Major League Baseball has never had an owner quite like Jeff Moorad. Former players have made the jump to the highest levels of the front office, but Moorad marks the first player agent to jump across the table, and move into a position as general partner and CEO.
The founder of Moorad Sports Management, he began specializing in athlete representation in 1983, with his main focus on Major League Baseball. Moorad’s reputation as a knowledgeable and respected negotiator has earned him a spot on The Sporting News’ 100 Most Powerful People in Sports on eight occasions, as he helped revolutionize player representation.
Moorad’s client base took off in 1984 when he was retained by Will Clark and four other members of the U.S. Olympic baseball team, each of whom were Top 10 draft choices. He then joined forces with Leigh Steinberg in 1985 to form one of the most dynamic twosomes in the history of sports representation, covering both Major League Baseball and the National Football League. The successful duo negotiated over $3 billion in athlete contracts throughout their 18 years together, including representing Pro Football Hall of Famers Steve Young, Troy Aikman, Warren Moon and Thurman Thomas.
Moorad was the negotiator on a number of landmark contracts for a baseball client base that included Manny Ramirez, Eric Karros, Ivan Rodriguez, Mo Vaughn, Shawn Green and Raul Mondesi, just to scratch the surface of All-Star talent he represented. He also represented former D-backs’ player Matt Williams, who joined Clark in spring training with the D-backs as on-field advisors. Moorad represented more than 40 first-round selections from baseball’s annual First Year Player Draft in his practice, highlighted by breakthrough deals for No. 1 overall selections Pat Burrell (1998) and Darin Erstad (1995), both draft records at the time.
Moorad was approved by the Commissioner’s Office as an owner and General Partner in the D-backs’ ownership group in August of 2004 and named CEO in 2007.
Moorad recently ventured into the sport of auto racing, purchasing controlling interest in Hall of Fame Racing from Roger Staubach and Aikman. The Charlotte, N.C.-based team fields the No. 96 DLP HDTV car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series that will be driven by Phoenix-native J.J. Yeley in 2008.
The following interview touches in Moorad’s move from the state of the Diamondbacks when he arrived with the organization, his move from player agent to management, how the Diamondbacks approach player acquisition as a mid-level revenue making market, a progress report on the installation of one of the world’s largest high-definition video display at Chase Field, how he and Tom Garfinkel got involved in owning a NASCAR team, whether the D-Backs will work to expand brand through NASCAR, and a PGA sponsorship, the D-Back’s unique community program that offers free season tickets to underprivileged families, and much, much more – Maury Brown
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Maury Brown for the Business of Sports Network: When you became part of the Diamondbacks organization in 2004, how would you best describe the state of the organization?
Jeff Moorad: When our ownership group took over in 2004, the franchise had enjoyed tremendous success, and at that time was experiencing significant financial challenges. Since that time, thanks in significant part to the capital infused by our ownership group, as well as a thoughtful business plan and approach; we believe we pointed the franchise in the right direction.
Bizball: When you became General Partner, you created quite a precedent in that a former player agent had never been part of an ownership group. Do you feel that given that background, the state of relations within MLB at the highest levels has changed over the years?
Moorad: I recognize that the move I made had some controversy to it, especially at the time. It’s my sense as time has gone on; the seriousness of my commitment has been viewed and in some cases filled by others in the industry, that there has been a warming to my involvement. That having been said, I owe much to Commissioner Selig, as well as my partner Ken Kendrick, for helping me navigate the appropriate path, over the last three and a half years.
Bizball: With your background as a former player agent, how have you been able to apply that experience to the management side?
Moorad: The truth is, my experience has helped probably the most having seen how 30 teams in baseball conducted their business, so that the perspective of doing business with all 30 teams over a 20 year span, and to pick and choose many of the best practices that I have observed, has been an advantage as I have shifted to this side of the table.
Bizball: This past year, the agreement between the D-Backs and FSN Arizona was extended; giving you increased revenues with which to work with. Do you see flexibility with some bad contracts finally coming off the books, along with these new revenues to allow Josh Byrnes to make moves in the free agency market where might not otherwise have been able to in the past?
Moorad: As a mid-level revenue team, I don’t expect that we will ever be a significant player in free agency. We do have a unique ownership situation, in that it’s a community based ownership group that is not driven by annual profits. As a matter of fact, there’s never been one dollar taken out of the franchise. We are committed to re-investing in the ball club on the field, and Josh as a significant member of out leadership team, knows and understands that philosophy. His player acquisitions are likely to be via trades or player development. So that we will invest heavily in those areas, and certainly be open to trading for players who have perhaps significant contracts, as was the case with Randy Johnson, for example. But we are unlikely to be significant players in free agency.
Bizball: It seems like clubs are wrapping up contracts much earlier and extending them out for a longer duration. Is the free agency market becoming more difficult to navigate for mid-level to low-revenue making clubs, based upon that change?
Moorad: I’m not entirely sure of your question. Are you talking about from a talent assessment standpoint, from an availability standpoint?
Bizball: Well, from an availability standpoint as well as the fact that the pool is limited, the free agency pool seems to have been smaller in depth. There seems to be a case of more clubs focusing on player development and trades, at least recently, which then makes a supply and demand situation with the free agency pool escalate.
Moorad: From a lower or middle-tier revenue club standpoint, they’re the ones invested in the trading scenarios and player development.
Bizball: To re-phrase it, it makes it more difficult for low-revenue making clubs to negotiate the free agent market, and are focusing more on trades and player development, than maybe in the past because due to supply and demand…
Moorad: Except that I think there is more supply today, evidence by the middle-tier of players, many of whom were left on the sidelines this off-season. I’m far from an expert in free agency, and specifically leave those analyses to our baseball operation staff. It seems to me like, once again, the market had defined itself as being extremely bullish at the high end, and as some clubs like ours have focused on the draft, player development and trades, the bulk of free agents perhaps found it more challenging to achieve the more significant contracts, and perhaps even the opportunities that may have been there in the past.
Bizball: On Chase Field, the Diamondbacks and Daktronics have entered into an agreement to install one of the largest high-definition video displays in the world. How far along is the installation, and what other capital improvements to Chase might we see in the future?
Moorad: The scoreboard is in, and at this point the focus of the project is at the room that supports the board, the production room or the control room of the board, which by the way was the most expensive piece of the overall project, is now the focus. So now that the physical board is in, the brains of the board, which will be housed in a separate control room in the stadium, will now be the focus of finishing out the project.
Bizball: Where’s the control room going to be located in the ballpark?
Moorad: In an area behind home plate off the press box.
Bizball: Last year, the D-Backs instituted what is believed to be a first of its kind program by which fans that are under economic duress can apply financial aide receive what amounts to free season tickets for home games. What was the impetuous for the program, and are there plans to extend it?
Moorad: Well, Derrick Hall, our club president deserves the lion share of the credit for that particular program, as well as other fan-friendly programs that we’ve developed. Derrick has a particular affinity for such programs and has been brilliant in crafting programs for our season tickets holders as well as our fans in general throughout our community.
Bizball: Last year, you and Tom Garfinkel purchased the controlling interest in Hall of Fame Racing the NASCAR team owned by Troy Aikman and Roger Staubach. With Garfinkel being a chief exec with Chip Ganassi Racing, and you being an agent for Aikman, when did the concept of purchasing a team come up, and how did you two approach the process?
Moorad: I had met Tom through NASCAR several years ago. As I got to know him better, and shared with him the vision that I had for the baseball club, it coincided with the time that Tom had given noticed to Chip Ganassi and was exploring options for his future. At the end of the day, Tom came on board as our senior vice president with the Diamondbacks, and has since been promoted twice: First to executive vice president, and more recently to chief operating officer of the Diamondbacks.
As we sat around in the office often at the end of the day, talking about our respective visions in sports, we found ourselves often focused on NASCAR and some of the common experiences we’ve had. As time went on, I suggested the possibility of buying a team. Tom offered to open a number of doors for myself and Tom Davin, who is the CEO of Panda Express Restaurants. Tom Davin, and I met with several owners who had some interests in selling their businesses in the sport. At the end of the day, although we looked at a number of the larger teams, we felt that the more conservative approach was perhaps the most appealing. I asked Tom Garfinkel to play a role in the acquisition in Hall-of-Fame Racing. At this point, the other three managers of the LLC that controls Hall-of-Fame, Tom Davin, Tom Garfinkel and myself.
Bizball: Are there plans to run any more races with a Diamondbacks paint scheme?
Moorad: There may be opportunities. We’ve already experienced one on the baseball side. There was a group that had reached out about possible sponsorship of the race team. There didn’t seem to be a fit at this point, and they recently signed a significant agreement to be a sponsor of the Diamondbacks for the next three years.
Bizball: Are you prepared to announce that agreement?
Moorad: I don’t think it’s been announced unfortunately.
Bizball: Against the backdrop of the IRL/Champ Car merger, how do you view the growth of NASCAR?
Moorad: I think as with any sport, or entertainment property, there’s an ebb and flow of growth. NASCAR has had tremendous growth over the last ten years. Although it may have flattened out in recent times, we’re extremely bullish about the future of the sport.
Bizball: The organization recently sponsored PGA Tour rookie Chez Reavie, a former ASU golf star during the FBR Open in Scottsdale earlier this year. Are there plans to continue to grow the D-Backs brand with such sponsorship opportunities?
Moorad: It was really a case of a local ASU alum who was a big Diamondbacks fan that approached us with the idea of wearing our logos and representing us on the golf course across the PGA tour. We offered to take care of his family with some tickets, and we couldn’t be happier about his success as well as his association with our brand. We’re appreciative of the cooperation of the other MLB teams offered in allowing him to wear our gear in their markets.
Bizball: Are there plans to try and continue to grow the brand? Between the NASCAR piece, and things like this. Are you looking at the opportunities to try and grow the brand outside of pure baseball?
Moorad: You asked about the paint scheme on the car. With Texas Instruments blessing, we were able to display the National League West Championship logo on the ’96 car at the Phoenix International Raceway NASCAR race last November. If there’s any co-branding that will occur with the race team it would only be in the Phoenix market.
Bizball: Finally, this season marks the ten-year anniversary of the Diamondbacks being in the league. What other initiatives are the Diamondbacks working on, and how do you view the future of the organization?
Moorad: For a young, ten-year old franchise, the Diamondbacks have certainly had a rich history. They’ve had their ups and downs, but the reality is, a World Series Championship, four Division Championships, five Cy-Young awards earned by pitchers on our club… Needless to say, we’ve made an impact in the industry.
It’s our desire to take the growth over the first decade and extend the brand further by going forward. We’re committed to running a financially responsible enterprise that plays a significant role in the Arizona community. We have a foundation last year that gave in excess of three million dollars back to deserving charitable organizations in Arizona. We’ll continue to work in the foundation. We’re very proud in particular of our field building program, we’ve built 26 little league fields that are dressed up to look like and feel like major league fields around the state. All of them partnering with players on our club who give $50,000 of their own money toward the building effort. That program, which is a centerpiece of our foundation work, will continue and I think be a proud focus of the organization going forward.
- Interview conducted by Maury Brown on 2/22/08
- Interview transcribed by Nick Kappel
- Edited by Maury Brown
- Extra thanks goes out to Nick Kappel for putting in the extra effort on the transcription process
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