The Lerner family explores selling Washington Citizens

The family of real estate mogul Ted Lerner, who 16 years ago bought the Washington Nationals from Major League Baseball and oversaw the rebuilding that eventually resulted in the World Series, has begun the process of exploring potential changes to the club’s ownership structure, including the possibility of selling the team.

Mark Lerner, son of Ted Lerner who is now the club’s principal owner, told The Washington Post in a statement Monday that the family has hired New York investment bank Allen & Company to seek out potential investors, and possibly buyers, for the citizens.

“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 delivering a competitive product in the field.”

The team said no options were cancelled. Team spokeswoman Jennifer Giglio said that while a full transfer of ownership is possible, Learners could bring in additional partners.

“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 options available,” Giglio said.

However, Learners’ announcement puts the direction of the Nationals into question – both in the short and long term. The Nationals have one of the sport’s best young players in quarterback 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 dispute over revenue for Mid-Atlantic Sports Network, which broadcasts 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, transferred day-to-day control of the team to Mark Lerner in 2018. But regardless of whose name was at the helm of the organizational flow chart, the family – which includes Ted’s wife, Annette; Mark’s wife, Judy; daughters Debra Lerner Cohen and Marla Lerner Tannenbaum; and son-in-law Edward Cohen and Robert Tannenbaum – they always make decisions unanimously. This included the pursuit of the Washington franchise in the NFL in 1999; The league eventually picked Daniel Snyder.

The decision to start a process that could lead to the sale of the team represented a change of family.

“We will never sell out citizens,” Mark Lerner told The Post in 2018, when he took over his current role. “This is what we have worked to achieve all those years. We think we are doing very well. There is no intention for this family – certainly while I and my sisters and brothers are alive – that no one will sell this team.”

Ted Lerner built his real estate empire in the 1950s. He sold homes to developers before developing properties himself. Lerners helped develop the massive Tysons Corner Center in Northern Virginia as well as other shopping destinations throughout the metropolitan area, including Tysons II and Dulles Town Center.

But the coronavirus pandemic has put a huge strain on the commercial real estate sector. In 2016, Forbes estimated Ted Lerner’s net worth at $5.5 billion. In 2020, it fell to $3.7 billion. Forbes estimates his current fortune at $4.4 billion.

Asked if the impact of the pandemic on the family’s finances played a role in that decision, the team said that “Learners’ real estate business continues to thrive.” However, as the 2020 baseball season was shortened and played without fans, revenue from MLB franchises has also been a hit.

The grandchildren of Ted and Annette Lerner grew up during the family’s oversight of the Citizens. Now in their 30s, at least four of them are involved in the family business. Many people who have been working with and with the club for a long time believe that this generation will eventually take over. The next generation, Giglio said, are “enthusiastic supporters of citizens who are willing, willing and able to lead. But they also support this process of assessing options.”

From the archive: For owner Ted Lerner, the Nationals’ World Championship sidewalk is a family celebration

The Nationals were in Atlanta and opened a three-game streak against world champion Braves on Monday night. Manager Dave Martinez said he got a phone call from Mark Lerner that morning and “to say the least, I was shocked.”

“With this, for me, nothing changes,” he added. “My job is to prepare this team to play today and focus on it today, and that is how we are going to do things, like I always do. … I know [the Lerners are] I am very committed to this organization, like me, and we will do everything we can to win every day.”

Relief thrower Sean Doolittle, a member of the 2019 Championship Team on his second assignment with the franchise, described the news as surprising but said he didn’t expect the development to be a distraction.

“I think the Nats last year and this year were the exception, not the rule for what this team is doing,” he said of the club’s reduced salaries amid what general manager Mike Rizzo described as a “reboot”. “The organization has gone out and spent the money to put a competitive product on the field. And I think if more teams were willing to do that, the match would be in a much different place – maybe in a better place.”

In 2006, the Learners 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 outstripped seven other groups and it was then-commissioner Bud Selig who championed it as he is from the family’s deep local roots. and pledge to be financially responsible stewards of the game for a city that has gone more than three decades without Major League Baseball.

The transition from managing malls and other business ventures has been bumpy at times. The family has earned a reputation within the organization for questioning every expense, from travel expenses for scouts to downtime for junior league coaches to extra bats for players.

“In real estate and in some of our other work, there seems to be some sanity to that,” 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 have finally figured out what ’24/7′ means.

But by following the development plan originally laid out by Stan Casten — team boss from 2006 to 2010 — and Rizzo, the Nationals became a consistent contender. From 2012 to 2019, the team won four Eastern Conference National League championships and appeared in the postseason five times, winning more regular season games than any team except the Los Angeles Dodgers in that period. This culminated in a breakthrough during the 2019 playoffs, when during October the national team catapulted to the world title, defeating the Houston Astros in seven games.

Throughout this success period, the Learners have also dedicated resources to major league payroll. In 2010, they surprised their rivals by signing free quarterback Jason Wirth to a seven-year deal worth $126 million – the first nine-figure contract the family has released. In 2012, they re-signed Ryan Zimmerman, the first draft in franchise history, for a six-year, $100 million deal, and in 2015 acquired star Max Scherzer in a seven-year deal worth $210 million. After Stephen Strasbourg was named MVP of the World Series, the Learners committed $245 million over seven years to the bowler.

Although local stars such as defensive midfielder Bryce Harper and third baseman Anthony Rendon have left in free agency and the club began a new rebuilding process last year by trading Scherzer and all-star Tria Turner, the number of potential investors and buyers is likely to grow. . Forbes estimated The Nationals at $2 billion this season, up 4 percent from last year, putting the team 12th out of MLB’s 30 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 – which annually ranks near the bottom of baseball – for $1.2 billion.

Allen & Company has been able to sell several sports franchises, including the Mets and the Carolina Panthers of the NFL. Denver Broncos recently enlisted the company to run the sale of this franchise.

Jesse Dougherty of Atlanta and Chelsea Janes contributed to this report.