The Washington Post's Tom Heath always does a good job of digging into the behind-the-scenes interaction on these sports business deals. Today he writes that efforts by Capitals owner Ted Leonsis to buy the Wizards have been thrown into question, as the estate of the late Abe Pollin says it has the right to put the franchise on the open market.
Heath writes that "the news will probably complicate what has been a civil negotiations process" and that "the events point to an unraveling of what many thought would be a smooth transition from Pollin to Leonsis."
It is well-known that Leonsis has the right to match any offer that the Pollin estate receives. But what's less clear is whether the sale process was specifically designed to ensure that Leonsis would end up with the team. According to the Post, Wizards' vice president Peter Biche said no one has an exclusive right to purchase the team. But Leonsis believes he had an exclusive right to negotiate a purchase, and that the time allowed to reach a deal remains in effect.
A thorough reading of the Post story, however, seems to suggest things could still be on track for Leonsis. The two sides are expected to each hire an appraiser, and if the two appraisers can't agree on a price, a third appraiser will set one. Leonsis believes that third price would be binding, and he would lose the right to buy the team only if he passed on buying at that point. Whether the Pollin estate interprets things the same way is unclear.
Editor's note: I'd also read the story from Monday's SportsBusiness Journal reporters John Ourand and John Lombardo available here through the WBJ) which talks about Leonsis' efforts to secure financing from Comcast to help with the sale. Their story seems to suggest things are on track and that the sale process is proceeding in an orderly fashion.
A pessimist might say this disagreement the Biche memo and Leonsis' reaction to it means the sale process is unraveling. An optimist might interpret this as nothing more than posturing by the Wizards to ensure they get maximum value for the team and Verizon Center.
I tend to be in the optimist's camp, simply because I can't imagine the Pollin estate would throw away years of good will over what may be a relatively small difference in price. I'm also not convinced there is a potential buyer willing to overpay for the Wizards and Verizon Center at this point. If the Pollin estate gets a fair price for the team, they will probably take it. But if Leonsis insists on lowballing the Pollins, all bets may be off.