Over the past year, the Lerner family has been shopping around their family’s prized possession, the Washington Nationals. The history of the Lerners’ ownership and more information about the early steps of this potential sale can be found here. A group led by businessman Ted Leonsis is said to be the “clear front runner” to take over the team. This does not come as a huge surprise given Leonsis’s involvement in D.C. sports.
Monumental Sports & Entertainment (a company owned by Leonsis) owns the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals, and the WNBA’s Mystics, and the Lerners are minority owners in the company as well. Reports showed there were five major bidders for the Nationals, but over the last month the Leonsis group emerged as front runners, and this may have to do with another high-profile individual expected to be a part of the group with Leonsis, David Rubenstein. Although the group is in the driver’s seat to accomplish a deal, there is no indication it will happen in the immediate future.
Leonsis is accustomed to acquisitions in the D.C. market. Monumental Sports & Entertainment previously purchased 33% of NBC Sports Washington, which holds the broadcasting rights to the Wizards, the Capitals, and the Mystics, and also bought out NBCUniversal’s 67% share last August. It seems clear that if Leonsis was to acquire the Nationals, he would want to broadcast them on NBC Sports Washington, but the team’s current broadcasting rights are with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN).
This could become a hurdle for Leonsis to overcome. As it stands, the Orioles own 75% of the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, and the Orioles and the Nationals have been engaged in rights fees litigation for over a decade. In 2019, an arbitrator ruled in favor of the Nationals, awarding them $105 million to be paid from the Orioles. The award was appealed and has yet to be decided in the New York Court of Appeals. If Leonsis successfully consummated a deal with the Lerners, his logical next step would likely be to settle with the Orioles and buy out of the deal with MASN.
There is no clear indicator as to where the Lerners and Leonsis are in the transaction timeline, but it is clear that this deal is far from finalized. However, previous reports have shown that the Lerners are actively trying to move the team and that Leonsis is the most willing bidder to match their price. Leonsis is a sensible match to be the buyer given his footprint in D.C. sports and his ability to fund a project of this magnitude.
Michael Perlo is a law student at the University of Buffalo School of Law, Class of 2023. He can be found on Twitter @michael_perlo.