Longtime Owners Sell St. Paul Saints Baseball Team
The St. Paul Saints baseball team, which burst onto the scene in 1993 as an independent, irreverent upstart, will soon be owned by a California private equity firm.
Principal Saints owner Marv Goldklang and his partners announced Wednesday that they are selling the Saints franchise to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a new entity that was formed in 2021 and has been buying up Minor League franchises across the country.
Financial terms of the Saints deal were not disclosed. After being reviewed by Major League Baseball, the sale transaction is expected to close soon.
In August, Diamond Baseball Holdings disclosed that it was being acquired by Silver Lake, a private equity firm that is based in Silicon Valley and focuses on technology investments.
To observe that this Saints change of ownership is the end of an era would be a classic understatement.
When Goldklang wanted to bring the St. Paul Saints back to life for a 1993 season, he had been a New York Yankees baseball fan since grade school, had pitched for the University of Pennsylvania, and had walked away from a lucrative legal career with a major Wall Street law firm to pursue his love of baseball.
The St. Paul Saints baseball team had ceased to exist after the 1960 season because the Minnesota Twins began their inaugural Major League Baseball season in 1961.
But Goldklang, along with Van Schley, wanted to give Twin Cities fans another baseball option and they launched the Saints in the independent Northern League in 1993. Baseball marketer Mike Veeck and actor Bill Murray, who knew Goldklang through co-ownership of a Utica, New York, baseball team, were part of the original Saints ownership group. The Saints played at Midway Stadium not far from railroad tracks, and their fans soon became accustomed to zany between inning antics carried out by Saints staff.
The Saints’ quirky approach to a fun experience at the ballpark was preserved in 2015 when they moved into a new stadium in downtown St. Paul that has won awards for its architecture. The Saints attracted new fans because of the modern CHS Field, and they saw another group of new fans showing up at the ballpark when the Saints converted in 2021 from an independent team to a Minnesota Twins Triple-A affiliate.
“When Mike, Bill, Van Schley and I arrived in St. Paul more than 30 years ago, we came with a vision both to bring back a legendary baseball franchise with a history of spanning more than 100 years, and to reimagine the connection between the game of baseball and a community,” said Goldklang, in a Wednesday news release.
“While I believe we have remained true to that vision during our stewardship of the Saints, there are opportunities yet to be realized,” Goldklang said. “The decision to sell was a difficult and emotional one for me and it would not have been made were it not to an organization headed by people who ‘get it’ and are committed both to further expansion of the team’s brand and additional ways in which our ballpark can be utilized for the benefit of the community. Our own organization knows how deeply I will miss my active involvement with the Saints, but I am confident that in the future we’ll be able to look back with additional pride at what the Saints have become.”
Peter Freund, CEO of Diamond Baseball Holdings, said in a news release he wants to build on what the Saints organization already has created and “to continue supporting the incredible Saints staff, players, fans and entire St. Paul community.”
In making Wednesday’s announcement, the Saints said the new ownership is retaining the front office staff. Derek Sharrer, general manager, has been in a Saints leadership role for two decades.
Sales of minor league clubs
Since Major League Baseball restructured the Minor League system, it has triggered the sale of several Minor League teams.
In December 2021, Endeavor, a global sports and entertainment company, announced it was creating Diamond Baseball Holdings and purchasing nine Minor League baseball teams. Endeavor stated that Freund would serve as Diamond Baseball Holdings CEO and that he has “most recently consulted with the Office of the Commissioner of Baseball on the transition of Major League Baseball’s licensed affiliates while spearheading the formation of the MLB Draft League.”
Freund, a 1998 Dartmouth College graduate, has been principal owner of the Memphis Redbirds, a Triple-A affiliate, since 2016. He also has been a co-owner of the Charleston RiverDogs, a team in which Goldklang long has been the principal owner.
Another Goldklang team, the Hudson Valley Renegades, was in the original group of nine teams purchased in late 2021 by Endeavor’s subsidiary Diamond Baseball Holdings. At that time, Goldklang said in a news release: “I have known Peter Freund for almost 15 years and have every confidence that with him at the helm, Diamond Baseball Holdings will continue to build on our legacy.”
In that same release, the organization said: “DBH will support its clubs with ticket sales, partnerships, naming rights, food & beverage, merchandising, content strategy, collectibles/authentics/NFTs [non-fungible tokens] and media rights, tapping into the broader Endeavor network including Learfield and Endeavor Analytics for expertise across the various disciplines.”
But by August 2022, Endeavor announced that it was selling Diamond Baseball Holdings to Silver Lake, the California-based private equity firm, which said it has “more than $88 billion in combined assets under management and committed capital and a team of professionals based in North America, Europe, and Asia.”
Diamond Baseball Holdings is listed as a portfolio partner on the website of Silver Lake, which has categorized this baseball enterprise as “content and entertainment.” Diamond Baseball Holdings currently owns 13 Minor League affiliated teams in the U.S.
Loss of family involvement
Just as the Pohlad family has shaped the character and operations of the Minnesota Twins, the Goldklang family has defined the culture of the St. Paul Saints. Marv Goldklang’s sons, Jeff and Michael, are both involved in leadership positions with the Goldklang Group, which has owned and managed multiple minor league baseball teams. For example, the Goldklang family took the initiative to develop and open the City of Baseball Museum at CHS Field.
The Pohlads and Goldklangs developed a closer relationship in late 2020 when the Twins purchased an equity stake in the St. Paul Saints as the franchise was transitioning from an independent club to the Twins Triple-A affiliate.
When asked Wednesday, Saints spokesman Sean Aronson said that Diamond Baseball Holdings bought out all the Saints owners, including the Twins who owned equity in the Saints.
“The Pohlad family and the Minnesota Twins organization would like to thank Marv Goldklang, Mike Veeck and Bill Murray for their incredible vision and leadership in building the St. Paul Saints franchise and brand,” Dave St. Peter, Twins president and CEO, said in a Wednesday statement.
“The Twins-Saints player development partnership is a special part of their legacy and something that is certain to benefit Upper Midwest baseball fans for years to come,” St Peter said. “Going forward, the Twins look forward to working with Peter Freund and Diamond Baseball Holdings. DBH enjoys a splendid reputation across Minor League Baseball and the Twins are excited to be their partner here in the Twin Cities.”
While the Saints were owned by Goldklang and his partners, the franchise distinguished itself nationally with exceedingly strong ballpark attendance as well as novel promotions and major community involvements.
Beyond its traditional seating, the Saints sell tickets to sit on the grass beyond left field and they have standing room tickets along the right field concourse. The Saints said in their release Wednesday that they have averaged more than 107% in “percentage of attendance to capacity” since moving to CHS Field in 2015.
In December, news organization Baseball America gave the Saints its annual Freitas Award for being the top Triple-A franchise in Minor League Baseball for 2022.
Based on the Saints’ success at CHS Field, it’s reasonable to ask how Diamond Baseball Holdings intends to generate even more revenue from the Saints franchise.
It appears that it will try to take in more money through greater use of technology. In August, when Silver Lake announced that it was acquiring Diamond Baseball Holdings, Stephen Evans, managing director of Silver Lake, offered some clues.
“Given the massive live audience and reach of the Minor League, we believe there is a large opportunity to invest further to support growth, drive technology-related innovation, and offer improved experiences for all stakeholders,” Evans said in a release. Evans emphasized advancing DBH’s mission “particularly with investment in digital technologies that are transforming baseball’s landscape today.”