Emmis Communications Corp., the media company founded and led by Jeffrey H. Smulyan, will invest $100 million of the company's money in the Washington Nationals if a Smulyan-led investor group buys the baseball franchise.
Smulyan made the announcement during a routine conference call with analysts yesterday, during which he said he has notified Major League Baseball that "if we were successful in acquiring the franchise, the purchaser would be a newly formed limited partnership, that a newly formed subsidiary of Emmis would be the sole general partner and I would be designated the control person pursuant to MLB requirements. . . . The limited partners would be mostly from the D.C. area."
Corporate ownership of a major league sports team is rare. Most teams are owned by individual investors who have staked their personal fortunes to buy their franchises, which they often operate as a public trust. The Washington Redskins, Wizards and Capitals are owned by individuals and their investment teams.
The Chicago Cubs are owned by the Tribune Company and the Atlanta Braves are owned by Time Warner. However, several recent corporate ownerships of professional sports teams have fizzled, including the Disney Company's ownership of the then-Anaheim Angels and the Mighty Ducks. The Los Angeles Dodgers were owned for several years by News Corp., before the company sold the team to an investor group from Boston.
Smulyan, who is expected to invest some of his personal fortune in the Nationals, heads one of eight groups trying to purchase the team, which baseball is selling for $450 million. The league is waiting to conclude negotiations with the city over the Nationals' lease of a $535 million stadium project on the Anacostia Waterfront before selecting an owner.
Emmis, which owns media properties in New York, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Texas and Chicago, also announced yesterday the sale of four television stations for $259 million, bringing the company's recent sale of properties to around $1 billion. Some of that money could presumably be used to pay for the company's $100 million investment in the team.
In recent weeks Smulyan has been aggressively wooing several Washington area businessmen to add a strong, local component to his baseball investor group. District officials and baseball executives in recent months have emphasized that the new owners include a strong representation from the Washington community.
In that light, bidder Franklin Haney Sr. announced yesterday his family would match up to $600,000 raised at a gala held last night to benefit the Nationals' charitable foundation.
The foundation's major goal is to increase youth interest in baseball in poorer areas of the city, where a lack of equipment and the poor condition of playing fields have hurt participation. The organization also might use some of the money to help launch educational efforts in the District school system or public libraries.
"The reason I'm doing this is I believe in the kids and I believe in baseball here in Washington," said Haney, who is originally from Tennessee but now has offices and a residence in Washington, where several of his children live. "I went to law school at George Washington University and I am on the board. We live here most of the time. God has blessed us and we do a lot of charitable work here."