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Moreno Is New Leader on List of Angel Buyers

April 11, 2003|Bill Shaikin and Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writers

Arturo Moreno, who parlayed his fortune from the advertising business into minority stakes in the Arizona Diamondbacks and Phoenix Suns, has emerged as a leading candidate to buy the Angels from the Walt Disney Co., sources familiar with the sale process said Thursday.

Negotiations between Moreno and Disney have become "feverish," according to one source. Commissioner Bud Selig is expected to meet with Moreno as soon as this weekend to discuss the possible purchase.

Moreno, whose interest in the Angels has not previously been revealed, appears to have advanced past the other top bidders, real estate developer Frank McCourt and entertainment impresarios James and Robert Nederlander.

"He's definitely the No. 1 guy," one source said of Moreno.

Moreno, 56, could not be reached for comment. His ability to afford the Angels is not in question; Forbes magazine estimates his net worth at $940 million.

A Vietnam veteran and an Arizona native, Moreno made his millions in the outdoor advertising business, selling the ads you see at sports venues, malls and bus stops and on roadside billboards. He and his partner, William Levine, sold Outdoor Systems to Viacom for $8.7 billion in stock four years ago, according to Forbes.

Moreno sold his 5% interest in the Diamondbacks last November, after a "falling out with key shareholders" over the need for new investors and after failing in an earlier attempt to buy controlling interest in the team, according to the Arizona Republic.

Jerry Colangelo, the managing general partner of the Diamondbacks and Suns, confirmed Thursday that Moreno remains an investor in the Suns. Colangelo said Moreno has not discussed with him the potential purchase of the Angels.

"I would not be surprised," Colangelo said. "He has expressed to me a real interest in owning a team."

Moreno started as a billboard salesman -- earning $2.25 in his first commission check, according to a Fortune magazine profile -- and remains enthusiastic about the advertising industry.

"It's a fun business, a people business," he told Fortune. "Lots of entertaining, going to ballgames or the theater."

Disney first discussed selling the Angels in 1999, and company executives negotiated with the Nederlander brothers for months last year. Disney nonetheless retained Lehman Bros., a New York investment banking firm, last September to identify and solicit other buyers.

Lehman lured two promising parties in Moreno and McCourt, the Boston developer who failed in his bid to buy the Red Sox in 2001. McCourt's grandfather was one of the minority owners of the Boston Braves.

In 1996, Disney agreed to buy the Angels from the Autry family for $140 million, and the company spent another $100 million on the renovation of Edison Field. Disney hopes to sell the Angels -- its World Series-winning, money-losing baseball team -- for about $200 million.

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