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Guber Finds Teammates for Sports Venture

Execs: The movie producer is forming a new partnership to own three minor league teams.

December 17, 1996|JAMES BATES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Peter Guber is in the sports business, albeit it in a minor league way.

The former Sony Pictures chairman and current movie producer, who over the years has flirted with buying professional sports teams ranging from the Los Angeles Kings hockey franchise to the Miami Heat basketball team, is becoming a partner in two professional minor league baseball teams and one minor league hockey team.

Guber and longtime associate Paul Schaeffer are doing so by forming Mandalay Sports Enterprises with the father-son team of Hank and Ken Stickney. Mandalay will be an equal partner with the Stickneys.

Three of the Stickney's minor league clubs are involved in the deal: baseball's Lake Elsinore Storm and Las Vegas Stars and minor league hockey team the Las Vegas Thunder. Another baseball team owned by Hank Stickney, the successful Rancho Cucamonga Quakes, could become part of the company later, his son said.

No price was disclosed, although sources put it at about $10 million.

In the last few years, minor league sports has moved from the backwater to become a profitable business. Payroll is only a fraction of what it is in major league sports, new stadiums have become big profit centers, and aggressive marketing has drawn big crowds.

All three teams involved in the deal have major league affiliations. Lake Elsinore is the single-A affiliate of the Anaheim Angels, while the Las Vegas Stars are the triple-A club for the San Diego Padres.

The Thunder, an International Hockey League team, has a loose affiliation with the new Phoenix Coyotes of the National Hockey League.

Guber, who was forced out as the head of Sony Pictures amid big losses in 1994, has long been interested in getting into the sports business. At Sony, he held serious discussions about buying both the Kings and the Lakers, but neither worked out. As an individual, he flirted with buying the former Quebec Nordiques as well as the Heat and the Kings.

As a producer, Guber's company had a hand in producing a sports-related film last summer about a crazed baseball fan. "The Fan" did poorly at the box office.

In an interview, Guber said he is getting into sports to extend his company's entertainment business rather than as a personal hobby.

"This is a business decision, an entrepreneurial decision. It's not a vanity purchase," Guber said.

For the Stickneys, who made their fortunes in the health-care business, the deal offers the potential to play on a much bigger stage. Ken Stickney said that affiliating with an entertainment company presents a myriad of opportunities to boost merchandise revenue, gain national sponsorship and, most important, further develop and exploit television opportunities.

Mandalay Sports will be based in Los Angeles. The company said it expects to name a longtime sports executive as president and chief operating officer early next year.

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