- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 2, 2005

District entrepreneur and philanthropist Jonathan Ledecky has added heavyweight financier George Soros to his investment group seeking to buy the Washington Nationals, marking another major addition to the quickly heightening race for the club.

Soros, estimated by Forbes magazine to be America’s 24th wealthiest person with a net worth of $7.2billion, has had a business relationship with Ledecky since the mid-1990s. Soros profitably invested in U.S. Office Products, one of many startup companies formed by Ledecky, and one of Soros’ managing directors also served as an attorney to Ledecky.

The addition of Soros marks a major coup for Ledecky. Soros, 74, provides significant financial heft for an auction expected to exceed $400million when both the Nationals and a minority stake in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) are included. The native of Hungary and Democratic Party activist also has given more than $5billion to charity.

“This is a win-win for the Washington Nationals and our city,” Ledecky said. “We have one of the greatest investors in history on board to validate our group’s financial strength and ability to successfully manage this franchise. We also have a concerned, caring and committed philanthropist interested in the well-being of our city.”

The addition of Soros is the latest of several high-profile entries into the chase for the Nationals. The Washington Baseball Club, led by Fred Malek and Jeffrey Zients, added former Secretary of State Colin Powell last week. And American Baseball Capital, a Virginia-based group previously headed by William Collins III, now has Sallie Mae chairman Albert Lord as its designated leader.

The auction for the Nationals, owned by Major League Baseball, is targeted by baseball executives to conclude sometime this summer.

Soros, who has looked into purchasing other MLB teams, was unavailable for comment yesterday. Should Ledecky win the Nationals auction, he would remain lead owner of the franchise.

Soros, with a long background in currency dealing and venture capitalism and head of Soros Fund Management, made more than $1billion alone in 1992 when he traded British pounds for German marks just before the British currency was devalued. He also founded and chairs the Open Society Institute, which seeks to promote democratic governments and human rights around the globe. Soros himself escaped the Soviet occupation of Hungary as a teenager.

Politically active for years and a lightning rod in both public policy and financial circles, Soros led a fervent, multimillion dollar effort aimed at unseating President Bush in last year’s election. Soros’ Democratic politics ultimately may become a factor in the Nationals race; his push to defeat Bush was extremely personal. Meanwhile, MLB is made up of mostly conservative owners, and baseball itself enjoys a close relationship with Bush, a former owner of the Texas Rangers.

Also aiding Ledecky, a former partner in Ted Leonsis’ Lincoln Holdings, in his pursuit of the Nationals are Marc Cohn, a New York commercial real estate developer; and ABRY Partners, a Boston private equity firm. Ledecky has dubbed his collective Big Train Holdco, a tribute to Washington Senators Hall of Fame pitcher Walter Johnson.

Besides Ledecky, MLB has six other bids for the Nationals, including ones from the Washington Baseball Club, American Baseball Capital, local real estate developer Mark Lerner, Indianapolis communications executive Jeffrey Smulyan, financier and builder Franklin Haney Sr. and the team of California billionaire Ron Burkle and attorney Yusef Jackson.

Another potential bid from Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers, has not materialized. According to industry sources, Kasten is looking to align himself with one of the other, much more capitalized bidding groups.

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