Update 11/3 11:15 AM – House Rep. Janice Hahn (D-Redondo Beach) introduced a bill to allow for public ownership of the Dodgers. Public ownership is not allowed per MLB’s constitution, but it’s a nice gesture. Hahn actually used the issue as part of her platform and rode it to election day in June.
Update 4:35 PM – The Associated Press (SI link) got reactions from Wolff, Tom Werner, and Mark Attanasio about their potential interest in the Dodgers. Wolff’s take:
“I’m very interested in having the sale occur for everybody involved,” said Wolff, a successful L.A. real estate developer. “As far as my interest in purchasing the Dodgers, I don’t have any. I’m interested in getting a new venue for the A’s.”
But would Selig, Wolff’s fraternity brother at Wisconsin, ask Wolff to join a bidder?
“That would be absurd,” Wolff said. “The Dodgers are going to go to an auction, and the highest bidder hopefully will revitalize the franchise.”
Bloomberg also reported that Fox may be interested in acquiring the Dodgers once again, but the company quickly denied it.
Update 3:00 PM – The New York Daily News cites an unnamed MLB insider who says that “it is unlikely Selig would try to steer A’s co-owner Lew Wolff and Boston Red Sox CEO Tom Werner – both Selig allies – toward making a bid on the Dodgers.”
Update 1:50 PM – Now it’s getting interesting. Bill Shaikin is reporting that the a prospective bidding group includes former Dodger GM Fred Claire (O’Malley era), A’s/Warriors/49ers exec Andy Dolich, and Ben Hwang, who looks to be the head of the group.
Original post below
Well that was faster than anyone expected.
Word started leaking over the weekend that Frank McCourt and Bud Selig were in serious discussions to have McCourt sell the Dodgers. This was confirmed Tuesday night by the LA Times’ Bill Shaikin, and further confirmed by a press release:
“The Los Angeles Dodgers and Major League Baseball announced that they have agreed today to a court-supervised process to sell the team and its attendant media rights in a manner designed to realize maximum value for the Dodgers and their owner, Frank McCourt,” read a joint statement. “The Blackstone Group LP will manage the sale process.”
Going back to the summer, when the McCourt divorce proceedings really got ugly, the prevailing wisdom was that unless Frank McCourt ran out of cash, he’d fight to keep the Dodgers to the bitter end. That would mean enduring a bankruptcy trial, lengthy divorce proceedings, and a possible auction of the team. Now it looks like the team will no longer be under McCourt’s control by the end of the month, and a new owner could be found and approved. Neither McCourt nor MLB are saying what prompted this turn of events. Whatever precipitated this, there’s no doubt that the timeline for selling the Dodgers has been significantly accelerated.
That gives MLB roughly six months to approve the next owner, though the process will be largely guided by the federal bankruptcy court, which will preside over the team’s auction. The auction will probably include the team and Dodger Stadium + parking lots, since those will all need to be sold to cover the McCourt’s enormous debts, short term financing, and a $130 million payment promised last week by Frank McCourt to Jamie McCourt. Everything could be sold as a package or on a piecemeal basis – that’s up to the court to decide. CNBC’s Darren Rovell has the over/under for the all inclusive sale price at $875 million, though several analysts have mused that the team and related properties should fetch well north of $1 Billion.
Of course, that leaves the question of who will make the winning bid. Having a court oversee the process gums up the works if you’re looking for a Selig crony to come in to get a sweetheart deal. Last year, the duo of Mark Cuban and Jim Crane drove up the price of the Texas Rangers by $100 million through auction bidding. There have been murmurs of several groups champing at the bit to get their shot at the Dodgers, so that $1 Billion mark could be eclipsed early. One thing to keep in mind is that not only does the new owner have to assume a ton of debt, they’ll probably have to agree to make $100+ million in improvements to Dodger Stadium in order for the team to stay “viable”. With an enormous bidding war for the Dodgers’ TV rights due in a couple of years, that’s relative chump change. Will it be Mark Cuban, Ron Burkle, or some private equity hotshot?
Prior to the auction beginning, you can bet that speculation will include Lew Wolff asserting interest in the Dodgers, a charge that he denied in January. That rumor was merely an unsubstantiated musing by ESPN’s Buster Olney and not based on any legitimate inside information. Wolff is buds with Bud, so he has to expect his name to be in the news and there’s little he can do other than deny, deny, deny. Given the circumstances of the team being beholden to the auction process, it doesn’t benefit either Wolff or MLB to have Wolff involved in the proceedings. There will be more than enough bidders, and there should be multiple entrants whose backgrounds and bids are far more substantial and less risky than Jim Crane’s or Frank McCourt’s. In addition, the asking price of the Dodgers will be so high that MLB won’t be able to pull off a Montreal-style “contract-and-expand” deal, with the other 29 owners digging deep into their own pockets to buy the team.
When the winter meetings come around in two weeks, it’s clear that if the CBA is item 1A on the agenda, the Dodgers are 1B. Crane will finally be approved as the new owner of the Astros, perhaps just to get it out of the way. It’s unclear what that means for the A’s. Wolff’s getalong working style may mean the A’s issue is tabled until January. Then again, Wolff could barter his vote for “future considerations”. It’s impossible to say whether or not the A’s will even come up, let alone have Wolff’s territorial rights request addressed. Does Selig want to focus only on a few select urgent issues? Do the owners have enough information to act now on T-rights, or do formal presentations need to be made? We should know in two weeks.