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Ascent Agrees to Sell Teams

Ascent Entertainment Group Inc. has sold its sports teams to a Missouri businessman for $450 million, dropping the other shoe in its Liberty Media Group deal.

E. Stanley Kroenke, vice chairman of the National Football League's St. Louis Rams, has agreed to buy Ascent's sports assets, subject to league and city of Denver approval.

Kroenke, whose wife is an heir to the Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fortune, also has ties to Colorado businesses.

Kroenke beat out a group that included former Denver Broncos quarterback John Elway, Broncos owner Pat Bowlen and New Jersey Devils hockey-team owner John McMullen.

The sports teams-the Denver Nuggets of the National Basketball Association and the Colorado Avalanche of the National Hockey League-and the Pepsi Center Arena where they both play were among the last components of Ascent's sale to Liberty.

Ascent had been trying to sell off the sports assets for months, but it stepped up those efforts after it agreed to be purchased by Liberty for $750 million in cash and debt. Liberty is mainly interested in Ascent's 57 percent stake in hotel pay-per-view service On Command Corp.

"Stan Kroenke is a highly respected and successful businessman who has a superb record of achievement and who will bring financial stability and commitment to the teams and the Pepsi Center," Liberty executive vice president and chief operating officer Gary Howard said in a prepared statement.

"We are excited about remaining part of the organization and working with Stan to give Denver, the state of Colorado and the whole Rocky Mountain region two championship teams," Howard added.

Liberty had originally agreed to buy Ascent for $514 million, not including the teams, but it pulled that offer when a deal to sell the sports assets fell through. Liberty came back with a lower offer that included the teams in February.

Ascent had reached a tentative agreement to sell the sports assets to billionaire Denver banker Donald Sturm in November for $461 million, but those negotiations broke down after Sturm hedged on a commitment to the city to keep the teams in Denver for at least 25 years.

That stipulation stemmed from a tax break the city agreed to give Ascent when it began building the Pepsi Center in 1997.

Although the city has not yet approved the deal, it appears that Kroenke has little problem with keeping the teams in Denver for the allotted time.

"These are two quality professional-sports franchises that are embedded in the Denver community, and I plan to do everything I can to continue that relationship and to deliver championships to the fine fans of Denver and the Rocky Mountain region," Kroenke said in a press release.

According to published reports, Denver Mayor Wellington Webb is still evaluating the deal.

Liberty will retain its 6.52 percent interest in the teams and the arena after the deal closes.