The bubble effect
While my team was coming up short in bar trivia last night, news came over the wire that the group headed by Magic Johnson, Stan Kasten, and Peter Guber (yes, that Peter Guber) won the extremely competitive bidding for the Dodgers with a $2.15 billion offer. As recently as last week, the Dodgers were going to be sold for $1.4-1.6 billion, and New York hedge fund magnate Stephen Cohen seemed to have taken the lead thanks to having more cash in the bid compared to the Johnson-Kasten’s larger overall offer. The facts of the sale have been trickling out throughout the morning, and the details couldn’t have been more surprising.
- The $2.15 billion bid is in two parts: $2 billion for the team and stadium, and $150 million for the parking lots through a joint venture with outgoing owner Frank McCourt.
- Despite McCourt’s bankruptcy foibles, he’ll end up clearing around $1 billion in profit after dealing with creditors, including his ex-wife. In 2004, McCourt bought the Dodgers from Fox for $430 million, not putting up any cash to do so. Plus he gets the parking vig.
- The bid appears to be ALL CASH. If so that’s incredibly impressive and has major implications down the road.
- Johnson and Kasten had six private investment firms come in to bid for the right to claim the majority share. The winner was Guggenheim Partners, a Chicago/New York firm that manages $127 billion in assets. As part of the deal, the control person or managing partner will be Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter. The new entity that owns the team will be called Guggenheim Baseball Partners.
- For now it appears that nothing will change day-to-day in the Dodger front office. That means that Ned Colletti stays put as GM, though Stan Kasten will slide in above him as President and Magic Johnson will probably have an Executive VP role, similar to the one he had with the Lakers. Keep in mind that while Kasten oversaw much of the Atlanta Braves’ successful run throughout the 90′s and early 00′s, he had John Schuerholz run the baseball side of the house.
- There is potential in developing the parking lots, though everyone in the joint venture would have to sign off on any plans.
Local and national writers have run the gamut speculating what this new ownership group will do going forward. The first obvious step is to get some kind of new TV deal done, which McCourt tried to do under the gun but was blocked from doing by a bankruptcy court judge. The Dodgers could continue with Fox Sports for $200 million or start their own network. A Dodger network may be the best call, though ownership will most certainly run into some hard negotiations with Time Warner, LA’s predominant cable operator. Time Warner will operate the Lakers’ upcoming dual-channel, dual-language sports network, so there is built-in competition.
Ticket prices will also go up at some point, commensurate with rising payroll. For 2012 the active roster payroll is only $90 million, plus $11 million in deferments to Manny Ramirez and Andruw Jones. The Dodgers had been dropping ticket prices precipitously over the past year or two, allowing for a great amount of headroom for hikes when the time comes. That time may be next year, when the team has to make decisions on Andre Ethier and James Loney, while deciding what kind of extension to give Clayton Kershaw. Those three alone could translate to some $40 million per year in additional salaries. Even so, that only brings payroll to $130 million. The Dodgers could make one or two additional huge free agent splashes in the next 48 months, which is why the Giants have to be absolutely frightened.
From a macro perspective, every owner now has to be wondering what this clearly overpriced sale will mean for them. Sale prices have already been trending some 20% higher than Forbes valuations, so this only extends the bubble that’s been forming over the past five years. The bubble was created by great increases in media revenues, chiefly from new and often team-owned regional sports networks like YES and MASN. In response, several incumbent RSNs have overpaid to keep teams on their channels, such as the Fox Sports regionals in Dallas (Rangers) and Los Angeles (Angels). The table below shows franchise valuations and sale prices, in conjunction with relative values to generated revenue and the aggregate value of all franchises. Most franchises are in the 2.5-3 range. The Yankees sport a 4+ multiple, whereas the Dodgers nearly reach 9 – an artifact of how the Dodgers have been run lean while in bankruptcy. Have-not and small market teams have a multiple in the low 2 range.
Higher valuations or potential sale prices doesn’t mean that there’s going to be a bunch of franchises for sale. For one, Commissioner Selig doesn’t want to have a “glut” of teams available since that will only decrease competition and deflate if not pop the bubble. We know that Padres and Orioles are available, even if they’re not being actively shopped at the moment. Maybe that will change now, with both current owners looking for $500+ million paydays. MLB can also draw out the sales process to unbearable lengths (see: Astros, Padres) while it completes its “due diligence” on any buyer. And if higher sales prices are being propelled by new media deals, teams in small markets aren’t necessarily going to receive huge valuation bumps if their TV deals aren’t bumped in accordance.
The A’s could see something of a bump, but how much is very unclear. They’re locked into CSN California for at least another decade. Since the terms aren’t public, we don’t know if moving to San Jose would provide a bump, but I have to think that it does simply from the much larger, healthier pool of available advertisers in the South Bay. When prospective buyers look at the books, they’ll know this going in or find out soon enough. Wolff and John Fisher aren’t going bankrupt anytime soon, so if they wanted to sell they could hold out for as high an offer as they wanted. In any case, Selig would probably dissuade Lew Wolff from even considering a sale, stalling while he “figures out” a solution. On the flip side, the Giants could actually harden their stance on territorial rights, saying that it’s their only way to compete with a soon-to-be mega money Dodger franchise. At the very least, the news should force the Giants to make a commitment to Matt Cain, since the Dodgers would be well-positioned in six months to blow the Giants out of the water with an offer. To that I have to say, Welcome to the club, Giants. Enjoy your stay.
OT Note: The second game of the season vs. the Mariners will be shown live on MLB Network, as MLB has been so magnanimous as to lift its blackout. Oh thank you, capricious TV gods. /s