Sunday, December 4, 2011

Showtime Dodgers? Magic May Want to Cool That Aspect

        By Ross Newhan

        First, a couple assumptions:

        --Assuming, in contrast to my most recent blog and the conspiracy theories of some potential investors, that Frank McCourt does intend to sell the Dodgers rather than making a legal run around his agreement with Commissioner Bud Selig to sell by April 30, 2012

     --Assuming that McCourt is sincere with his stated hope to sell to community based ownership that will restore community pride in his currently half-masted flagship franchise.

     There are more than a half dozen potential investors based in Los Angeles and/or with former connections to the Dodgers--from former owner Peter O'Malley to former general manager Fred Claire to former players Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser--and yet here comes Magic Johnson at the head of a small group that seems to have everything in place.

    Money? Principally, there's Mark Walter, chief executive of Guggenheim Partners, a financial services firm that controls more than $125 billion in assets and has an office in Santa Monica.

    Baseball Connections? There's Stan Kasten, former chief executive of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals and a possible successor to Selig, whose current term expires in 2012. The new owner of the Dodgers is not expected to be in place until long after opening day, which could eliminate Kasten as a Selig successor or as president of the Dodgers if asked to succeed Selig, depending on the timing.

   Local Ties? There's Johnson, of course, who brings wide popularity and charisma and proven business acumen, along with a stated committment to make the necessary renovations at Dodger Stadium and occupy a stadium office on a daily basis.

   Perhaps, no one has done more for economy in the inner city or invested more and been more of a living, breathing leader in sparking interest in the fight against HIV, the disease that prompted him to retire from the NBA in 1991. In the type of personal touch that characterizes Johnson's magic, he made a call to McCourt's office to leave a message for the beleaguered owner that he wanted to congratulate him on the club's four playoff appearances during his tenure and his charitable contributions to the community, probably the kindest words McCourt will have heard in several caustic and expensive months.

    In announcing his intention to bid for the Dodgers with usual flair and enthusiasm, Johnson said he would try to build the Dodgers in the Showtime mold of his star-driven Laker teams, recruiting prominent players and paying the price for free agents.

  This is an area that Kasten and others may want to advise Johnson that it would be better to low key. Many of the 29 other owners who will eventually vote on the McCourt successor may not be happy to hear that Magic intends to pay any cost to restore Dodger prominence, driving up salaries in the process.

   It may be remembered that when McCourt was still going through the vetting process he asked Selig if the other owners would react negatively if he consummated a high priced deal with free agent Vladimir Guerrero. Selig told him there would definitely be negative blowback, prompting McCourt to bow out of a deal that was nearly consummated and prompting Angel owner Arte Moreno to jump on Guerrero at the 11th hour.

  Johnson's exuberance will be applauded by the public, but he may want to proceed cautiously with the Showtime angle.

  In the meantime, Blackstone Advisory Partners, overseeing the sale for McCourt, is expected to distribute the "book" detailing the Dodgers financial structure to potential investors this week or next, and a mediator may announce a settlement in the dispute between McCourt and Fox this week, a key step in the overall financial picture since it could either tie the Dodgers to the final two years of their TV contract with Fox (the club will receive $38.8 million in 2013), produce a new contract with Fox or give McCourt the right to negotiate with other media outlets at once--his goal in seeking to take advantage of what has become a very hot marketplace.      



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