When the news broke last week that David Rubenstein and a team of investors including Cal Ripken, Kurt Schmoke and other luminaries had agreed to buy the Orioles from the Angelos family for $1.7 billion, many fans rejoiced. A new owner, a wealthy son of Baltimore, would be buying the team, and he signaled his commitment right away to spend what is needed to win championships.

But back in 1993 when Peter Angelos, also a wealthy son of Baltimore, assembled a 25-person ownership group that included local sports heroes, celebrities and prominent business leaders, fans also rejoiced. Peter Angelos paid $173 million for the hometown team. At the time, this was a record price for any sports franchise in the U.S. Angelos said he was committed to winning championships and spending money on players.

It is with that history in mind that we are somewhat optimistic about the Rubenstein group’s purchase of the Orioles. As long as Rubenstein is in charge, it seems likely that fans, players and Baltimore will be better off than they were during the John Angelos era. Yet, we are cautious, because at the next lease negotiation between the Orioles and the state of Maryland, whether in 15 or 30 years, it is unlikely that the now 74-year-old Rubenstein will be sitting across the table from the governor.

We have argued that the rocky negotiations over the 2023 lease made a strong case for a new approach to the relationship between taxpayers and pro sports teams. Our proposal for public acquisition of the Orioles, based on Article II of the Baltimore City Charter, would have allowed the city to pay fair market value for the team and “to operate the team and/or sell or otherwise dispose of the team.” This offers an alternative to having taxpayers pay for stadiums (and now provide real estate development rights), while private ownership, protected by a federal antitrust exemption, profits handsomely off the public subsidy.

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The news that the Angelos family maintains an ownership stake of the team until Peter Angelos dies, in order to avoid paying capital gains taxes, is a good indicator of how much profit the family has earned.

As we have previously argued, Baltimore could use its Article II power to take the team from the Angelos family right now and sell it to the Rubenstein group. While this idea certainly has its appeal, the city is not prepared to take this action. While the General Assembly gave the city this authority in 1984, no city or state infrastructure currently is in place to utilize this power. So we know such an approach is unlikely.

We also know that the next time the state of Maryland negotiates a lease with the Orioles, billions of dollars in public subsidies, with a big impact on taxpayers, will probably be on the table. Taxpayers, fans and elected leaders would do well to make sure public acquisition is a viable option the next time we find ourselves back at the negotiating table.

This should start with hearings at City Hall and in the General Assembly. Our elected leaders need to understand the finances for the purchase, the legal hurdles, how the team would be run and how the investment would pay off. Luckily, the idea of public acquisition of professional sports teams is not new, and good examples exist.

We will also need to build a movement that will push politicians to be bold and to defend public dollars from whichever billionaire owns the team. This will invariably include a legal confrontation with Major League Baseball’s antitrust exemption.

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History suggests a future governor will be sitting across the table from Rubenstein’s successor. Public acquisition, in some form, should be part of future negotiations, and we need to start the work now to make sure it is.

In the meantime, we can’t wait for opening day and have a good feeling about this year.

Andy Ellis, a business Intelligence lead for a technology and research company, is a community activist and political organizer who lives in Northeast Baltimore. He has served as co-chair of both the Maryland and Baltimore City Green parties.

Bill Marker is an attorney and a longtime community and political activist from Baltimore’s Barre Circle/Pigtown and Ridgely’s Delight neighborhoods. He has led past efforts to stop building stadiums at public expense.

The Baltimore Banner welcomes opinion pieces and letters to the editor. Please send submissions to communityvoices@thebaltimorebanner.com or letters@thebaltimorebanner.com.

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