he took any such steps. John Angelos has said the team would not be moving. “As long as Fort McHenry is watching over the harbor, the Orioles will be in Baltimore,” John Angelos told Baltimore Magazine in 2019.
OK, there it is: “The lawsuit speculates”. Remember that world: speculates.
Because that’s all it is. Don’t believe me? Well, I dug into the lawsuit that was filed by Lou Angelos. And this is the *only paragraph* in the entire lawsuit relevant to a move. And it’s not even an entire paragraph! That’s being generous. It’s the 3rd part of the last sentence in it:
…to manage, to sell or, if he chooses, to move to Tennessee (where has has a home where his wife’s career is headquartered)
And here’s a screenshot of that specific paragraph for posterity’s sake:
Conspiracy Theory Origins
The conspiracy theory, or so it goes, is that John Angelos specifically hired Mike Elias as VP and GM of the Baltimore Orioles to gut the club for a sale and corresponding move…to Nashville.
Now, the evidence when this first started was entirely based on the fact that John Angelos lives in Nashville and so does his wife (obviously). Nashville is where his wife’s “career is headquartered”.
And that’s it. That’s all there is.
Yes, there is a bunch of other speculative assertions. Here is a tasting:
The Orioles are tanking intentionally to keep payroll low for a sale
Mike Elias was hired because he’s an ex-Jeff Luhnow (of Astros, McKinsey, economics, MBA) disciple who cost cuts wherever possible for maximum ROI
…and it’s basically recycled nonsense after recycled nonsense using this as evidence (coupled with where John Angelos resides) for a move to Nashville.
But it’s illogical. For so many reasons. And I’ll attempt to list as many as my Saturday morning brain will allow. Here we go:
There Is No Baseball Stadium in Nashville
This should really end this discussion here. But I’ll entertain it.
In April 2022, WKRN reported on the state of MLB in Nashville. And while it’s ripe with optimism, there are so many sobering parts to mention. Particularly this quote from John Loar, the Managing Director of Music City Baseball:
“We have no guarantee from baseball and no support from baseball. Until Tampa Bay and Oakland are resolved [stadium issues], expansion isn’t in the conversation,” said Loar.
Folks, the Tampa situation isn’t getting resolved anytime soon. The Rays are an expansion team. The Oakland A’s are not. I have no idea where either team is going to end up - or if new stadiums ultimately end up getting built for each. But this isn’t a 1 year issue. Nor is it a 2 year issue. These are both going to take a bunch of time. And there’s a very real possibility that if the Athletics remain in Oakland and the Rays remain in Tampa (err St. Petersburg), that the only way Nashville gets a team is via another team relocating or via expansion.
Look at the key word that Loar says: “expansion”. It doesn’t say anything about a move. Are they banking on a new team? Sounds like it. But, hey. This is mostly just PR talk, because it’d be downright idiotic to say that the A’s, Rays, or even the O’s would be moving to Nashville instead of an expansion team being founded lest the other MLB owners and Manfred have a conniption.
Here’s the thing about the Rays. They have a 30 year lease. That doesn’t allow the Rays to move before 2027. Yes, there’s some language that gives them outs, but as Field of Schemes reports:
And then a whole bunch of dollar figures, which comes down to $3 million a year if the team leaves before 2023, and $2 million a year if it leaves before 2027.
That wouldn’t be much of an obstacle if Sternberg wanted to move the team — but note that this only applies if the team wants to move to “another location in Pinellas or in Hillsborough” counties. There is no provision in the MOU that will allow Sternberg to move anywhere else in the world other than those two counties. Sure, he could try to negotiate one with St. Pete officials, and might even be able to do so once 2027 is getting closer and it’s a matter of “I’m gonna leave anyway, let me pay you some cash to let me do it a year or two early,” but there is no mechanism currently in place for him to demand to be allowed to do so.
I don’t know about you, but Pinellas and Hillsborough IS IN FLORIDA. Not Nashville. And part the reason that this lease is so iron clad, is that MLB has a big say on if teams can leave their region. Folks, if the Rays are leaving, it’s not until 2027 or later. That’s 5ish years away. Moving on.
The Athletics, on the other hand, have a shorter window, but they’re contractually obligated to remain at their stadium through the end of the 2024 season. 2 more years. The thing is - the Oakland Athletics are a historic team. They’re over 100 years old (121 to be exact). They aren’t going anywhere. They’re going to get a new stadium. So, strike off another team that isn’t moving to Nashville.
So, back to that MLB stadium issue in Nashville. There isn’t one. They’d need to share space. Would you want a new club sharing digs? Nah. And stadiums take *at least* 2-3 years to be built. So, once again, we are talking anywhere from 3-5 years for any of the above (stadium, Rays, A’s) to materialize.
It’s just not going to happen. But, hey, there are other reasons why it won’t. Not just because of a lack of a stadium or other clubs holding up expansion.
$1.2 Billion for the Camden Yards Sports Complex
NBC reported back on April 11, 2022 that:
Ahead of the Baltimore Orioles’ home opener against the Milwaukee Brewers, the organization announced that the Maryland state legislature passed an initiative that will commit $1.2 billion in public funding to reinvest and reimagine the Camden Yards Sports Complex.
“In a very short span of time, we can report that the franchise has a bright future, having secured the financial resources needed to reinvest in Oriole Park’s amenities,” chairman and CEO John Angelos said in a statement.
The $1.2 billion is the second-largest public commitment to an MLB team. Only the New York Yankees received a higher figure when constructing the new Yankee Stadium in 2009.
“These public funds are just a portion of the more than ten billion dollars in economic tourism impact generated by the Orioles during the past three decades at Camden Yards,” Angelos said.
Notice who’s quoted there? John Angelos. Don’t pretend for one second that the Angelos family and the Orioles organization didn’t lobby the Maryland state legislature heavily for this.
That $1.2bn isn’t just for the Orioles (Oriole Park at Camden Yards), it’d also be for the Ravens (M&T Bank Stadium).
While the O’s have a lease through the 2023 season, that’s only 1.5 seasons away. That lease extension (2 years) was signed in February 2021.
They’re not going to spend $600m of that $1.2bn in 1.5 years before the lease expires.
That $1.2bn was approved a year *after* the 2-year lease extension. States don’t appropriate that kind of money if a team is going to move. Don’t be surprised if there’s some handshake agreement behind the scenes that the O’s would extend their lease further *or* a new lease agreement for a much longer period of time.
About That Lease Agreement
That 2-year lease extension that takes them through the end of the 2023 season? Well, the Orioles have until February 2023 to extend it another 5 years. That’d take them through the 2028 season.
If they extended 5 years, could they spend $600m over the course of the next 6.5 seasons? That’d be roughly $100m/year. That’d be incredibly aggressive, but I suppose it could happen.
That said, a very generous lease agreement with $600m would be a huge value add if the Orioles were to be sold…but why on Earth would the Orioles *move* with $600m and a generous lease agreement on the docket?
They wouldn’t. But let’s continue.
Nashville Just Ain’t It
I’m sure Nashville is a fine city. Maybe even a great one. But is it a great investment for an MLB team with other options available?
No. Not today. And not any time soon.
A couple of reasons.
First and foremost - competition. The Reds, Braves, Cardinals, White Sox, Cubs, Royals.
In an age of big regional TV revenue, it’s an uphill battle for a team to enter a market and put a dent. Just ask the Nationals who only had the Orioles to worry about. That’s one team in a bigger metropolitan area than Nashville. But 6 others?
In terms of distance from Nashville:
Cincinnati - 4 hours
Kansas City - 8 hours
Chicago - 7 hours
St. Louis - 4.5 hours
Atlanta - 4 hours
Of course, the cities teams play in aren’t representative of where all the fans are. It’s all about regions. And those regions have significant overlap.
There is so much competition. Why be a small fish in a huge pond?
There are so many better options from a competition standpoint *and* a metropolitan population size.
There Are Better Options
Just going to leave these here:
Salt Lake City
Las Vegas has no competition around it. They have a comparable metropolitan population (2.3m) than Nashville (2.0m). But the lack of competition and huge tourism dollars makes it an incredibly sexy target. And there’s a huge push for pro-sports teams (Knights, Raiders).
Montreal would only compete with the Blue Jays. But that’s a huge city and metropolitan area (4.3m people). And there’s mega nostalgia.
Portland would only compete with the Mariners…and I suppose as a stretch the Athletics and the Giants? A bigger metro population (2.5m). And it’s a fast-growing coastal location.
Salt Lake City I’m not as bullish on as the other locations - only 1.3m people in the metro area. But that area is growing decently quick, and competition is low.
Tell me this - point blank - 6 other teams in the area of Nashville, Nashville with one of the smaller metro populations, no stadium, waiting in line behind the A’s and Rays, when (if ever) would they get a team with better options?
And we’re forgetting a major part of any MLB team in Nashville…
The owners! Don’t think for one second that the ownership groups (that compete with a would-be Nashville team) wouldn’t do everything in their power to prevent a move/expansion team. And don’t be surprised if they’ve been actively pushing against it for years. Rob Manfred answers to the owners of the 30 MLB teams. He’s not going to let a Nashville team happen…at least any time soon.
What About That Pandemic?
People conveniently forget about the pandemic when it comes to revenue impact on MLB teams. There was damn near zero turnstile revenue for clubs in 2020. There was still a massive effect to attendance in 2021. We haven’t seen a meaningful bounce-back and a somewhat normal season until 2022.
The Lou Angelos lawsuit asserts that there was a sale on the books back in May 2022. But apparently, John Angelos put the kibosh on it. But why would he? I have a couple thoughts:
May 2020 was right when fear from the pandemic was astronomical. A 2020 baseball season was severely in doubt (it didn’t start until July and it didn’t have fans). The O’s are worth near $1.4bn. In 2020, businesses were offering pennies on the dollar for companies - would the offer have been severely undervaluing the O’s due to the pandemic? I think so.
Ego, Ego, Ego?
The Angelos sons are (probably) control freaks and (probably) have massive egos. Dan Duquette put this club in dire straits with terrible trades in 2018 and mortgaging the farm through most of his tenure for short term success. With John Angelos playing a bigger role due to his father’s health issues around the same time, I think ego is playing a big part of it.
The 2018 Orioles were bad. Historically bad. 47-115. It’s mighty telling that the 2018 Orioles (Duquette’s Orioles, btw) were much worse than any Mike Elias team. Mike Elias was brought on by John Angelos. Why does this matter?
Well, ego! Rich kids. A terrible baseball club. A declining father’s health. A declining Angelos legacy in Baltimore. Why wouldn’t John Angelos want his name on the turnaround of the Orioles?
I think this is a big part of it all. If he can’t get the turnaround, well, he can build up value for the club for an eventual sale:
Top notch analytics department
Heavy turnaround in international markets
Massive Dominican baseball academy
Huge focus on MLB draft instead of cost cutting (Matt Hobgood, anybody?)
Revamp of the Spring Training facilities
Forward thinking coaching staffs
Focus on leveraging Camden Yards in non-baseball capacities (Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, etc.)
But all of the above doesn’t matter as much *if the club isn’t winning*. Any sale at the beginning of the pandemic would have been monumentally irresponsible:
Value of the club would have lower than their $1.4bn valuation due to COVID uncertainty
The team absolutely stunk from 2018-2019 before the reported sale opportunity
The team has stunk since the sale opportunity
If teams are winning, that will impact valuations and offer opportunities. Look no further than the 2011 Orioles (who stunks).
But after a major turnaround (winning season, playoffs) in 2012? 2.1m fans.
After winning the division in 2014? Nearly 2.5m fans.
800,000 more fans. Nearly 10k more fans *per game*. Because the team was winning.
If this team starts winning *and* all of the above infrastructural changes that were largely non-existent during the Duquette tenure? Well, then I could see a sale.
But a move? Nah. Zero sense.
Good stuff. And I agree.
As a side note, I'd only say that I _do_ see Nashville as an _eventual_ strong candidate city (outside the context of this Orioles paranoia). The Braves have by far the most to lose as they currently command the plurality of MLB fans in AL, MS, and most of TN. And the plurality of support in most LA counties is for ... the Yankees!
The Braves stand to be by far the crankiest about a prospective Nashville team. But the combined eyeballs of TN, AL, MS, and a goodly bit of LA are not insubstantial and while many legacy fans would hold their allegiances, "the South" would -- I think -- very much embrace a team of its own (Atlanta is in the South but, increasingly, with a cultural asterisk of sorts; one could say Nashville is becoming less purely southern as well but it is still a decade or two behind Atlanta in that regard).
Again, great piece. And I want 'em to stay because -- as I've mentioned in another venue -- I like having Matt Blood as a neighbor on my block. But someday I do think the Deep South will have a team (presuming the general health of MLB, which is a somewhat open question) and if it does, Nashville is the only reasonable option (even if Birmingham better carries the cultural bona fides at this point).