Fans line up to get into Hadlock Field before the Portland Sea Dogs’ season opener against New Hampshire Fisher Cats on April 8. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maine’s most iconic pro sports franchise will have new owners.

After three decades of local ownership, the Portland Sea Dogs are being sold to an organization that operates minor league baseball teams across the country.

Bill Burke, chairman of the Sea Dogs, announced the team’s sale Tuesday to Diamond Baseball Holdings, which in just 12 months has become the largest operator of minor league baseball franchises. The Sea Dogs, whose inaugural season was 1994, have been in the Burke family since Dan Burke successfully applied for an Eastern League expansion franchise in 1992.

The Sea Dogs began as an affiliate of the Florida Marlins but switched to the Boston Red Sox after the 2002 season. Bill Burke declined to reveal a sale price for the team, which will remain affiliated with the Red Sox.

“Thirty years is a long time for a family business,” said Burke, a Cape Elizabeth resident who assumed oversight of the franchise in 2007 when his father’s health declined. (Dan Burke died in 2011 at age 82.) “My father passed it on to our generation and as the stewards, my sister and I always thought a lot about how it goes to the next generation.”

With Bill as chairman and sister Sally McNamara as treasurer, the Sea Dogs remained a family-run operation, hosting an annual lobster bake for the team and staff every summer in Kennebunk.


When the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, it wiped out nearly all revenue for an operation that relies primarily on game-day sales. Even so, the team continued to pay the 19 full-time staff members as well as the seasonal game-day employees.

“The pandemic was very tough,” Burke said. “And then, the Major League Baseball takeover (contracting 43 minor-league franchises) has changed the dynamics. Our direct line really was to the Red Sox and now it’s a lot more interaction with Major League Baseball. It just started to add up.”


The Sea Dogs will continue to operate under their current staff, including Geoff Iacuessa, the team’s president and general manager, and have an agreement to remain Boston’s Double-A affiliate through 2030. Burke and McNamara described the sale Tuesday as bittersweet but timely. They said Diamond Baseball Holdings first approached them about a potential sale in the spring.

“Our biggest single thing was making sure that whatever we did, the franchise stayed in Portland,” Burke said. “Second, was that it stayed a Red Sox affiliate. And the third thing is that the front office is going to stay. So same parent club, same ballpark, same front-office staff. And Sally and I are hanging on to our tickets, so a lot of things are going to look very similar next year.”

The oldest of Sally and Mike McNamara’s four children, Annie, died in November 2019 of complications brought on by acute myeloid leukemia. The family lives in Wellesley, Massachusetts, but spends much of the summer in Kennebunk.


“The ballpark is still a dear, special place for me, but not always easy,” Sally McNamara said. “I spent a lot of time with my daughter there.”

The Sea Dogs also said goodbye this summer to Charlie Eshbach, the former Eastern League president who was Dan Burke’s first hire, as general manager of the team. Eshbach died on July 12 at age 70.

Iacuessa, who succeeded Eshbach, has been with the team for 22 years. Reached in San Diego Tuesday at baseball’s winter meetings, Iacuessa said the sale is likely to be completed in January.

“It’s sad because Bill and Sally have meant so much to all of us, and their family has, but at the same time, we’re happy for them,” Iacuessa said. “They felt this was the right owner and the right time for them to make this transition.”


Diamond Baseball Holdings burst onto the scene in December 2021 as a subsidiary of the entertainment conglomerate Endeavor. Within weeks, Diamond Baseball Holdings became the largest operator of minor league teams after reaching agreements to purchase or operate 10 franchises, including the Iowa Cubs, Memphis Redbirds, and the Scranton/Wilkes-Barre Rail Riders, the respective Triple-A affiliates of the Chicago Cubs, St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees.


In a prepared statement, Diamond Executive Chairman Pat Battle called the Sea Dogs “a treasured cornerstone of the Portland community. It is an honor to partner with them and advance their best-in-class fan and community connectivity.”

Iacuessa said he likes what he sees from the other teams now under control of the Diamond group, both in terms of investment and in philosophy. Slashing payroll and raising ticket prices have not been part of the equation.

“They completely understand that each of these teams is independently run and independently successful in their own way,” he said. “What works in Portland is different from what works in other markets. They’re going to let us do what we’ve been able to do, and that’s been very successful since 1994.”

This summer, the Major League Baseball Players Association raised concerns that Endeavor’s ownership of professional baseball teams presented a conflict of interest for its agents who also represented players. When the MLBPA threatened to decertify player agents who work for Endeavor, the publicly traded company sold Diamond Baseball Holdings to Silver Lake Partners, a private equity firm, in September.

The Sea Dogs are just one of Diamond Baseball Holdings’ newest acquisitions. On Monday, Diamond announced the purchase of two more Double-A affiliates, the Wichita Wind Surge (Twins) and Midland RockHounds (Athletics).



Sea Dogs fans expressed some concern about the sale.

“Let’s hope they know what they’re doing and recognize that the Sea Dogs offer a pretty good experience,” said season-ticket holder Steve Hill of Scarborough.

“I don’t know anything about the new ownership group, but they can’t be better than the Burkes,” said another season-ticket holder, Charlie Einsiedler of Falmouth, who also was a member of the original Citizens for Portland Baseball group that helped land the franchise in 1992. “They were focused on making it affordable and fan-friendly.”

Iacuessa said any operational changes aren’t likely to be noticeable, and deal mainly with clubhouse size and various amenities required by Major League Baseball in the Professional Development League agreement. Diamond also is likely to have increased buying power for merchandise and could leverage efficiencies in ticket sales and other business-related aspects.

At the winter meetings, Iacuessa has met many of the general managers of other Diamond-controlled teams, and “everyone speaks highly and positively of their leadership,” he said. “My impression is they understand how important culture and leadership are.”

The Sea Dogs are coming off a successful season, averaging 5,744 fans per game – third among Eastern League teams and the best average attendance for the franchise since 2010. Portland was one of just 19 teams across minor league baseball with an increase in attendance over pre-pandemic levels in 2019.

Burke and McNamara met personally with the staff last week to deliver news of the impending sale.

“It was hard,” McNamara said. “This has been an incredible privilege for us and it’s very important to us to maintain that legacy. It’s a very bittersweet day for us, for sure.”

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