washingtonpost.com  > Metro > Virginia > Alexandria

A Low Profile and a Large Footprint

Anschutz Makes Mark on Area With Soccer, Newspapers

By Annys Shin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, November 21, 2004; Page A01

For a publicity-shy billionaire, Philip F. Anschutz knows how to make his mark.

In 1998, when the Denver businessman couldn't resolve a dispute with a hog farm next door to his ranch, he funded an initiative to change state law, setting the toughest hog-farming restrictions in the country, and pushed his neighbor out of business.

Jerry McMorris, left, former Colorado Rockies executive, sits with Philip F. Anschutz, whose investment in sports and entertainment has been massive. (David Zalubowski -- AP)

In 2000, after waiting for Hollywood to make more family-friendly and inspirational movies, he started producing films such as "Holes," last year's sleeper hit about a boy sent to a detention camp to dig holes, and "Ray," the Ray Charles biopic.

With a penchant for acting on a grand scale, Anschutz, 64, has a way of instantly becoming a major player in any scene and any city he enters.

Now, the Denver investor is on the cusp of becoming a major presence in Washington with ambitious plans for soccer team D.C. United and his new ownership of the area's Journal Newspapers Inc.

Since taking control of D.C. United three years ago, Anschutz has made it a priority to turn around the team's fortunes and make it more attractive financially. He is on track to do both. D.C. United recently won the 2004 Major League Soccer championship, its fourth title and first since 1999. And Anschutz representatives are in talks with city officials about building a 24,000-seat, soccer-only stadium on the Anacostia River, an effort to increase the value of the team.

Anschutz is also behind the newspapers that are turning up on front lawns across Bethesda and Alexandria. In October, Anschutz bought the financially troubled Journal chain of suburban tabloids based in Alexandria. A few months earlier, Anschutz paid $20 million for the San Francisco Examiner, the former flagship of the Hearst publishing empire, the Independent and their printing company. The Examiner purchase sparked concerns among critics in San Francisco that he wanted to use the newspaper to promote his conservative beliefs, a charge his executives deny. With both operations, Anschutz appears to be creating a new model of newspapers, a hybrid between free community papers and big-city tabloids.

Though the amount paid for Journal Newspapers wasn't disclosed, both acquisitions could safely be called small for Anschutz, who is used to brokering deals worth hundreds of millions of dollars. But those who know him know not to underestimate him. Whether in railroads, telecommunications or sports and entertainment, Anschutz has a track record of finding undervalued assets and turning them into major players.

Diversified Holdings

Anschutz first struck it rich in the oil fields of Wyoming and Utah and then proceeded to sink his wealth into a variety of investments. He owns railroads and is the investor-operator of five of the 10 Major League Soccer franchises. He is the largest stakeholder in Regal Entertainment Group, the nation's largest movie exhibition chain with 18 Washington area theaters and 550 nationwide, and Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Despite his glamorous investments, he is not one for glitz. Once called "the billionaire next door" by Fortune magazine, Anschutz eschews many of the trappings of wealth. He prefers cowboy boots to wingtips and sitting behind the wheel to sitting behind a chauffeur. He avoids bodyguards and is regularly spotted jogging around his Denver neighborhood, where he and his wife, Nancy, have lived for more than 30 years.

Anschutz also shuns the limelight. Most of his companies are privately held. As a rule, he doesn't speak to reporters; he's granted only a few on-the-record interviews over the past 30 years. Through a spokesperson in Denver, he declined to be interviewed for this story.

A low profile hasn't protected him from controversy. He has taken the heat for funding organizations that oppose legalized abortion and legal protections for gays and lesbians. And he was non-executive chairman of Qwest Communications International Inc., the Denver telecommunications company involved in an accounting scandal.

However, none of these scandals has yet to tarnish Anschutz's reputation as an investor. He's still admired for having the foresight to lay thousands of miles of fiber-optic cable alongside railroad rights of way he controlled. He wasn't the first to use railroad tracks to lay communications lines. But he did it on an unprecedented scale and later reaped at least $1 billion from the sale of Qwest stock. Said Jim McClellan, a former executive of Norfolk Southern Railway Co., "[Anschutz] doesn't think like you and me."

The Dealmaker

Anschutz acquired his financial savvy by watching his father, a Kansas wildcatter, ride the booms and busts of the oil business. Shortly after graduating from the University of Kansas in 1961, Anschutz became a wildcatter himself, founding the Anschutz Co. He moved to Denver, where his father once had an office.

CONTINUED    1 2 3    Next >

© 2004 The Washington Post Company