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Radio Rights Still Up in the Air

Nationals Continue to Negotiate With Clear Channel, Infinity

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 28, 2005; Page D10

With Opening Day less than three months away, the Washington Nationals are still trying to nail down an agreement with a radio broadcaster to carry the club's games throughout the Washington region.

"We are in negotiations with different broadcasters and we expect to get a deal in the near future," Nationals President Tony Tavares said yesterday.

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The team has been negotiating with Clear Channel Washington, which runs WTEM, WTNT and WWRC, and with Infinity Broadcasting, which operates WJFK, according to sources involved in the talks.

The team, which is owned and operated by Major League Baseball, was close to a deal with Clear Channel about a week ago but that fell apart over a disagreement on how the revenue from advertising would be divided. But both sides have renewed talks under which the team would purchase air time from Clear Channel and the Nationals would sell the air time itself.

The Nationals has also talked to Infinity about a similar deal.

Radio and television deals are critical to every Major League Baseball team because of the revenues they generate and the exposure they bring to fans. In a market the size of Washington, according to experts, a team would depend on local radio and television for as much as 10 to 15 percent of its revenues.

Baseball is trying to sell the Nationals and has been inviting prospective bidders to MLB headquarters in New York throughout the past week to allow them to examine the team's financial data. Would-be buyers have submitted applications to purchase the Nationals, along with a $100,000 partially refundable fee.

Representatives of the Washington Baseball Club -- a consortium of Washington businessmen, led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey D. Zients, who are trying to buy the Nationals -- are scheduled to examine the team's records today.

Representatives of the other three bidding groups did their own inspections over the last week. They include the Lerner family, a prominent Bethesda-based real estate group; Tennessee-based developer and financier Franklin L. Haney; and Washington businessman and entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, a former part-owner of Washington's NHL Capitals and MCI Center.

At least one other bidder, American Baseball Capital Group, which was formerly known as Northern Virginia Baseball, is expected to submit an application and the partially refundable $100,000 fee by Monday, which baseball has set as the application deadline. The group is headed by Northern Virginia businessman Bill Collins, who lost out to the District in his attempt to bring the Nationals to the Washington region.

"We expect to submit our application, with the fee, prior to the deadline, which is Monday," said Jerry Burkot, spokesman for the American Baseball Capital Group.

Baseball is also trying to reach an agreement with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos to compensate his club for the effect that a Washington team will have on the team. The negotiations have been ongoing since September, and sources said the sides may have been meeting last evening.

Baseball's 29 owners collectively purchased the Nationals, then known as the Montreal Expos, from owner Jeffrey Loria for $120 million in February 2002. Baseball is hoping to fetch more than $300 million for the team.

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