'Several interested' in buying Lookouts

'Several interested' in buying Lookouts

June 10th, 2011 by David Paschall in Sports - Professional

The deeper the Chattanooga Lookouts play into the 2011 season, the closer the storied minor league baseball franchise could be to being sold.

"There are several interested parties," team owner Frank Burke said Thursday, "and I think something will get done between now and the beginning of next year for sure."

Burke announced last December that he might have to sell the team because of "estate issues" and the declining health of his father, Daniel Burke, who turned 82 in February. He and his father bought the franchise in 1995 along with Charles Eshbach.

The purchase price was not made public, but several sales of similar franchises during that time were for $3.5 to $4 million. According to Southern League president Don Mincher, the average cost now of a Double-A franchise is $12-15 million.

Burke said a sale could not take place between now and the Sept. 5 season finale.

"There may be a contract in place by the end of the season, but it takes pretty much three months to be approved," he said. "Even if we had a contract today, it wouldn't be approved until after the season."

The Lookouts have reached the midpoint of their 70-game home schedule at AT&T Field and, coinciding with the Riverbend Festival, are on their longest trip of the season. They have averaged 3,700 fans per home game, which is well ahead of last season's final average of 3,246.

Last summer's severe heat helped lead to the worst attendance in the stadium's history, and Burke is concerned about a potential repeat.

"It was not good for my business, and I was grateful for the people who did show up," he said. "The one thing I've learned in 17 seasons of doing this is that there is nothing I can do about it, so we have to try and make the best out of it that we can."

There have been two sellouts in 2011 at the 6,340-seat facility, including May 14, when American Idol runner-up Lauren Alaina Suddeth threw out the first pitch and sang "God Bless America." Her appearance at AT&T Field was taped for the show.

The biggest setback occurred with the tornado outbreak April 27. Two signs were ripped from the scoreboard and hurled into right field, the outfield wall sustained damage, and two awnings were lost.

Burke estimates the total cost of repairs at $40,000.

"We've had some weather challenges both with the cold and the heat, and we had some tornado damage, but for the most part it's been a good first half," he said.