Braves sell minor-league teams in Gwinnett, Rome and Mississippi

Pitcher Bryce Elder excelled with Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers in 2021, posting a 2.20 ERA with a 36:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in six starts. (Patricia Ortiz/Gwinnett Stripers)

Credit: Patricia Ortiz/Gwinnett Stripers

Credit: Patricia Ortiz/Gwinnett Stripers

Pitcher Bryce Elder excelled with Triple-A Gwinnett Stripers in 2021, posting a 2.20 ERA with a 36:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio in six starts. (Patricia Ortiz/Gwinnett Stripers)

Closing a long chapter in franchise history, the Braves are selling their minor-league teams in Gwinnett County, Rome and Mississippi.

The sale to Endeavor Group Holdings -- a global company that includes entertainment-agency WME, sports-and-media business IMG and mixed-martial-arts organization UFC -- for an undisclosed price will end decades of ownership by the Braves of minor-league teams.

But the Gwinnett, Mississippi and Rome teams will continue to serve as the Braves’ Triple-A, Double-A and High-A affiliates, respectively, under the new ownership.

What it means: The Braves minor-league teams will operate as in the past for on-field matters, but the franchise will no longer run the business side.

Endeavor, a publicly traded company, said Wednesday that it has “signed purchase agreements” to acquire nine minor-league teams, including the Braves’ affiliates, with the transactions still “subject to customary closing conditions.”

The Braves long bucked a trend among MLB franchises by owning a majority of their minor-league affiliates. In fact, the Braves had owned their Triple-A team since 1966; it was located in Richmond, Va., before moving to Gwinnett in 2009.

People familiar with the sale said the Braves affiliates will operate largely as in the past for on-field matters, with the Braves’ baseball-operations and player-development executives still in charge of assigning players, hiring managers and coaches, etc. But the Braves no longer will operate the business side of the affiliates, with the new ownership entity assuming responsibility for ticket sales, sponsorships, broadcasting and other revenue streams.

Endeavor also will purchase the Augusta GreenJackets, which will remain the Braves’ low-A affiliate. But that team was not previously owned by the Braves.

The Braves decided to sell the Gwinnett Stripers, Mississippi Braves and Rome Braves after a realignment of Minor League Baseball’s relationship with Major League Baseball. The Braves felt that new arrangement, finalized in February, lessened or eliminated the need to own their minor-league affiliates because it gave MLB more control over the minor leagues, including the location of teams and the standards to which they are required to operate.

“With Major League Baseball’s recent realignment of the Professional Development Leagues (PDL), the Braves organization is assured of optimal geographic location for our affiliates for the foreseeable future, and we felt the timing was right (for the sale),” the Braves said in a statement Wednesday. “We support and are encouraged by Endeavor’s investment into the PDL, and the teams are in good hands with some (of) the best staffs in the PDL system.

“We want to thank those employees, many of whom have been with our organization for a very long time, and we look forward to the same consistent relationship in developing Braves players.”

Staffers in the front offices of the minor-league teams will become employees of the new ownership entity rather than of the Braves.

The Braves declined to comment on the transaction beyond the statement.

“Opportunities to move into an ownership position of a sport so steeped in history are increasingly rare, and we are confident this will drive meaningful growth in the Owned Sports Properties segment of our company,“ Endeavor President Mark Shapiro said in a statement. “Just as we’ve done for the UFC, PBR (Professional Bull Riders) and Euroleague (basketball), we see tremendous potential to turbocharge these storied clubs using the scale and capabilities of Endeavor.

“Our expertise across sponsorship sales, event operations, licensing, marketing and content creation will bring incredible value to these clubs, supporting communities across the country who form the backbone of the Professional Development League system.”

In addition to the Braves affiliates, Endeavor announced the acquisition of the Iowa Cubs (Triple-A affiliate of the Chicago Cubs), Memphis Redbirds (Triple-A affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals), Scranton/Wilkes Barre RailRiders (Triple-A affiliate of the New York Yankees), Hudson Valley Renegades (High-A affiliate of the Yankees) and San Jose Giants (Single-A affiliate of the San Francisco Giants). Endeavor also said it is " in late-stage negotiations with a handful of other significant franchises” to acquire more minor-league teams.

Endeavor will create a subsidiary named Diamond Baseball Holdings (DBH), to be led by executives Pat Battle and Peter Freund, to operate the minor-league clubs.

“Diamond Baseball Holdings will be global in our ambitions and hyper-local in our approach, and creating incredible fan experiences will remain our No. 1 priority,” Battle and Freund said in a joint statement. “Additionally, we look forward to providing opportunities for growth to the employees ... whose passion and ingenuity have built the sport through the decades.”

The Gwinnett team said it “will continue to be led” under the new ownership by vice president and general manager Erin McCormick.

“The Gwinnett Stripers are excited to join Diamond Baseball Holdings and proud to continue as the Triple-A affiliate of the Atlanta Braves,” McCormick said. “Under the leadership of DBH, we will further our commitment to the creativity and innovation that make Coolray Field one of the best fan experiences in minor-league baseball.”

Similarly, the Rome and Mississippi teams said in separate statements that their current general managers will remain in place under the new ownership. “Our commitment to Rome and Floyd County will continue,” Rome Braves general manager David Cross said.