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Owner loses control of Victoria’s baseball HarbourCats

Victoria HarbourCats founder John McLean confirmed Monday that he has lost control of his West Coast League baseball club to a former business associate in a B.C. Supreme Court civil suit.
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HarbourCats founder John McLean has lost control of his WCL baseball club to a former business associate in a civil suit.

Victoria HarbourCats founder John McLean confirmed Monday that he has lost control of his West Coast League baseball club to a former business associate in a B.C. Supreme Court civil suit.

But McLean insisted the team will be back playing next season at Royal Athletic Park.

The HarbourCats led the WCL in attendance last season with an announced per-game average of 1,576 fans over 27 home dates,

“This has nothing to do with the team level. This is on [my] corporate business level,” said McLean, a private equity investor in Vancouver.

“Because of a business relationship, a claim was made on the shares of the HarbourCats. I got into a legal dispute [with an unnamed former associate] and shares of the team were transferred into a different company.”

McLean said the team is now in the hands of a Delaware-based holding company called Bhootan LLC. But he said day-to-day operations are running normally under general manager Jim Swanson.

Swanson labelled as “alarmist” media reports the team is in trouble. “There will be HarbourCats baseball in 2015,” he said, calling transfer of the team to a holding company a business transaction. “The ownership is in a transition phase. There is no jeopardy to this team. The operations of the team are solid.”

There are, however, reports that staff and businesses, including coaches, have not received payments that are due.

The club is behind on some payments, said Swanson. “That will be resolved.”

Swanson admitted he has not taken payment for the past few weeks but said the move was voluntary. “I’ve allowed myself to not be paid to allow others to be taken care of first.”

McLean, who did not elaborate on the nature of the legal dispute, said the delay in payments happened because of the dispute.

“That was part of the transfer of ownership and [getting payments out] is getting sorted out,” he said.

“Jim Swanson is holding down the fort. The business continues running on a day-to-day basis. The team continues to operate. Tickets are being sold. We led the league in attendance. I am passionate about this for the city, the fans, the park, and want it to be a success.”

Swanson also insisted it was business as usual and said three new signed players would be unveiled today, bringing to 18 the number of players officially announced as inked for 2015.

Swanson said the team has 41 players committed to play in 2015 under new head coach Graig Merritt — who is a scout for the Tampa Bay Rays — but that not all contracts are in yet.

The operating budget for the HarbourCats in the WCL, a league that features U.S. collegiate NCAA players in summer ball, is about $550,000 a season, Swanson said.

The HarbourCats are the latest baseball incarnation in what has been a tumultuous ride at Royal Athletic Park. The Victoria Capitals were successful in ticket sales in 2003 but the circuit, the Canadian Baseball League, folded mid-season. The Victoria Seals were an attendance hit in 2009 and 2010, but the Golden League they were part of no longer exists.

cdheensaw@timescolonist.com