Owners Court Nats Bidders With MLB Advanced Media

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 22, 2005

The eight groups bidding on the Washington Nationals will visit Major League Baseball's advanced media division over the next two weeks as part of the ongoing sale of the team, according to sources involved in the sale process.

Baseball has received preliminary bids from the various groups, most of which were in the $300 million to $400 million range, according to league sources. It's too early in the process to say who is leading the bidding, and groups are likely to have more chances to raise their offers. Baseball wants at least $400 million for the team, according to league sources. Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig has said the league plans to select a buyer sometime this summer.

Some bidders, who asked not to be identified for fear of hurting their chances of purchasing the team, said they believed the purpose of meeting with MLB Advanced Media is to get the groups to raise their bids, although the league has not asked for further bids.

"Each club owns one-thirtieth of MLBAM, which has been a growing asset for the industry," MLB President Robert DuPuy said. "As a result, we suggested that the bidders acquaint themselves more thoroughly with that operation."

MLB Advanced Media appears to be a financial success, with more than $130 million annually in revenue from Internet game telecasts, online ticket sales and advertising. One investment bank two years ago offered to spin off the division and sell stock, estimating it had a value in the billions of dollars because of its ability to generate cash. The league has so far decided against taking the division public.

The bidders for the Nationals include a Northern Virginia-based group led by Sallie Mae chairman Albert L. Lord and businessman William Collins; Franklin Haney Sr., a businessman with ties to both Tennessee and the Washington area; Chicago attorney-businessman Yusef Jackson and California investor Ronald Burkle; Stan Kasten, an Atlanta businessman with experience running various pro teams; Jonathan Ledecky, a former part-owner of the Washington Capitals and MCI Center, whose partners include billionaire investor George Soros; the Lerner family, which owns a Bethesda-based real estate empire; a group headed by Washington area businessmen Fred Malek, Jeffrey Zients and Russ Ramsey, and which includes former secretary of state Colin Powell; and Jeffrey H. Smulyan, who heads a communications company and is the former owner of the Seattle Mariners.

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