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January 25, 2010 12:46 PM

Pepper Hamilton Attorney Gets the Texas Rangers

Posted by Zach Lowe

It's (almost official): Pepper Hamilton partner Chuck Greenberg is about to take over as managing partner and CEO of the Texas Rangers after leading a group of buyers who have struck an agreement to buy the team for just north of $500 million, according to lawyers on the deal and this nice roundup in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Legendary Rangers pitcher Nolan Ryan, baseball's all-time strikeout king, is part of Greenberg's ownership group and will retain his role as a key voice on team personnel matters.

It's unclear if Greenberg will leave Pepper completely. As we've previously reported, Greenberg in the past has balanced his work at the firm (which has focused on sports-related transactions) with his role as part owner of three minor league baseball teams. But taking over as the CEO in charge of a $500 million enterprise is an entirely different matter, we'd imagine. Greenberg did not immediately return messages seeking comment on the deal, which will not be completed until sometime in April--or later--as it requires the approval of Major League Baseball and three-quarters of MLB's team owners. 

Ah, but Greenberg played his hand well in that regard. He chose as his lead lawyer Foley & Lardner partner Mary K. Braza, the longtime outside counsel for MLB and the office of the league's commissioner, Bud Selig. Braza has advised MLB and Selig on everything from the potential contraction of the Montreal Expos to various issues surrounding broadcast rights. Braza did not return our calls seeking comment. 

Weil, Gotshal & Manges took the lead role advising the seller, Hicks Sports Group, the company owned by longtime Rangers head honcho Tom Hicks. Hicks also owns the National Hockey League's Dallas Stars and a stake in the Liverpool Football Club, one of the jewels of England's Premier League. Weil partner Glenn West led the firm's team on the deal along with partner R. Jay Tabor. (Both are based in the firm's Dallas office.) West says Weil has been advising Hicks on business transactions since at least the mid-1980s. West, who says he can't discuss the deal in detail for now because of MLB's confidentiality rules, calls the deal "very complex" and the negotiations, which went on for months, "extremely intense." There are, as usual, several prongs of the deal, including a settlement calling for Hicks to relinquish control of the club and take on an honorific role as chairman emeritus, according to the Star-Telegram. (West says Hicks's future role was a "minor" point in the talks.) Hicks also agreed to sell all but 42 acres of a 195-acre chunk of real estate surrounding the Rangers stadium and the new Dallas Cowboys stadium. (Both stadiums are in Arlington.)

The Greenberg-Ryan team, which is backed by two wealthy Texas families, beat out two other finalists--a group led by Dennis Gilbert, a sports agent and current adviser to the Chicago White Sox, and a second group headed by the Houston-based businessman Jim Crane. Proskauer Rose advised the Crane team, according to two sources familiar with the matter. It was not immediately known who advised the Gilbert bidders. 

There is still much work to be done beyond winning MLB approval, West says. First and foremost: A group of about 40 lenders who hold about $525 million in Hicks debt must also approve the deal, since Hicks defaulted on an interest payment last year. Partners Ronan Wicks and David Teh of Latham & Watkins are advising the creditors group, West says. Wicks did not immediately return a call seeking comment. 

We'll let you know when Greenberg gets back to us. He has done some landmark work for Pepper and is a well-known figure in Pittsburgh's business community; he represented Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux in a deal through which Super Mario purchased the Penguins out of bankruptcy in 1999, and he has advised on several other high-profile Pittsburgh-centric deals. 

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