News & Politics

Robert Allbritton Says He’s Interested in Potentially Buying the Nationals

This wouldn't be the first time the Allbritton family would be involved in running an MLB franchise.

Allbritton (all the way to the right in the front row) watches Game 3 of the 2019 National League Championship Series. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In the nine days since the Lerner family announced it was exploring a sale of the Washington Nationals, local sports fans—and journalists—have wondered what new face or faces might eventually turn up in the Nats owner’s box. One name that has surfaced, Politico founder Robert Allbritton, says he’s indeed interested in exploring the possibility of buying into the franchise.

“Yeah, of course, you’d love to have a conversation to see if there’s a there there,” Allbritton tells Washingtonian. “But it just depends on what the there is. Because these things come in all sorts of sizes, shapes, and layers.”

Allbritton definitely has some financial muscle at his disposal. In August, Allbritton sold Politico to the German-owned Axel Springer for roughly $1 billion, and back in 2013, he sold off his local TV holdings for $985 million. Robert Allbritton is the son of the late Joe Allbritton, who controlled a banking and media empire.

In an interview, Allbritton says his father ran the Houston Astros for a time around the early 1970s after the team owner’s finances went bust and Joe Allbritton—who was the owner’s banker—was forced to step in. “This isn’t the first time we’ve been involved with a baseball team,” Allbritton says, “but it would be the first time it’s been voluntary.”

It’s not yet clear how much of the team, if any, would ultimately be sold, or what price the franchise might fetch in the open market. Forbes currently values the Nationals at $2 billion. Likewise, Allbritton is coy about the contact he’s had with the Lerners or their representatives. He says that he has “not yet” been in contact with the current ownership and that “no documents are signed so I can speak my mind.” He added that it would be logical to expect him to have a conversation with the Lerners or their representatives at some point.

The level of Allbritton’s interest in buying into the team, he says, depends a great deal on the objectives of the Lerners. “Are you talking about selling the thing outright? Or some sort of a group? Are you talking about selling off a chunk? Are you talking about a negotiating strategy to deal with [Peter] Angelos and [the dispute over] MASN? What are you doing here? Well, what are you up to? [It] is a little bit of a question mark.”

While much of those questions remain unanswered, Allbritton says he has a hunch about what the Lerners may be up to. “My gut tells me this is a partial liquidation, not a total,” he says. “It’s sort of like, ‘Who do we bring in as a minority partner to take some money off the table?’ With some financial diversity. Because I’m sure they’re looking at it kind of like how I was looking at it with Politico, like, ‘Boy there’s a lot of money tied up with one property here.’”

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.