With every decision or organizational failure that the Nationals have committed this season, we’ve stated that fans should wait for one thing before jumping to conclusions: a new ownership group.
Although there still isn’t a clear frontrunner, many of the names we’ve heard have emerged as true contenders to purchase the franchise.
Owen Poindexter of Front Office Sports has reported that among at least five parties expected to place a bid by the end of this season are Ted Leonsis, Larry Lucchino, Josh Harris, Michael B. Kim and Stanley Middleman.
One of the key findings in the report was that the Nationals are estimated to be valued at $2 billion, just shy of the $2.4 billion that Steve Cohen purchased the Mets for nearly two years ago. Additionally, the Angelos family is exploring selling the Orioles.
Now back to the candidates! As the owner of the Capitals, Wizards, and Mystics among other local sports teams, Leonsis is someone who most of this fanbase is very familiar with. We also discussed Lucchino – and his potential link to Theo Epstein – nearly three months ago. At their heights, Lucchino and Epstein were co-running operations for the Boston Red Sox during the 2000s. Currently, Lucchino is the chairman of the Triple-A Worcester Red Sox, while Epstein is a consultant for Major League Baseball, but both are openly interested in jumping back into leading a big league franchise.
Rather than dwelling any further on them, let’s take a deeper look at the other three candidates.
There’s a case to be made that the 57-year-old Harris, much like Leonsis, is a jack of all trades and master of none. A graduate of Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania with an MBA from Harvard Business School, Harris’ core work is centralized in the Philadelphia region.
Harris is the co-founder of Apollo Global Management, owner of the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia 76ers, and general partner of Crystal Palace F.C. of English Premier League soccer – all alongside David S. Blitzer, the other half of Harris Blitzer Sports & Entertainment. He’s also championed a few philanthropic efforts in Philadelphia, including co-founding Harris Philanthropies with his wife.
Harris has also previously expressed interest in purchasing an NFL team that would relocate to London, and owns a five-percent share of the Pittsburgh Steelers in partnership with Blitzer. His net worth was recently estimated at $7.5 billion.
Michael B. Kim
The 58-year-old Kim is a bit of an unknown entity with money to blow. The South Korean native is a co-founder of MBK Partners, which has expanded to more than $23.4 billion in total assets.
Kim is a man of many accolades. He was named by Asian Venture Capital Journal as the “Private Equity Professional of the Year” in 2013; a finalist in Bloomberg’s 50 Most Influential in 2015; the “Godfather of Asian Private equity” by Finance Asia in 2016; and No. 5 in Forbes’ “The Richest Private Equity Billionaires” in 2021, with a net worth of $6.7 billion.
Earlier this year, MBK Partners sold a 13 percent stake of its firm at a value of roughly $1 billion. In the interesting factoid category, Kim is married to the daughter of a former South Korean Prime Minister.
How does any of this equate to his interest in buying the Washington Nationals? Frankly, I have no idea, but he’s been somewhat widely reported as a leading candidate.
Middleman is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Freedom Mortgage Company, with more than 30 years of experience in the mortgage banking industry.
Among other accolades Middleman and his company have earned in prior years, Freedom Mortgage was recently honored with the 2021 Top Workplaces USA Award, and Glassdoor named Middleman the fifth highest-rated CEO last year.
Perhaps the most interesting component in Middleman’s candidacy is his Philadelphia lineage, perhaps tying him to Harris in a co-ownership role. Otherwise, his net worth of $269 million seems like an insurmountable obstacle.
Stacking Up The Field
In terms of net worth, Harris and Kim are in their own tier, surpassing Ted Lerner’s estimated $4.2 billion value. Middleman checks in significantly behind that trio, and Lucchino lags behind with a net worth of approximately $8 million, making him a candidate as no more than a minority shareholder.
Given the ties that both have to the region, a Leonsis-Lucchino partnership with Epstein attached as a potential general manager shouldn’t be ruled out.
On the other hand, the Orioles could be a threat in this discussion, especially given their positioning in the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network (MASN) contract – something I’ve been asked by a reader to discuss soon. Not only could Leonsis or any other candidate pivot to the Orioles if they aggressively pursue a sale; Lucchino and Epstein both got their first chance in the baseball industry with the Orioles.
With that stated, the Nationals need to act quickly. This report is a promising development, but talks need to continue – and perhaps speed up. Ideally, a sale would be made prior to the Winter Meetings in early December.