By David Aldridge, Brittany Girolai and Ken Rosenthal
A group led by Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, is emerging as an obvious first candidate to buy Washington citizens From the Lerner family, according to sources within the organization and Major League Baseball who are not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. If the 65-year-old Leones completes the purchase of the Nationals, he will become the second owner who currently owns teams in three of the four largest men’s professional sports leagues in the United States.
One of the sources said that Lyons’ group has been ahead of the others in the past month or so.
However, multiple sources said a sale is not imminent. It likely won’t be completed before the MLB Winter Meetings in San Diego in December, leaving the possibility of not finishing the sale until 2023.
One of the main reasons in the discussions may be the uncertain status of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN), and Orioles A joint regional sports network for citizens.
The two teams have been embroiled in a lawsuit years ago over media rights fees, meaning any new owner would inherit a team without the ability to make big money from their RSN, or sign a lucrative deal for their TV rights. This uncertainty could make it difficult for Lerners and a potential new owner to agree on a sale price.
The initial hope was that the citizens would have a new Royal Collection to be voted on this fall. It usually takes league months to examine a new ownership group and the finances involved in such a big deal.
Through a spokesperson, Citizens declined to comment. Leonsis also declined to comment through a spokesperson.
The Leonsis Group is led by Carlisle Group co-founder and billionaire David Rubenstein. According to Forbes magazine’s rankings for 2022, Rubinstein, 73, has a fortune of $3.1 billion. Forbes listed Lyoness’s net worth in 2022 at $1.6 billion.
If the Leonsis Group were to finalize a purchase from Lerners and be approved by MLB, he would become only the second person to own teams in three of the four major men’s professional sports leagues in the United States, joining the Kroenke family. The Kroenkes, besides owning Arsenal in the Premier League, owns, NFLLos Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche in the NHL and NBADenver Nuggets. They also own the Colorado Rapids of Major League Soccer, along with several smaller league sports teams.
Rubinstein is a D.C. charitable and philanthropic organization and currently serves as the chair of the boards of directors of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, the Council on Foreign Relations, the National Gallery of Art, and the Economic Club of Washington. He also chairs the University of Chicago Board of Directors.
Sources said Leonsis has long been interested in owning a baseball team, with a previous interest in the Timor Orioles. The Orioles are not actively for sale, although many in the industry have long predicted that the Angelos are eventually open to the team.
The Lerners, who bought the team from Major League Baseball in 2006 for $450 million, announced earlier this year that they would be putting the team up for sale after more than 15 years of ownership, which included the team’s first world championship in 2019. The family told The Washington Post The Post reported in April that it was conducting an “exploratory operation” to sell the Nats, and the newspaper reported in August that five potential groups had met with the Learners and received financial information about the club.
The Learners and Leonsis know each other very well. The Learners are the minority owners of Monumental Sports and Entertainment for Leonsis – the parent company of Wizards, Caps and Mystics – which also operates Capital One Arena.
But the pending dispute over MASN still loomed as a potential impediment to the final sale.
The Orioles currently own roughly three-quarters of the MASN, with the Citizens owning the rest, although the Nats’ share could increase to as much as 33 percent by 2032. The disparity in each team’s stakes has been key in allowing Timor to Washington to come into the adjacent lands. Hers, from which the Orioles drew thousands of fans annually, when the Montreal Fair moved to the area in 2005. But the teams spent years litigating against each other, with citizens saying they didn’t get a fair share of their games.
There was no indication that selling the Nationals would change anything about their RSN status, a factor that made the team’s value much lower. A jury ruled in 2019 that the citizens were owed $105 million by the Orioles, who appealed the ruling in the New York Courts of Appeals. The case is currently before the New York State Court of Appeals.
Leonsis has his own RSN, NBC Sports Washington; Already controlling a third of the channel, he bought the remaining two-thirds from NBCSW in August. At the time of the purchase, Leonsis Twitter said, “This is key to our strategy to develop our unique sports and entertainment platform: a superior regional sports and entertainment business with multiple teams, multiple venues, multiple networks, and multiple technologies — fully integrated.”
Adding the Nationals to NBCSW programming along with Wizards and Capitals would give Leonsis a robust sports channel with live games nearly year-round to watch, and could offer other bundles and deals for consumers.
The head of the NBA’s Media Committee, besides being a staunch supporter of sports betting, Leonsis is no stranger to the huge money associated with sports television, and resolving the MASN dispute is likely to be a sticking point in any sale. However, there are no indications yet that this is the case.
Leonsis will inherit a major rebuild on the field. The Nationals completed one of the worst seasons in franchise history this past season (MLB-worst 55-107) and traded a young starlet. Juan Soto to San Diego on the trade deadline after Soto turned down a 15-year, $440 million offer from the team. The deal met several top-rated expectations and immediately boosted the National Farmer System, which is generally rated one of the worst in MLB this season. However, the odds of a major improvement at the major league level in 2023 are slim.
The Citizens picked the options for both General Manager Mike Rizzo and Manager Davy Martinez for the 2023 season in July.
The new owner will have to absorb some of the deferred salaries that Citizens, during the Learners’ tenure, often chose to include in their larger contracts for star players. In addition to jugs Stephen Strasbourg And the Patrick Corbin They still owe $140 million and $59 million respectively for the remainder of their long-term contracts. But Washington will be on track to open up a significant payroll space by 2025, when Strasbourg will be the only big-paid active player left on the books.
Leonsis bought a controlling stake in Wizards, along with what is now Capital One Arena, from the late Abe Pollin in 2010, spending $170 million on the remaining 56 percent of Wizards. It bought The Capitals from Pollin in 1999 for about $200 million, along with a 44 percent minority stake in Wizards, with a future right of first refusal to buy it outright.
(Photo: Jeff Burke/USA Today Sports)