Blank, Braves reopen sale talks

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Published on: 03/29/06

Falcons owner Arthur Blank is talking again with Time Warner about a possible purchase of the Braves barely a month after he suspended negotiations because of a disagreement on price.

Representatives of Time Warner and Blank have had discussions this week and plan further talks, three people familiar with the situation said Tuesday.

The renewed talks have not advanced far enough, those close to the situation said, to determine whether the parties will be able to bridge the price gap that caused negotiations to break off in late February.

"I can't say anything," Blank said when asked at the NFL owners meetings in Orlando about the reopened talks. "I'm bound by an agreement not to say anything. If I do, I'll have a lot of people mad at me."

"We are not at liberty to discuss any status of talks regarding the Braves" because of a confidentiality agreement with Time Warner, said Kim Shreckengost, executive vice president of the Arthur M. Blank Group.

The Blank Group announced on Feb. 22 that it had "suspended" negotiations with Time Warner. Asked Tuesday if that announcement is rescinded, Shreckengost said: "No comment."

Time Warner also continues to talk with three other parties interested in buying the Braves:

An investment group led by Atlanta-based real estate executive Ron Terwilliger;

Atlanta-based radio mogul Lew Dickey Jr., his brother David and other family members;

And Colorado-based Liberty Media, which has said it wants to exchange some of its $3 billion worth of Time Warner stock for a company-owned asset, such as the team, in a "tax-efficient" transaction.

Steve Greenberg, managing director of New York investment bank Allen & Co., hired by Time Warner to handle the Braves sale process, declined to comment Tuesday on any of the specific bidders.

But Greenberg said: "The process is going as anticipated, going smoothly. Multiple parties have reviewed a lot of data and are moving toward making substantive bids, we hope."

Blank's re-entry into the bidding is not a surprise. On Feb. 22, the day Blank announced the break-off of negotiations, Shreckengost told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the announcement did not preclude a resumption of talks later. "It doesn't necessarily mean it's totally terminated," she said at the time. "If [Time Warner officials] want to discuss it with us again, we'd be open to doing so."

Time Warner has been seeking a premium price of $400 million-plus for the Braves, and Blank apparently valued the team at substantially less. It is not clear which side initiated the resumption of talks.

Blank was the first Braves bidder to be approved by Major League Baseball to enter negotiations, and his representatives met regularly with Time Warner representatives in January and February.

Two other potential local buyers Terwilliger and the Dickey family subsequently got Major League Baseball approval to enter negotiations. The MLB approval also allows them access to the Braves' financial data as part of their due-diligence process.

If Blank were to buy the Braves, he'd become the only NFL owner with an MLB team in his portfolio. The last NFL owner to also own an MLB team was Miami Dolphins owner Wayne Huizenga, who sold the Florida Marlins shortly after they won the 1997 World Series.

"It would be a real tough decision to own the football team and the baseball team in the same market," Huizenga said at the NFL owners' meetings Tuesday. "It's a tough thing to do. They're different animals. You have the salary cap in the NFL, and you don't have a salary cap in baseball, and it makes a big difference in how you operate things."

Wow! I really hope that Blank buys the Braves. That would be awesome!