Liberty CEO: Braves ‘looking for right deal’ amid NL East ‘arms race’

The chief executive of Braves owner Liberty Media answered questions for 45 minutes during a presentation at an investor conference in Palm Beach, Fla., late Monday afternoon. Only the final two questions were about Liberty’s baseball team.

After being asked about the company’s ownership interests in Formula One auto racing, satellite radio, music and e-commerce, Liberty Media CEO Greg Maffei was asked his outlook for the Braves.

“The team is well set-up,” Maffei said. “We actually have the unfortunate prospects of being in the National League East where there is a lot of capital being spent, a lot of money being spent for players. (It’s) definitely the arms race.

“I think the Atlanta management knows they have capacity to do more and are looking for the right deal.”

He didn't elaborate on what kind of spending "capacity" the Braves have, and they certainly haven't shown it. While three other NL East teams – the Phillies, Nationals and Mets – have been aggressive spenders, the Braves' payroll has gone down from last season's level despite a surge in revenue and profitability.

Maffei mentioned the Braves’ addition of Josh Donaldson and the continued presence of Ronald Acuna, Ozzie Albies, Freddie Freeman and “good young arms.”

“I think we have … a lot of prospects ahead despite that arms race in the NL East,” Maffei said.

He described SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta as “a big home run” financially – “highly successful and I think only good news ahead.”

The second question he fielded about the Braves at the Deutsche Bank Media, Internet and Telecom Conference – broadcast on Liberty Media's corporate website -- pertained to the possibility of the team or another Liberty entity buying the Fox regional sports networks, including Atlanta-based Fox Sports South and Fox Sports Southeast.

Maffei noted that Liberty owned regional sports networks in the past and acknowledged both their “high current earning power” and their riskiness in a changing TV distribution landscape. “It’s an asset class we know well,” he said. “We should look hard with a judicious, thoughtful eye on the risk.”

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