|Friday, February 22
Interested in owning the Expos? A small pledge will do
By Alan Schwarz
Special to ESPN.com
Bud Selig says he is "open to any possibility" with regard to the fate of the Montreal Expos.
But he probably hasn't considered this.
A group of renegade college students at the University of Pennsylvania have begun a Buy The Expos drive on the Internet that is gaining momentum faster than Jeffrey Loria hands out pink slips. Pledges have topped $100,000 in two weeks and are heading skyward, the ultimate goal being the price Major League Baseball paid Loria for its lease with the option to fold -- $100 million. As of Thursday night 92 people from Sacramento to Sweden had pledged anywhere between $1 and $11,000 to own a piece of the club. At its current rate of growth the kitty will crack $500,000 by the end of the month and hit the magic $100 million mark in late March.
Selig could not be reached for comment.
"I'm astonished by how it's going," said Jesse Spector, a 20-year-old Penn senior who hatched the idea with two friends a few weeks ago. They each put in $15 and since have upped their stakes to $150. Spector said they would have bid more but, "none of us have real jobs. Two of us want to be sportswriters and Jon's a Communist."
So much for income potential.
Enter the Internet.
Spector set up a website (www.sas.upenn.edu/~spectorj/expos.html) that solicits commitments from anyone wishing to invest. Pledges came mostly from Spector's fellow writers at the school newspaper, The Daily Pennsylvanian, and his Kappa Alpha fraternity brothers. Then his parents tossed in $100 each. Even his Aunt Elaine said she was in for $10.
But then it took off. Donations of all sizes began coming in, like the $37 Penn punter Ryan Lazzeri committed (for his uniform number) and the $89 from Spector's roommate Matt Mugmon (for his favorite hockey player, Alexander Mogilny). The total hit the six-figure mark in a little over a week. Mon dieu!
The website also polls investors to determine where the Expos should play next season. (Washington D.C. was leading at 34 percent, with Brooklyn and Las Vegas running second and third and Montreal well back of the pack.) The key feature, though, is raising commitments to present to Major League Baseball. "A friend of mine in London pledged 25 pounds," Spector said. "I did the calculations and figured he's in for $36, pending market fluctuations."
Though no money will be collected until the bell rings at $100 million, no one has made a mockery of the plan by committing more than $11,000. Should some yahoo pledge $30 million or something -- and his last name isn't Cuban -- Spector said, "I'll ask if they have $30 million. This is Penn, after all. We've got a lot of smart Wharton people around." Come to think of it, some already run teams: Phillies president Dave Montgomery went to Penn, as did White Sox co-owner Eddie Einhorn and former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley.
Having pledged just $150 each, Spector and his original ownership team knows they will someday have to cede operational control to someone else. Positions are up for grabs, though someone apparently has already called Youppi!, the Expos' team mascot. "I'd like to be GM," Spector said, "but we'll see what kind of a job Omar Minaya does this year. Jose Canseco? C'mon, it's the National League!"
Minaya could also not be reached for comment.
Alas, this plan is not without one major complication: It's against the law, specifically the Securities Act of 1933, which reads, "It shall be unlawful for any person, directly or indirectly, to make use of any means or instruments of transportation or communication in interstate commerce or of the mails to offer to sell or offer to buy ... any prospectus or otherwise any security, unless a registration statement has been filed as to such security ... "
This indeed is a little bigger than Bill Veeck inviting fans to be manager for a day. And while the Green Bay Packers (Selig's favorite football team, deliciously) are publicly owned by 111,000 shareholders in all 50 states and several foreign countries, that arrangement is somewhat more on the up-and-up. Think the government doesn't care about some raving college kids? In 1981, when a columnist for the same Daily Pennsylvanian wrote a missive effectively praising John Hinckley's attempt to assassinate Ronald Reagan, the student was all but dragged away from the newspaper offices by federal agents and probed in ways we'd rather not imagine.
But there's hope here. First, this concerns the Montreal Expos. "Is it legal under Canadian law?" Spector wondered. And besides, four people who work at the House of Representatives have invested. So friends exist in Washington.
More may be out there. Keith Wasserstrom, a lawyer specializing in securities law and partner at the Miami firm of Hogan & Hartson (and a Penn '89 grad to boot) said that not only is the SEC somewhat preoccupied with that Enron thing, but, "There's always interest in upsetting the baseball antitrust exemption," Wasserstrom said. "And there's talk of getting a team in the Washington area. If it helps get the club to Washington, you know, they might back off. They want to take the afternoon off and go to some day games."
Are Spector and his growing legion playing games? As the commitments careen toward seven, eight and maybe nine figures, one has to wonder. There have already been some good omens: Penn basketball player Dan Solomito put up $400 and soon thereafter hit a three-pointer against Dartmouth that put the Quakers at the painfully-rare-in-the-Ivy-League point total of 100, earning free cheesesteaks for the thousands of spectators in the Palestra stands. "See?" Spector yelped. "Good things happen when you invest in the Expos."
Sometime next month, as word spreads, 100,000 people might have committed themselves to this venture. "We might need to play our games in Michigan Stadium," Spector said, "just to seat all the owners."
To unseat 29 others, it's worth a shot.
Alan Schwarz is the Senior Writer of Baseball America magazine and a regular contributor to ESPN.com.