Ken Young didn’t want to sell, but eventually got an offer he couldn’t refuse.
As a result, the Norfolk Tides, the Orioles’ Triple-A affiliate, will change ownership for the first time in 30 years.
Young, the team’s president and principal owner since 1993, has agreed to sell the club to Diamond Baseball Holdings, which owns more than 20 minor league baseball teams, the Tides and DBH announced Tuesday.
Young, a longtime hospitality executive, said the change in ownership does not put the team at risk of leaving the club, adding that the club’s employees will remain there.
“They don’t want to go anywhere,” Young said, referring to DBH. “They know Norfolk is a good market. The Tides stay in Norfolk.”
Subject to International League approval and satisfaction of other standard closing conditions, the transaction is expected to close in a timely manner.
Norfolk works under a player development contract with the parent club, which runs until 2030. The Tides recently signed a two-year extension of their Harbor Park lease with the city, which runs through the 2024 season and is expected to be extended long-term in the coming months.
Young, who declined to disclose the terms of the sale, will remain with the club as an advisor and continue to help negotiate the lease extension with the city.
DBH is under the umbrella of Silver Lake, a $101 billion private equity investment firm. DBH, founded in 2021 by media conglomerate Endeavor, has teams ranging from lower Class A to Triple-A, including Gwinnett, Memphis, Scranton/Wilkes-Barre and St. Paul of the IL.
Tides general manager Joe Gregory said a representative from DBH was in town Tuesday to answer questions from employees.
“It would have been easy to just do a Zoom call and deploy the staff,” Gregory said. “But for them to actually fly someone out here, sit down face to face and talk to everyone, I think shows their commitment and their genuine concern that they look out for the well-being of the existing workforce.”
Young said DBH contacted him about purchasing the team about 18 months ago, when the company began purchasing several minor league clubs.
“I really wasn’t interested,” Young said. “And they kept coming back and eventually they got to a point [where] I thought, ‘I have to listen to these people.’ So that’s really how it happened.”
Young, 72, said his decision to sell was partly due to an aging group of investors on the team who he said were “pleased” with the results of the deal.
Young also sold the Albuquerque Isotopes, the Triple-A affiliate of the Colorado Rockies, to DBH. The company now owns nearly a third of baseball’s Triple-A franchises, as well as a handful of Double-A teams.
“If you look at what happened with these transactions, the team leadership and front office staff stayed in place,” Gregory said. “It seems like a good thing for the team and for Norfolk and the surrounding area.”
The Orioles, who have been affiliated with the Tides since 2007, are also on board. In a statement, Minor League Operations Manager Kent Qualls thanked Young and the ownership group “for the outstanding partnership during our past 17 seasons in Norfolk,” adding that Baltimore looks forward to a continued association with the city alongside DBH.
Pat Battle and Peter Freund, chairman and CEO of DBH, respectively, expressed their desire for continuity.
“We are excited to add this legendary Triple-A franchise to the DBH family and are extremely grateful to be entrusted with continuing Ken’s remarkable legacy in Norfolk,” a statement said. “We are very excited about the future of the Tides, the incredible staff already in place and the continued partnership with the Orioles in the Norfolk community.”
A proposed casino beyond left field in Harbor Park has had a handful of false starts and its future remains uncertain. Young, who lives in Tampa, Florida, said the casino project “really has no bearing on this transaction.”
He fondly remembers his time in the city.
“I have to say I loved being in Norfolk and having the team there, the fans and everything else,” Young said. “It’s just great. A good relationship with the city – all that. But it was the right time for it and they made us a good offer.”
Last month, the Tides won their first IL title since 1985. They then won the Triple-A National Championship Game in Las Vegas.
Norfolk’s roster that season featured some of the Orioles’ most highly regarded prospects, including 19-year-old shortstop Jackson Holliday, the top-ranked prospect in all of baseball.
The team’s attendance was the highest since 2008.
“It was a fantastic year for the Tides and capped Ken’s legendary tenure as owner,” Gregory said. “The entire staff here thanks Ken for everything he has done for Norfolk and minor league baseball.”