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PE-backed firm takes stake in Harrisburg baseball team

A private equity-backed holding company is buying a majority stake in Harrisburg’s minor league baseball team from the family of the late Mark Butler, a co-founder of Harrisburg-based discount retailer Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Holdings

Butler, who died in 2019, bought a majority interest in the Harrisburg Senators in 2014. That stake is now being sold to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a New York-based company that owns about 30 other minor-league teams, including the Altoona Curve and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

What’s next: Diamond Baseball plans to retain the Senators’ existing front-office staff, led by team president Kevin Kulp. 

Kulp is credited with helping the Butler family operate the team over the last several years, including through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While the sale is bittersweet for the Butler family, marking the end of Mark’s tenure with the Harrisburg Senators, the Butler family is thrilled to pass the torch to DBH,” Kulp said in a statement. “DBH will provide long-term stability for the franchise and help write the next chapter of Senators history.”

The team will continue to have some local owners: Dan and Michael Schwab, co-presidents of D&H Distributing, along with their sister, Amy Silfen, have a minority interest in the team.

The deal with Diamond Baseball, which is pending league approval, is expected to close “promptly.”

The team: The Senators have been a minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals since 2005.

They play their home games at Harrisburg’s FNB Field, a city-owned ballpark that is in line for about $12 million in renovations to help it meet league standards. The city is funding the work, with $6 million coming from a state grant.

The team has a lease for the stadium through the 2039 season, according to city spokesperson Matt Maisel.

“This was part of the funding agreements the city and Senators came to last summer when we announced these renovations would be taking place,” he added.

The buyer: Diamond Baseball was founded in 2021 and has been owned since 2022 by Silver Lake, a California-based investment firm with about $102 billion in assets under management.

Diamond owns minor-league teams around the U.S. Recent acquisitions include the Louisville Bats, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, a farm team for the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Worcester Red Sox, affiliated with the Boston Red Sox.

Extra innings: Private equity is a growing force in sports, according to research by Pitchbook, which created an online dashboard to track the trend.

In 2019, Major League Baseball was the first professional sports league in the U.S. to allow private equity owners to take stakes in its franchises.

The NBA, NHL and MLS followed, allowing varying levels of private equity ownership. The NFL has not.

A private equity-backed holding company is buying a majority stake in Harrisburg’s minor league baseball team from the family of the late Mark Butler, a co-founder of Harrisburg-based discount retailer Ollie’s Bargain Outlet Holdings

Butler, who died in 2019, bought a majority interest in the Harrisburg Senators in 2014. That stake is now being sold to Diamond Baseball Holdings, a New York-based company that owns about 30 other minor-league teams, including the Altoona Curve and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Railriders.

Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

What’s next: Diamond Baseball plans to retain the Senators’ existing front-office staff, led by team president Kevin Kulp. 

Kulp is credited with helping the Butler family operate the team over the last several years, including through the Covid-19 pandemic.

“While the sale is bittersweet for the Butler family, marking the end of Mark’s tenure with the Harrisburg Senators, the Butler family is thrilled to pass the torch to DBH,” Kulp said in a statement. “DBH will provide long-term stability for the franchise and help write the next chapter of Senators history.”

The team will continue to have some local owners: Dan and Michael Schwab, co-presidents of D&H Distributing, along with their sister, Amy Silfen, have a minority interest in the team.

The deal with Diamond Baseball, which is pending league approval, is expected to close “promptly.”

The team: The Senators have been a minor league affiliate of the Washington Nationals since 2005.

They play their home games at Harrisburg’s FNB Field, a city-owned ballpark that is in line for about $12 million in renovations to help it meet league standards. The city is funding the work, with $6 million coming from a state grant.

The team has a lease for the stadium through the 2039 season, according to city spokesperson Matt Maisel.

“This was part of the funding agreements the city and Senators came to last summer when we announced these renovations would be taking place,” he added.

The buyer: Diamond Baseball was founded in 2021 and has been owned since 2022 by Silver Lake, a California-based investment firm with about $102 billion in assets under management.

Diamond owns minor-league teams around the U.S. Recent acquisitions include the Louisville Bats, an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds, the New Hampshire Fisher Cats, a farm team for the Toronto Blue Jays, and the Worcester Red Sox, affiliated with the Boston Red Sox.

Extra innings: Private equity is a growing force in sports, according to research by Pitchbook, which created an online dashboard to track the trend.

In 2019, Major League Baseball was the first professional sports league in the U.S. to allow private equity owners to take stakes in its franchises.

The NBA, NHL and MLS followed, allowing varying levels of private equity ownership. The NFL has not.

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