An ownership group led by the Haslam family plans to sell the Tennessee Smokies baseball team to local businessman Randy Boyd.
Boyd, the founder and CEO of Radio Systems Corporation, said Thursday that he's hoping to close the deal within the next two weeks, and that owning the Smokies has been among his ambitions "for as long as I can remember."
"It is a financial investment, but it's really more of a community investment," he said. "I plan on keeping it ‘til I die, passing it on to my children, and hopefully they'll pass it on to their children."
The team is currently owned by a group of local investors: Pilot Flying J CEO Jimmy Haslam, who also owns the Cleveland Browns football team; Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; their father, Pilot founder Jim Haslam; Tennessee Supreme Court Chief Justice Gary Wade; Summit Medical Group founder Dwight Wade; Phillips & Jordan principal Teddy Phillips; and Jim and Sid Blalock, co-owners of Blalock Companies.
According to the team, Jimmy Haslam and Bill Haslam will retain a security interest in the Smokies.
Boyd declined to disclose terms of the deal, but said he is mostly paying cash. Boyd said the security interest is a note that he'll pay off later.
The move comes as the Haslam family faces a firestorm of controversy related to Pilot. The giant chain of truck stops is being investigated by the federal government in connection with a rebate fraud scheme that has already netted guilty pleas from five employees.
Jimmy Haslam said Thursday that the sale of the Smokies is "absolutely not" related to the legal woes facing Pilot.
"It does have something to do with Cleveland in that we're obviously going to be spending more time there," he said, a reference to his ownership of the Browns. "But I think the reality is the entire partnership group had owned the team for 12 years and felt like it was time for new ownership."
Jimmy Haslam declined to discuss issues related to the government investigation of Pilot.
The Smokies deal is a tiny transaction relative to the family's overall holdings.
While Haslam reportedly paid more than $1 billion for the Browns, the Smokies' owners reportedly paid around $7.5 million in 2002 to acquire the Double-A team, which is now an affiliate of the Chicago Cubs. Even so, many Browns fans have been concerned about whether Pilot's legal woes will affect Haslam's ownership of the football team.
Asked what he would say to Browns fans, Jimmy Haslam on Thursday said there is "absolutely zero to worry about."
Boyd said that he spoke to Jim Haslam — the father of Bill and Jimmy — several years ago about the Smokies, but "he was so happy with the business that I got the impression he never would sell."
He added that "(One day) this January I'm driving down the road, Jimmy calls me and says ‘Hey, would you like to buy the team?' I should have probably pulled over to catch my breath, but I was very excited to get the opportunity and said yes immediately."
Boyd said the two sides "traded probably two emails" before coming to terms, although the deal still needed approvals from the Southern League and Minor League Baseball. Asked if he was paying more than the current owners paid for the team, Boyd described the deal as a "win-win."
"All of their investors will get a return on investment, and I feel like we're paying a fair price," he said.
Boyd is a baseball fan who said he has visited 39 Major League stadiums, although he hasn't yet been to a couple of the newest venues. The businessman said he doesn't expect to spend a lot of time running the Smokies, at least initially.
"It's not an organization or a business that I have to go fix up," he said. "Everything is already running great, so it should be kind of a low-maintenance investment."
Boyd is also an unpaid education adviser to Gov. Bill Haslam. "I think he and I spent probably 30 seconds (discussing) it," he said.
A spokeswoman for the governor said he wasn't involved in the transaction and doesn't know much about it.