Smulyan's Bid to Buy the Nationals Adds Some Local Faces

By Thomas Heath
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Indianapolis media mogul Jeffrey Smulyan has added several Washington area investors to his group -- one of eight trying to purchase the Washington Nationals -- including communications executive Alfred C. Liggins III and lawyer Richard Wiley, the former chairman of the Federal Communications Commission.

The addition of people with ties to the Washington area is seen by people involved in the bidding process as an attempt by Smulyan to increase his bid's local profile and make it more acceptable to the District's political and business communities. A local component is seen to be important to any successful bid because Major League Baseball, which owns the Nationals, would need continued local support for D.C. to carry out its plan for a $535 million stadium project for the team.

Smulyan declined to comment yesterday, but sources said Liggins and Wiley are just two of several people Smulyan has added in recent days.

"I'm a really good colleague of Jeff Smulyan, known him a long time and he asked me to be a part of his team," said Wiley, who chaired the FCC from 1970 through 1977 and now heads a 75-attorney law firm specializing in communications. Wiley said Smulyan's communications company, Emmis Communications Corp., is a client. Wiley's other clients include Viacom/CBS, Verizon and the Newspaper Association of America.

Phone messages left at Liggins's office at Radio One in Maryland late yesterday were not returned.

Liggins is the chairman of TV One and has been the chief executive and the president of Radio One Inc. since January 1997. Radio One, one of the largest urban broadcasters in the nation, owns and/or operates 67 radio stations located in 22 urban markets in the United States and reaches approximately 13 million listeners a week, according to the company's Web site.

Smulyan is bulking up his investment team as the auction to purchase the Nationals appears to be heating up. The eight groups bidding on the team filed a second round of financial information with Major League Baseball on Monday, including what each group is willing to pay for the team. Several of those bids are in the $450 million range, according to people involved in the bidding process.

But price may not be the only factor in the sale. The financial soundness of each bid and baseball's comfort level with a prospective owner also carry a lot of weight. Baseball wants a financially sound ownership group to manage the team. It also wants ownership that is welcome on Capitol Hill and in the halls of the D.C. government.

None of the eight bidders was eliminated as of yesterday and it is hard to say if there is a clear front-runner among the eight, which include the Lerner family, which leads a Bethesda-based real estate empire; a local syndicate led by businessmen Frederic Malek and Jeffrey Zients, who are favored by D.C. Mayor Anthony Williams; entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, who has teamed with billionaire George Soros; and Franklin Haney Sr., who has developed several Washington area projects, including roadways and office buildings.

Others who are pursuing the team include Chicago businessman Yusef Jackson, who has teamed with billionaire investor Ronald Burkle of California; Atlanta-based sports executive Stan Kasten, and a group headed by Sallie Mae Chairman Alfred Lord and Virginia businessman William Collins.

Baseball has said it would sell the team by the end of the month. But the league wants the District to approve the Nationals' lease for the new stadium, which is scheduled to open in 2008, before it announces an owner. That has delayed the sale, according to people in baseball who declined to speak on the record because it could hurt the lease negotiations.

After digesting the financial information that bidders delivered on Monday, baseball is likely to begin intensive negotiations with two or three groups before selecting a winner. The league almost never makes any important announcement in October during the playoffs and World Series, so if the Nationals aren't sold by the end of September, the process could spill over to November.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company