Six months ago, the Lerner family announced they were exploring the possibility of a sale of the Nationals. As the offseason nears, some clarity has emerged on that process. David Aldridge, Britt Ghiroli and Ken Rosenthal of the Athletic write that a group led by businessman Ted Leonsis is now the “clear front-runner” to eventually take over the Nationals. The Talk Nats blog first reported in late September the Leonsis group had broken through as the most likely party to buy the Nats.
Leonsis is already a key factor in the D.C. sports scene, as his Monumental Sports & Entertainment owns the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals and the WNBA’s Mystics. (The Lerners are a minority owner in that venture). Landing the Nationals would give Leonsis control over the D.C. franchises in three of the four major men’s sports leagues, The Athletic notes, a distinction currently only held by the Kroenke family that owns the Los Angeles Rams, Colorado Avalanche and Denver Nuggets. Leonsis isn’t mounting a solo ownership bid, however. The Washington Business Journal reported in August that private equity businessman David Rubenstein is also part of the group; it is unclear whether anyone else is involved.
Previous reports have also linked South Korean businessman Michael B. Kim and mortgage mogul Stanley Middleman to the sales process. There were reportedly upwards of five bidders in talks with the Lerner family at one point, but The Athletic reports that Leonsis’ group seized control roughly a month ago.
While it appears that Leonsis and company are now in the driver’s seat to push the deal across the finish line, the closing of the sale isn’t imminent. Aldridge, Ghiroli and Rosenthal hear the sale isn’t likely to be finalized before the December 4-7 Winter Meetings in San Diego. That appears to be the more optimistic end of the timetable, as The Athletic writes it’s possible the sale isn’t finished until after the calendar flips to 2023.
As The Athletic notes, Leonsis also controls his own regional sports network, NBC Sports Washington. Monumental Sports & Entertainment had previously purchased 33% of NBC Sports Washington, and it bought out NBCUniversal’s 67% share this past August. Not coincidentally, NBC Sports Washington holds the local broadcasting rights to Capitals, Wizards and Mystics games.
The Nationals’ local broadcasting contract currently runs through the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which it shares with the Orioles. The Orioles own approximately 75% of the network, while the Nationals own the remaining share. The two franchises have been embroiled in rights fees litigation for the better part of a decade. The Washington franchise won a major victory in 2019 when an arbitrator ruled the Orioles owed the Nats $105MM. The Baltimore organization appealed that decision, and the matter has still yet to be decided by the New York State Court of Appeals.
While The Athletic notes it’s unclear how or if the sale of the Nationals would affect the MASN dispute, Talk Nats tweeted in August that Leonsis’ group would be interested in reaching a settlement with the Orioles to buy out of the MASN deal. If that did come to pass, the Nationals would presumably then be broadcast on the NBC Sports Washington platform. That’d obviously be a complicated process that requires negotiations with the Orioles, but it does seem to offer a glimmer of hope for a resolution to the saga.
The Lerner family first bought the Nationals in 2006, paying $450MM. The specific prices under consideration in their sale aren’t clear, but Daniel Kaplan of the Athletic wrote last month they were seeking $2.5 billion.