Nintendo selling Mariners to minority owners

Stanton slated to replace Lincoln as chairman/CEO

Nintendo selling Mariners to minority owners

SEATTLE -- Nintendo of America will sell its majority interest in the Mariners to other members of its current ownership group, the club announced Wednesday, in a move that coincides with the retirement of longtime Mariners CEO and chairman Howard Lincoln.

John Stanton, who has been one of 17 people with minority shares in the team, will take over Lincoln's role and will be the point person once the transaction is completed. The ownership group also acquired Nintendo's majority interest in ROOT Sports Northwest.

Stanton, 60, said the ownership group's goal is to bring a World Series to Seattle and see a parade in his hometown.

"I think the pieces are all here and I believe this team can and will win," Stanton said at an afternoon news conference at Safeco Field.

The deal must still be finalized and approved by Major League Baseball, which won't likely happen until August.

Stanton, regarded as a pioneer in the wireless industry, is a lifelong resident of the Seattle area. He is the former chairman of McCaw Cellular and Clearwire corporations and is currently on the board of directors for Microsoft, Costco and Columbia Sportswear.

Lincoln, 76, was a key member in the group credited with saving baseball in Seattle in 1992, when, as chairman of Nintendo of America, he helped broker the purchase of the team by majority owner Hiroshi Yamauchi, the chairman of Japan-based Nintendo.

Lincoln replaced former chairman John Ellis in 1999. He and longtime team president Chuck Armstrong oversaw the team's operations for years, with Kevin Mather replacing Armstrong as president and chief operating officer in 2014.

Yamauchi died in 2013, but his majority ownership interests had already been transferred for estate-planning purposes in 2004 to Nintendo of America. Nintendo will retain 10 percent ownership in the team, but is selling the rest of its portion -- believed to be about 55 percent -- to the minority owners after determining the club was valued at $1.4 billion, Stanton said.

Stanton said the current front office structure won't change and he called himself "Kevin Mather's biggest fan" as well as a strong believer in what new general manager Jerry Dipoto and manager Scott Servais have accomplished on the field so far this season.

"I've been a CEO in a lot of different environments," Stanton said. "I know baseball and the Mariners are different. I think the most important thing is to let good leaders lead. Kevin has done a terrific job in bringing the organization together. … I'll work with him on strategy and budget and things that are important, largely things that are behind the scenes."

Stanton named new chairman/CEO

Stanton acknowledged his life will change becoming the ownership face of a pro sports franchise. But he sounded like a man who won't be that visible unless things aren't going well.

"I don't think the ownership is important in the sense of the way the team is playing or even the major transactions other than it's important to be willing to take responsibility," he said. "But my philosophy is the credit belongs to those guys. If they win, it's all on Dipoto and Servais and [Robinson] Cano and Felix [Hernandez]. We have to share responsibility if it doesn't go well. That's where ownership gets involved."

Lincoln said discussions of an ownership change began in February after he let Nintendo executives know he was "anxious" to retire. The longtime CEO's biggest regret is that the club hasn't been able to return to the postseason since the 116-win team in 2001.

"I'd have liked a few mulligans along the way," Lincoln said. "But I'm very proud of playing a part in saving the Mariners for Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. I feel very good about how our ownership group has stabilized this franchise to really ensure baseball will be here for generations to come.

"Obviously I'm as frustrated as all of us are about the fact we've not been able to get back to the playoffs since 2001. That's something that does bother me, but I am really excited about this team and how it's playing. Let's keep our fingers crossed."

Lincoln said the biggest challenges in his tenure were initially getting MLB to accept Yamauchi and the Japanese ownership group, then building Safeco Field.

"I think Howard has done a terrific job," Stanton said. "He and I are different people and I'll approach things in different ways than he does. I think to have the kind of enthusiasm in the back office is important in terms of the kind of culture you have in the organization. But ultimately in baseball it's about winning on the field. I think working with Jerry and Scott and following Kevin's leadership, we'll do everything we can to put a winning team on the field and bring home the good results for the city of Seattle."

Stanton said he was a young boy in Seattle when the Pilots moved to Milwaukee in 1969 and he also was extremely disappointed when the Sonics left for Oklahoma City in 2008 when he was a minority owner in the NBA squad. He said Nintendo's original goal was always to find local ownership to keep the Mariners in Seattle and Wednesday's news achieves that intent.

"I don't think there was a real risk of this team leaving town as a result of Howard's decision to retire and Nintendo's decision, but I think every one of the owners had in the back of their mind that this is one of the very few communities in the country that has ever lost two sports teams," he said. "And I think keeping baseball safe in Seattle is of paramount importance. If there's any goal greater than winning the World Series, it's the goal and commitment to keep this team in this town."

Greg Johns has covered the Mariners since 1997, and for MLB.com since 2011. Follow him on Twitter @GregJohnsMLB and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.