- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 18, 2004

CHICAGO — Major League Baseball’s Washington franchise will take two critical steps today toward establishing itself in the District with the formal start of season ticket sales and a vote by team owners to approve the club’s relocation from Montreal.

Though both moves have been in the works for weeks, neither was certain as recently as two months ago. But with the District prevailing in a fevered competition for the Expos against Northern Virginia and four other competitors, the details of making the relocation happen are now hitting a full sprint.

Seats at RFK Stadium, where the club will play for three seasons, are divided into 16 pricing categories from $7 to $90. All but the Washington club’s prime Diamond Club seats, however, will peak at $40. The exclusive block of 840 Diamond Club seats, located directly behind the plate, will offer waiter service and a selection of food for every game.

“This is a major relief. It was imperative we got this done and got some definition on the scaling and pricing of the building,” said Kevin Uhlich, a consultant assisting team president Tony Tavares. “There’s a lot of pent-up anxiety and excitement for tickets.”

More than 15,000 fans who previously registered online for ticket information were given a head start in the ordering process. All received e-mails yesterday allowing them to submit $300 deposits for seats, a day earlier than the general public. Through Nov.24, those same early registrants will be given priority ordering status in the crush for tickets.

“Those folks are at the head of the line either way,” Uhlich said. “Ideally, this will help spread out the traffic on the Web site and the demand on the servers.”

Deposits can be made at either dcbaseball.com or by calling 202/349-0400. Partial season tickets will become available in late December or early January and single-game tickets in early February.

Team owners, meanwhile, will ratify the club’s transfer to the District in overwhelming numbers today. Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who for years fought efforts to bring baseball back to greater Washington, is seen as the most obvious opponent to the relocation.

But depending on the status of his ongoing compensation talks with MLB executives, a “yes” vote from Angelos is not entirely out of the question. Though talks have slowed in recent weeks, mostly because of scheduling conflicts stemming from MLB’s postseason and awards announcements, industry sources still point to Angelos seeking a package of benefits that would include guarantees on his annual team revenue, future resale value of the Orioles and a majority stake in a new regional sports TV network.

The owners’ approval of the Expos’ move will set in motion a frenetic series of events to solidify further the team’s future in Washington. A formal announcement renaming the team the Washington Nationals will occur as early as next week. That event, likely to be led by District Mayor Anthony A. Williams, probably will be accompanied by an unveiling of team uniforms. Predictably, the color scheme will employ red, white and blue.

Two primary caps are in development, according to industry sources, with each featuring a large “W” for Washington. Three uniforms also could be unveiled, including a red alternate jersey.

The push to find new owners for the club, currently controlled by MLB owners, also will intensify quickly with formal approval in hand. According to industry sources, MLB executives are planning to let prospective bidders begin reviewing the club’s financial records the week after Thanksgiving. Formal bidding likely will begin next month, with a final selection expected in early January.

More than 20 investor groups, including ones led by District financier Fred Malek and Virginia businessman William Collins III, have applied with MLB to make a bid on the team. Applications to bid arrived with a $100,000 fee, part of which is refundable if certain conditions are met.

Assigning a value to the club, however, will be difficult until some clear resolution is reached with Angelos. Since local TV distribution for the Washington club is tied into the regional sports network talks, some definition on the expected TV revenue must arrive first. Most sports franchise valuations are created using multiples of annual revenue.

The D.C. Council’s review of a financing package for a planned ballpark in Southeast, operating on a separate track from MLB’s Washington preparations, is slated to reach a first vote Nov.30. Final approval of the financing by Dec.31 will be a condition of today’s owner approval of the move, and was also mandated in the city’s relocation deal with baseball.

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