Wed. Feb 21st, 2024

David Rubenstein, a Baltimore native and one of the founders of the private equity firm the Carlyle Group, is on the verge of acquiring control of the local sports franchise he has long pursued.

The prominent Washington philanthropist and a cohort of investors have an agreement in place to buy a 40 percent stake in the Orioles, according to three people familiar with the situation, all of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to address a deal that still needs Major League Baseball’s approval. The deal values the team at $1.7 billion and the Rubenstein-led group would pay 40 percent now and hold the option to buy the rest at a later date.

The existence of such a deal has not been confirmed by the Angelos family or the Orioles, who declined to comment.

Three people familiar with the agreement say Rubenstein’s investment group includes Michael Arougheti, founder of Ares Management, a private equity firm that went public in 2014, and Orioles legend Cal Ripken Jr. A representative for Ripken did not reply to a request for comment on his role.

If the deal comes to fruition, Rubenstein would become the Orioles’ “control person,” a term MLB uses to designate the lead decision-maker for each team. John Angelos, son of Orioles owner Peter Angelos, took over that role from his ailing father in 2020. Angelos has directed his family to sell the team when he dies, according to documents presented in a since-settled lawsuit, and multiple people familiar with the deal suggest that it includes an option for the Rubenstein-led group to purchase the remaining 60 percent of the team when that happens.

But while the agreement is in place, the partial sale to Rubenstein is not necessarily imminent. Major League Baseball’s owners must approve the move, and can do so by a vote only after a smaller committee of owners does due diligence on the financing and logistics. It is not clear whether that process has started yet, and multiple people familiar with the situation said Wednesday that they do not expect the other 29 owners to vote on a sale at their quarterly meetings in Orlando next week. That process likely would not happen until the next owners’ meetings, which will take place this summer.

What is not clear yet is how a potential sale might affect the situation with the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which broadcasts Orioles and Washington Nationals games and has been a source of decades of consternation for all involved. According to the agreement MLB made with the Orioles when the Nationals moved into their territory in the early 2000s, the Orioles control the Nationals television rights in perpetuity, though they are obligated to pay Washington fair market value each year.

That deal states that, “In the event that either the Orioles, the Nationals, or the RSN [regional sports network] are sold … all subsequent purchaser(s), assignees or transferees shall be unconditionally bound to all terms and conditions of this Agreement.” In other words, Rubenstein would inherit the Nationals television rights along with those of the Orioles.

But there has long been optimism and speculation among interested parties that a potential sale of the Orioles could open the door to some rearrangement as a condition of sale approval. Neither MLB nor the Nationals were willing to comment on such a possibility Wednesday, and the league has long made clear that the existing agreement is binding.

Puck first reported on the agreement Tuesday night.

The Orioles are the only team in the four major professional sports to own television rights to two franchises, and their current ownership group has never indicated any interest in surrendering that distinction. A court recently ruled that the Orioles owed the Nationals roughly $60 million annually for each year from 2017 to 2021, though no one with either team has been willing to say whether those fees have yet been paid to the Nationals.

Angelos purchased the team in 1993, a year after the opening of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, one of the sport’s most treasured stadiums. His family has secured funding for improvements as part of a 30-year lease agreement in recent months and watched an elite young core lift Baltimore to a surprising American League East title in 2023.

Rubenstein, meanwhile, made a name for himself both as one of the founders of Carlyle and as a donor to many Washington causes. He stepped down from his role as chairman of the Kennedy Center on Monday.

When the Lerner family announced it was exploring a sale of the Nationals in April 2022, Rubenstein emerged as a potential buyer in partnership with Ted Leonsis, owner of the Washington Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Leonsis, who is in near-constant contact with the Lerner family and remains interested in buying the Nationals according to people familiar with the situation, has prioritized the expansion of his Monumental Sports Network, which to this point has not had reliable summer programming outside the WNBA.

Multiple people familiar with Leonsis and the Nationals situation have suggested that Leonsis could be seeking the rights to the Nationals or Orioles to fill out his network’s local sports programming, and a potential sale of the Orioles to Rubenstein could clear the way to a deal — though no one affiliated with either man has indicated that such a deal is imminent.

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