SBJ/June 1 - 7, 1998/No Topic Name

With Dodgers barely digested, Fox wants a bite of Buss' business

Is Fox Group's Rupert Murdoch about to get his hands on another legendary Los Angeles sports enterprise?

In a move that could further expand the increasingly dominant sports and entertainment empire in Los Angeles, Staples Center partners Philip Anschutz, Ed Roski Jr. and Fox Group are engaged in discussions to buy the Great Western Forum from Lakers owner Jerry Buss.

Tim Leiweke, executive vice president of Staples Center, acknowledged he has been negotiating a sale of the Forum with Buss in recent weeks, and the discussions are "ongoing."

"Does that mean we are going to have a deal?" he said. "We'll see."

Leiweke declined to discuss details. He said he is representing Anschutz, Roski and their new partner, Fox Group, in the negotiations.

Buss is looking at a price upwards of $40 million for the Forum, a Los Angeles landmark where the Lakers have won six NBA championships, according to a source familiar with the situation.

The Forum will lose its biggest tenants, the Lakers and Kings, when both teams move to the new Staples Center in October 1999.

Although discussions about the sale of the Forum have been "friendly" thus far, the two sides are still "far apart" on terms, the source said. Buss could decide to continue to run the Forum or sell it to another party, this source said.

Roski and Anschutz announced in April that they had formed a partnership with Fox and its cable broadcast partner, Liberty Media.

Under that deal, Fox-Liberty agreed to take a 40 percent equity stake in Staples Center and Fox received an option to buy 40 percent of the Kings, as well as 10 percent of the Lakers.

Fox also owns the Los Angeles Dodgers and Dodger Stadium. An agreement to buy the Forum could give Fox an equity stake in three major sports facilities in Los Angeles, as well as three major league teams.

A sale of the Forum may also signal a further retrenchment in the sports business by Buss, who has owned the Lakers and the Forum since 1979. Buss also owns the WNBA's Los Angeles Sparks.

Talks to sell the Forum sprang up as Staples Center has been unable to make a deal to attract the Sparks, a source said. Staples has offered such low percentage cuts on parking and concessions that the Sparks could make a higher profit by remaining at the Forum, where the team receives 100 percent of parking and concession revenues, this source said.

If Staples bought the Forum at a fair price, the Sparks might be able to make a deal "because then, Jerry Buss would be out of the arena business," this source said.

If the Staples Center partners owned the Forum, presumably they would have stronger negotiating muscle to bring events to Los Angeles. Addition-ally, it would provide an alternative site to stage events if there is a scheduling conflict at Staples, which will host Lakers, Kings and Clippers games.

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