Mark Lerner, the son of Ted Lerner who is now the club’s principal owner, told the Washington Post in a statement on Monday that the family had hired New York-based investment bank Allen & Company to scout for potential investors, and possibly buyers, for the Nationals.
“This is an exploratory process, so there is no set timeline or expectation of a specific outcome,” Mark Lerner said in the statement. “The organization is more committed than ever to its employees, players, fans, sponsors and partners and to bringing a competitive product to the field.”
The team said no options were eliminated. While a full transfer of ownership is possible, the Lerners could also bring in additional partners, team spokeswoman Jennifer Giglio said.
“As revenue streams around professional sports continue to evolve and the strength of the Washington Nationals brand continues to grow, the team believes it is prudent to evaluate all available options,” Giglio said.
Still, the Lerners’ announcement calls into question the direction of the Nationals — both short-term and long-term. The Nationals have one of the best young players in the sport in outfielder Juan Soto, and it’s unclear how the announcement will affect negotiations for a long-term contract extension for the 23-year-old. The team is also embroiled in a years-long revenue dispute over Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which carries Nationals games 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 fielding a winning team.”
Ted Lerner, 96, handed day-to-day control of the team to Mark Lerner in 2018. But whoever was on top of the org chart, the family – which includes Ted’s wife, Annette; Mark’s wife, Judy; daughters Debra Lerner Cohen and Marla Lerner Tanenbaum; and his sons-in-law Edward Cohen and Robert Tanenbaum—has always made his decisions by consensus. This included pursuing Washington’s NFL franchise in 1999; the league ultimately chose Daniel Snyder.
The decision to begin a process that could result in the sale of the team represents an about-face for the family.
“We will never sell the Nationals,” Mark Lerner told The Post in 2018 when he took over his current role. “That’s what we’ve worked for all these years. We think we’re doing it pretty well. There is no intention of this family – certainly while I am alive and my sisters and brothers-in-law are alive – no one is going to sell this team.
Ted Lerner built his real estate empire starting in the 1950s. He sold houses for developers before developing properties himself. The Lerners helped develop the sprawling Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia as well as other shopping destinations in the DC area, including Tysons II and Dulles Town Center.
But the coronavirus pandemic has put a strain on the commercial real estate sector. In 2016, Forbes estimated Ted Lerner’s net worth at $5.5 billion. In 2020, it had fallen to $3.7 billion. Forbes puts his current value at $4.4 billion.
When asked if the impact of the pandemic on the family’s finances played a role in the decision, the team said “the Lerners’ real estate business continues to thrive.” Yet, as the 2020 baseball season was shortened and played without fans, MLB franchise revenues were also hit hard.
Ted and Annette Lerner’s grandchildren grew up while the family ran the Nationals. Now in their thirties, at least four of them are involved in the family business. Many who work for and with the club have long thought this generation would eventually take over. Giglio said the next generation “are enthusiastic supporters of national championships and are ready, willing and able to lead. But they also support this process of evaluating options.
From the archives: For owner Ted Lerner, the Nationals’ place in the World Series is a family celebration
The Nationals are in Atlanta and opened a three-game series against the defending World Series champion Braves on Monday night. Manager Dave Martinez said he got a call from Mark Lerner that morning and “to say the least, I was shocked”.
“That being said, for me, nothing changes,” he added. “My job is to prepare this team to play today and focus on today, and that’s how we’re going to do things, like I always do. … I know [the Lerners are] very attached to this organization, like me, and we will do everything to win every day.
Relief pitcher Sean Doolittle, a member of the 2019 championship team in his second stint with the franchise, called the news surprising but said he didn’t expect the development to be a distraction.
“I think the Nats last year and this year have been the exception, not the norm, for what this team does,” he said of the club’s reduced payroll amid this. which general manager Mike Rizzo called a “reboot.” “The organization went out and spent money to put a competitive product on the field. And I think if there were more teams that were willing to do that, the game would be in a very different place. – probably a better place.
In 2006, the Lerners paid $450 million to buy the club from Major League Baseball, which moved it from Montreal to the nation’s capital in 2005. Their winning bid beat those of seven other groups and was championed by then-commissioner Bud Selig because of deep local family roots and a commitment to being fiscally responsible stewards of the game for a city that has gone more than three decades without big league baseball.
The transition from managing malls to other commercial projects has been bumpy at times. The family has earned a reputation within the organization for questioning everything from scout travel expenses to minor league coaches’ timers to extra bats for players.
“In the real estate business and in some of our other businesses, there seems to be some reason,” Ted Lerner said in 2007 during a forum at his alma mater, George Washington University. “People keep asking me, ‘Are you having fun?’ The answer is: “On occasion. I finally understood what ’24/7′ means.
But following a development plan originally laid out by Stan Kasten – the team’s president from 2006 to 2010 – and Rizzo, the Nationals became regular contenders. From 2012 to 2019, the team won four National League East Division championships and appeared in the playoffs five times, winning more regular season games than any team except the Los Dodgers. Angeles during this period. That culminated with the breakthrough in the 2019 playoffs, when the wild-card National Championships captured the World Series title in October, beating the Houston Astros in seven games.
Throughout this string of success, the Lerners have also committed resources to the major league payroll. In 2010, they surprised their competitors by signing free agent outfielder Jayson Werth to a seven-year, $126 million deal — the first nine-figure deal the family had issued. In 2012, they re-signed Ryan Zimmerman, the first draft pick in franchise history, to a six-year, $100 million extension, and in 2015, they landed star pitcher Max Scherzer for a seven-year, $210 million contract. After Stephen Strasburg was named World Series MVP, the Lerners committed $245 million over seven years to the pitcher.
Although local stars such as outfielder Bryce Harper and third baseman Anthony Rendon left for free agency and the club began a new rebuilding process last year by trading Scherzer and shortstop All- Star Trea Turner, investors – and potential buyers – are likely to be plentiful. Forbes valued the Nationals at $2 billion this season, up 4% from a year ago, making the team the 12th most valuable of the 30 MLB franchises.
In 2020, hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen completed his purchase of the New York Mets for $2.4 billion. In 2017, businessman Bruce Sherman bought the Miami Marlins – who rank among baseball’s lowest in attendance every year – for $1.2 billion.
Allen & Company managed the sale of several sports franchises, including that of the Mets and Carolina Panthers of the NFL. The Denver Broncos recently tapped the company to handle the sale of this franchise.
Jesse Dougherty in Atlanta and Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.