L.A. Dodgers Sale Sets Up a Billionaire Cage Match
A scrum of billionaires and sports icons is angling to become the next owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers. By Chris Lee.
It began as a guessing game for sports fans and the chattering classes in Los Angeles: who will replace the widely despised, bankrupt parking-lot prince Frank McCourt, as owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers?
The storied franchise has teetered at the brink of disaster since 2009, when McCourt and his wife, Jamie, began divorce proceedings. Frank fired Jamie as the team’s CEO, and Commissioner Bud Selig threatened to kick the team out of Major League Baseball if Frank McCourt attempted to sell off its broadcast rights. But on Tuesday, the Dodgers and Fox Sports reached an agreement resolving several broadcasting rights disputes, moving the sale of the team—expected to fetch in excess of $1 billion—significantly closer to fruition.
With the league’s April 30 sale deadline now looming, the scrum of billionaires, boldfaced names, sports icons, and media conglomerates all angling to occupy the owner’s box at Dodger Stadium is shaping up to become a full-on battle royale.
All these would-be owners of Dodger Blue—more than a dozen in all—come from across the cultural and financial spectrum, but all share certain traits: huge egos, deep pockets, and a burning ambition to become the face of what was once the classiest franchise in all of sports and remains a powerful brand. While several are iconic athletes, other bidders have zero connection to sports and probably couldn’t differentiate between a bullpen and dugout without an executive précis.
With initial bidding on the Dodgers beginning Jan. 13, here’s a rundown of the battle royale’s most high-profile combatants:
Magic Johnson. Sure, he’s best known for his arcing jump-shots as point guard for “Showtime”-era Los Angeles Lakers. But the three-time MVP now operates Magic Johnson Enterprises and is a beloved local businessman with a net worth north of $500 million. On Wednesday, Johnson toured Dodger Stadium with his bidding partner Stan Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals.
Joe Torre. Earlier this month, the legendary manager who steered the New York Yankees to four World Series championships, resigned his executive position at Major League Baseball to hook up with L.A. outdoor mall king Rick Caruso in bidding to buy the Dodgers—a move that, upon first inspection, exists to confer sport-world legitimacy on a divisive Angeleno who has zero baseball background.
Larry King. As part of a consortium that includes Chicago White Sox executive Dennis Gilbert, the septuagenarian talk-show doyen admired for his skeletal hunch and natty suspenders announced his interest in a Dodgers ownership stake in November. “It would be a thrill of a lifetime to be part owner, partial owner of a team I grew up rooting for in Brooklyn,” King said.
The Disney family. According to a January article in the Los Angeles Times, Stanley Gold, the man who runs the Mouse House family’s investment firm, has been in discussion with other potential investors to buy the franchise in a bid to restore prominent local ownership to the team. “They would guard the Dodger name the way they guard the Disney name,” the story quotes an anonymous source saying.
Mark Cuban. Last year, the firebrand owner of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks said he had been maneuvering to purchase the Dodgers (a claim that a spokesman for Frank McCourt denied) but backed out of bidding because he felt the price was too high. As of early December, however, the trash-talking, fine-incurring Cuban renewed his interest in looking over the Dodgers confidential financial data in a so-called bid book and confirmed to the L.A. Times he’ll be there with an open checkbook come bidding time (an outcome no doubt welcomed by posters on the blog markcubansavethedodgers.com).
Steven A. Cohen. With an estimated net worth of $8.3 billion, hedge-fund founder Cohen is among the leading contenders to buy the team. He has reportedly already engaged notable sports-architecture firms to look into possible renovations for Dodger Stadium, retained the services of Steve Greenberg, a former deputy commissioner of Major League Baseball and has fellow Angeleno billionaires Eli Broad and David Geffen offering him public support. But like McCourt, Cohen suffered through a bitter divorce struggle that grabbed headlines in New York last year.
Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser. First baseman Garvey, one of the most beloved players ever to don Dodger Blue, and all-star former Dodger pitcher Hershiser spearhead an investment group that also includes billionaire supermarket mogul Ron Burkle, who hope to buy the team and restore its former glory. Talk about bleeding blue: Garvey said he had been working on creating the investment group for more than two years and once tried to buy the team from McCourt only to receive a brush-off.
Fox. On Thursday, the News Corp. entertainment division joined the Dodger suitor pile-on by signing a nondisclosure agreement with bankers handling the franchise’s sale, The Wall Street Journal reported. The move enables the company to enter a bid for ownership, but according to sources cited, Fox doesn’t want to own the team outright like it did from 1998 to 2004. It just wants a 15 to 20 percent stake.
Peter O’Malley. Considered the sentimental favorite among Dodger bidders, the O’Malley family owned the franchise for 47 years, with Peter’s father responsible for transplanting the Dodgers from Brooklyn to L.A. and the team winning the World Series six times under their aegis. And iconic Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda, for one, has his back. “The franchise needs leadership,” O’Malley told The New York Times. “It needs to be reconnected with the community. I think I can provide the restoration of the franchise quicker and better than anyone else. It’s a jewel. Its place in the community has always been as one of the most prestigious organizations, but sadly, that hasn’t been the case for the past few years.”