SBD/April 16, 2012/Franchises

Sale Of Dodgers To Johnson-Guggenheim Group Approved After Contentious Hearing

Judge approved deal that will exit Dodgers from 10-month stay in bankruptcy
The record $2.15B sale of the Dodgers to Guggenheim Baseball Management remains on track to close by the end of the month as a Delaware bankruptcy judge Friday night confirmed the deal following a highly contentious day-long hearing in Wilmington. Judge Kevin Gross for the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Delaware, as expected, gave his formal blessing to the deal that will exit the team from its 10-month stay in bankruptcy. But what preceded Gross' move was anything but anticipated. MLB, wanting an additional opportunity to review the sale, launched a long, vitriolic and ultimately unsuccessful effort to delay the deal confirmation. In particular, the league said the Dodgers were "jamming" documents simply in order to get the sale done by the end of the month. Former Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt has until then to pay ex-wife Jamie $131M as part of a separate divorce settlement. To that end, league outside counsel Thomas Lauria also accused the Dodgers of breaking league rules by announcing the Guggenheim deal last month without league approval, even though McCourt's November settlement with the league gave him rights not normally available to an owner in a team sale. "We were unable to do what the other owners would have expected," Lauria said. Guggenheim's joint venture deal with McCourt over the Dodger Stadium parking lot land also remains a key concern for MLB, as there has not been any specific documentation on how revenue from the lots will be split between the new team owners and McCourt. But Gross ultimately ruled the sale was in accordance with the U.S. bankruptcy code (Eric Fisher, SportsBusiness Journal).

PAY TO PARK
: In L.A., Bill Shaikin noted the money fans pay to park at Dodger Stadium "will be collected by the new owners, but neither McCourt nor Guggenheim has explained how the parties will divide the revenue the team generates from the parking lots." Although sources said that no development "can take place on the parking lots unless McCourt and Guggenheim agree, neither party has shared a vision for the future of the property." Dodgers attorney Bruce Bennett said that the settlement also "includes confidential provisions about how the league could treat revenue from a Dodgers-owned regional sports network." Bennett "declined to elaborate, but the provisions are believed to limit how much of the Dodgers' television proceeds must be shared with other teams via revenue sharing." As Gross conducted a morning session Friday, attorneys from the parties "met with the court-appointed mediator." Those meetings "continued for eight hours, with Lauria deciding to appeal directly to Gross, who said he did not expect the hearing to take such a hostile turn." Gross said, "I had no idea. I thought this was going to be a celebration-type occasion" (L.A. TIMES, 4/14). 

ROBINSONS TO BE INVOLVED: Sharon Robinson, the daughter of the late Baseball HOFer Jackie Robinson, confirmed yesterday that Guggenheim Baseball Management has "invited the Robinson family and its foundation to play a significant role with the team." Robinson said, "We hope that we will be involved. It's a very important franchise. It's a team we still feel very connected to." She added that no formal agreement "has been reached and declined to discuss what role her family might wish to play with the Dodgers." She said that Guggenheim Baseball Management "initiated the discussions" through Jackie Robinson Foundation Chair and former NL President Leonard Coleman (L.A. TIMES, 4/16).

FRONT OFFICE INTRIGUE: ESPN.com's Jayson Stark wrote, "Don't be so quick to assume the new, improved Dodgers of Stan Kasten and Magic Johnson can't wait to start handing out the largest contracts in the history of the solar system." That might be "a dangerous assumption." While serving as president of the Braves ('86-03) and Nationals ('06-10), Kasten's teams "never handed out a contract longer than five years to any free agent from outside their organization." One agent said, "That's not Stan Kasten's M.O. I'm sure they'll be a franchise that makes moves. But I'm also sure that when Stan makes decisions, it won't be like the kind of decisions [Tigers Owner] Mike [Ilitch] makes." Kasten has "told his friends in the business he knows that he and Johnson have to operate the Dodgers as a big-market club." It is "what their public demands," and it is "what the entire sport needs." But Stark asked, "After spending $2 billion dollars for the franchise, how much further in the hole can the new owners go?" An official of one club said, "The problem is, they'll be losing money at this price for a long time. But they also know they've got to get their fans back" (ESPN.com, 4/13). The L.A. TIMES' Shaikin wrote the "creative tension" between Johnson and Kasten "should be fascinating to watch." Johnson said that he "would have courted Albert Pujols if his group could have bought the Dodgers sooner; Kasten is a player development guy who has reminded friends he was no longer president of the Washington Nationals when the team handed $126 million to Jayson Werth" (L.A. TIMES, 4/15).
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