Ted Leonsis emerges as a potential Washington Nationals buyer

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Ted Leonsis, the owner of Washington’s NBA, NHL and WNBA franchises, has emerged as a suitor for the Washington Nationals, multiple people familiar with the process said Tuesday.

Leonsis, whose Monumental Sports & Entertainment controls the Wizards, Capitals and Mystics, is among the would-be buyers granted access to the Nationals’ financial data, a key step in preparing a bid for the District’s MLB franchise. The Lerner family, which has owned the Nationals since 2006, announced in April it would explore the possibility of selling the club.

The news of Leonsis’ official interest in the Nationals came on the same day as Monumental announced it was purchasing NBC Sports Washington, the regional sports network that broadcasts Wizards and Capitals games. Monumental acquired and a one-third stake in NBC Sports Washington from Comcast in 2016.

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Asked in an interview Tuesday about his family’s interest in the Nationals, Zach Leonsis — Monumental’s president of media and new enterprises and Ted’s son — said it was “not appropriate to comment.”

It’s unclear whether Ted Leonsis would be able to purchase the Nationals — valued by Forbes at $2 billion, the 12th-highest figure among the 30 MLB teams — on his own or whether he has enlisted outside investors. Mark Lerner, the Nationals’ managing principal owner and son of family patriarch Ted Lerner, is a minority partner in Monumental.

At least five potential bidders have met with Nationals officials, another key step in addition to examining the team’s finances. Billionaire Michael B. Kim, whose private equity firm manages more than $25 billion in assets, met this summer with team officials at Nationals Park. Mortgage mogul Stanley Middleman has also met with team personnel. It is not known if Leonsis has formally met with Nationals officials.

People familiar with the process believe a sale could be completed by the end of the year, possibly in time for the new group to be approved at baseball’s owner meetings in November. The Lerner family has left open the possibility of retaining ownership or merely bringing on additional partners. Los Angeles Angels owner Arte Moreno announced Tuesday he is also exploring selling his team, which ranks narrowly above the Nationals in the Forbes valuations.

Meanwhile, by acquiring NBC Sports Washington — which owns the broadcast rights for the Wizards and Capitals — the Leonsis family’s sprawling entertainment conglomerate will increase its sway over the DC sports market. Monumental Sports also owns the Mystics, the NBA G League’s Go-Go and the NBA 2K League’s Wizards District Gaming.

Ted Leonsis has long had a keen interest in the media side of the sports business. He is a member of the owners’ media committees for the NBA and NHL and is a vocal advocate for legalized sports gambling. opening a sportsbook at Capital One Arena, the first inside a US professional sports arena. The Wizards have experimented with an alternative TV broadcast focused on gamblingand Zach Leonsis said he was interested in more alternate feeds, citing the example of Peyton and Eli Manning on “Monday Night Football.”

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“Fundamentally, we believe in the value of our live local rights,” Zach Leonsis said. “A lot has been made of the [regional sports network] ecosystem, but we are strong believers that the value of the rights continues to increase. It’s strategic to own our own destiny as we seek to innovate.”

He said Monumental, which also owns a streaming platform that broadcast the bulk of the Mystics schedule this seasonwas interested in exploring direct-to-consumer streaming options for Wizards and Capitals games that could give fans without a cable subscription access to them.

The deal with Comcast is expected to close in roughly 30 days. Comcast will remain a strategic partner, helping with distribution of the network for at least the next year.

How Monumental’s media pursuits dovetail with Ted Leonsis’s interest in the Nationals remains to be seen. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network owns the television broadcast rights for the Baltimore Orioles and Nationals. The network has been an enduring point of contention between the franchises, leading to a decades-long legal dispute about rights fees. The network is controlled by the Orioles as part of an agreement reached between Major League Baseball and the Angelos family, which owns the Orioles, when the Nationals relocated to the District.

Any would-be owner of the Nationals would have to reach a deal with the Orioles to gain control of the Nationals’ local television rights.

NBC Sports Washington has always had programming gaps during the summer months without live basketball and hockey, and there has been interest from fans and media executives in getting the Wizards, Capitals, Nationals and Orioles on the same network. Roughly a decade ago, Comcast had discussions with the Orioles and Nationals about buying MASN, but a deal was never completed.

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