BY Art Thiel 07:06PM 04/22/2013

Thiel: Lincoln says he didn’t lie about TV deal

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.


  • Jamo57

    I have new found respect for Mr. Lincoln. It must be very difficult to compose an email with your fingers crossed.

    Such a talent.

  • Tian Biao

    congratulations, Art! And here I had always thought Howard Lincoln was impervious to criticism – excellent. But I do have a bit more respect for the man, I mean, he did respond, after all, and in some detail. so, that’s something. Now, if only he and the owners could somehow, magically, against all odds, and against a decade of history, produce a real winner, that would really be something.

  • Trygvesture

    ‘Preciate your professional lack of commentary on Lincoln’s continued word-parsing.

    “…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” (Lincoln)

    “Mariners and DirecTV described the deal as ‘a new regional sports network [RSN] partnership in the Pacific Northwest. The Mariners hold a majority stake in the new venture'”(press release)

    Let’s see: if the Ms call it an RSN partnership (wherein they are majority owners) and announce it as an RSN partnership (where they are the majority owners) I’m guessin Howard and everybody else on the planet knows it is an RSN partnership (where the Ms are the majority [controlling] owners).

    That the M’s wouldn’t manage day-to-day operations from Safeco with Ms staffers — but would leave it to their newly-acquired ROOT employees–would seem to be a given. He parsed words to the point of lying. To say otherwise is to annihilate credulity.

    And Waldman’s comment? He must have meant–what?– that he didn’t really realize that an RSN partnership included TV broadcasts of Ms games?

    Howard: go away. And take your ill-spoken lackeys with you.

  • Marcus

    Unbelievable. The PR-deafness just continues. You’d think he would just let it go, but now this becomes even more of a story. Looking at the facts, he lied. Hey, he may have had good reasoning in his mind to lie, but that’s what he did. Of course it’s moments like this that give me hope, since Lincoln has often said unequivocally that the team is not for sale. Please make that be a lie too.

  • 1coolguy

    Until Armstrong and Lincoln are gone I never buy another M’s ticket.

  • I never mind when people respectfully communicate with others, nothing but respect is gained from me. Even if the hard facts say yes he did deceive with his response to the question.

  • barb

    Art, you have given this unfortunate little man way just enough rope to hang himself.

  • A distinction without a difference.

  • Michael Kaiser

    I am lost. Beyond offending you by purportedly, or apparently, lying, as well as the baggage that comes in general from lying, is there something else I am missing here of substance?

  • jafabian

    Howard really shouldn’t be the face of the franchise. He, like John Ellis before him, are reluctant participants in Mariner ownership though I appreciate their efforts in keeping the M’s from moving. However too many times Howard has clashed with the media, players and managers and at times even fans. Not a good thing when you’re trying to win back their trust if not their dollar. The franchise would be better served if Chris Larson was the controlling partner but I’m not sure if his personal problems still preclude him from taking an active role.

    However out of all the invisible owners the Mariners have he’s the one who is most passionate. He’s the one who wore an old Rainiers jersey to meet the MLB board in NYC when Baseball Club of Seattle was attempting to purchase the M’s. Howard views the Mariners as a business whereas Larson views the Mariners as a baseball club. And treating the M’s as a business under Howard’s watch hasn’t been entirely successful. At least in the standings. And that’s where everything starts with in an MLB club.

  • maqman

    At the minimum he was purposely deceptive. I understand he had privileged information he didn’t want disclosed at that point but he made no effort to be truthful, instead he made a blanket assertion that “no” they were not considering operating a RSN. One word we all understand is “no” and its common meaning. If you own a hot dog stand (which he does come think of it) and you hire somebody else to run it on a daily basis you are still the owner and the operator of that legal entity. He had an opportunity to tell the truth and he parsed.

  • Gary

    This is like two 5th graders going at it, is there a purpose for this? Lincoln and Armstrong’s record stands on its own.

  • Joe Fan

    We all know Chuckie and Howie are the worst possible duo to be leading the good ship Mariner. They are troglodytes that need to be banished from the helm. I just feel like all real hope for future team success is lost until they are gone.

  • art
    i am impressed that Mr. Lincoln would deign to read and react to you. From what i have seen neither he nor Armstrong give a hoot about what the fans think. In my humble opinion, it is time that they sell the team. It is profitable and without debt. They have a new TV deal. They have an owner who has never seen them play;even when they were playing in Japan. We owe them a debt of gratitude but gratitude has been paid since 1993 I believe. The ownership has not dedicated itself the way other owners have. I am always impressed with organizations that continue to succeed.The mariners have not. But the Braves, Cardinals, Rays, A’s to name a few have. It is time to hire a new mangager, a new GM and have new ownership

  • We are not worthy!

    Never engage in a putdown contest with Arthur Thiel.

  • bugzapper

    Hey Howie: I’m troubled by your assertion that you didn’t lie to me and every other M’s fan when you claimed to be putting a “competitive” product on the field. I know you have no interest in putting a winning product on the field, but this latest example of your collective incompetence takes disingenuous to a new level.

  • Topcopy

    Art — I have too much respect for you as a writer to accept your lede. Howard Lincoln did NOT “refute” your characterization of him as having lied; he denied it. The two do NOT mean the same thing, as you should well know, no matter how many people latch onto refute as this year’s vogue word and misuse it in this way. And no, I’m not some misanthropic language traditionalist, nor could I ever allow myself to be (I’m a copywriter, for God’s sake) — but there are lines we cannot cross and paths we cannot walk down. There simply are not enough breadcrumbs to find our way back.

    • art thiel

      Top: You are right. I appreciate a fellow warrior who defends the language. Haste makes fools of us all. Thanks.