Thursday, January 5, 2012

Where Are The Beijing Billionaires?

       By Ross Newhan

       It is more exciting than a Kentucky Derby and harder to handicap than a Pick Six.

      The Dodger ownership race keeps drawing more entries, and the only certainty is this: Every investor better be prepared to bid a minimum of $1 billion or forget it.

      Joe Torre and Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso is the latest tandem to acknowledge they are in.

      As I noted in my last blog, there is no reason to select an out of town investor as the next owner when the Los Angeles field continues to expand with quality entries.

      Of course, with Frank McCourt having the final word per his agreement with Commissioner Bud Selig to sell the team, the bottom line may be all that counts--even if the Chinese suddenly become interested or Time-Warner Cable decides that the best way to insure getting the TV rights is by owning the team.

     Torre/Caruso is simply the latest community--and among the most attractive--based entry. Among the others: Dennis Gilbert, Peter O'Malley, Magic Johnson (although his primary financial backing is headquartered out of state), Ron Burkle, Fred Claire and, possibly, a group headed by Orel Hershiser and Steve Garvey.

     By the time of the initial bid deadline of Jan. 23, Blackstone Advisory Partners, handling the sale for McCourt, may send the "bid book" documenting the Dodger financial structure to more than 30 people deemed to be serious investors.

    Selig (and Major League Baseball) has agreed to approve up to 10 bidders by April 1, allowing McCourt to conduct an April auction consummating in the sale of the team by April 30. The record sale price for a major league franchise was the $845 million that the Chicago Cubs went for in 2009.

    If you are among many disbelieving that Selig would allow McCourt to have the final say even through it was McCourt who created the mess surrounding this flagship franchise, it shouldn't be forgotten, as I have blogged before, that the commissioner shares a measue of responsibility since he allowed McCourt to buy the team with virtually none of his own money involved. Selig has said that McCourt was the only viable bidder at a time when Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. was willing to underwrite McCourt's purchase because of its desire to get out from under the team's ownership amid claimed losses of around $50 million per year.

   McCourt DID nearly double the club's revenue during his tenure, and the prospect of a club owned network or a new TV deal reaching between $3 billion and $4 billion (or more) over the next couple decades as result of bidding between Fox Sports and Time-Warner Cable has well-known billionaires teaming up with well-known baseball/sports personalities in pursuit of a team that needs both roster and stadium refurbishing. As Arte Moreno recently acknowledged in an unusual news conference statement of fact, it would not have been possible for the Angels to sign both Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson without a new contract from Fox Sports.  

   Now, with more than a week left before initial bids must be posted, we will certainly hear more names and pairings in the Dodger derby.

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