Monday, December 8, 2014

HarbourCats ownership issues revealed

The HarbourCats were the lead story on today's 5:00 CHEK News, but unfortunately it wasn't exactly a positive story on the team. While I was made aware of some of the high-level details just before the segment aired, I was surprised to see it presented as the lead story (slow news day?) with the over-the-top tagline “HarbourCats Crisis.” In addition to CHEK Sports Director Jeff King's piece, Mike Walker also filed a report on the situation. Let me summarize the most relevant information (for fans) that was revealed in the reports.

John McLean in June 2012
John McLean is no longer the owner of the Victoria HarbourCats. In fact, he hasn't owned the team since October, when a BC Supreme Court civil suit resulted in the transfer of team ownership to Bhootan LLC, a company that is based in Dover, Delaware. McLean is in the venture capital business, an area that I must admit I know very little about. However, it appears that Bhootan has little interest in owning the HarbourCats, but simply acquired the asset through a civil suit that was not related to the baseball business. As Jeff King reported today, Bhootan will run the team (in 2015) if no new ownership comes forward. The company does not want to be in the business for the long haul and they are hoping to sell to local owners sooner rather than later. Whoever this mysterious company is, I'm comforted by the fact that they aren't likely to do anything that might devalue their newly-acquired asset.

The other key players in this drama are saying all the right things. In King’s report, WCL President Dennis Koho was quoted as saying “Our top priority is to make sure the HarbourCats are playing next season in Victoria with no interruption.” GM Jim Swanson insists that the HarbourCats will be on the field next summer as planned. Swanson also said that “There are some people locally who are interested in being part of an ownership group”, although it is unclear at this point who those people might be.

What I do know is that investing money in a West Coast League franchise is a pretty smart thing to do, especially in a vibrant baseball market like Victoria. The WCL is an extremely stable league with a solid business model, so hopefully one or more local business people realize just how great of an opportunity this is. Only two teams in the league’s 10-year history, the Spokane RiverHawks and Moses Lake Pirates, have ever ceased operations. With a reasonably small geographic footprint, the league is able to keep costs down by busing players between cities. Add in the fact that college players aren't paid in order to maintain their amateur status and it becomes pretty tough not to turn a profit over the long term in any reasonable WCL market. All of the startup costs associated with a new franchise have already been paid by the HarbourCats and they’re coming off a season in which they led the league in attendance in spite of posting their second consecutive losing season. Swanson and his new coaching staff have assembled what is likely a winning team for 2015. For potential owners, what’s not to like about this scenario?

Victoria baseball fans have been burned twice in the last dozen years, first losing the Capitals and then the Seals. It’s worth noting that in both cases, the Victoria teams were near the top in league attendance, so I can understand a bit of angst from local fans with the announcement of this latest ownership issue. I must admit that I am a bit of a worrier myself, so I do have a few nagging doubts that things will work out, especially since there is probably more to this story than we currently know. Being the realist that I am, I’m not going to breathe easily until I see a WCL schedule released with Victoria’s name on it. Last year’s schedule was released on November 14th, so I wouldn't expect it to be much longer before that happens. No matter how this plays out, the next few weeks will indeed be interesting for local baseball fans.


  1. So the H/C's feel the CHEK story misrepresented the situation. Well, if they hadn't been so secretive about this (I'm sure the leak came from a disgruntled creditor) they would have had the opportunity to frame the story in a less sensational way. As it is, they're scrambling.

  2. CTV Vancouver Island coverage was not nearly as sensationalized.

  3. Fair characterizations have appeared in the TC, things aren't perfect right now but a shift is ownership does not logically lead to conclusions that the team is done, which is the irrational leap made by Chek. Fact is, ANY business goes through challenging times. This team is a benefit to Victoria and region and worthy of support. I believe the Harbourcats will come through this stronger than before, they have gotten better and better from first year to second year.

  4. Is there a separate clip from the ones above? I don't see the part where CHEK says the team won't be playing this summer... they mention that it's in jeopardy (which is certainly sounds like it is), but did they ever conclude that the team won't be back?

  5. Anonymous,

    Thanks for yourcomment. Yes, those are the only two clips from CHEK. We at the blog have never suggested that CHEK said that the team won't be back. The HarbourCats themselves may not have been happy with the two CHEK reports, but we don't speak for the team, so you'll have to contact them directly to discuss this further.