For the first time since their inaugural season in 1994, the Portland Sea Dogs will be under new ownership next year. The team will remain affiliated with the Boston Red Sox under new owners Diamond Baseball Holdings. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

When Peter Freund became majority owner of minor league baseball’s Memphis Redbirds in 2017, one of his first acts was to bring back the barbecue sauce from a local rib joint called The Rendezvous.

The previous owners, who had assumed control two years earlier, had replaced the local flavor with a nationally distributed substitute so they could make their barbecue nachos in-house, presumably at a lower cost.

“When I bought the team,” Freund said, “the advice I got was, ‘If you want to be a hero, just bring back The Rendezvous  barbecue,’ which I thought was the lowest-hanging fruit ever.”

The re-instated Rendezvous barbecue nachos are now the team’s top-selling concession item, Freund said. He shared the tale as a way of demonstrating why, as chief executive officer of Diamond Baseball Holdings, he understands the importance of minor league teams maintaining their local flavor, as it were.

Earlier this month, the Portland Sea Dogs announced the impending sale of the franchise from its only owners – the Burke family – to Diamond Baseball Holdings. A subsidiary of a technology venture firm called Silver Lake, Diamond Baseball has purchased more than a dozen minor league franchises in just over a year. Freund said he expects to have at least 20 ballclubs in the DBH portfolio by Opening Day 2023.

The sale raises concerns about possible changes for fans attending Sea Dogs games at Hadlock Field, and about the intentions of a group gobbling up minor-league baseball teams across the country. Industry analysts, however, do not anticipate Diamond Baseball Holdings taking a homogeneous approach toward franchises like the Sea Dogs that have worked for decades to cultivate their unique brand.


“I don’t pretend to know their long-term plan,” said Randy Vataha, a former New England Patriots wide receiver who has been involved in the sale and purchase of pro sports franchises. “But I don’t think that (DBH is) intending to change the attraction whatsoever of what the culture of minor-league baseball has been, of why it’s been successful in all of these cities around the country.”

Fans of baseball teams purchased a year ago by Diamond Baseball Holdings did not notice significant changes at the ballpark this summer. Casey Porter of Guthrie, Oklahoma, is a fan of the Oklahoma City Dodgers, which was bought by DBH in December 2021.

“If you asked the average fan,” Porter said, “and they weren’t aware that it changed ownership, they would have no idea.”

Diamond Baseball Holdings is retaining Portland’s 19-member front office staff – a move mirrored in most of its other purchases of minor league teams – which will continue to run the franchise, directed by president and general manager Geoff Iacuessa.

“Our staff is staying together,” Iacuessa said. “We’re still going to be the (Boston) Red Sox affiliate. And our ticket prices are remaining the same.”



The past few years in minor league baseball have been something of a roller coaster ride. The pandemic wiped out the 2020 season, and later that year Major League Baseball announced it would contract minor league baseball from 160 franchises to 120. The major leagues, following the expiration of a governing agreement with Minor League Baseball, simply took over operations of the minor leagues.

Diamond Baseball Holdings formed a little over a year ago, and initially consisted of two men: Freund is chief executive officer and Pat Battle is executive chairman. Freund is a New Yorker who ventured into minor-league baseball ownership in 2009 and now has a minority interest in the New York Yankees. Major League Baseball hired him in 2020 as a consultant to help guide the contraction and realignment of the minor leagues.

Last season the Portland Sea Dogs posted their highest average attendance (5,744) at Hadlock Field since 2010. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

As partners in Diamond Baseball Holdings, Freund and Battle, whose background is in college sports licensing, are on a quest to stitch together an industry long fragmented by mom-and-pop operations. Until Major League Baseball assumed control of the minor leagues, ownership of more than one ballclub in the same league was prohibited.

“Now there was this ability to roll it up,” Freund said of buying multiple teams, “to have economies of scale and best practices across all the clubs.”

Where he and Battle see value in bundling franchises is increased purchasing power for merchandise, concessions, promotions and sponsorship deals.

“Rather than buying 10,000 Portland Sea Dogs hats when we place an order with, say, New Era, we’re going to buy 100,000 hats. All of those synergies just seemed to make sense.”


Nearly all minor league owners will have to upgrade their current facilities over the next few years to stay compliant with the standards required by Major League Baseball. Freund said such capital outlay could prove difficult for some owners, another reason why Diamond Baseball is finding willing sellers.

“We are operating from a hyper-local perspective,” Freund said. “The Portland Sea Dogs are one of the most successful minor league baseball teams in America and you don’t try to fix what’s not broken. Diamond Baseball’s interest is not to come in, raise prices, change the fan experience and somehow corporatize the Portland Sea Dogs.”


Vataha, the former Patriots receiver, is president of a company called Game Plan, which provides consulting and investment banking services to the sports and entertainment industry. Vataha’s firm has worked on transactions involving the purchase of the Boston Celtics, Los Angeles Dodgers and Golden State Warriors. He has also been involved with minor league baseball, helping sell the Dodgers’ Triple-A club in Oklahoma City to Diamond Baseball Holdings.

Vataha likes to say that operating a minor league baseball club is akin to running a themed restaurant with a cover charge. In Portland’s case, the parent Red Sox control the baseball side, providing players, coaches and trainers. The Sea Dogs – Iacuessa and his staff – sell concessions and sponsorships and strive for an atmosphere of affordable family-friendly entertainment.

“Even up to the point of contraction (in 2020) I think it was a really good business,” Vataha said of minor league baseball ownership. “I think that it’s going to be an even much better business going forward.”


Part of his reasoning is the opportunities available to an entity with multiple franchises, along with the marketing expertise of MLB. Diamond Baseball currently has clubs in 11 states. Not only can those clubs share information and insights about best practices, but regional or national sponsorships can be sold across all the clubs.

Consider Portland’s “Bark in the Park” promotion, in which fans can bring their dogs to Hadlock Field. Thirteen clubs doing the same promotion once required 13 different sponsors, maybe a local veterinarian. With its portfolio of ballclubs, Diamond Baseball could sell a sponsorship to Purina or Chewy.

“There’s a whole new set of relationships that individual minor league baseball teams would have never had,” Vataha said.

The Sea Dogs were recently honored by Baseball America with the Double-A Bob Freitas Award for demonstrating long-term success and sustained excellence in the business of minor league baseball. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Joel Shapiro, a professor of data analytics at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, said the notion of consolidating and homogenizing fan experience across multiple franchises is outdated.

Shapiro consults with professional sports teams and leads student projects involving everything from stadium operations to marketing to merchandising. He said not to expect the same offerings at every ballpark that a Diamond Baseball Holdings franchise calls home.

“Someone spending $280 million on a portfolio of teams not to take advantage of the customization and the differentiated customer experience sounds kind of crazy to me,” Shapiro said.


“I have to imagine that’s where they’re going (instead of) this notion of giving everybody the exact same experience and making them wait in long lines for crappy food that’s really expensive.”

His reference to $280 million is what Silver Lake paid in August to acquire Diamond Baseball Holdings from its original parent, a publicly traded sports and entertainment conglomerate called Endeavor. Silver Lake already had a half-billion dollar stake in the City Football Group, owners of sports franchises such as Manchester United and soccer clubs in nine other countries.

At the time of the sale, DBH had 10 minor league teams in its portfolio, for an average valuation of $28 million per team.

Fans line up to enter Hadlock Field before the Portland Sea Dogs’ 2022 season opener on April 8. Team president and general manager Geoff Iacuessa says ticket prices will remain the same next season. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

None of the principals disclosed terms of the Sea Dogs sale, but the team has regularly been among the top merchandisers in the minors and is coming off a 2022 season in which average attendance (5,744) ranked third in Double-A and was the highest at Hadlock Field since 2010.

The Sea Dogs were one of only 19 MiLB teams that saw increased attendance over pre-pandemic levels, a factor that played into their being honored by Baseball America with the Double-A Bob Freitas Award for demonstrating long-term success and sustained excellence in the business of minor league baseball. The team also won the award in 1999.

“We’re obviously really excited,” said Iacuessa, the Sea Dogs executive. “That’s a great testament to our front-office staff, our game-day staff and our fans. It’s really a prestigious honor in the world of minor-league baseball.”


Iacuessa lamented the timing of the announcement, which came 10 minutes after news broke of the sale. He said the timing was beyond his control. Many Sea Dogs fans may be wondering: In the near future, what else will be beyond Iacuessa’s control?

Will local craft beers be replaced by national brands? Will the Blue Bunny ice cream sandwich or some similar generic alternative replace the beloved Sea Dogs biscuit, as was the case for much of last season?


Fans of teams bought in 2021 by Diamond Baseball Holdings said Sea Dogs fans shouldn’t expect major upheaval at Hadlock Field.

“They’re not going to change what’s good, from what I’ve seen,” said Porter, the Oklahoma Dodgers fan. “I didn’t notice any difference at all.”

Porter said that prices for tickets and concessions did not increase. Menu items, including Dodger Dogs, remained intact. While there were some new features this season, including a group function area added down the left field line and a Saturday night concert, Porter said he wasn’t sure if those were decisions made by the new ownership.


The Mississippi Braves, Atlanta’s Double-A affiliate, were another Diamond Baseball Holdings purchase last December. Dave Hill of Chunky, Mississippi, who estimated he attended 15 games this season, said the atmosphere around the games remained unchanged. Jersey giveaways, Saturday night fireworks and Friday night Dash for Cash (select fans have 60 seconds to scoop up dollar bills from the outfield grass) continued as promotional mainstays. Hill said he paid the same $19 for tickets between home plate and first base as he did before the sale.

Principal Park in Des Moines, Iowa, is home to the Triple-A Iowa Cubs. The franchise, purchased by Diamond Baseball Holdings a year ago, is increasing season ticket prices for club box seats from $700 to $750 next season. Charlie Neibergall/Associated Press

Anne Rehnstrom, a season-ticket holder of the Triple-A Iowa Cubs who has attended games since 1981, said she noticed some subtle changes in the first season of Diamond Baseball Holdings ownership: A baseball signing event wasn’t held, there weren’t 50/50 raffles, and fans had to pay tax on concession items.

“The new ownership put tax on everything,” said the Des Moines resident. “We never paid tax on food or drink before.”

Rehnstrom also said the season ticket prices are going up for next season, and the Cubs’ ticket office confirmed that club box seats will increase from $700 to $750 in 2023.

She said the in-game experience, however, remained enjoyable.

“Oh heavens, yes,” she said. “In between every inning, there was always a promotion. That never changed. They kept enough of their sponsorships to do (that). … The T-shirts and the hot dogs and the horse race and the B-Bop (mascot) race, none of that has gone away.”


Freund, the Diamond Baseball Holdings CEO, said fans in Portland should not worry about Slugger the Sea Dog, the Trash Monsters or any aspect of Hadlock Field that makes the place special. Freund said he is committed to raises for team employees and for ticket prices to remain reasonable. He pledged a return of the Sea Dogs ice cream biscuit, which disappeared in 2022 because of supply-chain issues felt by Skowhegan-based manufacturer Gifford’s.

As for any plan to boost the team’s value in order to sell it for a tidy profit or, worse yet, move it to another city, Freund insisted that Diamond Baseball Holdings is in Portland for the long term.

“This is Portland’s team,” Freund said. “We feel strongly that by coming in, we solidify its long-term viability.”

Staff Writer Drew Bonifant contributed to this story.

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