Thursday, December 29, 2011

Who Needs Another Out of Town Owner?

        By Ross Newhan

        It would be foolish to accept this as gospel, but contracturally and verbally the new year is expected to be the last of Bud Selig's 20 as commissioner.

       His has been a revolutionary tenure, but fans of the Dodgers care only that he contributes to new and stable ownership with the finances to build a winner.

       In the convuluted process that is driving Frank McCourt out as owner, it should be remembered that McCourt will have a say in the selection.

       McCourt, of course, may be only interested in the final price, hoping it will alleviate his debts, satisfy creditors, contribute to the $131 million divorce settlement with Jamie McCourt and leave him with enough to maintain a measure of the lifestyle to which he has become accustomed.

      He has said that the new owner should have community roots, but was that sincere or simply lip service?

     Prospective bidders can begin submitting offers on Jan. 13.

     The latest name to emerge is that of billionaire Steven Cohen--first revealed in the Wall Street Journal and expanded on in Wednesday's editions of the Los Angeles Times. Cohen, 55, is the founder of SAC Capital Advisors, a Connecticut-based investment firm that controls $14 billion in assets. In September, Forbes estimated Cohen's net worth at $8.l3 billion. According to multiple sources who talked to me only on the bases of anonymity Thursday, Cohen has built his hedge fund operation on the basis of total control and, at times, a volcanic temper. Two of his former managers have pleaded guilty to insider trading. and the SEC, according to a lawyer involved in the federal investigation of suponeanaed records, confided that the government continues to look into those record  but that no charges have been filed against Cohen or his company.

    Since league owners have final say in approving bidders, it isn't clear whether that investigation will or would create discomfort among owners if Cohen comes up for a vote. It certainly has not stopped Cohen from looking into the possible purchase of the Dodgers. According to The Times' story he has met with several owners regarding the challenge of owning a sports team, retained Steve Greenberg, the former deputy commissioner and now a sports broker with Allen & Co. in New York and he has been accompanied in his meetings with the owners by noted player agent Arn Tellem, who is based in Los Angeles and could be a potential executive with the Dodgers if Cohen secures the team. Cohen has also retained Populous, a sports architecture firm, to suggest possible changes to Dodger Stadium that would improve comfort and safety.

    In the Times' story, two well known Los Angeles personalities, Eli Broad and David Geffen, who share a love of art with Cohen, both offered their support, and Geffen said of the Connecticut based Cohen that it didn't matter where he lived.

    "What you really need is an owner who has the resources to win, the drive to win and who cares more about winning than he cares about money," Geffen said.

    However, Dodger fans, having experienced the chaos of Rupert Murdoch's phantom ownership and the turmoil under Boston native McCourt, may want no part of another out of town owner and that could also weigh on Selig and the voting owners--and it probably should.

    There will be two Los Angeles bidders with baseball backgrounds--former Dodger owner Peter O'Malley and Dennis Gilbert, the Westside insurance man who is an assistant to Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf, a former player and player agent, and who attends virtually every Dodger game as a season ticket holder.

   Both O'Malley and Gilbert refused comment Thursday, having signed the confidentiality agreement required of potential investors who have received a breakdown of Dodger finances from Blackstone Advisory Partners, the firm handling sale of the club, but the key question is rhetorical anyway. Why go to Connecticut or anywhere else when there are potential and quality owners in the neighborhood?         

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