- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 2, 2004

About 20 groups have applied to Major League Baseball to bid on the Montreal Expos, the largest pool of applicants for a team in years.

William Collins III, who spent more than a decade as the dominant figure in Northern Virginia’s pursuit of a team, yesterday confirmed he intends to bid for the club that will begin play in Washington next year.

Yesterday was the deadline for prospective bidders to express their interest in the club.

Executives of MLB intend to select the team’s new owner by Jan. 1. MLB owners collectively have had ownership of the Montreal Expos franchise, now in the process of relocating to the District, since early 2002.

“We’ve had a very robust level of interest,” said John McHale, MLB executive vice president of administration. “The process is going very well, and we’ll soon get to a point where we can invite potential bidders to examine the state of the franchise.”

Mr. McHale declined to specify the number of bidders.

However, MLB President Bob DuPuy said last week there were “more than 10 and fewer than two dozen” potential bidders. Mr. McHale said yesterday, “We’re now heading for the upper end of that range.”

That number of suitors, which may decline as formal bidding approaches, is more than twice the seven preliminary bidders who sought to purchase the Boston Red Sox at auction three years ago.

Mr. Collins joins a field known to include groups led by D.C. financier Fred Malek, Long Island developer Mark Broxmeyer and Tennessee investment banker Brian Saulsberry.

Other potential bidders in the field include one group with Hall of Fame slugger Reggie Jackson and another with former MLB consultant Corey Busch.

Groups were required to submit a deposit of $100,000 to enter the formal sales process. At least half of that amount ultimately will be refunded.

Mr. Collins long stumped for and funded the Northern Virginia bid for the Expos, serving as the chief rival to the District’s bid.

In June, Mr. Collins announced plans for a stadium site in Loudoun County, calling the far suburban locale “the true epicenter of the Washington market.” He said marketing would not be extensive for fans in Prince George’s County or Southern Maryland.

A little more than 100 days later, Mr. Collins still was fuming over the refusal of Virginia Gov. Mark Warner, a Democrat, to support a stadium financing plan involving bonds backed by the commonwealth, and he went to great lengths to praise the District’s successful effort to land the Expos.

“The District put an excellent offer on the table,” said Mr. Collins, who was urged by several baseball insiders to pursue the club. “The leadership of the mayor and his staff is to be commended. They went after this, and they got it.

“My group has accomplished the first goal, to get baseball back in the Washington area. Now we’ve come to the second part, making sure the team stays here. And the best way I know how to ensure that is to get involved in the process.”

Mr. Collins and Mr. Malek received a de facto endorsement yesterday from the Greater Washington Board of Trade, which released a resolution sent to MLB executives supporting the selection of a locally based group to own the soon-to-be-renamed Expos.

MLB executives will now investigate the potential bidders to verify their ability to buy the club. The groups later will be invited to New York to review the Expos’ financial statements, likely to happen in late November. That step will lead to several rounds of formal bidding.

MLB would like to have a new owner identified for an owners meeting in January and a closing on the transfer of the franchise done around the start of spring training in February.

The club likely will sell for more than $300 million.

Mr. Collins said that recent sales — the Red Sox sold for $660 million in December 2001 and the Los Angeles Dodgers for $430 million last year — are not good figures for comparison.

The Red Sox sale included Fenway Park and the New England Sports Network. Dodger Stadium was included in the purchase of the L.A. team.

“This is different. What you’re buying is the franchise, and that’s basically it,” Mr. Collins said.

Meanwhile, staffers for D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams, a Democrat, met last night with members of the city’s business community to review potential changes to a proposed gross-receipts tax.

The tax, to be levied on large D.C. businesses, would fund the largest portion of the costs of a proposed ballpark in Southeast. City officials are trying to shift more of the tax burden to the biggest of those businesses and away from those grossing between $3 million and $10 million per year.

• Thom Loverro contributed to this report.

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