MLB’s approval process for Orioles’ sale to David Rubenstein is moving rapidly

The purchase of the Orioles by private equity billionaire David Rubenstein will be discussed by Major League Baseball owners at their meeting in Florida next week and is on track to be approved more quickly than similar team sales, according to two sources with direct knowledge of the deal’s prospects.

Such approvals – involving scrutiny of buyers’ backgrounds and their financing – typically take several months. Rubenstein’s agreement to become controlling owner is expected to move more rapidly than most, partly because the Baltimore native, philanthropist and co-chairman of The Carlyle Group is particularly well-known, said the sources. Rubenstein’s proposal also has the advantage of being relatively uncomplicated, one of the sources said. They spoke to The Baltimore Sun on condition of anonymity because the deal is private and still pending.

Estimates of the Rubenstein timeline are as short as less than six weeks, but the sources cautioned that it could take longer. The team’s spring training begins when pitchers and catchers report Feb. 14 to Sarasota, Florida. After a breakthrough 2023 campaign, the Orioles are expected to again compete for an American League East title, and on Thursday evening traded for former Cy Young winner Corbin Burnes.

Rubenstein’s agreement to buy the team from the Angelos family and take over as controlling owner values the franchise and its assets at $1.725 billion. The family has owned the club since now-ailing family patriarch Peter Angelos bought it for $173 million in 1993.

Among the unresolved questions in the sale is what happens to the dozen-plus investors who have long owned minority stakes in Angelos’ group. The list includes Pam Shriver, the Baltimore-born tennis star who is now a Los Angeles-based broadcaster and coach and has owned a piece of the team for 31 years.

“My interest in my hometown team continues regardless of who the principal owner is,” she told The Sun on Thursday.

But with MLB approval still pending, Shriver, 61, said she isn’t sure what the future holds.

MLB’s ownership committee is expected to be briefed on the agreement during the meetings that begin Tuesday in Orlando.

Typically, the committee prepares a report and the sale then is voted on by an eight-owner executive council, which is chaired by Commissioner Rob Manfred and is different than the ownership committee.

If it clears that committee, it moves to all of the 30 owners and needs the approval of at least 23 of them. Approval by the larger group can come in a conference or video call and does not need to coincide with a regularly scheduled meeting such as the one that runs Tuesday through Thursday.

Rubenstein and MLB have declined comment on the specifics of his purchase until the agreement is approved.

The Rubenstein group will initially assume a 40% ownership stake in the Orioles with an agreement to purchase the remaining equity upon the death of Peter Angelos, according to one of the sources and third person with direct knowledge of the agreement.

In addition to Rubenstein, the still-growing group includes three New York-based individuals affiliated with Ares Management: Michael Arougheti, its co-founder, and Mitchell Goldstein and Michael Smith, co-heads of the Ares Credit Group. Orioles icon Cal Ripken Jr. is among the partners, as is Michele Kang, who owns the Washington Spirit of the National Women’s Soccer League and women’s soccer club in France. Former Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke, the president of the University of Baltimore, is also in the group. So is Basketball Hall of Famer Grant Hill — whose father, Calvin, once served in the Orioles front office and played football at Yale University with Schmoke.

New York-based billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the entrepreneur, philanthropist and former mayor of New York City, who Forbes ranks as the 10th richest person in America with a net worth of $96 billion, is also in the celebrity-laden group. Now based in New York, Bloomberg attended Johns Hopkins University and has since donated more than $3.5 billion to his alma mater, according to the university.

“Through philanthropy, I’ve long supported Baltimore and the university that brought me there and gave me so much, Johns Hopkins,” Bloomberg said, via a spokesperson. “This is another way to help the city continue its rebirth, and I know David [Rubenstein ] shares my commitment to that mission.”

Besides Shriver, Angelos’ longtime group includes the estate of Tom Clancy, the prolific novelist who died in 2013. His ex-wife, Wanda King, is also a minority owner.

David Bernstein, the 89-year-old retired co-founder of Duty Free International, has been a part-owner since Angelos took over. He still lives in the Baltimore area and is waiting for official word on the sale. From his ownership perspective, “nothing has changed,” he said Thursday.

The same can be said for the Marion I. and Henry J. Knott Foundation. Henry Knott was one of the original investors alongside Angelos. Although he wasn’t an expert of the sport (“I know as much about baseball as you know about going to the moon,” he told The Sun in 1993), he had fond memories of hopping the fence to visit Oriole Park when it was on 29th Street. He died in 1995 at the age of 89 and he and his wife’s foundation now own a piece of the team.

“We’ll just wait and see what transpires,” Kelley Kilduff, the foundation’s executive director, said of their ownership stake.

Typically when a team is sold, the minority owners are obligated to sell their shares, too, said Nellie Drew, a University of Buffalo sports law professor. There’s often a provision in their agreement dictating a sale — unless the new ownership group OKs them remaining on board.

“You never want to force people in a position where they’re having to be in business with people that they didn’t choose,” Drew said.

As many did when Peter Angelos bought the team in 1993, fans are rejoicing at the prospect of Rubenstein’s new ownership. That’s to be expected, Drew said, noting there is often a “honeymoon period with the fans” when a team changes owners.

There were no obvious public indications that the Angelos family was on the precipice in January of selling the Orioles.

But a path had long been in place. Twenty months before word of the sale became public Tuesday, legal documents — in a since-settled family lawsuit over Peter Angelos’ assets — revealed that his plan was for his family to sell the club after he was gone.

Angelos has been in ill health for years, and his wife, Georgia, is legally authorized to make decisions on his behalf. The documents from 2022 said she had retained Goldman Sachs and Jones Day to provide investment banking and legal services in connection with a possible future sale. Those two firms are now advising the Orioles on the deal.