Ted Leonsis really wants regional baseball broadcasting rights; Does he still want a baseball team?

Meet Ted Leonsis, the man with ownership in pro basketball, hockey, and gaming, with his crown jewels of the NBA’s Wizards, the NHL’s Capitals and the WNBA’s Mystics — and he does not have a MLB baseball team, leaving a huge void in the summer months. Our sources had told us that back in 2022 that he had tried to purchase the Nats’ portion of the MASN network with no luck. Leonsis was also a confirmed bidder for the Washington Nationals in 2022, and we broke the “No Sale” news months later.

Monumental Sports and their TV Network are a behemoth in regional sports team ownership and broadcasting because they encompass a region that stretches from parts of Pennsylvania and Delaware and south into the Carolinas. You can buy a subscription to their streaming service worldwide or watch on most cable systems in their footprint. For instance, their Capitals Radio Network includes 14 different radio stations throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, from Pennsylvania to North Carolina. 

What changed in 2023 is that Leonsis reportedly brought in a cash fund from Qatar that offered enough cashflow to buy a baseball network, and buy a baseball team. As you would expect, many people were not happy that Leonsis turned to Qatar, a country with major civil rights issues and ties to terrorism. But here we are. While others speculated that the Qatar money would be used to buy a baseball team — our sourced info was that Leonsis would initially use the money in a full 100 percent buyout of D.C. affiliate of NBC Sports/Comcast in what was known as NBC Sports Washington. That was the first steps during 2023 to rebrand NBC Sports Washington to the Monumental Sports Network which is now complete and being run by Leonsis’ son Zachary.

But still, Leonsis wants baseball, and made that clear when he spoke at the Sportico “Invest in Sports” conference back in October.

“I am not shy to say, ‘I want a claim to buy a baseball team.’ I love the sport.”

— Leonsis said at the Sportico conference

And to fill his regional sports station with baseball in the short-term, Leonsis would either have to make a deal with college baseball, minor league baseball, independent baseball, or make a deal with the Angelos family that controls the broadcasting rights to MASN — and as mentioned, their initial talks went nowhere. Or you just add your own original content that covers baseball as news and/or create shows about baseball like others do in various formats.

At another event, Leonsis said at the Sports Business Journal’s “Dealmakers” conference that year-round programming was a goal. He spoke about the Madison Square Garden regional sports network in the New York City region, and the fact that MSG has done that without baseball by creating alternative programming and news and specials.

“We want to have year-round programming. That’s what we’re trying to do. That’s certainly what MSG has done, although they don’t have a baseball team. So we want to have that year-round programming.”

— Leonsis said at the SBJ conference

But the Washington Nationals, per a source, won’t be sold any time soon. Last month in a meeting with Lerner’s partners in the Nats, we were told by the source that Lerner said they will play the full 2024 season without being sold. Our source said he expected the Orioles to be sold before the Nationals.

Well, plans can change quickly as we just saw with Michael Jordan selling a majority share of the NBA Hornets, and Mark Cuban doing the same with his NBA Mavericks. If you get a deal that is too good to be true — you might take it. The number we consistently hear is that the Lerners want to get close to $3 billion with no stipulations. With NBA teams skyrocketing in value, it would seem that baseball teams could break that $2.4 billion that Steve Cohen paid for the Mets.

The Nats moved forward this offseason with a large-scale overhaul of their baseball operations departments on both the amateur scouting and player development personnel. In addition, both General Manager Mike Rizzo and on-field manager, Dave Martinez, received multi-year contract extensions towards the end of the 2023 season, giving the team ongoing stability with the decision-makers from Lerner-to-Rizzo-to-Martinez.

Does all of this put a screeching halt to the Leonsis sports empire aspirations of purchasing the Nats or is Monumental interested more in the rights to televise games? The fact is that even though Lerner is a partner in Leonsis’ Monumental Sports, the Nats still want to achieve their asking price, and $2 billion +/- was not enough to get Lerner to sell to Leonsis if you believe those reports. They were hundreds of millions apart per our sources, and too many stipulations in the deal.

With that Qatar money, who knows what happens next. But who wants to buy a baseball time where you don’t control your TV rights? Apparently nobody. And there lies the problem as we broke the news in 2022 that MASN was the Rubik’s Cube in the initial attempts to sell the Nats. Potential buyers lined up and most dropped out quickly. But if the Orioles ever get sold — which could happen first, per sources, then the TV rights could be solved as MLB most likely would not allow a sale to go through without the TV rights issues getting resolved with MASN.

Maybe Leonsis will pivot to buying the Orioles and purchasing all of MASN, or maybe he could find a “friendly” who wants the Orioles more than him, and pave the way with the TV rights. With reports of Leonsis trying to get $600 million in cash from taxpayers to fix up the Capital One Arena that Monumental owns, and not D.C., you wonder if that is next in importance on Leonsis priorities. That is a lot of money to fix up an existing structure that most say is in good shape. Many fans want to see a better product as Leonsis’ Wizards and Capitals are just bad right now — and the crime around his arena is skyrocketing. The Wizards lack star appeal, and the 38 year old, Alex Ovechkin, of the Capitals is down to his final years under contract. And of course the rumors of Leonsis relocating his teams to the suburbs persist.

There are certainly many problems out there for Leonsis to deal with. Where is baseball ownership and broadcasting on his priorities? That is the billion dollar question.

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