Seattle Mariners

Nintendo sells Mariners to group led by John Stanton; Howard Lincoln to retire

Staff report

Mariners chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln (center) in a 2013 moment with former club president Chuck Armstrong.
Mariners chairman and CEO Howard Lincoln (center) in a 2013 moment with former club president Chuck Armstrong. AP

Nintendo of America plans to sell its controlling stake in the Seattle Mariners to a group of minority owners led by John Stanton, who would become the team’s chairman and chief executive officer.

Current Chairman Howard Lincoln announced the intended transaction Wednesday along with his plan to retire from day-to-day oversight of the franchise. Nintendo, which took control of the team from Jeff Smulyan in 1992, is selling all but 10 percent of its stake in the franchise and the regional sports network ROOT Sports.

Stanton’s group, First Avenue Entertainment LLLP, will own 90 percent of the franchise and a majority interest in ROOT Sports, holdings the team said are valued at $1.4 billion. Stanton has been a minority owner and will take over daily operation of the franchise as Major League Baseball’s designated control person. He was a minority owner of the Seattle SuperSonics as part of the Basketball Club of Seattle.

Stanton said the minority ownership group includes 17 investors, and there will be no majority owner among the group. The ownership change is subject to MLB approval, which the club hopes to get during the August owners’ meetings.

“The number one goal of this ownership team is to win a World Series,” Stanton said in a statement issued by the team. “We want to win a World Series here in Seattle and have a parade and celebration for that event. It’s time that we have that accomplishment.”

Lincoln played a key role in keeping the Mariners in Seattle through a 1992 purchase from Smulyan.

After joining Nintendo as its senior vice president and general counsel in 1983, Lincoln became the chairman of Nintendo of America in 1994.

He resigned that position in 2000, roughly four months after replacing John Ellis as the Mariners’ chairman and chief executive officer.

Lincoln’s tenure in charge of the Mariners included their 116-victory season in 2001 and two appearances in the American League Championship Series, but the club’s current 14-year postseason drought is the longest in the major leagues.

Ironically, perhaps, Lincoln’s resignation occurred with the Mariners (11-9) in first place in the AL West Division.

“I feel proud I played a part in saving the Mariners for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. … Obviously I’m as frustrated as all of us are that we have not been able to get back to the playoffs since 2001,” Lincoln said.

Stanton joined the Mariners ownership group in 2000 and was a driving force in the wireless industry, involved as a co-founder of three different wireless companies. Stanton and the other minority owners were approached by Lincoln in February about the idea of purchasing majority interest in the franchise and returned with an answer to pursue the transaction in late in March.

Lincoln said it was the wish of Nintendo president Hiroshi Yamauchi, who died three years ago, that local owners regain control of the Mariners.