The deadline to end the negotiating period between Hicks Sports Group and the investment group led by Chuck Greenberg for the Texas Rangers came and went, but the group that has been in exclusive talks to buy the club says it is close to a deal.
In a joint statement released at midnight CST Friday, which was when their exclusive negotiating period expired, Pittsburgh sports attorney Chuck Greenberg and Hall of Fame pitcher Nolan Ryan said "extraordinary progress" had been made over the last couple of weeks.
"We are on the verge of an agreement that would provide Tom Hicks the value he seeks and the Texas Rangers the resources to become champions," the statement from Greenberg and Ryan said.
Hicks on Dec. 15 entered into an exclusive 30-day negotiation window with Greenberg's group that includes Ryan, the Rangers' president the last two years. Ryan would continue in that rule under the proposed deal while Greenberg would be the managing general partner and CEO.
It was unclear early Saturday if the exclusive negotiating period would be extended, or if Hicks would again consider other bids.
The end of the period could also allow Hicks to start the process over or to negotiate with other previous finalists.
That includes Houston businessman Jim Crane, who submitted a competitive bid just before the Dec. 15 deadline to choose an exclusive negotiating partner. In fact, Crane's revamped proposal forced Greenberg's group to alter its offer on the final day.
Crane's proposal, like Greenberg's, also included a large financial stake from Hicks in the club as one of the group's investors. Crane approached Nolan Ryan in December about staying on as club president should his group end up owning the team. Ryan is a main partner in Greenberg's group and would continue to run baseball operations if Greenberg wins the bidding.
"We've made great progress the last couple of weeks," Greenberg said Friday evening before issuing the joint statement, unsure if a deal would be completed. "We're very, very close. We've come too far to not get this deal done as long as there is intent to get it done. We'll wait as long as we have to in order to try to get it done."
Hicks, who has owned the Rangers since 1998, didn't immediately respond to e-mail seeking comment.
Hicks Sports Group defaulted early last year on $525 million in loans tied to the Rangers and the NHL's Dallas Stars, which Hicks has owned since 1996. Hicks has said that was a deliberate move to force lenders to renegotiate terms of the deals.
Any potential deal must be approved by HSG's lenders and 75 percent of MLB owners. The agreement also means figuring out what to do about the nearly 200 acres of parking near Rangers Ballpark in Arlington and Cowboys Stadium that Hicks owns.
As part of the Greenberg-Ryan proposal on Dec. 15, Hicks would have a minority stake in the team. In fact, it would be the second-largest investment in the team, though he wouldn't make baseball decisions. Greenberg would serve as managing general partner and the club would have a board of directors. Ryan would set the direction for the baseball operations.
Greenberg has been in Dallas for most of the last 30 days working with his attorneys and those from HSG to get a deal hammered out. He has said all along that if his group, which includes 80 percent local investors, acquires the team that he would move to the Dallas-Fort Worth area. Greenberg also owns minor league teams in Myrtle Beach, S.C., and State College, Penn., and used to own one in Altoona, Penn., too. He runs Greenberg Sports Group, a consulting and marketing company that deals with sports teams.
It has been nine months since a search began for potential investors to buy the Rangers. At first, Hicks wanted to sell only a minority stake but then decided to sell his majority investment. He even tried to put together his own group of investors to keep control of the team. Before the Dec. 15 deadline, groups headed by Greenberg, Crane and former sports agent Dennis Gilbert provided bids.
"With the continued cooperation of Tom Hicks and HSG, we are certain an agreement can be finalized so we can immediately get to work on delivering the success this franchise and its fans deserve," Greenberg and Ryan said.