For the first time, Jeffrey Loria is receptive to the possibility of selling the Marlins and will consider offers, multiple sources told the Miami Herald.
But a source cautioned that nothing is imminent, and Loria’s open-mindedness about selling by no means guarantees that any deal will get done.
Several suitors have expressed interest in buying the Marlins in recent months, but nothing has progressed to the point of signed agreements, and Loria has not hired a firm to help him sell the team.
Forbes Magazine reported Thursday that “the buzz among sports bankers” is that Loria had let people know the team and use of its ballpark (which is owned by Miami-Dade County but run by the team) can be purchased for $1.7 billion.
Marlins president David Samson, speaking to two reporters Friday at the team’s annual December daylong charity event, declined to comment on the Forbes report or say whether Loria is interested in selling.
“There are so many rumors all the time, we really don’t address them,” Samson said.
Asked how many people recently have inquired about buying the Marlins, Samson said: “There’s a lot of people who want to own a Major League Baseball team around the country. Over 17 years, you hear from a lot of people. But nothing different than normal.”
Solamere Capital, a Boston investment firm run by former Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, negotiated with the Marlins in recent months, but its offer was rejected by Loria. That offer was for less than $1.7 billion, according to a source.
According to a person with direct knowledge, Loria earlier this year gave another asking price, lower than $1.7 billion, to a deep-pocketed businessman who inquired about buying the Marlins. Nothing has materialized with that potential buyer.
Also, a former employee of the Marlins said Loria has spoken about selling after the team hosts the July 2017 All-Star Game at Marlins Park.
Still, Loria, 76, won’t necessarily sell if he doesn’t get exactly what he’s seeking. One potential buyer said he would consider an offer in the $1.3 billion range, short of what Loria reportedly wants.
Forbes estimates the Marlins’ value at $675 million, which ranks 29th of 30 teams, ahead of only the Tampa Bay Rays.
Any new owner would inherit a franchise with young talent and a stadium that opened only a few years ago (2012), but also one with significant revenue challenges and with the National League’s lowest attendance last season (21,405 tickets distributed per home game, on average).
Samson has said the Marlins are last in the league in revenue but are hoping to significantly boost a TV contract that is believed to pay them $20 million or so a year — the lowest in baseball.
That deal with Fox expires after the 2020 season and the Marlins and Fox have had ongoing discussions about an extension.
A new source of revenue is expected in 2017, with Samson saying Friday that the Marlins expect to sell naming rights to the stadium before the All-Star Game in July.
“We are down the road with several companies,” Samson said. “We’re sort of in the seventh inning.”
Samson said Friday that the Marlins’ payroll — projected to top $100 million — will be the largest in franchise history, topping the $95 million allocated in 2012, the first year in the new stadium.
“That’s Jeffrey’s commitment and continued commitment to Miami and trying to get the team back in the playoffs, which has been his goal since ’03 and it’s what the fans should want and deserve,” Samson said.
One obstacle to selling has been somewhat mitigated as part of an agreement between the Marlins, the city of Miami and Miami-Dade County.
If Loria had sold the team in 2013, the city and county would split 7.5 percent of any profits. In 2014 that number dropped to 5 percent.
Ed Marquez, Miami Dade County's chief financial officer, confirmed Friday that a Marlins sale at this point would trigger some payment to the county, because the Marlins are within 11 years of signing of the 2009 stadium deal. It would be calculated against a base value of the franchise at $250 million in 2009, growing by 8 percent a year.
Marquez said he did not know how much the Marlins would owe the county if a sale is consummated. But it could be several million dollars.
Loria has owned the Marlins since 2002, acquiring them as part of an MLB-orchestrated multiteam transaction in which Loria sold the Montreal Expos, for $120 million, to a partnership of the other 29 teams.
John Henry, who now owns the Boston Red Sox, sold the Marlins to Loria for $158.5 million, including a $38.5 million no-interest loan from MLB.
Under terms of their agreement with the county, the Marlins do not pay taxes on the stadium but pay $2.3 million a year in rent, though it’s using that money to pay back a $35 million loan from the county. The Marlins keep most stadium revenue.
Miami Herald staff writers Doug Hanks and Chuck Rabin contributed to this report.