By Rick Horrow and Karla Swatek
January 27, 2012
On Tuesday, Columbia Pictures’ “Moneyball” was nominated for a handful of Academy Award honors, including Best Picture and a Best Actor nod for Brad Pitt for his depiction of Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane. The film also earned Jonah Hill a nomination for Best Supporting Actor, and a spot in the Adapted Screenplay award category (as it was derived from Michael Lewis’ 2003 bestseller.
“Moneyball’s” worldwide gross, according to box office tracking services, was $106,102,951 as of January 22. But that sum is pocket change for the majority of the billionaire owners lining up to bid on the Major League Baseball Los Angeles Dodgers franchise. At Dodger Stadium, across town from the studio where “Moneyball” was filmed, an ongoing drama of a different kind is now playing out.
Monday was the soft deadline by which ownership bids for the Dodgers were to be submitted to Blackstone Advisory Partners, the global investment firm handling the sale for outgoing Dodgers owner Frank McCourt under the watchful eye of MLB and the U.S. Bankruptcy Court. And as reported by Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times and others, more than ten opening bids were submitted by that date, by some of the most high-profile figures in American business today – several of whom are billionaires who appear with regularity on annual lists of the world’s wealthiest people. Indeed, the Dodgers are anticipated to sell for as much as $1.5 billion – a record for an American sports franchise.
Unlike the situation with McCourt, who was able to capitalize almost none of the team himself and put the Dodgers into bankruptcy as a result, funding the franchise isn’t an issue this time around. Rather, two side stories will capture the attention of the bankers handling the bids, as well as that of Dodger fans and MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
While Dodgers fans might prefer that that new Dodgers owner immediately turn his attention to the struggling product on the field, he will have much to worry about before focusing on hefty contracts for the likes of pitcher Yu Darvish (just signed by the Texas Rangers in a six-year, $60 million deal) or Prince Fielder (snapped up by the Detroit Tigers in a nine-year, $214 million contract), or even renegotiating the deals of current stars Matt Kemp and Clayton Kershaw (No. 32 and No. 87 respectively on the just-released Bloomberg Businessweek Power 100 list).
In contrast, the initial economic hurdles facing a prospective owner are the land surrounding the stadium – owned by McCourt and not automatically included in the sale – and negotiating a lucrative new TV rights deal for the team, or more likely, develop an exclusive regional sports network for the franchise.
The last few MLB franchises sold have been dominated by the Commissioner’s inner circle, or led by local heroes, such as Rangers legend Nolan Ryan, brought aboard to bring back a city’s bragging rights. This time around, however, you can remove the mantles of “Friends of Bud” and “civic pride” from the sales equation, and divide the majority of prospective owners into two or three specialty categories, with, this being Hollywood, a leading man thrown in.
Developers – The new owner gets the team and Dodgers stadium but not the surrounding parking lots, which, as one astute L.A. Times letter writer put it, is like buying a house without the driveway being included. With an estimated net worth of $850 million, L.A. real estate developer Rick Caruso leads this list; former Dodgers manager Joe Torre is his front man. Also in this category: Lakers and business legend Magic Johnson, he of the inner city movie theater and Starbucks empire (his money partner is Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter, with former Braves and Nationals president Stan Kasten added in for baseball pedigree); and Denver sports mogul Stan Kroenke (backed by Wal-Mart money from his wife, the former Ann Walton), whose interest has signaled to some that his NFL St. Louis Rams might also be headed to L.A.
McCourt began the process of upgrading Dodgers Stadium with Dallas-based architects HKS, Inc, and a developer owner could complete the work they started. “HKS has enjoyed the challenge of creating a master plan and comprehensive improvements for Dodgers Stadium. We have guided the investment of over $120,000,000 that has transformed the experience for fans and players while restoring baseball’s only mid-century masterpiece,” says HKS principal Bryan Trubey, who envisions a new owner completing the transformation.
TV people – Developing a Dodgers Net RSN is a sure-fire way to control TV rights revenue for the long term, and many of the Dodgers bidders have significant television experience. Among them are NBA Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, who built his fortune on HDNet; the Disney family (with money partner Stanley Gold); and potentially, Time Warner Cable and/or Fox Sports (figuring that buying the team could be cheaper than paying for broadcast rights).
Other wealthy notables – Also entering the fray are SAC Capital Advisors Founder Steven Cohen, with an estimated personal net wealth of $8.3 billion; former Dodgers owner Peter O’Malley; Beverly Hills insurance agent Dennis Gilbert partnered with Imperial Capital chairman and CEO Jason Rees; and possibly, Oracle CEO Larry Ellision, with an estimated net worth north of $27 billion.
The deadline set for selecting the new Dodgers owner is April 1, and for completing the sale, April 30. Let the vetting begin.