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Focus cries foul on Liberty baseball bid

Springs group says 'pornographers' not suited to own Braves

By Joyzelle Davis, Rocky Mountain News, July 14, 2006

Focus on the Family is none too happy that John Malone's Liberty Media could be the new owner of the Atlanta Braves.

The Colorado Springs-based religious group is organizing a grassroots effort to stop the man it calls a "porn magnate" from acquiring the ballclub from Time Warner in a stock swap, citing Liberty's ownership of hotel-room movie service On Command.

On Command, available at hotels including the Four Seasons and Starwood Hotels & Resorts, offers adult movies along with a menu of Hollywood blockbusters, Internet access and games. Liberty has been looking to unload its On Command business for months. The company has hired Lehman Brothers to find a buyer, according to a March report by Bloomberg News.

Douglas County-based Liberty's complicated acquisition, which reportedly would involve sending a chunk of Time Warner stock back to that company in exchange for the Braves and a heap of cash, remains speculative. Still, Focus on the Family this week sent out a news release encouraging members to lobby Major League Baseball owners against the transaction at their meeting next month.

Liberty owns a tangle of assets and operating companies, ranging from stakes in News Corp. to home-shopping channel QVC, and rarely draws notice outside of business circles. The company came to Focus on the Family's attention when Stephen Adams, associate editor of the group's Citizen magazine, began working on an article about the biggest U.S. corporations involved in the porn industry. Liberty topped the yet-to-be published list, Adams said.

"They're going to sell a team to pornographers," he said. "This is a reach too far, and we've got to say something about it."

Focus on the Family was founded by James Dobson, who said the tax-exempt group advances what he calls a Christian, pro-family social agenda. An estimated 2.3 million people per month receive one or more of 10 magazines produced by the organization.

John Orr, a spokesman for Liberty, declined to comment.

As of Thursday, Major League Baseball had received fewer than 20 calls, according to a person who answered the phone and did not want to be named. Spokesman Pat Courtney didn't return a call for comment.

The sale of the Braves would have to be approved by three-quarters of baseball's 30 club owners, and Commissioner Bud Selig is unlikely to take any proposed owner to a vote without the necessary support.

Focus' lobbying effort isn't likely to sway the MLB owners, many of whom already know Malone through his decades-long history in the cable industry, a critical source of revenue for ballclubs, said David Carter, executive director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute. Other team ownership groups include people from the cable-TV industry.

"If he were an unknown entity coming out of nowhere, this might have more effect," Carter said. "But the owners will either summarily dismiss this group's attempt to create a wedge issue or they already know Malone and have decided" whether they like him.

And more than anything, fellow owners want a buyer "who is going to do the best he or she can do to build franchise value," he said.

Focus on the Family's Adams concedes that the sale "may already be a fait accompli" but the lobbying effort might appeal "to conservative and Christian owners who decide this isn't such a good move."

The Christian Coalition and American Family Association are also part of the effort, Adams said.

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