Mariners chief executive officer Howard Lincoln made his first public comments following the passing of owner Hiroshi Yamauchi to the Puget Sound Business Journal this past weekend.
Lincoln had been on a fishing trip in Alaska when Yamauchi passed away in Japan.
There has been much debate in the days that followed whether Yamauchi’s death would somehow lead to a change in ownership of the franchise. Nintendo of America owns the controlling share of the team.
But in this column from Patti Payne, Lincoln remained adamant that the Mariners are not going be solid with the death of Yamauchi.
From the column …
“I can tell you I have spoken to Mr. Kimishima in Japan and there are no plans to sell (Nintendo of America’s) majority interest in the team,” Lincoln said.
Nintendo’s interest is the same as Yamauchi’s, according to Lincoln. “I can’t tell you what’s going to happen in the future, but now Nintendo feels very strongly that Nintendo wants to maintain its ownership interest in the Mariners.”
And what about the group of minority owners of the team? Lincoln observes it is a steady group of committed owners.
“I think all the members of our ownership group feel the same way. It’s basically the same group of people. Other than the fact that John Stanton acquired his (minority) interest from John McCaw (in 2002), and Mr. Yamauchi transferred his majority interest (in 2004), our group has remained the same. And it is very, very stable. In all those years since 1992, either under (now Mariners chairman emeritus) John Ellis or myself, we have had monthly ownership meetings. In all those meetings, we have never really had serious disagreement, never had a split in the ownership group. That in itself is a clear indication of how strongly the ownership group is committed to Seattle and the Northwest.”
This isn’t surprising on many levels. First of all, Lincoln is going to say the group is cohesive no matter what. That’s just common season.
If you look at it logically, it didn’t seem likely Nintendo would immediately walk away from the Mariners’ ownership without Yamauchi, who’s role in ownership had diminished greatly in the past five to eight years. As an investment, the Mariners make money. Yes, even with dwindling ticket sales and attendance, the Mariners still turn a profit. And businesses don’t give up on profit. The purchase of Root Sports by the Mariners is also going to lead to an expected profit as well.
There could be an argument that more money could actually be made by selling the franchise now with the acquired television network at its highest point. During minority owner Chris Larson’s divorce, the Mariners franchise value was set at around $660 million. The acquisition of Root gives it even more value, but there is much debate as to how much.
But the real mitigating factor in this is Lincoln and his presence in the organization. There have been rumors that Stanton and minority owners would like take over as the majority. It’s a believable and understandable goal. However, if Lincoln does not want that to happen and remain in control of the franchise, he is going to make that happen. If he’s motivated to stay, it would be almost impossible to get him removed from his position.
People truly don’t understand how shrewd and calculating Lincoln was as a lawyer for Nintendo. He didn’t ascend to his level in the company or with the Mariners on friendships or favors. This book paints Lincoln as borderline ruthless when it comes to attaining company goals. Those qualities haven’t left him now that he’s running the Mariners.
The only way he leaves as CEO is if he decides to retire. And there has been no indication of that. He truly believes he is the person that can help the lead the Mariners back to relevance. And while people will debate that premise, he is still in charge. And it doesn’t appear that will change in the near future.