Sale official, new Padres group sets sights high

August 29th, 2012

SAN DIEGO -- Ron Fowler wasn't far along in his opening remarks on Wednesday when the brevity of his role in the purchase of the Padres hit him in a way he didn't expect.

"I can't believe how lucky I am," Fowler said, sounding choked up.

It was an emotional day on several fronts as the Padres announced the completion of the sale of the club to the Seidler/O'Malley group and Fowler for $800 million from former majority owner John Moores.

Fowler, who has been a resident and prominent figure in the community of San Diego since 1974, was flanked by the sons of former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley, Kevin and Brian O'Malley, and Peter O'Malley's nephews, Peter and Tom Seidler, who are all a part of the ownership group.

"We can look forward to fun times ahead," Kevin O'Malley said.

On Aug. 16, Major League owners approved the transfer of the franchise from Moores -- who owned the team for 18 years -- to the group headed by Fowler. The deal became official on Tuesday.

During his opening remarks at PETCO Park, Fowler stressed three priorities the ownership group will have: Winning, fan experience and community.

Team president and CEO Tom Garfinkel and general manager Josh Byrnes also attended the news conference.

"PETCO Park is wonderful -- great fan base," Peter Seidler said. "San Diego is a baseball town, has been for a long time, and we want to do what we can to help that. Major League Baseball itself is strong, but for us, it's more San Diego-specific.

"This franchise has all the potential in the world. We really talked about our obligation to make sure the franchise is on strong financial footing again -- today, long term. I think as shocking and overwhelming as all those words surrounding $800 million ... we expect the value to go up, and we expect the franchise will be on and continue on a long-term successful path."

Fowler, 68, will be the control person of the group and will represent the team at all league meetings. He was part of the previous ownership group, representing the limited partners, several of whom are now part of this ownership group.

Professional golfer and San Diego native Phil Mickelson was not among the members of the ownership group that was announced on Wednesday, though it previously appeared as if he would have a role in the group. That might still be the case, though.

Peter Seidler said he plans to meet with Mickelson in the next two weeks to finalize his spot in the group.

"We think Phil's a great fit with our group," Peter Seidler said. "Phil and I are going to get together in two weeks when he's back in town, and I think we both expect we will formalize. We have one spot in our ownership group for Phil and only Phil."

Other members of the ownership group who attended the news conference were Rick Barry, Wayne Seltzer, Alexis Fowler, Patrick Graham and Lee Ross. The remaining members of the group are Glenn Doshay, Alfredo Harp Helú and Harvey Jabara.

Harp is believed to be the only member of an MLB ownership group who is a citizen of Mexico.

Peter O'Malley, who along with father Walter owned and operated the Dodgers in Brooklyn and Los Angeles from 1950-90, was not in attendance because of a recent surgery. His role is undetermined, though moving forward, it sounds as if it will be one of a mentor.

"Hopefully, we are smart enough to draw on the great pool of wisdom and experience that we have in our uncle Peter," Seidler said. "We talk to him [almost] daily, and he will continue to be a great sounding board for us."

Fowler's involvement in the Padres seems like a natural progression for someone who has long had an impact on the community.

Fowler is the CEO of Liquid Investments, a San Diego beer distributorship, and he becomes the first locally based control person and executive chairman of the Padres since founding owner C. Arnholdt Smith.

Fowler was an owner of the San Diego Sockers, an indoor soccer team, on the tail end of its run of 10 championships in 11 years. He was also chairman of the city's first Task Force, charged with selecting a site for what turned out to be PETCO Park, and he chaired the host committee for Super Bowl XXXVII, which was played in January 2003 and was the last of three to be staged at Qualcomm Stadium.

Now, Fowler has a hand -- and a powerful one, at that -- in the Padres.

"The Padres are a civic treasure," Fowler said.

On the topic of increasing payroll, Fowler and Garfinkel did not disclose specifics but indicated that the Padres -- who haven't had an Opening Day payroll of $60 million or more since 2008 -- will certainly see an increase from where the payrool stood on Opening Day this season ($55 million).

"We are not going to discuss payroll in the press," Fowler said. "It's a policy we're going to have. However, I will say we are looking for payroll to increase. But specifics don't accomplish anything for us. All that it does is tells competition what we're doing, and we're not intending to do that."

Another hot topic among the fan base is the dimensions of the Padres' spacious downtown park, which rates as one of the most pitcher-friendly environments in the game. Earlier this season, Garfinkel confirmed that the team would look into modifying the dimensions.

"The team has spent a lot of time and research on it -- I just found the men's room this morning, so it will probably take a week or so for us to take a look at that issue," Fowler joked. "But a lot of studies have been done, and we're going to take a look at the studies and we're going to consult with Josh and Tom and make a decision."

Then there's the issue of getting the Padres a wider audience on local television.

The current impasse between Fox Sports San Diego and Time Warner Cable and ATT Uverse essentially means that 42 percent of the county's television audience can't watch Padres games in their homes.

"We understand it's a huge issue," Fowler said. "We do want all home fans in San Diego to be able to see the Padres on TV. It's not a simple problem -- if it was, it would have been solved some time ago. But we will be working on it with FOX and with the other party that is involved.