- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 20, 2005

District businessman Jonathan Ledecky yesterday formally announced his bid to buy the Washington Nationals, and he wasted little time asserting his presence among other suitors.

“We expect to be a finalist for this franchise. We will go all the way on this, and I can tell you that money will not be a factor,” said Ledecky, formerly a minority owner of the Washington Capitals. “At any of the numbers that have been out there, we will be able to clear the hurdle.”

The Nationals are expected to sell for between $275 million and $400 million.

Ledecky’s announcement of his intention to buy the Nationals, who currently are owned by Major League Baseball, provides an additional level of intrigue to an already mystery-wrapped process.

MLB executives intend to name a new owner for the Nationals by mid-summer, but they have said little about how and when the winner will be chosen.

Ledecky said New York real estate developer Marc Cohn and Boston investment firm ABRY Partners will be investors in Big Train Holdco., the new holding company named for Hall of Fame Washington pitcher Walter Johnson that will serve as Ledecky’s entity to bid for the Nationals.

Also advising Ledecky will be Citigroup Private Bank and Game Plan LLC, a Boston sports advisory firm that assisted on purchases of the Celtics and Los Angeles Dodgers, and recently was involved in a bid to buy the NHL.

This will not be Ledecky’s first attempt at owning a baseball team.

In 1998, he nearly purchased a share of the Cincinnati Reds and had designs on gaining controlling interest in the club, but his bid was matched by a group led by current Reds managing partner Carl Lindner.

Ledecky also bid on the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1998, and sought the Oakland A’s in 2002. The interest in the A’s became complicated when rumors surfaced that Ledecky wanted to move the club to his homebase of Washington.

With a team now in the District, Ledecky expects his local knowledge to aid his bid. He has spent much of the last several years focused on building the Ledecky Foundation, a philanthropic organization focused on inner-city charitable projects.

“It’s difficult to come in from the outside and make a play for a team. But here I’m on my home field, the place I’ve lived for the past 22 years,” Ledecky said.

There are seven groups known to be bidding against Ledecky: the Washington Baseball Club, led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients; American Baseball Capital, led by Northern Virginia businessman William Collins III; former Atlanta sports executive Stan Kasten; Tennessee developer Franklin Haney Sr.; local developer Mark Lerner; former Seattle Mariners owner Jeffrey Smulyan; and a group including Yusef Jackson, son of Jesse Jackson, and California billionaire Ron Burkle.

MLB Commissioner Bud Selig said last week a ninth group is also seeking the Nationals, but that entity has not been identified.

“These are all excellent groups, and the city is particularly blessed to have so many tremendous people locally going after this franchise,” Ledecky said. “Beyond price, it’s really going to come down to an incremental difference in how big a difference these groups can make in this community, particularly around the new stadium [in Southeast]. Baseball is such an important driver in any community, economically and socially, and I feel so strongly my group can really make a positive impact on the lives of the people in the District.”

Ledecky was a founding partner in Lincoln Holdings, the Ted Leonsis-led ownership group that in 1999 purchased the Washington Capitals and a minority stake in Washington Sports & Entertainment, Abe Pollin’s local sports empire.

Along with Leonsis, Ledecky played an influential role in the deal bringing Michael Jordan to the Washington Wizards. In 2001, Ledecky sold his 24-percent stake in Lincoln Holdings, originally worth $58 million, back to Leonsis for more than $70 million.

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