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Mark Cuban eyes Pittsburgh Pirates

The Dallas Mavericks owner and Internet entrepreneur has an abiding interest in his hometown baseball team.

Mark Cuban already owns a basketball team. Now, according to sources, he is interested in a baseball franchise.

Cuban, who owns the Dallas Mavericks of the National Basketball Association, is exploring an acquisition of his hometown Pittsburgh Pirates, sources said Friday.

One of the sources said that baseball is Cuban's sport of choice and had a baseball team been available in 2000, when he purchased the Mavericks for $285 million, he would have chosen the diamond over the hardwood.

A banking source said that any buyer would not be making the move for financial reasons, one reason why Cuban might be a perfect fit. This person valued the Pirates at around $225 million, about the same as the Milwaukee Brewers. The source added that the demographics aren't favorable to a new ownership group, and since Pittsburgh is a football town, the Pirates have a tougher time drawing fan interest than do the National Football League's Steelers.

Neither source could say how far along any negotiations might be, just that there is interest by Cuban in owning the team and interest from Pirates owner Kevin McClatchy in selling it.

The news comes during a flurry of merger and acquisition activity in baseball. On Thursday, Robert Castellini and a group of local businessmen acquired a 70 percent to 80 percent stake in the Cincinnati Reds for $270 million. And the auction for the Washington Nationals, which has been going on since 2003, should conclude within 10 days.

The Pirates have struggled on the field over the past 15 years. They haven't had a winning season since 1992 and McClatchy, a member of the family that controls publisher McClatchy Co., is either unwilling or cannot afford to pay top dollar to keep talent. Despite a new stadium, few fans attend Pirate games as the team routinely finds itself in last place in the National League Central division.

The Pirates ranked 27th in attendance among 30 major league teams this year, drawing just under 1.8 million fans. By contrast, the New York Yankees led the majors in attendance with nearly 4.1 million customers.

The banker said McClatchy has been potentially looking for a new owner, and the source has been hearing the news for around three months.

Cuban has previously said he would be interested in an ownership stake in the Pirates, should it become available. The usually accessible Cuban did not return e-mails on Thursday or Friday.

McClatchy acquired the team for $90 million through his investment vehicle, Pittsburgh Pirates Acquisition, serving as CEO and managing general partner. In gaining the team, McClatchy had to raise around $61 million, including $2 million from the parent company of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and around $14 million from previous investors. The remaining $29 million arrived via debt inherited from the old owners.

With little television revenue and relatively low personal wealth, McClatchy's pockets simply may not be deep enough to be an owner.

Calls to the Pirates and McClatchy were not returned Friday.

Cuban made his fortune through his passion, sports. In an effort to follow his favorite college basketball team, he pioneered the concept of broadcasting live games and other events on the Internet. He named his company and took advantage of the dot-com boom, selling Broadcast to Yahoo for $5.7 billion.

While was his biggest success, Cuban also founded Micro Solutions in 1983, which he sold in the 1990s to CompuServe Interactive Services for $6 million. Cuban also owns HDNet, the first high-definition satellite network; is a partner in another venture, called 2929 Entertainment; and is an investor in independent film company Lions Gate Entertainment.

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