A lawsuit from a spurned potential tenant and the lack of firm interest from other independent leagues will probably keep professional baseball away from Omaha's TD Ameritrade Park in 2012 and potentially beyond.
The lawsuit, detailed in today's Omaha World-Herald, has the owners of a potential Northern League franchise, the Omaha Flame, suing the Metropolitan Entertainment and Convention Authority, which manages the home of the College World Series, for failing to live up to the terms of a lease. The group is seeking $57 million in damages. MECA, in response, says a lease was never signed and they can't be held responsible for any franchise fees paid by the group.
Indeed, the Fame ownership, led by Omahan Walt Peffer, did start negotiating a lease for the ballpark. After the two sides met last summer and through September, things changed quickly: the independent Northern League was skay after four teams left for the independent American Association on Oct. 13; after that two teams folded, one joined the Frontier League and one joined the independent North American League. The Omaha group, which had already paid a franchise fee to the Northern League (at the behest of MECA, they say) then made a move to join the NAL. But MECA, more than a little skittish about the prospects of the North American League and were negotiating under the assumption the Omaha Flame would be in the Northern League, decided to halt negotiations. The lawsuit ensued. Now, the Flame ownership is willing to drop the lawsuit should MECA see clear to letting the team play at TD Ameritrade Park in 2012, but MECA officials say no way. And, given the relatively unstable state of the NAL outside of the West Coast and Texas, this may be a prudent stance.
The group suing MECA provided us with paperwork relating to their negotiations for a lease. While there were proposals from the group and some early agreement on the major terms of the lease, there was never a final agreement on the lease. (Don't take our word for it: here's information from the Flame group detailing exactly what happened. There are also other documents of interest on the site.) And MECA's negotiators assumed the Flame would be a Northern League team, but that league doesn't exist.
Although the American Association isn't closing the door on placing a team at TD Ameritrade Park in 2013, we're just can't see it, especially when the baseline rent there is $10,000 a game -- which is what Creighton University is paying -- and there are strict prohibitions against any discounts. Financially, MECA really doesn't need pro baseball to cover debt service on the ballpark (the CWS, Creighton, other events and local taxes more than cover it), so we don't expect the MECA managers to be going out of their way to pitch indy ball with a sweetheart deal.
Image: TD Ameritrade Park during the 2011 College World Series.
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