Fenway Sports Group (FSG) today announced that it is the managing partner in a new ownership group that has reached an agreement to acquire the Salem Avalanche, a minor league baseball franchise that is part of the Class-A Advanced Carolina League. Financial terms were not disclosed. The Carolina League has approved the transaction and the purchase is now subject to approval by Major League and Minor League Baseball.
FSG is a wholly-owned subsidiary of New England Sports Ventures (NESV), the parent company of the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and the New England Sports Network (NESN). NESV is lead by Principal Owner John W. Henry and Chairman Tom Werner. FSG was created to diversify NESV's sports and entertainment holdings. It will operate the Salem Avalanche under FSG's division for sports property ownership - FSG Properties.
This transaction marks the second major acquisition FSG has made in professional sports this year. In February, FSG purchased 50 percent of Roush Racing, one of NASCAR's largest and most successful teams, to form Roush Fenway Racing. In 2007, Roush Fenway Racing fielded five teams in the Nextel Cup Series with two drivers, Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards, finishing in the top ten in the Nextel Cup standings. Edwards was also crowned 2007 Busch Series Champion.
In addition to FSG Properties, the company has divisions that specialize in representation / sponsorship sales and strategic marketing consulting/event marketing for corporations and leading sports brands. FSG clients include the Boston Red Sox, Major League Baseball Advanced Media, the PGA TOUR's Deutsche Bank Championship and Boston College Athletics.
"The Salem Avalanche is a model minor league sports franchise with a rich history, having played in a region that has supported professional baseball for more than a century," said Fenway Sports Group President Mike Dee. "FSG is excited to work with Avalanche Vice President/GM John Katz and his team to build on this tradition. We share the same commitment to winning and look forward to teaming up to deliver a championship-caliber baseball club, both on and off the field, for years to come."
(Read the Biz of Baseball interview with Sam Kennedy of FSG)
Katz will join FSG's leadership team and continue to manage the day-to-day operations of the franchise which he has overseen since November, 2005. During his tenure the Avalanche achieved back-to back playoff berths for the first time in 18 years in 2006 and 2007, culminating in a trip to the Mills Cup Championship Series in 2007. The club set an all-time franchise attendance mark under his watch in 2007.
FSG's team of sports management executives will leverage their extensive experience in professional sports to provide operational, marketing and sponsorship sales support to the Avalanche's front office. FSG will work with the team to enhance the overall fan experience and further expand the Avalanche's brand throughout the region. "This day marks a major milestone in the history of the Salem Avalanche and the City of Salem," said Katz. "We look forward to leveraging FSG's extensive knowledge and operational expertise to create a championship caliber team season after season. FSG has a proven track record of winning on the field and in the community. Their know-how and network of corporate sponsors will provide a solid boost to our local and regional marketing and community outreach efforts."
An announcement concerning details of the limited partners who will join FSG in the Salem Avalanche ownership group is expected within 30 days. FSG is actively pursuing local limited partners to add to the ownership group.
This transaction marks just the second time the Avalanche has seen new ownership in the last 23 years. Kelvin Bowles, a former Major League Baseball scout and the man credited with saving baseball in the Roanoke Valley, sold the Avalanche to Atlanta-based Hardball Capital in November 2006 after having owned the team for 21 years.
The Avalanche plays its home games at Lewis-Gale Medical Center Field at Salem Memorial Baseball Stadium. The 6,300-seat ballpark opened in August 1995, and has hosted more than 2.5 million fans since the stadium's inaugural game. With 12 skyboxes, a stadium club and multiple picnic areas, Lewis-Gale Medical Center Field is one of the premier facilities in the Carolina League.
Salem fielded its first professional team in 1939 and professional baseball roots in the Roanoke area date back to 1887. In recent years, the Avalanche has consistently risen in the Carolina League standings. The team posted back-to-back playoff appearances in 2006 and 2007 for the first time since the 1987 and 1988 seasons. The Avalanche has won four league titles, most recently in 2001 when they captured the championship after reaching the playoffs as a Wild Card.
The Houston Astros, which became Salem's Major League affiliate in 2003, will maintain that relationship for the 2008 season. The Avalanche have compiled a 360-334 (.519) record as an Astros affiliate.
"We look forward to a long and rewarding relationship with Fenway Sports Group and believe this partnership will be beneficial to both the Avalanche and the League," said John Hopkins, President of the Carolina League. "While we regret our time with the current ownership group in Salem was brief, we have watched the franchise excel both on and off the field in recent years and we are confident we will see that success continue under FSG's leadership."
Source: Fenway Sports Group
Maury Brown is the founder and president of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football and The Biz of Basketball (The Biz of Hockey will be launching shortly). He is also an author for Baseball Prospectus, Basketball Prospectus and is an available writer for other media outlets.
Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.