Johnson wants to air games on Bobcats network

Updated: April 10, 2004, 2:42 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

The efforts to lure the Montreal Expos to Norfolk, Va., now have the backing of billionaire Bob Johnson.

The owner of the expansion Charlotte Bobcats of the NBA would like to add the Expos to his regional television sports network, C-SET. "If all the stars align, this could be a pretty great opportunity," Johnson told the Charlotte Observer.

Johnson, also founder of the BET television network, could be a very influential figure in Norfolk's bid to land the Expos.

"It looks like you guys bagged a pretty good fish," Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, told the Virginian-Pilot.

Johnson has asked for a meeting with Norfolk interests looking to get the Expos, the Observer reports. However, he said it's too early to speculate on what role he would play in the relocation of the team.

"I really don't know how deep their plans are; do they already have a group together? It's just exploratory right now," Johnson told Observer. Johnson previously tried to move the Expos to the Washington area, where he lives.

Johnson told the newspaper that Norfolk makes sense because it's among the largest markets in the country without a team and isn't close to any baseball city. The Norfolk-Portsmouth-Newport News television market is 41st in the country with more than 693,000 households, according to Nielsen rankings.

Johnson would like to televise Expos games throughout the Carolinas and southern Virginia on C-SET if the team were moved to Virginia, according to the paper. That would complement the 60 or so Bobcats games the network will show during the winter, the Observer reports.

Johnson believes Baltimore and Atlanta are far enough away from Norfolk that the cities would accept the Expos' placement between the two markets.

"Norfolk isn't in anybody's backyard," Johnson told the Observer. "Atlanta might scream. Baltimore might scream, but everybody else (in baseball) wants that team off their pockets."

The 29 other teams in the league currently cover the Expos' financial losses in Montreal.

Baseball has eyed Washington, Portland (Ore.), Las Vegas, Monterrey (Mexico), and Norfolk as a permanent home for the Expos.

Also, the promoter who brought 22 games to Puerto Rico last year and again this season made a proposal to the commissioner's office for a trial relocation to the Caribbean island. Depending on the success of that trial, Antonio Munoz's group would try to buy the Expos.

The Expos are currently playing a series in San Juan, and only drew 14,739 on Good Friday in a loss to the Mets.

Baseball has been trying to resolve the future of the Expos since the struggling franchise was purchased by the other 29 teams before the 2002 season. League officials failed to meet deadlines in 2002 and 2003 to find a new home for the team and have set this year's All-Star break as their latest target.

Baseball approached Charlotte officials about the Expos in December of 2002, but they declined to make a bid. That came just after the NBA awarded an expansion team to Charlotte.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.