Dodgers: A lot rides on an auction as the team shops for a new owner

1986 full
1986 full

The Los Angeles Dodgers are one of professional sports' most storied franchises, but they're up for auction because much-maligned outgoing owner Frank McCourt was forced to put the team under bankruptcy protection last summer.

The “Wall Street Journal” says the L.A. Dodgers auction drew several bids of more than a billion dollars on the very first day. The newspaper cites unnamed sources who say L.A. developer Rick Caruso and former Dodger manager Joe Torre have submitted their bid, as have Magic Johnson and sports executive Stan Kasten.

Other less famous but just as rich bidders are also in the mix.

Team owner Frank McCourt is supposed to complete the deal by the end of April.

The team’s new owner will face a problem that three owners (Peter O’Malley, News Corp. and Frank McCourt) didn’t tackle. Dodger Stadium is half a century old, five years older than Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field was when the Dodgers left for L.A. The stadium is built along the contours of the hills in Chavez Ravine, so it’ll require extensive excavation to widen the concourses for more concession stands on the decks where the high-priced seats are.

Bad Dodger ownership has dogged baseball commissioner Bud Selig for 14 years. News Corp.’s reign was dismal, and McCourt’s disastrous. Selig has to restore one of baseball’s best brand names (so when he approves the list of bidders, expect it to be short), while being heavy on local names and solid money.

Twice now, selling the Dodgers has turned out badly. Bud Selig knows that three strikes — and you’re out.

Preliminary bids for the Dodgers are due on Monday. The team lost its luster during McCourt's ownership, but estimates for the winning bid range from $1.2 billion to $2 billion, dwarfing the record $845 million paid for the Chicago Cubs a couple of years ago.

There will be a thorough vetting process of up to 10 bidders by Major League Baseball; those who make it through will take part in an auction. McCourt reportedly will reveal the winning bid by early April, and then use an estimated $1 billion of it to pay off his debts.

The full list of the many bidders has not been made public; there are a lot of secrecy and nondisclosure requirements surrounding the process.

But some names of those involved have been released — billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen; Tom Barrack, real estate titan; and more recognizable names such as former Dodger stars Orel Hershheiser and Steve Garvey, and former Dodgers manager Joe Torre.

There's also some cross-league pollination — L.A. Lakers legend Magic Johnson reportedly is in, as is NBA bad-boy owner Mark Cuban, who played coy with NBC's Jay Leno a couple of days ago.

"Would you like to buy the Dodgers if it was possible?" Leno asked Cuban. "It could be fun," Cuban answered. "Could you imagine? L.A. would never be the same."

Neither would the Dodgers, and if you ask most Angelinos who care about the team, that would be a good thing. The McCourt years were marred by the lavish lifestyles of Frank and his now ex-wife, Jamie, funded in part by team money. Their bitter, public divorce, and a less-than-enjoyable and sometimes dangerous ballpark experience at Dodger Stadium ultimately led to vast swaths of empty seats. So with the franchise in decline, why the ownership interest and huge projected sale price?

According to sports business expert Marc Ganis, "it's a reflection of the opportunity value if done properly."

Meaning, there's gold in Chavez Ravine, the Dodgers' home in the hills overlooking downtown Los Angeles. Ganis, president of Sportscorp Limited, a consulting firm that focuses on team acquisitions, says three little letters — RSN — could potentially make the Dodgers, already a storied franchise, an astronomically valuable one as well.

RSN stands for "regional sports network," such as ones included in a new long-term TV deal between Time Warner Cable and the L.A. Lakers that Ganis says potentially could be worth $3 billion.

"That was such an outsized deal, so extreme, that it makes many people feel that there's something unique about the Los Angeles market that should allow for a monstrous rights fee or regional sports network equity deal," Ganis says

Monstrous rights fees and RSN equity deals are of little concern to the "99-percenters" who won't be bidding on the Dodgers. But many of them are hopeful that new ownership will make it easier to cheer on the team.

"Well, hopefully they can lower the price on beer, that's for damn sure!" said Dodgers fan Arturo Hernandez, laughing, at Sunday night's Lakers game.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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