The Washington Nationals earned roughly $10 million in after-tax profit this season, after losing $80 million over their last three years in Montreal.
Baseball is on the verge of selling the Nationals for $450 million after a season during which the franchise sold more tickets than expected, earned $20 million in local television revenue from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, and consistently challenged for the National League East title, all of which contributed to a dramatic increase in the team's value.
Major League Baseball, whose 29 owners bought the team three years ago, initially planned to sell the team by early last summer. But Commissioner of Baseball Bud Selig has said the league will not select a new owner until the Nationals and the District agree on lease terms for the $535 million stadium the District pledged along the Anacostia River.
"Baseball does have some slack here," said Andrew Zimbalist, a Smith College economics professor who writes frequently about baseball. "When they were losing $20 million a year in Montreal, there was some pressure to get rid of it. But as long as they are [profitable] in Washington, there is less pressure. They've got eight bona fide $450 million offers to buy the team, and those offers aren't going to go away soon."
The Nationals grossed about $100 million during the fiscal year that ended Oct. 31, 2005, according to sources familiar with the number, putting its gross revenue likely among the top half of the league's 30 teams.
The team netted about $30 million in pre-tax profit after paying player salaries, administration costs and rent for RFK Stadium, according to those sources. After taxes and depreciation, the team will turn a $10 million profit, which is a quarter of what the team grossed in Montreal last year.
The sources spoke about the Nationals' finances on the condition of anonymity because teams' earnings are not generally made public.
The $10 million helps offset the losses the team accumulated in Montreal, although baseball sources estimate the team's after-tax profit likely will fall to around $5 million next year because expenses are expected to increase more than revenues at the 44-year-old RFK Stadium, which has none of the cash-generating amenities such as club seats and luxury suites modern sports stadiums and arenas feature.
Nationals President Tony Tavares said he would not confirm or deny any financial information.
That Nationals sold 2,692,123 tickets this year, ranking 11th in the league, which comes to about 24,000 season tickets sold per game, at an average price of $24 per seat, plus an average walk-up crowd of more than 8,000 per game. Washington will generate nearly $60 million at the gate this year after local taxes.
The Nationals also earned about $10 million from merchandise sales and concessions at RFK Stadium. The Nationals got a boost from more than $10 million in advertising sponsorships from companies who wanted to capitalize on baseball's return to the District, the sources said.
The Nationals are among 22 teams that earned pre-tax profits last season, according to baseball spokesman Rich Levin. The Nationals rank around the middle of teams in operating income, according to team sources.
Baseball is getting close to selecting one of the eight groups to be the Nationals' new owner. The groups with the most support from within baseball include Ted Lerner, owner of a Bethesda-based real estate empire; a syndicate headed by local businessmen Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients; a group led by Indianapolis communications executive Jeff Smulyan.
Lerner is in talks with Atlanta businessman Stan Kasten, who heads his own group bidding on the team, about teaming their efforts. The two sides have yet to complete a deal, although Kasten's experience running the Atlanta Braves and overseeing the construction of Turner Field would make a Lerner-Kasten alliance a strong contender to win the Nationals bidding war.