Friday, September 10, 2004

The two local groups that have worked to secure a baseball team for the Washington area would not necessarily own the club should Major League Baseball award the Montreal Expos to the District or Northern Virginia.

Major League Baseball will hold an open bidding process after it awards the Expos — a process expected to draw prospective buyers from around the country.

“I believe there will be other potential bidders coming in once baseball commits to the area,” said Mark Ganis, president of SportsCorp Ltd., a Chicago sports marketing firm.

Virginia Baseball, led by Bill Collins, has been trying for 10 years to land a franchise for Northern Virginia. The Washington Baseball Club, headed by Fred Malek, has worked for five years to get a team for the District.

Each group holds an exclusivity agreement with a government agency in its jurisdiction. However, MLB is not bound by those agreements.

If baseball decides to relocate the Expos to the area — a decision that is expected within a month and possibly within two weeks — other potential buyers likely would step forward to bid.

John Moag of Moag and Co., a sports investment banking firm in Baltimore, also anticipates more interest, saying, “Once you put the team up for sale, you will see others emerge to bid on the team.”

Bids on the last-place Expos are expected to go as high as $300million, depending on whether an indemnity payment to Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos is required.

The owners of the 29 other major league teams purchased the troubled Expos franchise from Jeffrey Loria for $120million nearly three years ago. That deal allowed Loria to buy the Florida Marlins and then-Marlins owner John Henry to lead a group that bought the Boston Red Sox.

Two groups other than Virginia Baseball and the Washington Baseball Club have expressed interest in purchasing the Expos. Mark Broxmeyer, a Long Island real estate developer, has long been interested and said his group of investors remains ready to bid.

“Baseball will be looking for the best price available,” said Broxmeyer, who also believes other bidders will surface.

One did so yesterday: DSG Baseball, a group led by Brian Saulsberry that is located in Nashville, Tenn. Saulsberry is a graduate of Howard University and a general partner of the DSG Investment Fund.

DSG Baseball also includes former major league catcher Tom Pagnozzi, who told the Memphis Commercial Appeal he has met with Bob DuPuy, baseball’s chief operating officer, to express the group’s interest in purchasing the Expos if the club is relocated here.

“I think we have as good a chance as anybody,” Pagnozzi told the newspaper.

Gabe Paul Jr., executive director of the Virginia Baseball Stadium Authority, acknowledged the field of prospective owners will widen once a decision is made by baseball. However, he expects the Virginia group would hold an edge.

“I would certainly hope that, at the end of the day, if the team is relocated to Northern Virginia, that the Virginia Baseball Club becomes the owner because of all the time, money and effort they have spent on this,” Paul said.

Both Virginia Baseball and the Washington Baseball Club would have advantages in the bidding process, having worked so closely with their respective government entities and with baseball’s relocation committee.

Jerry Burkot, a spokesman for Virginia Baseball, believes it would be difficult for anyone from the outside to forge the same relationships they have.

“We have no doubt there will be other people getting into this,” Burkot said. “But when you look at what has been done by Virginia Baseball — with our establishment and support of the stadium authority, our work with the General Assembly and local government — all that work has not been done for someone to come in from New York or Chicago or wherever.

“We believe we represent the best chance for success. This has been a Virginia effort, and nobody knows the market like we do.”

Baseball could seek to weld some of the bidders into an ownership group of its own desiring. Commissioner Bud Selig made it clear during the bidding for the Red Sox nearly three years ago that MLB will select the group it is most comfortable with. Baseball drew criticism from Boston officials then for selecting the Henry group over a more lucrative bid.

Winston Lord, executive director of the Washington Baseball Club, said his group is prepared to deal with competing bidders.

“We are focused on what we are trying to do,” he said. “We have been at this for five years, and we are completely committed to this community. Our focus is not on others, but when the time is appropriate and the attention turns to ownership groups, we will put our best foot forward.”

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