The much-anticipated auction of the Texas Rangers was delayed for hours Wednesday as officials in the team's high-profile bankruptcy case tried to determine which of the two opening bids is higher.
A group led by outspoken Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and Houston businessman Jim Crane is hoping to beat out Major League Baseball's preferred bidder, a group led by Hall of Fame pitcher and Rangers president Nolan Ryan and Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg.
Terms of the Cuban-Crane group's offer were not immediately revealed in court, but it will be at least $15 million higher than $306.7 million, the cash portion of the Greenberg-Ryan offer. The offers will not be identical, so their values will be based on which assets and liabilities are included in each bid -- a review process that was still not complete Wednesday afternoon.
U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Russell Nelms said bidding cannot start until the highest offer is determined, and attorneys for the team and the court-appointed restructuring officer needed more time to figure that out. If the Cuban-Crane offer is higher, the Greenberg-Ryan group wanted time to review the terms before deciding whether to submit another bid.
"It's safe to say we may be here a while today," Nelms said.
The courthouse in downtown Fort Worth was abuzz early Wednesday as Cuban, Ryan, team owner Tom Hicks and Major League Baseball president Bob DuPuy arrived separately to hordes of television cameras on the usually quiet and deserted sidewalk. Each declined to comment.
Final approval of the Rangers sale rests with MLB, which has the option of choosing the second-highest bid instead.
The auction is the most dramatic development yet 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.
The Greenberg-Ryan group has the base bid 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 bankruptcy filing. If that group ultimately does not win, it will get a "breakup" fee of $10 million to $13 million.
The Greenberg-Ryan group has removed a $70 million side deal to buy stadium parking lots because those are not part of the team's assets. That did not change the group's $520 million bid for the team.
Crane's bid reportedly beat the Greenberg-Ryan offer in the Rangers' original sale process last year, but MLB was leery of Crane since his deal to buy the Houston Astros in 2008 fell through. Cuban got negative feedback from MLB when he was ready to pony up more than $1 billion for the Chicago Cubs, which wound up briefly in bankruptcy before Tribune Co. sold the team to the Ricketts family last year.
The Greenberg-Ryan group was announced as the new buyer in January, but the sale was stalled by angry creditors who said other bids were higher. Lenders feared they would not be repaid the $525 million in loans that Hicks' financially strapped ownership group defaulted on.
Hoping to push through the sale to the Greenberg-Ryan group, the Rangers filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in May. But instead, the auction arose during the contentious process that has been anything but smooth or predictable.
The judge has said creditors will only get about $75 million from the team but they can go after Hicks' other companies. Unsecured creditors are expected to be paid the full $204 million owed to them -- including Alex Rodriguez, who's owed $24.9 million in deferred compensation six years after he was traded to the New York Yankees.