The investment group known as Washington Baseball Club Limited Liability Co. has been nothing if not persistent, vowing for the past five years that it will somehow, some way, bring the financially troubled Montreal Expos to the District.
So far, the group has spent more than $1 million on office space, a full-time executive director, a Web site and courting Major League Baseball officials. In a display of confidence, the group has posted an online sign-up sheet so fans can get season ticket information when the time is right.
And now, guess what?
Washington Baseball Club, a group of wealthy area investors headed by 37-year-old Washington native Jeff Zients, faces some potentially strong competition if Major League Baseball, which took over the Expos in 2002, awards the team to the District. A bidding war is expected and, though Washington Baseball Club is the early favorite, it could end up watching another group circle the bases, according to sports industry analysts.
For now, Washington Baseball Club's competition comes mainly from a group headed by a New York real estate investor, Mark Broxmeyer, who says he hopes to have Republican heavyweights Steve Forbes and Rudy Giuliani on his team. His New York-based group, Baseball Club of America LLC, also includes Texas businessman and Republican activist Fred S. Zeidman, who heads the parent organization of the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
"We're ready to put a bid in," said Broxmeyer, 55, who has long expressed an interest in owning a baseball team. He said he had been looking to buy a minor league club, but turned his attention to pursuing a major league franchise several years ago after learning that the Expos were on the market.
"We decided that we were going to go for the big enchilada and buy the Expos and move them to Washington," said Broxmeyer, who is also a major contributor to President Bush's reelection campaign.
Despite the objections of Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos, Major League Baseball is believed to be pressing ahead with plans to move the Expos to the District. When -- and if -- that decision is made, the league will solicit bids from potential owners. Commissioner Bud Selig ultimately would decide who would be awarded the franchise.
Another potential bidder is DSG Baseball, a group headed by Memphis investment banker Brian Saulsberry, a 1998 graduate of Howard University. The group, which Saulsberry said was formed with a goal of bringing the Expos to Washington, has told baseball officials that it intends to make a bid.
Saulsberry, 28, said his group includes Alphonso Maldon Jr., a former assistant secretary of defense who headed President Bill Clinton's White House military office; Stanley Glenn, president of the Negro League Baseball Players Association; Tom Pagnozzi, a former St. Louis Cardinals catcher who owns a construction firm in Fayetteville, Ark.; and Rick Kelleher, former president of Promus Hotel Corp., which was acquired by Hilton Hotels Corp. in 1999.
"We'll have some more key investors to announce, coming down the turnpike," said Saulsberry, who grew up in Mississippi and Tennessee. "We'll have some names that will resonate."
Saulsberry, who is black, said: "Major League Baseball is trying to appeal to inner-city youth and bring on minorities in upper-level ownership positions. D.C. is one of the best cities to do just that."
A name floating around baseball circles is former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten, who has been contacted by would-be ownership groups around the country since he left the Braves last November, according to people who know Kasten.
Kasten is believed to have allied himself with several high-net worth individuals and is exploring the possibility of buying a sports team. "I just am not ready yet to talk about any of my future plans," said Kasten, who is respected among baseball executives for his ability to manage professional sports teams. In addition to running the Braves for 17 years, Kasten also was general manager and then president of the Atlanta Hawks basketball team for a total of 24 years, as well as president of the Atlanta Thrashers of the National Hockey League.
"At the end of the day, it's probably going to come down to money" -- which group will pay the most, said Black Entertainment Television founder Robert L. Johnson, who in 2002 was awarded a National Basketball Association expansion team in Charlotte after he outbid a group, led by former basketball star Larry Bird, that was the early favorite.
Winston Lord, the Washington Baseball Club's executive director, said the group is open to other financial partners.
"We have a financially strong and diverse group," he said. "Our roots run deep with community and business leaders. . . . Major League Baseball has not said how this next phase will unfold, but we're prepared and extremely well positioned."
Zients, chairman of the Advisory Board Co., a Washington-based medical research firm, emerged this year as the public face of the Washington Baseball Club. He made Fortune magazine's list of 40 richest Americans under 40 in 2002 with a net worth of $149 million. But the group also has several other prominent individuals. They include Frederic V. Malek, a former Nixon White House official who was a part owner of the Texas Rangers with George W. Bush; James V. Kimsey, the co-founder of America Online; Joseph E. Robert Jr., a local real estate developer; and former Clinton administration official Franklin D. Raines, the chairman and chief executive of Fannie Mae, the world's largest non-bank financial services company.
The group, which was founded in 1999, also includes longtime Washington lawyers Steve Porter, Paul Wolff and Vernon E. Jordan Jr.; retired Washington Redskins defensive back Darrell Green; former Walt Disney Co. executive Dennis F. Hightower; and publishing executive David Bradley. Another possible scenario would be that the also-rans in the ongoing contest to buy the Milwaukee Brewers, which could be sold before the end of the month, would set their sites on the Expos. There are three potential buyers for the Brewers, who are partly owned by the family of Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Two have been identified by the newspaper: Los Angeles investor Mark L. Attanasio, a partner in the investment firm Trust Company of the West; and Daniel Gilbert, a Michigan-based multimillionaire who is chairman and founder of Quicken Loans, an online mortgage loans lender.
The list of potential bidders may not end there.
The Washington region has dozens of moneyed, sports-loving, would-be investors, among them Johnson, Washington Capitals owner and AOL executive Ted Leonsis, Redskins owner Daniel Snyder, and NVR Inc. chairman and Redskins part-owner Dwight C. Schar, whose McLean-based home-building firm once owned a piece of the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Snyder and Johnson once appeared ready to pursue the Expos, but they lost interest in 2003 as the process of determining the franchise's fate dragged on. "I haven't heard from Dan on this and I doubt if he is going to get back in it. But it's not impossible," Johnson said.
Snyder declined to comment through his spokesman, Karl Swanson. "Dan has no comment on anything involving baseball," Swanson said.
Leonsis did not respond to a request for an interview.
Johnson said he is open to investing in a group. "Somebody is just going to have to court me," he said.
Several groups, including Washington Baseball Club, already have. Johnson said he favors joining the group, though he has met with representatives of the Broxmeyer and Saulsberry groups.
"I'm not interested in being a lead guy now, but I could be interested if the right people put together the right business model, just to try to help bring baseball to D.C. I wouldn't get into a sports deal in a passive way," Johnson said. "Somebody would have to say: 'Not only do we want your money, Bob, we want your expertise and your smarts on this or that.' "
Even a Major League Baseball official, former Washington lawyer Jimmie Lee Solomon, has been mentioned as a potential bidder. Solomon said he has no interest in leaving his job as baseball's senior vice president of operations. "I'm gainfully employed and I like my job," he said.
Schar, asked if he would be interested in buying the Expos, said in a telephone interview from an airplane this week: "Gee, I don't know. I haven't thought about it."
A seemingly long-shot bidder would be the Virginia Baseball Club, a group of investors which has been trying to move the Expos to Northern Virginia. William L. Collins III, the group's leader, said yesterday the idea of bidding for the Expos if baseball awards the franchise to Washington hasn't come up.
"We haven't even considered it," Collins said. "We haven't brought it up. It hasn't been a topic of one discussion in 11 years of our partnership of being involved in this process."
Professional sports leagues generally favor ownership groups that have long-standing ties to the communities where the franchises will be based. On that score, the Washington Baseball Club would have the edge.
But Broxmeyer noted that Major League Baseball also is looking to extract a high price -- some say $300 million -- for the Expos.
"Major League Baseball would like to have some local representation but they also want the highest price they can get for the team," Broxmeyer said.
In that respect, he said, sports is no different than real estate, he said. "I mean, when I sell an apartment building, I'm trying to get the most amount for the asset as I can."
Broxmeyer said he will have some local investors in place. Asked about his own ties to the District, he noted he is chairman of the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, a Washington-based think tank.
"I'm also -- what is it? -- a ranger or a pioneer with the president," Broxmeyer said, referring to designations the Bush reelection campaign gives its largest fundraisers. "$125,000 range, I think that's a pioneer. You know, I have ties to the administration and I have ties to both sides of the aisle" in Congress.
Broxmeyer has retained the Lehman Brothers financial firm to assist him with the bid. "Washington is an attractive market and I think there's going to be a lot of interest" from bidders, said Sal Galatioto, who heads the firm's sports advisory and finance group in New York. "I think the best offer will win."
Staff writers Thomas Heath and George Solomon contributed to this report.