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TheStreet Open House

A Faceless Liberty Media Drags Atlanta Braves to Suburbs

PORTLAND, Ore. (TheStreet) -- There are things that a faceless corporation can get away with in the sports world that the average owner just can't.

Say what you will about Marc Cuban and his Dallas Mavericks, the Steinbrenner family and its New York Yankees, Jerry Jones and his Dallas Cowboys or even Donald Sterling and what are only temporarily his Los Angeles Clippers. With each of those faces comes personal accountability. When players are signed or cut, the team wins or loses, something loathsome is said or a franchise move is threatened, fans and local governments know who's behind it and who's accountable. Liberty Media  (LMCA) offers Atlanta none of that as its baseball team steamrolls its way toward a move to the suburbs.

The Atlanta Braves once had that face of public accountability in Ted Turner. The cable magnate bought the team in 1976 and used the Braves as one of the driving forces behind his TBS network. In the 1980s, even kids in towns hundreds of miles away from the nearest Major League Baseball team new who Braves slugger Dale Murphy was and could watch Cy Young Award-winning pitchers Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and John Smoltz tear through lineups and dominate the National League.

After 1996, when Time Warner  (TWX) bought Turner Broadcasting and all its holdings, Ted Turner's role with the Braves went from a one-day stint as manager in the '70s to that of a hands-on owner in the '80s to figurehead in the late-'90s and early 2000s. By 2005, it was just about nil as Time Warner began shopping the Braves to potential buyers. Liberty picked them up -- along with a publishing company and $980 million in cash, for nearly $1.5 billion in Liberty stock options. At the time, Braves officials said they believed Liberty would play no active role in day-to-day operations and would serve only as the capital behind the team.

That was certainly one way to look at it. When the Braves began griping about the location of Turner Field -- away from Atlanta's MARTA subway line, far from fans in the Northern suburbs and in a neighborhood that trolls commenting on stories about the ballpark had no problem throwing around the loaded term "ghetto" to describe -- nearby Cobb County decided that it would have a run at the team. Offering a new $630 million stadium complete with a surrounding faux neighborhood of hotels, shops and other amenities, Cobb County received the Braves' blessing to wrest the team into the suburbs and even farther away from transportation options.

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