Jun 29, 2022 - Sports

Town Talker: Ted Leonsis, would-be king of Washington sports?

Illustration of sports symbols as medals.
Illustration: Lindsey Bailey/Axios

It’s been two months since the Lerner family began exploring a sale of the Washington Nationals.

What I’m hearing: Ted Leonsis is very much interested, per several sources. Out-of-town fat cats are buzzing around.

  • And no, Jeff Bezos is not part of the process.

Outsider movement: Private equity billionaire Joshua Harris is among those kicking the tires. It would be a homecoming for the owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils: He grew up in Chevy Chase, Maryland, and went to The Field School before making his fortune on Wall Street. He owns homes in Miami and New York.

Leonsis is the local hero of the bunch. The New York native is a Georgetown graduate and former AOL exec who’s worth an estimated $1.6 billion. Buying the Nats would crown him the king of pro sports in Washington.

  • The Nats — valued at $2 billion, per Forbes — would be the crown jewel of a sports empire. His Monumental Sports group already owns the Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics. The sprawling portfolio includes Capital One Arena and regional broadcaster NBC Sports Washington.

And, consider this:

  • Leonsis is a sports gambling evangelist. His Capital One Arena was the first U.S. pro sports venue to open a sportsbook. He wishes the 20,000-square-foot space was bigger.
  • Nats Park, which opened the BetMGM Sportsbook in January, would allow the tech mogul to expand his footprint in sports gambling. Monumental doesn’t operate the book but sees it as a hook for young fans.

Yes, but: One sticking point in any potential bid is MASN. The Mid-Atlantic Sports Network owns the local TV rights for broadcasting Nationals games, but the broadcaster is majority-controlled by the Baltimore Orioles and has been the subject of litigation over profit-sharing between the two franchises. Resolving the MASN/TV cluster would be a priority for bidders.

Despite all that potential, one thing that stuck out to me is the lack of local buzz about the potential sale. Goss about the shortlist of interested bidders — the parlor game you’d expect to captivate Washington if/when Dan Snyder sold the Commanders — isn’t playing out on a wide scale.

One explanation: “There aren’t that many people in D.C. who could afford to do this,” one businessman tells me. “I think it’s either Ted” who buys the team “or someone who no one’s thinking about out of town.”

Of note: Laurene Powell Jobs (net worth: $14.4B) owns a stake in Leonsis’ Monumental.

  • And Carlyle Group co-founder David Rubenstein is interested, as part of a Leonsis-led group, Axios’ Dan Primack reported Tuesday. But word is that the Baltimore native remains more intrigued by his beloved Orioles (which aren't for sale ... yet).

And how about this for some goodwill: Mark Lerner is the managing principal owner of the Nats — and a partner at Monumental.

💬 Town Talker is a weekly column on local politics and power. Drop me a line about what your friends are chatting about: [email protected]

(Disclosure note: Laurene Powell Jobs is an investor in Axios.)

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