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Could the Phillies owners be looking to sell?
by Scott Butler 7/21/14

Bill Giles gathered a silent group of investors and bought the Philadelphia Phillies in 1981 for $30 million. Thirty-three years later, the Phillies team value is $975 million according to Forbes.com. The Phillies have been a lucrative business investment which, despite the current lag in attendance and in the standings, is likely to continue paying dividends.

But is it possible the Phillies owners are ready to sell?

Let me preface this by stating that there is no direct evidence, rumors, or conjecture of any kind of a potential sale of the franchise. It is just a gut feeling of mine, but there are a few reasons why the Phillies might be ready to sell soon.

When Claire Betz passed away over the offseason at age 93 (she's the CB on the jerseys), she was the third Phillies owner who died in the last four years. Two of the three Buck brothers also passed away (Alexander K. Buck in 2010 at age 80 and J. Mahlon Buck, Jr. in 2011 at 86).

Of the owners remaining, two are in their eighties (Bill Giles, 80 and William C. Buck, 83), David Montgomery turned 68 on June 26, and John Middleton is the youngster at 59.

Montgomery also underwent surgery in May to remove cancer from his right jaw bone. Cancer is the type of life event that tends to cause people to reassess their situations.

In addition to being the president and CEO of the Phillies, Montgomery is also the general partner, and with that title comes complete management authority. With numerous responsibilities and possible health concerns, would David Montgomery consider stepping down?

Montgomery calling it quits would not necessitate the sale of the team. Another owner could take the role or they could promote someone from within, as they did in 1997 when Montgomery, the director of sales and marketing, replaced Bill Giles. It would, however, force changes to be made. Perhaps through their internal discussions, they will decide that now is the time to sell.

The timing for a sale is right.

With the team entering a rebuilding phase, they could sell now while their market share is still relatively high.

Maybe that was the plan all along. Maybe all that talk of not wanting to blow the team up and Ruben Amaro saying "I don't do five year plans" was all smoke and mirrors. Maybe keeping the core players intact was all based on selling at the highest possible rate.

That might be part of the plan, but the key to it all is much simpler: the television contract. With a new contract on the horizon, the Phillies needed to do what they could to keep the team value as high as possible for as long as possible in order to land the best TV contract. That might explain why they held onto their core for so long and why their payroll reached its peak this season for a team with little chance of success. A few months and 2.5 billion Comcast dollars later, it is time to sell.

We are starting to venture into serious conspiracy theory here, but it helps explain why they would wait until now rather than during any of their five NL East titles to put up the "For Sale" sign.

If a sale is indeed on the horizon, two potential buyers stick out as possibilities.

The first is John Middleton, who already owns a portion of the franchise. He sold his cigar company, John Middleton Inc., for $2.9 billion in 2007, and perhaps has the time to devote himself exclusively to the Phillies.

Middleton also has a major passion for the Phils. In an article discussing the Phillies ownership back in 2008 on phillymag.com (and a good read), Richard Rys describes Middleton's passion:

Montgomery denies a long-circulating rumor that John Middleton was the force behind the $85 million acquisition of Jim Thome in 2002, the boldest Phillies signing in at least a decade. The legend goes that as the owners fretted over the size of Thome’s salary, Middleton declared, “I’ll pay for him myself!” There’s also talk that Middleton pushed to recruit cannon-armed Billy Wagner, the most reliable closer in the Phillies’ inconsistent bullpen in recent years. (Shortly after hightailing it to the Mets for more money, Wagner joined former Phils Curt Schilling and Scott Rolen in questioning the ownership’s will to win.) John Kruk, ESPN analyst and a leader of the pennant-winning 1993 Phillies, believes both Middleton tales. “He’s very aggressive,” Kruk says. “From what I understand, he had to be talked off the ledge a few times. He wanted to be like the Yankees and buy everyone, and the other owners said whoa, hold on."

Rys also acknowledges that "those who know Middleton outside of the team suggest he’s not interested in a bigger stake." That may hold true considering it has been seven years since he sold the cigar company, but the availability of Claire Betz's share of the Phillies might persuade him to grab all the shares.

If Middleton does not bite, there is a rather large Philadelphia based company who might like to stick their hands in the cookie jar. It is the same company that recently bought NBC Universal, has a building with their name plus another on the way in Philadelphia, and is contracted to cover Phillies games for the next 25 years.

You guessed it. Comcast.

It is not a stretch to think Comcast would have an interest in purchasing the Phillies. They obviously have the means, they love to throw their money around, they already own the TV rights, and they are based in the city. I'm not so sure we want Comcast any closer than they already are to the Phillies, but how interesting would that be?

With the door slamming nice and snug on the Phillies' five years of National League dominance, maybe they are ready to begin the next era of Phillies baseball.

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