Major League Baseball yesterday officially announced that the sale of the yet-to-be-named Washington baseball team is under way and that prospective bidders have until Nov. 1 to throw their hats in the ring.
Baseball is hoping to earn at least $300 million, and possibly much more, from the sale of the Montreal Expos, which the league is moving to Washington in time for next year's Opening Day.
The Expos were purchased by the league's 29 owners in February 2002 for $120 million, and the league is eager to sell the team after losing millions in Montreal. Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig last month made the decision to move the Expos to a $400 million, publicly financed stadium along the District's Anacostia waterfront.
"We have already had a number of expressions of interest and we want to move the process along as expeditiously as possible," said league President Robert DuPuy, who is heading up the sale of the Expos. "The announcement today is consistent with that goal."
Once the potential buyers have submitted their applications, the would-be owners will be given the month of November to examine the Expos' financial records, a process known as due diligence. After bids are submitted, baseball will probably narrow the group of bidders to two or three by early to mid-December. The league would like to have a new owner by January, well before the start of spring training.
"I'm delighted they are moving ahead so expeditiously," said financier Frederic V. Malek, who heads the Washington Baseball Club, a group of wealthy area businessmen who want to buy the Expos. "We intend to aggressively pursue this team."
Malek's group includes AOL co-founder James V. Kimsey; real estate developer Joseph E. Robert Jr.; Franklin D. Raines, chairman and chief executive of Fannie Mae; Jeff Zients, chairman of the Advisory Board Co., a Washington-based medical research firm; 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.
DSG Baseball, a group headed by Memphis investment banker Brian Saulsberry, a 1998 graduate of Howard University, has been in contact with baseball for several months.
"Our group has been in constant touch with them," said Saulsberry. "They have been very receptive."
Saulsberry's group includes Alphonso Maldon Jr., a former assistant secretary of defense who headed President 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.
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, has also expressed interest in forming or becoming part of a Washington baseball group.
Baseball Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson may be assembling a group of investors to bid on the Washington team as well. Jackson, 58, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1993 after a 21-year playing career for the Kansas City and Oakland Athletics, Baltimore Orioles, New York Yankees and California Angels.
Jackson, who works for the Yankees as a special adviser, has lined up at least one significant investor and has tried to interest other prospective investors in joining his group, according to sources.
Sal Galatioto, head of sports finance for Lehman Brothers who is representing New York real estate investor Mark Broxmeyer in a bid for the Expos, said yesterday that his clients "are going to register our strong interest with Major League Baseball as soon as possible."
Broxmeyer, who has said he hopes to have Republican heavyweights Steve Forbes and Rudy Giuliani on his team, may be Malek's biggest competition. Broxmeyer's 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.
Depending on the auction and the list of Expos bidders, the price of the team could increase to more than $400 million. The Los Angeles Dodgers fetched $430 million earlier this year, and the Boston Red Sox drew $660 million in 2002, although the Red Sox' price included a lucrative regional sports network.
The league is currently in negotiations with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter G. Angelos over a financial package designed to offset the impact of a Washington team on the Orioles. As part of that package, the two sides are discussing a regional sports network that would favor the Orioles.
Expos President Tony Tavares, who has moved the team's headquarters to Washington, said during a telephone news conference yesterday that he will not be involved in the sale of the team.
"My guess is, once a bidder gets to the point of having to do due diligence -- looking at contracts of players, how long we have commitments on that kind of thing, how many season tickets have we sold -- my guess is we'll get involved at that point," Tavares said. "For me, that looks like it's an eon away."
Tavares also said there were a million housekeeping details to be attended to, including naming a team and hiring a new general manager to replace Omar Minaya, who left to take the same job with the New York Mets. The hiring is expected to occur next month, after the close of the World Series.
Tavares said he would like to refer to the Expos, for now, as the "Washington Baseball Team," but thought the naming issue, at least for 2005, will also be resolved shortly after the World Series.
Ticket prices will vary depending on location, but he estimated the average will be between $24 and $26 when the team opens at RFK Stadium in April. The Expos will compile a ticket application list and then offer season tickets, then mini-plans, and, finally, individual game seats.