Cilantro Gomez, one of the Grizzlies' new mascots, takes the podium during a recent press conference. Photo via Grizzlies Facebook page
Written by Gabriel Dillard
It’s looking like a new era of Fresno Grizzlies baseball is at hand.
The Fresno City Council on Monday will consider an agreement that could usher in a new ownership group for the team — an agreement designed to keep Minor League Baseball in Downtown Fresno that includes profit sharing and a mandate for the new owners to invest heavily in youth athletics and area nonprofits.
The council will weigh in on an amended sublease for Chukchansi Park — a rent agreement that has proven to be a tricky curveball for the current ownership team in reaching profitability.
At this point the potential buyer is unknown to The Business Journal, operating under Delaware-registered LLCs — Fresno Sports and Events, which is owned and controlled by JC Sports and Entertainment and Fresno Home Field, according to a City of Fresno staff report.
According to Ballpark Digest, the buyer is associated with the Colorado Rockies professional baseball organization.
A message left for Chris Cummings, member of current ownership group Fresno Baseball Club, LLC, was not immediately returned.
The agreement seems tailored to solving some of the biggest roadblocks to the team’s bottom line, including rent on the city-owned facility as well as deferred maintenance — an amount pegged by Fresno City Council President Clint Olivier at $ 24 million in remarks earlier this year.
The current ownership group is saddled with $1.5 milion in annual rent for the 15-year-old facility, even with recent concessions from the city that potentially cut that figure in half, according to published reports.
The new rent would be $500,000 annually, but the agreement carries a number of sweeteners for the city.
From the city’s viewpoint, the only thing worse than a team struggling to pay the rent is the prospect of having no major professional sports team as tenant.
“The sale of the Grizzlies is in the best interests of the city,” according to the staff report.
According to the city staff report, here are the highlights of the agreement, which will be considered during a special Monday meeting — a departure from the council’s regular Thursday meeting schedule:
– The city would share in the profits of the new ownership group. The amount would be 20 percent of net cash flow over $500,000 a year. The profit shared would not exceed $300,000 a year.
– An agreement that the new ownership group would not relocate the team through 2036.
– The new owner will accommodate at least 100 “community events” at the stadium each year that will draw at least 10,000 attendees with “donated costs” from the buyer of at least $100,000. These events include youth softball and baseball games and meetings of nonprofit boards and staff as well as nonprofit fundraisers. Activities “benefitting physically and/or mentally challenged individuals” are also included. Failure to meet that threshold for the number of events will include financial penalties –less than 20 would carry a $100,000 penalty.
– The sublease agreement includes the establishment of funds that would be devoted to capital improvements for the stadium. The city would throw $3 million into the kitty at the team sale closing, along with $1.25 million from the current owner and $1 million from the new owner. In addition, a current APES (Arts, Parks, Entertainment and Sports) ticket surcharge that currently goes to city coffers would be rerouted to capital improvements. The current APES fee is $1 per ticket.
While Grizzlies paid ticket sales have not shown growth, team marketing efforts have proven fruitful in terms of record merchandise sales and raising the team’s national profile.
Mayor Lee Brand has hinged his first term as mayor on economic development, and has celebrated wins in the form of new Ulta and Amazon distribution centers that will bring thousands of new jobs.
While net job creation on keeping the Grizzlies in Fresno may be nominal, it goes a long way in lessening the weight of debt service on the city. And it would give people a reason to visit and spend money in Downtown Fresno.
Now let’s see if the Fresno City Council is ready to play ball for the future of Chukchansi Park, Minor League Baseball and downtown revitalization.