- The Washington Times - Friday, December 14, 2001

It's a scene Washington Redskins fans know all too well: a pro sports team up for bid through a complicated estate sale, secret offers, high-powered bidding groups and months of drawn-out tension.

The wild and woolly 14-month-long sale of the Boston Red Sox, now nearing the finish line, also will yield the same result as Dan Snyder's purchase of the Redskins in 1999: a record franchise sale price for the sport.

Six groups, each with a collective net worth in excess of $1billion, have placed bids this fall on the Red Sox, one of baseball's most revered clubs despite playing 83 straight years without a World Series title. The package up for sale by the Jean R. Yawkey Trust a 53 percent share in the Red Sox, Fenway Park and 80 percent of the New England Sports Network on cable TV will sell for more than $400million. That price would value the entire Red Sox franchise by itself at nearly $500million, a sum that would blow away the $323million Larry Dolan paid for the Cleveland Indians in 1999, baseball's current highwater mark for a team sale.

Befitting the Red Sox's storied place in baseball history and as an institution in New England culture, the team has attracted many of America's wealthiest and most powerful men. Leading the way currently is a group led by Dolan's brother, Charles, the chairman of New York cable TV giant Cablevision Corp. and a failed bidder for the Redskins, New York Mets, New York Jets and Cleveland Browns. Also in the mix are a group that includes former U.S. Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, Hollywood producer Tom Werner, Florida Marlins owner John Henry and the New York Times Co.; another fronted by Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs and backed by former baseball commissioner Peter Ueberroth; and yet another led by New York attorney Miles Prentice, who, like Dolan, is eager to land a team after numerous failed attempts.

And still looming are the sentimental favorites in Boston, New England businessmen Joseph O'Donnell and Steve Karp.

The Red Sox were put up for sale in October 2000 following a 67-year ownership run by the Yawkey family and its trust. Since then, the region has been rapt with a slow-burn arms race that has tested the patience of long-suffering Sox fans and seen each bidding group steadily add investors, up its bid and muscle for lead position.

Like the Jack Kent Cooke estate's sale process for the Redskins, the Yawkey Foundation is forcing all bidders to sign confidentiality pledges, keeping much of the proceedings in private. Like the Cooke estate, the foundation is also seeking both to maximize the sale price and find a buyer suitable for the team's minority partners and the sport's fraternity of owners.

"These sales always are more a function of passion and desire than a straight analysis of cash flows and multiples," said Hadrian Shaw, sports finance analyst with Kagan World Media. "But this is a very impressive group, and it's not really surprising to see so much interest. We have one of the most hallowed franchises in baseball on the block along with a regional sports network widely viewed as undervalued."

But what makes the Red Sox's sale most like that of the Redskins is all the intrigue and subplots. In both sales, one candidate held the unofficial preference among the other owners: then-Redskins president John Kent Cooke here in Washington, the Werner-Henry group in Boston for its deep existing connections within baseball and friendships with commissioner Bud Selig. If one of the other Red Sox bidders suspects and can show illegal and preferential treatment for the Werner-Henry group, the Yawkey Trust may end up in court, as did the Cooke estate. For two years, failed Redskins bidder Howard Milstein unsuccessfully pursued a breach of contract claim against the estate.

Both sales also featured pre-emptive high bids from an outsider. Milstein, a New York real estate investor, performed the feat here, supplying an initial $720million bid that eventually was raised to $800million, leaving Cooke well behind and ultimately paving the way for Snyder, who started the process as Milstein's junior partner. Charles Dolan has done the same in Boston, first beating the early round bids with a $405million offer, later supplemented by a secondary $250million offer to buy out the limited partners.

Whether Dolan remains on top and whether the trust simply picks the high bidder remains to be seen. The limited partners, who will vote on the winning bid, will be allowed under partnership law to support certain candidates in exchange for favorable sale terms for their shares.

"Connections to the game's leaders are helpful in these situations but not necessarily determining factors," said Marc Ganis, a Chicago-based sports industry consultant. "The lead factor will absolutely be cash and more specifically the source of that cash."

For all the allure of the Red Sox package, signing the purchase agreement also will signify an acceptance of numerous headaches. Fenway Park, though beloved, is a outdated facility that badly needs replacement or refurbishment, a project that would be both highly expensive and offensive to local historians and preservationists.

Hothead outfielder Carl Everett was traded to the Texas Rangers this week, but the clubhouse remains a powder keg. The Red Sox also have baseball's highest average ticket price; a pitching staff woefully thin after repeat Cy Young Award winner Pedro Martinez; and, according to Selig, a 2001 net loss of $13.7million.

And then there are the potential conflicts of interest. If the Werner-Henry group prevails, the New York Times-owned Boston Globe will be a corporate sister of the Red Sox. Similar arrangements exist elsewhere Tribune Co. with the Cubs in Chicago and Fox Sports in Los Angeles with the Dodgers. But in a tough media market like Boston, potential corporate synergy between the most popular sports team and the leading media outlet has raised eyebrows.

The Red Sox, for their part, aim to have the sale resolved soon. A final choice could be announced within days, but they have not issued any hard timetable. John Harrington, Red Sox chief executive and one of the minority owners, is leading the review of bids.

"[The sale process] has yielded an outstanding group of bidders, and I am confident that it is going to result in record value for the Yawkey Foundation," Harrington said last month.

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