It’s a new day for baseball in the Lower Mainland, in more ways than one.
The sale of the Vancouver Canadians to a major minor-league-team operator promises to develop the local baseball market, and professionalize the business of the team.
Diamond Baseball Holdings, LLC will acquire the team for an undisclosed amount in a deal announced last week, ahead of the team’s season opener. The U.S. holding company currently owns 15 other Minor League Baseball teams, including the triple-A affiliates of the Major League Chicago Cubs, New York Yankees and St. Louis Cardinals.
Current Vancouver Canadians owners Jake Kerr, founder of Lignum Forest Products LLP, and Jeff Mooney, chair emeritus at A&W, purchased the team in 2007. The team, they say, is not leaving Vancouver.
But that hasn’t always been the case with other Vancouver-based sports teams that were sold to U.S. interests. Most notable was the 2001 sale of the city’s beloved Vancouver Grizzlies NBA team to American owners who had promised to keep the team in Vancouver.
The team was moved to Tennessee shortly after.
Keeping the Canadians at Nat Bailey Stadium seems likely, according to the team’s current ownership.
“[The new owners] are in major markets. They are in markets that Major and Minor League Baseball want to sponsor. Fortunately for us, they love Vancouver. They have been out here repeatedly, as has Major League Baseball, and we have been 100 per cent endorsed,” said Kerr during the announcement of the sale.
“You will see that they have purchased the best of the best.… They’re buying teams and markets that they want to continue in.”
Kerr and Mooney will continue working with the organization, with Kerr as chair and Mooney as chair of the team’s philanthropic foundation. The pair, along with long-time president Andy Dunn, revived what was considered a derelict team and led the Canadians to four championships. Dunn has also been asked to remain on in his current capacity.
“From the standpoint of the fans here, or the media, frankly, you’re not going to see much of a change at all,” said Kerr.
Dunn said he believes Diamond Baseball Holdings will take a hands-off approach, and that he will be expected to run the ball club the way he has for the last 16 years. As far as the team’s affiliation with the Toronto Blue Jays – Canada’s only Major League Baseball team – Kerr described that relationship as “solid,” adding that – with a nine-year player development deal in place – the affiliation won’t change anytime soon.
The path to professionalization
If little in terms of the team’s management is expected to change, why sell the team?
“I think you’re going to see a professionalization of the sport. Major League Baseball is determined to package up Minor League Baseball in a much more effective way,” said Kerr.
This trend can been seen south of the border. Former family-run, poorly funded minor league teams have been acquired by corporate owners that see an opportunity to upgrade the entertainment experience teams offer to large markets.
At the same time, major league teams have set higher standards for how their affiliates treat big-league prospects.
Upgraded facilities, more experienced staff and better training programs, however, require a higher level of investment and expertise – such as that that could be offered by a multimillion-dollar company with 15 other professional teams in its portfolio.
Kerr confirmed that the requirements of running a minor league ball club have become much more demanding and require a great deal of capital. That, along with the ownership pair’s age, are among the reasons they say it was the right time to sell the team.
Kerr said that Vancouverites and Canadians’ fans can look forward to substantial capital expenditures at Nat Bailey Stadium that will meet some of the requirements of Major League Baseball, and dramatically improve the fan experience. He added that the new ownership team has the capital and expertise to bring the Canadians to a higher division.
The business of Diamond Baseball Holdings
The Vancouver Canadians’ incoming corporate owner was founded in 2021 by talent, media and sports agency holding company Endeavor Group Holdings, Inc., formerly known as William Morris Endeavor.
Diamond Baseball Holdings was created to acquire and develop Minor League Baseball teams in promising markets.
The company immediately acquired five teams and added another four to its portfolio by the end of 2021, to become the largest operator of minor league teams within a year of inception.
Soon after, the company purchased a tenth team, and creating a portfolio that was double the size of any other minor league team owner.
Most recently, Diamond Baseball Holdings purchased the Lansing Lugnuts, the high-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, in March before entering an agreement to purchase the Vancouver Canadians.
In August 2022, Endeavor Group sold Diamond Baseball Holdings to Silver Lake, a global technology investment firm with $88 billion in combined assets, for an undisclosed amount.
Months earlier, the MLB Players’ Association (MLBPA) said that Endeavor’s ownership of teams created a conflict of interest with agents that worked for the company and represented players. The MLBPA threatened to decertify Endeavor agents and prevent them from representing professional baseball players. While Endeavor initially claimed that there was no conflict of interest, it eventually agreed to sell the company to Silver Lake.