Jeffrey H. Smulyan, 57, who heads a worldwide communications company and who is the former owner of baseball's Seattle Mariners, has given Major League Baseball a $100,000 deposit to bid on the Washington Nationals.
"I will tell you that I did make the deposit," Smulyan said yesterday. He joins at least six other groups or individuals who have expressed interest in buying the Nationals and have made the $100,000 deposits with baseball.
Smulyan said he is in preliminary discussions with other possible investors and may be interested in joining an existing group or helping create a newly formed group. Smulyan emphasized in an interview yesterday that if he goes ahead with the purchase of the Nationals, it would be a personal investment and have nothing to do with his publicly owned company, Emmis Communications.
"I am exploring the possibility of being a part of an ownership group on my own," said Smulyan, who is believed to be worth about $200 million. "We will look at [the team] and see. While we did put the money, our potential involvement may be remote. In any event, owning the Nationals would not be my full-time job. "
Indianapolis-based Emmis has operations in 24 U.S. markets as well as Hungary and Belgium. After earning history and law degrees from the University of Southern California, Smulyan formed Emmis in 1980. Emmis became a public company in 1994, and it owns and operates 23 FM and four AM radio stations in the nation's largest markets; 16 television stations; six local, regional and national magazine operations; and the No. 1 radio network in Hungary and nine radio stations in the Flanders region of Belgium. It recently purchased a radio network in Slovakia, as well.
In 1995 Emmis became the first company to own top-rated stations in New York and Los Angeles simultaneously. In 1995, the radio industry newspaper, "R & R," voted Smulyan one of the 10 most influential radio executives of the past two decades. Smulyan has won several awards from business organization and foundations, and more recently was named to the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame.
The other known bidding groups vying for the Nationals are the Lerner family, which owns a Bethesda-based real estate empire; Stan Kasten, an Atlanta businessman and attorney with years of experience running pro teams in baseball, the NHL and the NBA; a consortium of local businessmen led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey D. Zients; Franklin Haney Sr., a Tennessee developer and financier with business ties to Washington; Washington businessman Jonathan Ledecky, a former part-owner of the Washington Capitals and MCI Center; and William Collins, who leads a group of investors that tried unsuccessfully to bring the Nationals to Northern Virginia.
The Nationals, formerly known as the Montreal Expos, were purchased by baseball's 29 owners from Jeffrey Loria for $120 million in February 2002. Baseball is in the initial stages of selling the team, and representatives of several ownership groups have begun to review the team's financial records at baseball headquarters in New York.
Baseball is hoping to earn at least $300 million from the sale of the Nationals.