Mark Lerner, Ted Lerner’s son, who now serves as the club’s chief executive, told The Washington Post in a statement Monday that the family has hired New York investment bank Allen & Company to investigate potential investors and possibly buyers for Nationals.
“This is an exploratory process, so there is no set schedule or expectation of a specific outcome,” Mark Lerner said in the statement. “The organization is as committed as ever to their employees, players, fans, sponsors and partners and to putting a competitive product on the field.”
The team said no opportunities have been eliminated. Although a full transfer of ownership is possible, Lerners may also have additional partners, team spokeswoman Jennifer Giglio said.
“As the revenue streams around professional sports continue to evolve and the strength of the Washington Nationals brand continues to grow, the team believes it is wise to consider all the opportunities out there,” Giglio said.
Still, Lerner’s announcement calls into question Nationals’ direction – in the short and long term. The Nationals have one of the best young players in the sport in outfielder Juan Soto, and it is unclear how the announcement will affect negotiations on a long-term contract extension for the 23-year-old. The team is also involved in a years-long dispute over revenue from the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which broadcasts Nationals matches but is controlled by the Baltimore Orioles.
“This process does not affect the team’s ability to make baseball decisions,” Giglio said. “It will not distract the organization from our goal of being a first-class organization and setting up a winning team.”
Ted Lerner, 96, transferred the day-to-day control of the team to Mark Lerner in 2018. But regardless of whose name was at the top of the organizational flow chart, the family – which includes Ted’s wife, Annette; Marks wife, Judy; daughters Debra Lerner Cohen and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum; and sons-in-law Edward Cohen and Robert Tanenbaum – have always made decisions by consensus. It included the pursuit of the Washington NFL franchise in 1999; the league eventually selected Daniel Snyder.
The decision to embark on a process that could result in the sale of the team represents a face to face for the family.
“We will never sell Nationals,” Mark Lerner told The Post in 2018 as he took on his current role. “That’s what we’ve been working on all these years. We think we’re doing a good job with it. There is no intention with this family – certainly while I am alive and my sisters and brothers-in-law are alive – no one wants to sell this team. “
Ted Lerner built his real estate empire beginning in the 1950s. He sold homes to developers before developing properties himself. The Lerners helped develop a massive Tysons Corner Center in northern Virginia as well as other shopping destinations throughout the DC region, including Tysons II and Dulles Town Center.
But the coronavirus pandemic put enormous pressure on commercial real estate. In 2016, Forbes placed Ted Learner’s net worth at $ 5.5 billion. By 2020, it had dropped to $ 3.7 billion. Forbes estimates his current value at $ 4.5 billion.
Asked if the pandemic’s impact on the family’s economy played a role in this decision, the team said Lerner’s “real estate business continues to thrive.” Still, because the 2020 baseball season was shortened and played without fans, the revenue for the MLB franchise also got a massive hit.
Ted and Annette Lerner’s grandchildren grew up under the family’s management of Nationals. Now in their 30s, at least four of them are involved in the family business. Many people who work for and with the club have long anticipated that the generation would eventually take over. Giglio said the next generation “are enthusiastic supporters of the Nationals and are ready, willing and able to lead. But they also support this process of assessing opportunities.”
From the archives: For owner Ted Lerner, the Nationals’ World Series place is a family party
In 2006, Lerners paid $ 450 million to buy the club from Major League Baseball, which had moved it from Montreal to the nation’s capital in 2005. Their winning bid equaled them from seven other groups and was defended by then-Commissioner Bud Selig because of the family’s deep local roots and promise to be the financially responsible stewards of the game for a city that had gone more than three decades without big league baseball.
The transition from running malls and other commercial projects was at times uneven. The family gained a reputation in the organization for questioning all expenses, from travel expenses to scouts to stopwatches for minor league coaches to extra bats for players.
“In the real estate industry and in some of our other businesses, there seems to be some sense in that,” Ted Lerner said in 2007 during a forum at his alma mater, George Washington University. “People keep asking me the question, ‘Are you having fun?’ The answer is: ‘An apartment.’ I finally found out what ’24 / 7 ‘means. “
But following a development plan originally laid out by Stan Kasten, who was team president from 2006 to 2010, and General Manager Mike Rizzo, Nationals became consistent candidates. From 2012 to 2019, the team won four National League East division championships and appeared five times in the off-season, winning more regular season games than any team other than the Los Angeles Dodgers in that time. It culminated in the breakthrough during the 2019 playoffs as wildcard nationals frolic through October for the World Series title, beating the Houston Astros in seven games.
During this success, Lerners also committed resources to the payroll in the Major League. In 2010, they surprised their competitors by signing free agent outfielder Jayson Werth to a $ 126 million seven-year deal – the first nine-digit contract the family had issued. In 2012, they re-signed Ryan Zimmerman, the first draft pick in franchise history, to a six-year extension of $ 100 million, and in 2015, they got star pitcher Max Scherzer on a seven-year deal of $ 210 million. After Stephen Strasburg was named MVP of the World Series, Lerner committed $ 245 million over seven years to the pitcher.
Although homemade stars like outfielder Bryce Harper and third baseman Anthony Rendon have left in free agency, and the club last year began a new rebuilding process by trading Scherzer and all-star shortstop Trea Turner, investors – and potential buyers – are likely to be numerous. Forbes estimated the Nationals at $ 2 billion this season, up 4 percent from a year ago, the 12th most valuable of the 30 MLB franchises.
In 2020, hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen completed his $ 2.4 billion purchase of the New York Mets. In 2017, businessman Bruce Sherman bought the Miami Marlins – which is close to the base of baseball attendees annually – for $ 1.2 billion.
Allen & Company has managed the sale of several sports franchises, including the Mets and NFLs Carolina Panthers. The Denver Broncos recently hired the company to drive the sale of this franchise.
Chelsea Janes and Jesse Dougherty contributed to this report.