The city agency that oversees RFK Stadium is considering making a last-minute bid to become a minority investor in D.C. United, a high-ranking official at the D.C. Sports Commission said this week.
"We have talked about it," said John Richardson, chairman of the commission, which manages and operates RFK. "Right now it's very preliminary, but it's an idea, it's a thought. I'm hoping we can move forward with it."
Meanwhile, two sources with knowledge of the negotiations said Washington Capitals majority owner Ted Leonsis and his partner, Jonathan Ledecky, remain prime candidates by Major League Soccer to invest in United. However, both said this month they had no plans to become involved.
United's operating rights have been on the market for about a year and although league officials believed a deal for between $25 million and $30 million was imminent last month, several issues apparently have not been resolved. Under MLS's single-entity structure, individuals or groups invest in the league and then are given a team to operate.
MLS has lost about $100 million since its inception in 1996 and has been aggressively pursuing new investors. United's current investor-operator is Washington Soccer L.P., whose major backers are Soros Fund Management, an investment firm owned by international financier George Soros, and Octagon, an international sports marketing agency.
Octagon executive Matthew Wheeler, who is overseeing the United sale, did not return messages left at his London office. MLS Commissioner Don Garber declined to comment on potential investors.
Richardson said he does not know if it's too late for the D.C. Sports Commission to join the negotiations or if the agency would be welcomed by the other groups. But he said it has $20 million in its coffers and would be interested in using a portion of it to join an investment group. The commission is a specially constituted independent agency that reports to the District government's office of economic development. Eric Price, the deputy mayor for planning and economic development, could not immediately be reached.
United has paid about $1 million a year to play at RFK, and under its most recent lease agreement kept none of the concession revenue and only about 12 percent of parking revenue. Once United's operating rights are sold, it is believed the club will begin to seriously examine building its own stadium in the Washington suburbs.
"We're very interested in keeping D.C. United here in the city," Richardson said. "A minority interest or special interest [in the club] might be helpful."
United's lease at RFK expired after this past season, but Richardson said he does not anticipate any problems finalizing a new deal before the 2000 season begins, regardless of the team's sale.
United Notes: The MLS schedule will not be finalized for at least another week, but it appears United will play Los Angeles in its season opener March 25, the team it beat Nov. 21 for its third title in four years.