New Dragons owners say they won’t mess with success

The three Harvard graduates who have agreed to purchase the Dayton Dragons say they are not planning any changes to the successful minor league baseball team’s operations.

“There will be very little community impact, because we’ll be following the program that is already in place,” said Nick Sakellariadis, co-founder of Palisades Arcadia Baseball LLC, which has reached agreement to buy the Dragons from original owner Mandalay Baseball Properties.

Sakellariadis said in a telephone interview Wednesday that he and his fellow owners recognize that the Dragons are “a fabulous community asset and family-oriented experience,” and said the owners will work in the background to help the team’s management enhance the fan experience.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed, and Sakellariadis declined to reveal the sale price. Citing unnamed sources, BaseballAmerica.com has reported that the Dragons would sell for a record amount for a minor league team, perhaps as high as $40 million.

Sakellariadis said he and fellow owners considered about 20 minor-league teams, and the Dragons “stood out above all the others” because of the level of community involvement and support. “This was our first choice, and it took us a year to get it done,” he said.

The Dragons have placed at the top among all Class A minor league teams in attendance each season of their existence. The franchise set the all-time pro sports consecutive sellout streak at 815 games three years ago and surpassed 1,000 straight sellouts earlier this season.

Staff intact

Palisades Arcadia’s founders said they will keep the Dragons’ existing administrative team intact, including Robert Murphy, who has served as Dragons’ president since the team’s founding more than 15 years ago. That’s an encouraging sign, said Sandy Gudorf, president of the Downtown Dayton Partnership.

“The continuity is very important,” Gudorf said. “It’s clear that the new ownership recognizes and appreciates the value of the Dayton Dragons, not only from a financial perspective, but also because of the strong community passion for the team. We’re pleased that the owners have that kind of commitment to fans and to the community.”

Phil Parker, president and CEO of the Dayton Area Chamber of Commerce, served on the original committee in the late 1990s that helped bring Minor League Baseball to downtown Dayton.

“I’m pretty positive about this thing,” Parker said of the ownership change. “These new owners bought a successful franchise, and there’s nothing I’ve seen or heard to lead me to believe the new owners want to do anything to disrupt the fantastic operation or how it’s running.”

One University of Dayton faculty member sounded a note of mild caution, however, because the ownership group has little experience — two of the three have not owned sports teams.

“They’re going to be cutting their teeth on us,” said Peter Titlebaum, a professor in UD’s Department of Health and Sport Science and coordinator of the university’s Sport Management Program.

At some point, the new owners “are going to want to put their stamp” on their first baseball-team purchase, although “that may not be a bad thing,” Titlebaum said. Either way, “To have someone courting us and wanting us — the community has to feel good about that,” he said.

The sales agreement is subject to approvals of the Midwest League and Minor League Baseball, and will be reviewed by the commissioner of Major League Baseball.

Minority owners’ status

The Dragons — the Single-A minor-league affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds — have been owned by Mandalay Baseball Properties LLC since their founding. The investment firm Seaport Capital, the majority owner of Mandalay Baseball and full or part owner of four other minor league teams, announced in April 2013 that it was putting up for sale its sports-team holdings, which are part of a private equity fund.

The attempt to sell the five teams in a single transaction didn’t result in an agreement, so Mandalay starting marketing the teams individually. That strategy appears to be working: Mandalay reached agreement last month to sell the Frisco, Texas RoughRiders, and now have reached a similar agreement to sell the Dragons.

Other investors in Mandalay Baseball Properties and the Dragons include NBA Hall of Fame player Earvin “Magic” Johnson and former Ohio State Buckeyes two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin. Sakellariadis said Wednesday those and other minority investors “are being cashed out,” and Palisades Arcadia Baseball will eventually be the sole owner of the Dragons.

Murphy said he and Griffin are exploring ways that Griffin will still be involved with the team.

“He wants to continue to be a part of Dragons baseball,” the team president said.

The Dragons’ affiliation with the Cincinnati Reds will remain intact. A contract between the two teams extends through at least 2016, and there is no indication the affiliation is in any danger of ending, Dragons officials said.

It’s easier for the Reds to monitor its young talent from a short 50 miles away, Sakellariadis said.

Big baseball fans

Sakellariadis, who lives in New York City, received both an MBA and law degree from Harvard and recently retired following a 35-year investment banking career at Citigroup-related companies.

The other owners of Palisades Arcadia Baseball are Michael Savit of Boston, and Greg Rosenbaum of Bethesda, Md.

Savit is managing partner of the HWS Group, a sports management company that currently owns Minor League Baseball teams in Mobile, Ala., Modesto, Calif., and Niles, Ohio. Savit is also a limited partner in the NBA’s Memphis Grizzlies. He is a 1978 Harvard graduate with a degree in government.

Rosenbaum, also a Harvard law school graduate, is a Toledo native and president of Palisades Associates, Inc., a merchant banking and investment firm based in Bethesda. Rosenbaum also holds a law degree from Harvard and was in the same law-school class as Sakellariadis. A decade ago, he was part of a proposed ownership group that was not awarded ownership rights of the then-new Washington Nationals as the Montreal Expos were preparing to move to the nation’s capital.

Rosenbaum said the experience left him wanting to try again to seek ownership of a baseball team. He and Sakellariadis are big baseball fans as well as being law school classmates in the early 1970s, and both “were looking for a second act” after long banking/investment careers, Sakellariadis said. The two men will serve as co-chairmen of the board of Palisades Arcadia Baseball, Sakellariadis said.

Savit’s HWS Group is investing capital in Palisades Arcadia Baseball, but the existing Dragons management team will continue to oversee the day-to-day operations of the Dragons, Sakellariadis said.

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