Nintendo plans sale of Mariners' majority stake

Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

SEATTLE (AP) — Nintendo of America plans to sell its controlling stake in the Seattle Mariners to a group of minority owners led by John Stanton, who would become the team's chairman and chief executive officer.

Current Chairman Howard Lincoln announced the intended transaction Wednesday along with his plan to retire from day-to-day oversight of the franchise. Nintendo, which took control of the team from Jeff Smulyan in 1992, is selling all but 10 percent of its stake in the franchise and the regional sports network ROOT Sports.

Stanton's group, First Avenue Entertainment LLLP, will own 90 percent of the franchise and a majority interest in ROOT Sports, holdings the team said are valued at $1.4 billion. Stanton has been a minority owner and will take over daily operation of the franchise as Major League Baseball's designated control person. He was a minority owner of the Seattle SuperSonics as part of the Basketball Club of Seattle.

Stanton said the minority ownership group includes 17 investors, and there will be no majority owner among the group. The ownership change is subject to MLB approval, which the club hopes to get during the August owners' meetings.

"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. It's time that we have that accomplishment."

Lincoln was part of the investment group that helped save baseball in the Pacific Northwest and led to the building of Safeco Field after the Mariners memorable playoff run during the 1995 season. Lincoln took over full-time as CEO and chairman of the baseball team in 2000, moving over from his previous position as chairman of Nintendo of America.

But he has been criticized by fans as Seattle's product on the field has struggled. The Mariners have never been to a World Series and have the longest current playoff drought in the big leagues, last reaching the postseason in 2001.

"I feel proud I played a part in saving the Mariners for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. ... Obviously I'm as frustrated as all of us are that we have not been able to get back to the playoffs since 2001," Lincoln said.

Stanton joined the Mariners ownership group in 2000 and was a driving force in the wireless industry, involved as a co-founder of three different wireless companies. Stanton and the other minority owners were approached by Lincoln in February about the idea of purchasing majority interest in the franchise and returned with an answer to pursue the transaction in late in March.

Lincoln said it was the wish of Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who died three years ago, that local owners regain control of the Mariners.