Miami-Dade County

CNBC’s Marcus Lemonis joins Bush and Romney in bid for Miami Marlins

At right, Marcus Lemonis, star of The Profit, a CNBC reality show about saving small businesses, on the sidelines as the University of Miami takes on the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28, 2016.
At right, Marcus Lemonis, star of The Profit, a CNBC reality show about saving small businesses, on the sidelines as the University of Miami takes on the West Virginia Mountaineers at the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando on Dec. 28, 2016. adiaz@miamiherald.com

The Miami Marlins need a financial turnaround, and CNBC television star Marcus Lemonis says he’s ready to spend big to help provide one.

Lemonis said he was recruited by former Florida governor Jeb Bush to join the ownership group that’s now made up of former rivals in the Marlins hunt. Bush united with Tagg Romney, son of another former GOP presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, and New York-based investor Wayne Rothbaum, to pursue the baseball franchise. Bush, Romney and Rothbaum were previously competing against each other for the Marlins, but now are part of a single group trying to buy the team.

Lemonis, whose CNBC show “The Profit” chronicles his attempts to rescue failing businesses, said key to a Marlins turnaround would be engineering a local embrace of a team that moved from Miami Gardens to a new ballpark in Little Havana five years ago but still struggles with attendance.

“My complaint is the team always felt removed,” he said. “I don’t think the people of Miami ever fully made it their team. I think you have to figure out how to engage here. Having ownership engaged in Miami, interacting with the community, I think will make a difference.”

[Reality television and the Marlins: Read about the highs and lows of team president David Samson’s appearance on Survivor in 2014.]

Raised in Perrine, Lemonis now lives in Chicago. His family still lives in the Miami area, and he recently joined the University of Miami board. He’s now part of an ownership group facing competition from one of the most recognizable names in Miami business circles: Jorge Mas, whose family’s company, MasTec, is a national leader in engineering and utility services.

Another suitor is New York Yankees star Derek Jeter, who was competing against Bush for the Marlins before they joined forces and then split up to become rivals again.

Bloomberg reported Lemonis’ joining the Marlins bid over the weekend. Lemonis said Bush called him out of the blue several weeks ago, and said he was a “Profit” fan.

Lemonis agreed to invest in a Marlins purchase when Bush was planning to be in charge of the franchise once the sale went through. At the time, Bush and Jeter were pursuing a joint bid for the Marlins, but the alliance reportedly fell apart when the two disagreed over who would have ultimate authority over management decisions.

Now Rothbaum, who sold a pharmaceutical company in 2015 in a deal that could be worth up to $7 billion, is set to be the leading partner in exchange for investing the most money.

“The person who writes the biggest check,” Lemonis said, “should be able to drive the process.”

The Bush group is touting Rothbaum’s South Florida ties, since he has a home in Delray Beach, a seaside city about 50 miles from Marlins Park. Bush is the only member of the ownership group known to both live and work in the Miami area, with his home in Coral Gables.

Lemonis, 43, grew up in the Miami area, attended Christopher Columbus High, and ran as a Democrat for the Florida House in 1996, winning the Miami Herald’s endorsement but losing to Republican Bruno Barreiro. He took management jobs at Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation, which led to a career in the mobile-home business. He’s now CEO of Camping World.

His CNBC show depicts Lemonis investing his own dollars in failing businesses, typically imposing discipline on inept owners and presiding over a return to profitability. For the Marlins, Lemonis said he would be investing money without management authority, and he said he not yet met Romney or Rothbaum.

While the books may look daunting now, Lemonis said he sees the Marlins as a promising investment.

“It's a money-losing team today,” he said. “But we understand that the economics can swing pretty quickly. And they can swing through a variety of sources. Sponsorship. Getting people in the stands. Making it feel like a hometown team.”

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