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With a Light Touch, Heavy Hitters Pursue D.C. Team

"Washington and Northern Virginia is an attractive region for baseball," Broxmeyer said. "There are enough people out there interested in owning a team that I would not be surprised if one or two other groups popped up."

In the past, other potential buyers have faded away in the face of baseball commissioner Bud Selig's long years of indecision. Robert Johnson, founder of Black Entertainment Television, and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, for instance, once teamed up to buy the Expos, but Johnson said last week that he and Snyder have lost interest.

Jeffrey Zients is president and CEO of the Washington Baseball Club. (Susan Biddle - The Washington Post)

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Johnson said he supports Malek, who asked him to join the Washington Baseball Club this summer. Johnson declined.

"I said: 'Fred, I respect everyone in the group, but this has become one of those 'Waiting for Godot' kind of things. People got other things to do than wait around for Bud Selig to make a decision,' " he said.

Johnson said the baseball deal is made even less appealing by the huge price tag. In addition to paying for the Expos -- baseball is expected to demand in excess of $200 million -- the new owners would have to hire new players, refurbish Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium to serve as the team's temporary home and probably make substantial investments in a new stadium, though D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) has promised that the city would pick up most of the tab.

Add the prospect of operating losses for at least a year and perhaps a cash payoff to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, who argues that the Orioles would be harmed financially by having a rival in the District, and the total price tag climbs to "close to $300 million," Johnson said, for a team that could take years to turn a profit.

"I'm not mad at my money," Johnson said. "I'm not used to begging somebody to let me lose it."

Others, including Marc S. Ganis, a sports franchise expert based in Chicago, said the Expos' new owners could spend closer to $500 million over the first three years. No one with the Washington Baseball Club would say whether the group is ready to spend that much money. Zients, Raines and Porter all hinted that there are limits to their largesse.

"It could be $300 million. . . . I suppose that's a possibility," Porter said. "But I hope that's on the high side."

Raines said none of the partners is interested primarily in making money. "But, at the same time, we don't want to do anything foolish, either," he said.

In a telephone interview from an undisclosed beach location, Raines expressed weariness with the process. "I've been surprised at how long it's taken them to make the decision," he said. "My own preference is for them to decide. Whatever they want to do, just decide. So we can go on with our lives."

The Washington Baseball Club was formed in 1999, the brainchild of Porter and another lawyer, Paul M. Wolff. Porter was chairman of the baseball exploratory committee for the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, and Wolff sat on the D.C. Sports and Entertainment Commission. According to Porter, baseball officials had rebuffed Washington's interest in the sport, saying the city couldn't produce a viable set of investors.

"We didn't believe it," Porter said. "The economy had changed. This was not just a government town or a town of real estate moguls. Northern Virginia has high tech. Maryland has big biotech businesses. And in D.C., there's enormous financial services companies, including a lot of investment bankers."

Porter and Wolff approached Malek, who brought in Raines, Robert and Kimsey. Last year, they added Zients and his former business partner, David G. Bradley, who founded the Advisory Board Co. Bradley now owns the Atlantic Media Co., which publishes the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal.

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