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MR. MURDOCH JOINS THE CLUB AS MLB APPROVES DODGERS SALE
Published March 20, 1998
In an "unexpectedly one-sided vote," MLB owners yesterday "overwhelmingly approved the purchase" of the Dodgers by Rupert Murdoch's Fox Group for "about" $311M, the "most ever paid for a professional sports franchise," according to Newhan & Hiltzik of the L.A. TIMES. The vote "puts one of baseball's most storied ballclubs in the hands of one of the world's most unsentimental and pragmatic businessmen." Despite "rumors that Murdoch's aggressive business practices might stir up serious opposition to the deal from other owners," only the Braves and White Sox voted against the transaction, while the Mets abstained. Some owners were concerned over whether Murdoch "would comply with bylaws requiring that" overseas rights to all games be negotiated by MLB, not the individual clubs; whether he would "bid too aggressively for top players" and if he would use his cable deals with 22 teams to "impact the local revenues of those clubs." But the Fox Group "agreed to several changes" in its deal with MLB, assuring even Fox's "long rumored ... opposition," including Padres Owner John Moores and Giants Managing General Partner Peter Magowan. Even Disney, which was expected to abstain, approved the deal (L.A. TIMES, 3/20). Magowan: "They did a good job answering our questions" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/20). News Corp. President Peter Chernin, on owners' fears that Fox would use its 22 local deals to its advantage: "We just sort of explained to [other owners] the way these businesses run. That we have so much money invested in Fox Sports Net, that we're not going to do anything to jeopardize that by playing around with the Dodgers" (CNBC, 3/19). In Milwaukee, Tom Haudricourt writes MLB owners "decided it's best not to bite a hand that feeds them" (JOURNAL SENTINEL, 3/20). ESPN's Tim Kurkjian: "A lot of owners ... got the idea that this isn't necessarily Rupert Murdoch who is buying the Dodgers, it's more the Fox Group, which has a very good relationship with baseball" ("SportsCenter," ESPN, 3/19). THE PLAYERS: In L.A., Jim Newton writes, "Quietly but with characteristic determination, Murdoch is burrowing into the fabric of Los Angeles, joining its most powerful circle of insiders." But while others are "long steeped" in L.A.'s business and political culture, Murdoch is a "bruising, right-wing outsider" (L.A. TIMES, 3/20). Also in L.A., James Bates profiles Chernin and Chase Carey, Murdoch's "top two lieutenants," who have "survived and flourished in the mogul's Darwinian management culture." While Carey is "somewhat introverted, seemingly more comfortable behind the scenes," Chernin is "more comfortable ... mingling with Hollywood talent, listening to pitches and making public appearances" (L.A. TIMES, 3/20). NO TCI INTEREST? While TCI's Liberty Media, partners in the Fox Sports RSNs, once had an option to participate in Murdoch's purchase, Liberty Media President Robert Bennett said they "waived that a while back." He did not know if such an option "might arise again" (DENVER POST, 3/20). SOME TV CHANGES, MORE STADIUM SIGNAGE? The Dodgers "traditionally" have fewer games on local TV than any other team in MLB, but with the Fox Group now in charge, "that is going to change," according to Larry Stewart of the L.A. TIMES. The number of cable telecasts will jump from 40 this season to 80 in '99. Fox made that announcement Thursday, one day after the settlement of a lawsuit filed by KTLA against Fox and the Dodgers last year. The "settlement allows for more cable games." All 40 Dodger cable telecasts will be on Fox Sports West 2, but in the future, some games "also could be carried on Fox Sports West." KTLA will carry 48 over-the-air games (L.A. TIMES, 3/20)....Dodgers President Bob Graziano said that "any other changes, such as more signage at Dodgers Stadium and installation of luxury boxes will be gradual" (Hal Bodley, USA TODAY, 3/20). NOTES: In L.A., Bill Plascke notes that Murdoch was not present at the announcement, as he was in London on business, and adds, "Nothing to do now but get used to it." Plascke: "One of our last remaining treasures wasn't simply sold Thursday, it was swallowed whole" (L.A. TIMES, 3/20)...In Chicago, Jim O'Donnell writes that White Sox Chair Jerry Reinsdorf's vote against Murdoch "comes off as a recalcitrant, stubborn move made with little apparent upside." O'Donnell: "For Jerry Reinsdorf, is the end of his reign as an influential sports power man now clearly -- and voluntarily -- in sight?" (CHICAGO SUN-TIMES, 3/20).