Ryan-led group wins bidding war to buy Rangers

Aug 5th, 2010 | By sportsnews | Category: Sports

FORT WORTH, Texas — An investment group led by Hall of Fame pitcher and Texas Rangers president Nolan Ryan won a contentious and unusual auction for the team early Thursday, beating back a nearly $600 million offer from outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban.

Officials in federal bankruptcy court announced the winning bid to cheers and a standing ovation in the courtroom, some 10 hours after the auction began.

The Greenberg-Ryan group had Major League Baseball’s endorsement, and its final offer included $385 million in cash. The final hearing on the team’s bankruptcy plan was scheduled for later Thursday.

“It was an emotional roller-coaster,” a smiling Ryan said between hugs with colleagues and well-wishers in the courthouse. “You go to court one day and it didn’t go your way, but you go back another day and it would. It’s a relief.”

Final approval of the Rangers sale rests with MLB, which had the option of choosing the second-highest bid instead. But it didn’t come to that.

League president Bob DuPuy: “I’m very pleased and I look forward to Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan leading the team for many years to come.”

Cuban was also smiling after the auction, despite losing. His group decided against making another bid after reaching a predetermined limit. Cuban, who also looked into buying the Chicago Cubs last year, said he wished Greenberg and Ryan luck.

“I wish them the best,” he said.

The winning bid was made just after midnight. Although Cuban’s group had made a $390 million cash offer, part of a $598 million bid, the Greenberg-Ryan bid was considered higher because of how the bids are structured — including a $10 million to $13 million breakup fee that would have been paid to the Geenberg-Ryan group if it doesn’t win.

The stop-and-start showdown was delayed for hours at a time Wednesday by closed-door haggling over the complicated nature of each bid. The bidding picked up late Wednesday and the courtroom grew more crowded as the night wore on, with attorneys and even fans crammed on the wooden benches or standing along the walls.

Each group’s bid included more than $200 million of the team’s debt — including $24.9 million in deferred compensation owed to Alex Rodriguez six years after he was traded to the New York Yankees.

In the previous bidding round, the Greenberg-Ryan group bid $365 million and dropped provisions worth $12 million — showing that it was back in the game after trying in vain to stop the auction and a $355 million cash bid from Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane.

But U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Russell Nelms kept the auction on track. He had clearly anticipated a lengthy process and even obtained permission to leave on the courtroom air conditioning, which usually shuts off at 5 p.m.

The Greenberg-Ryan group had the starting bid — about $520 million — because it was named as the team’s buyer months ago, before the deal was put in limbo by angry creditors and then by the team’s May filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The auction started Wednesday afternoon, six hours late, when Rangers attorney Martin Sosland said the bid by Cuban’s group was about $25 million more than the bid submitted by the Greenberg-Ryan group. Later, Greenberg-Ryan offered $2 million more than Cuban’s group, which then upped the ante by $15 million — to about $335 million as the cash portion of the total offer.

As the night dragged on, attorneys scurried back and forth between small rooms set aside for the team, creditors and each bidder. Reporters and courtroom spectators wandered the hallways and at one point, 10 pizzas and a case of bottled water and soft drinks were delivered to Cuban’s camp.

Earlier, Ryan signed autographs for some fans, many who said they arrived after work to take in the action — only to end up sitting for hours on the courtroom benches.

The snail’s pace auction, which has included tense exchanges and even yelling between the attorneys, is the latest twist in one of the most contentious sales of an American professional sports team. The last Major League Baseball team to be auctioned off in such a way was the Baltimore Orioles in 1993.

According to the team’s bankruptcy plan, creditors will only get about $75 million from the team, no matter who ends up buying it. But the judge has said lenders, who are owed about $525 million after team owner Tom Hicks’ financially strapped ownership group defaulted on loans, can go after Hicks’ other companies.

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