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Stadium: You Won't Believe This
Metrodome Landlord Now Questions If Twins Can Even Exercise Escape Clause Cited In Sale Of Team

MINNEAPOLIS, Posted 7:33 a.m. March 03, 1998 -- Minnesota Twins officials and their attorneys are set to argue differences with their Metrodome landlords over the escape clause in the team's lease.

The team believes it has reached terms required by the escape clause to get out of the lease. The Metropolitan Sports Facilities Commission thinks the Twins' poor attendance and operating losses over the past three seasons were caused by decisions the team made.

Today's mediation session comes after the Twins told a commission committee Monday that the team's season ticket sales have dipped from 8,800 in 1997 to just about 5,000 this season.

Only about 20,000 tickets have been sold for opening night, April 3, said Dave St. Peter, communications vice president for the team. Last year, the Twins drew 43,216 for their home opener.

Twins president Jerry Bell, shown, said Monday that talks to sell the Twins to North Carolina businessman Don Beaver are continuing. If no deal is finalized by March 31, the whole matter can be called off, according to the letter of intent signed by Beaver and Twins owner Carl Pohlad, shown.

"It's a date we're trying to respect," said Bell, but other deadlines have passed in the Twins saga without final consequences.

Under the terms of the escape clause, the Twins could terminate their lease if the team fell below 80 percent of the American League attendance average over the course of 1995, '96 and '97 seasons, or if the team suffered net operating losses over those three seasons.

According to Twins documents, team attendance between 1995-97 was 3.9 million, or 63 percent of the AL average. Also, in financial statements submitted to the commission, the team revealed it lost $26.4 million in operations during those years.

But the Sports Facilities Commission has argued that the low attendance and operating losses "are largely the result of misconduct by the Twins and Major League Baseball."

The commission stated in letters to the team that low ticket sales and operating results were "negatively affected" by the game's labor dispute, which canceled most of the 1994 season and the early part of the 1995 season and that was "provoked and extended by the decision of the Twins and Major League Baseball to commit unfair labor practices.

Commission officials also said the Twins' poor attendance was triggered by Pohlad's threats to "abandon this community" for North Carolina.

Bell has denied such assertions and noted that commission chairman Henry Savelkoul, shown, on numerous occasions, told the news media and members of the Legislature that the Twins, indeed, were likely to meet the escape clause conditions.

No matter what comes out of today's mediation, it isn't binding and either party can pursue the matter in state court.

Also, the lease issues are just part of a larger legal battle that is brewing. Minnesota Attorney General Hubert Humphrey III has challenged baseball's antitrust exemption. A hearing is set for March 18 in Ramsey County District Court to argue those matters.