Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln has
refuted denied my characterization that he lied to me in an October interview regarding the franchise’s plans for its telecasts, writing in an email that the club’s new deal with DirecTV announced last week is not an “operation” of a regional sports network, but a partnership with majority Mariners ownership that does not include operation.
Lincoln wrote there was no intent to deceive then, nor was he attempting to parse words in describing the 17-year extension with ROOT, the Bellevue-based RSN that since 1994 has carried Mariners’ telecasts under earlier brands Prime Sports Northwest and FSN.
“I want you to know that I’m troubled by your assertion that I lied to you when you interviewed me for your October, 12, 2012 article,” Lincoln wrote. “Quite the contrary, I answered your question truthfully.
“At the time of that interview, the Mariners were in the midst of negotiations with DirecTV, which had actually started in late 2010. We were no longer considering the possibility of operating our own regional sports network.
“We were headed well down a path with DirecTV which would see us owning a large (but yet to be determined) stake in an RSN, with Root’s management team continuing to manage and operate the network. We had already decided that operating our own RSN was not the best direction for the Mariners. We chose a less risky television structure.”
The deal, which included no financial terms, was announced April 16, and my April 17 column on the subject can be read here. The column made reference to Mariners executive Bob Aylward’s remark Monday during a teleconference announcing the deal that he was surprised that the deal stayed “off the radar” until its announcement.
Here is the key part of the column’s text, in italics:
Perhaps that’s because the Mariners lied about it. In a lengthy interview with Sportspress Northwest on Oct. 12, mostly about the club’s fierce opposition to Hansen’s arena location, I asked Mariners CEO Howard Lincoln and chief counsel Bart Waldman about the TV sports marketplace. Here was the question and their answers:
Q. Are you considering operating your own RSN?
A. Lincoln: I can answer that – no.
A. Waldman: We aren’t a made-for-TV sport. We don’t want an empty house and all our fans sit at home.
In his email, Lincoln offered his view of the question, and why he answered the way he did.
“I anticipate that you will say that I’m parsing words. But I’m not,” he wrote. “As you well know, one distinct direction that some sports franchises have gone is to operate their own RSNs. We had already chosen not to go that route. With that knowledge in my mind, when you asked me the specific question, I answered honestly and accurately. Perhaps, in hindsight, I should have expanded my answer and asked to take you into my confidence, realizing that if word leaked out any deal would be at risk.
“I have had my issues with the media over the years. I deserved some of the things that were said about me but others I believe were unfair. Through it all I have always respected you as a reporter who works hard to get it right. I have always tried to give you access and to be candid with you. I am sorry you think I fell short in this instance but I hope you know it was not intentional. I also hope that you will let your readers know that I did not lie to you.”
In a joint press release, Mariners and DirecTV described the deal as “a new regional sports network partnership in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners hold a majority stake in the new venture. DIRECTV Sports Networks, which owns and operates two other regional sports networks based in Denver and Pittsburgh, assumes a minority position and will continue to oversee the day to day management of the Northwest network.
“As part of this new agreement, the network will televise Mariners baseball through the conclusion of the 2030 Major League Baseball season. DIRECTV Sports Network’s current ROOT SPORTS Northwest entity and related assets will be contributed into a new jointly owned entity, which will operate under the existing ROOT SPORTS brand.”
Neither the release, nor a subsequent teleconference with four principals with knowledge of the transaction, disclosed financial details or how the reworked partnership brought revenues to the baseball team, other than to say the new deal would provide “the resources to remain competitive on the field for many years to come.”
Two questions in the teleconference, for which Lincoln was not present, referenced his Oct. 12 response, but were not answered directly.