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).