SBD/Issue 51/Franchises

McLane, Ready To Move Forward, Officially Puts Astros Up For Sale

McLane Cites Need To Focus On Estate Planning
As Reason For Putting Astros On Market

Astros Owner Drayton McLane "began what will be a prolonged goodbye to Houston on Friday with the announcement that his team is for sale," citing a "need to take more seriously the responsibilities of estate planning and expressing a simple desire to 'move forward,'" according to Zachary Levine of the HOUSTON CHRONICLE. McLane and his wife, Elizabeth, "have been fixtures around Minute Maid Park, but their two sons, Drayton III and Denton, are not interesting in taking over the team." McLane has hired N.Y.-based investment firm Allen & Company to assist him in the sale of the club, which a source "tabbed as potentially a $700 million to a $800 million transaction." Allen & Co. Managing Dir Steve Greenberg said that the sale "would likely be a six- to 12-month process," and McLane "expects a long road to a deal as well." McLane: "We're just going to see where the market is. If it's not something we're pleased with, we'll withdraw it. There's no rush to do this." Greenberg said that he "has already received calls from interested parties." McLane "has acknowledged conversations with Miles Prentice, a New York attorney and minor league owner who fell short in his bid to buy the Royals in 1999." But McLane said that "little of substance has been discussed." Prentice Friday said that "while he has considered getting into baseball, he didn't want to participate in the 'auction process' that he feels dealing with Allen & Company will entail." Levine noted Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban is "another potential candidate," but he said in an e-mail that he is "not interested in full or partial ownership of the Astros just three months after losing the chance to purchase the Texas Rangers in a bankruptcy auction." McLane purchased the Astros and their lease on the Astrodome in '92 for $117M (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/20).

LOOKING FOR THE RIGHT BUYER: Denton McLane said that the "decision to sell was not an easy one." He said, "You have peoples' lives and livelihoods at stake, and we are ultra-sensitive to that. This is a small business when compared to the world at large. We're not Exxon or Conoco. We can't rival them in terms of revenue. But this is a business that everyone cares about." Drayton McLane said that "while price obviously will play a role in the decision on the new owner, he hopes to sell to a buyer who brings the same commitment to the franchise that he believes he delivered for 18 years." McLane: "They don't have to be Texans or live here, but they must be engaged and be involved" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/22). Greenberg said that "whether it takes six months, a year or longer for Drayton McLane to sell the Astros, the combination of a state-of-the-art ballpark, a new television network and a strong business operation should ensure a successful -- and profitable -- outcome for McLane and his family." Greenberg said the Astros' recent agreement with the Rockets and Comcast to launch a new RSN in '12 "puts them in a class with the Yankees and Red Sox and a handful of others, which enhances the overall asset." Greenberg added, "We'll let the market determine the price. We're not going to put prices out there. We'll let people come to us and tell us what they think." In Houston, David Barron noted "one inevitable benchmark ... will be the recent sale in federal bankruptcy court" of the Rangers for $593M to a group led by Chuck Greenberg and Nolan Ryan. That sale, "plus the value of the new cable network, led to speculation that the sales price on the Astros could approach" $700M (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/20).

SUCCESSFUL TENURE: In Houston, Richard Justice wrote, "I miss Drayton McLane already, and you might be wrong if you're certain the Astros are going to be better off without him." Justice: "Drayton ran the Astros when they were one of the winningest teams in baseball. He led the push that resulted in the construction of a beautiful ballpark. And there will never be another one like him" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/20). In N.Y., Bill Madden wrote of McLane, "By and large he's been a good owner for the Astros, who reached the postseason in six of his 14 seasons, including their only World Series (in 2005), under his stewardship" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 11/21). The HOUSTON CHRONICLE's Levine wrote for McLane the "public figure," Friday's announcement was the "beginning of the end." It was "clear that McLane was enjoying his moment in front of the cameras and that he knew there wouldn't be many more of these" (CHRON.com, 11/20).

START WITH A CLEAN SLATE: The CHRONICLE's Levine reports the Astros "should be relatively devoid of future payroll when Drayton McLane completes his sale of the team." The future Astros owners "will be clear of what remains on Roy Oswalt's contract and have only one year left on Carlos Lee's." Levine: "Any December surprise likely would involve little if any prolonged salary commitment" (HOUSTON CHRONICLE, 11/22).

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