Washington Nationals Owner Discusses Baseball’s Future

Native Washingtonian Mark Lerner, B.B.A. ’75, shared his thoughts on how the sport can be improved during the next collective bargaining agreement.

Mark Lerner
Lisa Delpy Neirotti (l) interviews Washington Nationals owner Mark Lerner (r) during the first George Talks Business event of the academic year. (William Atkins/GW Today)
September 23, 2019

By Briahnna Brown

An enthusiastic sports fan since he was a young boy, Mark Lerner, B.B.A. ’75, was just 8 years old when he asked his father to buy a baseball team.

His father, who experienced a great deal of success as a private real estate developer after founding Lerner Enterprises in 1952, told him that teams cost a lot of money, and it was something the then-youngster would understand better when he grew up.

A native Washingtonian, Mr. Lerner was devastated when the Washington Senators left in 1971 to become the Texas Rangers, leaving Washington, D.C., without a baseball team. His family was determined to get a team back and thought it was important for the American pastime to be represented in the District.

It wasn’t until 2005 that Mr. Lerner and his family were able to bring professional baseball back to the city by buying the Montreal Expos who then became the Washington Nationals. He said that Major League Baseball’s (MLB) former-Commissioner Bud Selig thought that family ownership and succession was an important component in the purchase of a team, which largely contributed to the selection of the Lerner family as principal owners.

“At the end of the day, thank goodness we got it,” Mr. Lerner said. "It's been an incredible ride, and one that's changed our family... We felt it was an opportunity to do some wonderful things for the community." 

This Monday evening discussion was part of the George Talks Business event series, which the George Washington University School of Business hosts. The series features regularly-scheduled interviews with respected thought leaders in multiple fields.

Lisa Delpy Neirotti, director of the graduate sport management program and associate professor of sport management in GWSB, moderated the discussion and asked Mr. Lerner about his views on the future of baseball. The current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the MLB and the MLB Players Association is set to expire in December 2021, and Mr. Lerner is looking ahead at some of the things he’d like to see changed in the league.

The most important to him would be scheduling, he said, because it hurts teams from a revenue standpoint to repeatedly play the same teams more than a dozen times in a season, and it takes a toll on players having to travel around the country to play games back to back. Mr. Lerner suggested reducing the number of games from 162 to 154, starting the season later and giving teams a few more off days as possible solutions.

As the league begins embracing data analytics and technological advancements, Mr. Lerner said he would also like to see umpiring utilize technology to improve accuracy in making calls for balls or strikes.

As for advice for students interested in the sports business, Mr. Lerner said that it is a tough industry to get into and most people will start from the bottom, so having passion for what you do is a must.

"At the end of the day, you've got to have great patience in this,” Mr. Lerner said. “No matter how much you want to win, you've got to be smart about it. It's still a business—with some cool perks—that has to be run properly."

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