- The Washington Times - Friday, February 18, 2005

The Washington Nationals yesterday struck a one-year radio deal with Bonneville International Corp. that establishes Z104 FM (WWZZ/WWVZ) and WFED (AM-1050) as the club’s dual flagship stations.

Capping a wild series of negotiations that saw a deal nearly struck with rival stations owned by Clear Channel Communications and then Infinity Broadcasting, the Nationals also will receive extensive promotion and news coverage on Bonneville’s WTOP-AM/FM, a dominant force in the local radio market.

Exact terms of the pact were not available, but the deal is a time-buy in which the Nationals will purchase time to air their games for a six-figure sum and then reap the generated advertising revenue. Bonneville will aid the team in selling ads and receive a commission for its work.

“We made the best deal we could given the time we had. People sometimes forget we are building this franchise at a record pace,” Nationals president Tony Tavares said. “The cross-promotion on WTOP is very important to us.”

Bonneville entered the race for the Nationals’ radio rights only a week ago. For weeks, Major League Baseball, which owns the team, preferred to see the radio network led by an AM station to follow baseball custom. WFED, also known as Federal News Radio, runs only at 1,000 watts during the day, and was not nearly strong enough to front the team’s radio coverage by itself.

But once negotiations between the Nationals and Infinity, which was to lead the game coverage with its WJFK (FM-106.7), slowed, Bonneville entered with its late bid to establish the dual flagship. The model somewhat mirrors the Atlanta Braves, who this season will air all their games on separate AM and FM flagship stations.

WFED will air every Nationals game this season, while Z104 plans to air 122 games ” primarily night and holiday contests. Nine spring training games and the April3 exhibition at RFK Stadium against the New York Mets also are pegged for WFED.

“Things really did move fast and furious on this,” said Joel Oxley, Bonneville senior vice president for the D.C. market. “But this is a great deal for the team and a great deal for us.”

Within two hours of the deal being announced yesterday, stations owned by Clear Channel and Infinity were disparaging the Nationals’ radio choice on air. Z104 is a modern rock station popular with female listeners.

Selection of the radio announcers could occur as soon as today, a choice led by the Nationals with Bonneville input, and Tavares also is hurriedly seeking to expand the radio network with more stations in the region.

Z104’s signal, emanating from Prince George’s County, extends through metro D.C. and into Virginia but does weaken in the far western and northern suburbs. Aiding Bonneville’s bid in Tavares’ eyes was Z104’s inability to extend deep into Baltimore because the signal is drowned out there by WSMJ (FM-104.3), a smooth jazz station.

The Nationals’ TV rights remain up in the air with MLB executives still unable to reach agreement with Baltimore Orioles owner Peter Angelos on a financial protection package. The Nationals’ local TV distribution is directly tied into those talks, which have centered on the creation of a regional sports network airing both teams.

Meanwhile, the Washington Baseball Club, the prospective ownership group led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, yesterday added W. Russell Ramsey, a prominent Northern Virginia financier, to the group.

Ramsey, once aligned with Northern Virginia’s relocation effort for the Montreal Expos, joins a powerful collection of local executives in WBC that also includes real estate investment executive and philanthropist Joe Robert, America Online co-founder Jim Kimsey, former Fannie Mae chairman Franklin Raines and David Bradley, chairman of Atlantic Media Co.

“As a native Washingtonian, I am honored and excited to be joining a group of friends and leaders who share my passion for baseball and know what it will mean for this community,” Ramsey said in a statement.

WBC, pursuing a District-based baseball team for nearly six years, expects to add further investors in the coming months.

Ramsey is the founder and managing principal of Ramsey Asset Management, based in Tysons Corner, and co-founded Friedman, Billings, Ramsey Group, the seventh largest investment bank in the country. At FBR, Ramsey became nationally known as pioneer in investing in Internet-based businesses.

Ramsey, 45, played outfield and second base at George Washington University and is a member of the school’s athletic hall of fame.

The Malek-Zients group is battling for the Nationals against bids from Northern Virginia businessman William Collins III, former Atlanta sports executive Stan Kasten, local entrepreneur Jonathan Ledecky, the family of local developer Ted Lerner, and Tennessee businessman Franklin Haney Sr. Nearly all of the bidding groups have conducted preliminary reviews of the Nationals’ financial records.

Bidding is expected to intensify once Major League Baseball concludes the Angelos talks, with a winner perhaps chosen by the All-Star break. Industry analysts expect the Nationals to fetch more than $300million in a fierce bidding war.

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