SBD/9/Franchises

MURDOCH AWAITS APPROVAL TO BUY DODGERS, JOIN MLB FAMILY

          News Corp. Chair Rupert Murdoch's bid to buy the
     Dodgers was examined in a front-page feature by Richard
     Sandomir of the N.Y. TIMES.  Sandomir wrote that "absent a
     late bout of nerves," MLB will by March 19 formally approve
     the sale to News Corp., an "outfit run by an aggressive,
     continent-hopping dealmaker with no sentimental or historic
     attachment to the country's most tradition-bound sport."  
          A CAVEAT OVER REGIONAL DEALS: Murdoch pays "at least"
     $100M a year for the local cable rights to 22 MLB clubs, and
     it is News Corp.'s consolidation of "a once balkanized
     universe of regional sports networks into the Fox Sports
     Net" that "worries" some MLB people.  Murdoch's "substantial
     investment" in MLB "is seen either as a vote of confidence
     in the sport's recovery from labor strife or worrisome
     leverage over his future partners in ownership."  Padres
     President Larry Lucchino said that Fox Sports'
     "disproportionate influence on two dozen teams through its
     TV deals creates an opportunity to manipulate the
     arrangement for political purposes.  Fox can say, 'If you
     don't vote for X, you'll have trouble on your TV deal.'" 
     The Padres and other clubs also "worry" that Fox "will have
     access to their financial statements and use that knowledge
     at future television rights negotiations.  Or, knowing how
     important local rights payments are, teams are concerned
     that Fox can influence the signing of free agents through
     well-timed extensions of cable rights deals."  Fox/Liberty
     Exec VP Jim Martin: "The teams have the business we need and
     can get rid of us for another competitor.  If we try to
     influence anybody's votes, the teams ... can tell us to go
     to hell."  Disney's Michael Eisner, on Murdoch: "I can't
     judge whether he would be a good or a bad owner.  But I
     don't think he would not follow the rules" (N.Y. TIMES,3/6).

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