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City, baseball ownership group to remove non-compete; City to collect more revenue in deal

The group of investors working to purchase a Triple-A baseball team and bring it to El Paso is making concessions after concerns by El Paso City Council members and public outcry threatened to derail the plan at a City Council vote on Tuesday.

The MountainStar Sports Group announced Saturday afternoon that it will remove the non-compete clause that would have kept other baseball teams — including the El Paso Diablos — from playing in the city.

Another change in the contract is the increase of the ticket surcharge from 10 cents per ticket to 50 cents per ticket beginning the first year of the 20-year stadium lease. The ownership group also announced it has agreed to increase the base rent, ticket surcharge amount, and the parking fee by 10 percent every five years throughout the life of the lease. The current terms of the contract call for $200,000 in yearly rent and up to $75,000 in ticket surcharges.

“These concerns were legitimate from their standpoint, and we felt we needed to take a look at what we could do to resolve some of them, and if possible, all of them,” said Josh Hunt, one of the four owners of MountainStar Sports Group.

The PCL had to approve the changes announced Saturday.

“MontainStar Sports Group had to confer with the Pacific Coast League and acquire a special release for the concessions,” stated a news release from the group.

Under the agreement, the City must build a ballpark and the ownership group commits the team which would start playing in El Paso starting in 2014. The City is set to build a baseball stadium at the site of the current City Hall.

The term sheet approved by the El Paso city council June 26 contained a non-compete clause that forced the termination of the contract between the City and the El Paso Diablos, who currently play at the city-owned Cohen Stadium. The contract is set to end in 2016. The Diablos play independent league baseball which is not affiliated with a major league team.

The team MountainStar Sports Group is in the process of buying is the Tucson Padres, which play in the Pacific Coast League and are the Triple-A team of Major League Baseball’s San Diego Padres.

Contracts from several other PCL teams examined by ABC-7 show various levels of revenue-sharing between team owners and cities hosting them. For example, Albuquerque’s Isotopes charge a $1 surcharge per ticket, which goes back to the city.

In a statement, Hunt said the ownership group worked for a week with City Manager Joyce Wilson and her staff to amend the contract.

Earlier Saturday, City Rep. Emma Acosta told ABC-7 she was concerned about both the ticket surcharge and the non-compete clause.

“Those two items, they stay in (the contract) and they can’t take those out,” she said, adding that she would vote against the deal if the terms didn’t change.

Her vote became pivotal, as it would have led to a 5-3 vote in favor of the baseball deal, with representatives Carl Robinson and Eddie Holguin also voting “no.” City Rep. Steve Ortega, who got married on Saturday, had said he would not attend City Council’s meeting on Tuesday. With Ortega absent, the vote on Tuesday was expected to become 4-3 in favor of the contract.

The 4-3 split would have opened the door for Mayor John Cook to veto the proposal. The mayor has said he considers the ballpark a quality-of-life project subject to voter approval, and is against the demolition of City Hall to give way for the construction of the ballpark.

In late August, MountainStar Sports Group announced they will donate all of their team’s profits to charity.

City Council is set to vote on the baseball deal, the relocation of City Hall –including the purchase of several properties — on Tuesday.

ABC-7 reporter Matthew Smith contributed to this report

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