The Mariners’ dramatic announcement Wednesday that a 17-person local group led by John Stanton bought a majority interest in the baseball team culminated more than two years of behind-the-scenes drama. Here’s how it happened.
Nearly a quarter century after buying part of the Mariners, a group of local minority owners led by wireless-industry pioneer John Stanton purchased majority control of the baseball team.
Pending approval by Major League Baseball, the group will own 90 percent of a franchise valued at $1.4 billion. Nintendo of America, which owned a majority of the team, will keep 10 percent but is relinquishing control to Stanton and 16 other limited partners who bought into the Mariners in 1992.
Stanton, 60, could bring the long-awaited local presence and accountability many frustrated fans have clamored for from a struggling team with baseball’s longest playoff drought. The dramatic announcement of the sale culminated more than two years of drama and behind-the-scenes maneuvering that accelerated the past few months.
By the numbers
Value of Mariners today
Paid for 90 percent share
Estimated value of Mariners in 2011
Estimated value of Mariners in 1992
Percentage controlled by Stanton’s group
Years Nintendo had majority ownership of Mariners
Years Howard Lincoln was Mariners CEO
Where M’s rank in value among MLB teams after sale
Stanton shook hands with Howard Lincoln, the man he replaces as chairman and CEO, at a Safeco Field news conference.
“The number one goal of this ownership team is to win a World Series,’’ Stanton said. “We want to win a World Series here in Seattle and have a parade and celebration for that event. I think that it’s time that we had that accomplishment. It’s something that I know all of our fans — and, most of all, every person in this organization — … want nothing more in their lives than to see …’’
Stanton says the team’s leadership — including president Kevin Mather, general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais — will remain in place and should benefit from the support of an ownership group that believes “payroll matters” in building a winner. Stanton wouldn’t be specific on future spending, but the team’s $1.4 billion valuation confirms wide speculation that the Mariners have become one of the wealthiest franchises in baseball.
The team in early 2013 partnered with DirecTV to form Root Sports NW, a regional sports network, that covers a six-state territory and is believed to add at least $200 million to the team’s price tag. The Mariners’ official valuation would rank eighth in baseball on the annual Forbes list, nestled between the $1.6 billion St. Louis Cardinals and the $1.34 billion Los Angeles Angels.
That surging value is what sources close to the team say drove Redmond-based majority owner Nintendo of America to sell most of its controlling stake, believed to be 55 percent. The death in September 2013 of Nintendo patriarch Hiroshi Yamauchi helped set in motion events that led to Wednesday’s announcement.
Yamauchi bought majority control of the team back in 1992, saving it from moving to St. Petersburg, Fla. In 2004, Yamauchi ceded control of his shares to Nintendo of America for estate-planning purposes so the team could continue functioning normally in the event of his death.
But Yamauchi retained titular control. His death meant Lincoln, former Nintendo lawyer and cherished Yamauchi friend and confidant, retained almost full control and decision-making power within the organization.
With Nintendo’s global video-game operations lagging and its overall value dropping, the prospect of its selling the Mariners loomed throughout 2014. Stanton spent that year quietly meeting with fellow owners and preparing financially for a sale.
Then, last July, the death at age 55 from cancer of Nintendo President Satoru Iwata hastened that sale. Iwata’s replacement as global Nintendo president was Tatsumi Kimishima, who directed the company’s Redmond division from 2002 to 2006 and knew all about the soaring values of baseball teams.
Mariners ownership timeline
April 27, 2016
Nintendo sells majority stake to a minority group led by John Stanton.
July 1, 1992
The Baseball Club of Seattle, backed by Nintendo of America, assumes control. The board of directors includes John Ellis (chairman), Minoru Arakawa, Chris Larson, Howard Lincoln, John McCaw, Frank Shrontz and Craig Watjen. Chuck Armstrong is named President.
Oct. 5, 1989
The Mariners are purchased by a partnership of Jeff Smulyan, Emmis Broadcast-ing, Michael Browning and the Morgan Stanley Group Inc. Smulyan assumes the role of chairman. Smulyan later was in talks to move the team to St. Petersburg, Fla.
Jan. 14, 1981
George Argyros becomes principal owner of the Mariners, purchasing majority interest in the club. Argyros may have been best-known for pushing the front office to choose pitcher Mike Harkey over Ken Griffey Jr. in the 1987 draft.
Feb. 6, 1976
The expansion Mariners are owned by partners Stanley Golub, Danny Kaye, Walter Schoenfeld, Lester Smith, James Stillwell Jr. and James A Walsh.
Source: Seattle Mariners and Seattle Times archives
Kimishima set out to explore a possible sale, knowing Nintendo could use the infusion of cash. Outgoing Mariners CEO Lincoln said he had numerous conversations with Kimishima after Iwata’s death.
“I told Mr. Kimishima that I was very anxious to retire,’’ said Lincoln, 76. “I thought that the time had come. As we discussed what Nintendo should do, we decided that now was the time to approach our other partners … and see if they were interested in and had the capacity to acquire Nintendo’s majority interest in the team and in the RSN.’’
Nintendo financial executives spent considerable time trying to come up with a fair market price. Lincoln approached the team’s minority owners in late February and from there, negotiations continued through March.
“We had a series of meetings during February and March among the minority owners and a lot of conversations,’’ Stanton said. “We did spend some time making sure we were comfortable with the valuation. I’m sure to you it’s an eye-popping number, and it certainly was to us. But we got comfortable that that’s an appropriate number for the team and that then led to frankly what was a pretty easy and quick process.’’
Stanton will be the group’s leader and controlling owner in the eyes of MLB. But he said no member of the group will own a majority of shares.
The largest of the minority shareholders had been Chris Larson, a former Microsoft executive, who according to 2011 court documents owned 30.63 percent of the team. Stanton was believed to be the next biggest shareholder at about 10 percent.
The team provided no details on what any new share arrangement between owners will look like. Nor is it known exactly what Nintendo of America made on the sale, though if its stake was previously 55 percent, a 45 percent sale would amount to $630 million based off the $1.4 billion valuation.
Whatever the breakdown in shares between new owners, Stanton will be in charge.
“Ultimately in baseball it’s about winning on the field,’’ Stanton said. “And I think with Jerry (Dipoto) and Scott (Servais) and Kevin (Mather)’s leadership, we’re going to do everything that we can to put a winning team on the field and bring home good results for the city of Seattle.’’
John Stanton at a glance
Full name: John William Stanton
Net worth: Estimated at more than $1 billion
High school: Newport (Bellevue)
Colleges: Whitman (BA) and Harvard (MBA)
Family: Lives in Bellevue with wife Theresa Gillespie, two sons.
Business: Pioneer in wireless industry, where he worked with Craig McCaw to form the first nationwide cellular network in the 1980s. Also led Western Wireless, VoiceStream Wireless. Chairman of the board for Trilogy International Partners investments, and is on the board at Microsoft, Costco and Columbia Sportswear.
Did you know? Stanton is 6 feet 4 … He lost an election for student-body vice president at Whitman, then ran again for president — and won. … Also was a minority owner of the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics.