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The Los Angeles Dodgers, financially bedridden by the shaky stewardship of Frank McCourt, leaped out of their hospital bed Tuesday night, and are doing cartwheels out the front door today.
The Dodgers finally are on the verge of a new owner. A magical owner. A man who can instantly restore the credibility bridge that had been torched between a proud franchise and its fans.
A group led by former Los Angeles Lakers star Magic Johnson -- along with MLB and NBA executive Stan Kasten, and Peter Guber, head of Mandalay Entertainment, and financed by Mark Walter, CEO of Guggenheim Partners (a Chicago-based financial services firm) -- agreed to buy the Dodgers from owner Frank McCourt for $2.15 billion, a deal that includes the Chavez Ravine parking lots.
The deal came swiftly after MLB approved the three finalists Tuesday, and if the cash deal is approved by the judge overseeing the Dodgers' bankruptcy, the price will easily be the most ever paid for a professional sports team. The record is the $1.4 billion purchase price for the Manchester United soccer team, and the most paid for a North American sports franchise was $1.15 billion in 2009 for the Miami Dolphins. It was just four years ago when the Chicago Cubs was the most paid for a baseball franchise at $845 million.
No wonder MLB executives are holding their breath and hoping there are no poison pills in the deal; once it goes through, everybody's franchise value just went soaring.
The only guy happier than McCourt, who paid $430 million for his team in 2004, was Mets owner Fred Wilpon. His troubled franchise is now worth a whole lot more than a day ago.
Now, with New York hedge fund king Steve Cohen losing out in his bid along with St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, Cohen could step in and offer a deal that Wilpon can't resist.
And perhaps no one is kicking themselves more than Jamie McCourt, who must be paid $131 million by April 30 in the divorce with her ex-husband. If she knew that her ex would get this kind of money for the Dodgers, she sure would have asked for a whole lot more dough.
The Johnson-Kasten group must now close the deal by April 30, explain why McCourt still will have a say in their joint venture on the parking lots on non-game days, and perhaps divulge whether Fox TV or Time Warner has agreed to have an investment stake in exchange for local broadcast rights.
Cohen had the top bid just a week ago at $1.6 billion, which included the parking lots, and suddenly, his offer was blown away by a staggering bid, one which had top MLB officials scratching their heads.
In the meantime, the Dodgers are celebrating, with their biggest star, Matt Kemp, tweeting: "Good day 4 the @dodgers! The great @magicjohnson is the new owner!! Let's start a dynasty baby!!''
Well, let's start paying a few bills first, pour in $250 million to $300 million to upgrade the decaying 50-year stadium, and then worry about j****** up their payroll.
It's too late for the new ownership group, with Kasten becoming president of the team, to do anything about this year's roster. The free agents are gone. The team is set. And their biggest impact will be made at the trade deadline where they likely would be able to afford anyone, particularly with a monstrous TV deal coming their way.
This, after all, is what the deal is all about.
Magic and Kasten and their financial group don't buy this team if the Dodgers still are locked into an outdated TV contract. If the Lakers are worth $4 billion to Time Warner, what in the world could the Dodgers bring with twice as many games?
Yet, before Dodger fans envision George Steinbrenner in their heads, buying every free agent in their land, this group likely will be financially responsible. Check out Kasten's record. He used to be president of the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves. They never spent wildly on a free agent under his watch.
And Magic didn't become a rich man because of his basketball skills. He's wealthy because of his business sense. And you don't lend your name, a few bucks and most important your reputation, if you don't plan on turning a profit.
Let's put it this way, Magic didn't jump into this business venture because of his love for the Dodgers. It's not like he's spotted at Dodger Stadium as often as, say, Kemp might be spotted courtside at Staples Center.
Yet, it's his name that has Dodger fans rejoicing in LA today, and the Dodger players lining up to at least get a few autographs.
The Dodger front office is excited for the stability, but understandably, wary. They have no ties to Kasten. Kasten has no ties to them. General manager Ned Colletti and his front office, along with general manager Don Mattingly have one year to prove themselves.
That's not a bad thing because this is a talented team that suddenly has no excuses. The Dodgers have drawn rave reviews from scouts all spring, and should be a contender in the NL West. If they fall short, and aren't in the race in September, heads could roll, with Colletti in the final year of his contact, anyways.
Kasten will be calling the shots, not Magic. He was president of the Atlanta Braves, Atlanta Hawks in the NBA and even the NHL Atlanta Thrashers. He was the one who hired Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, and turned a downtrodden Braves' franchise into a dynasty, winning 14 consecutive division titles. He resigned from his three president jobs in 2003, became the Nationals' president in 2006, and resigned again after the 2010 season searching for the ideal opportunity.
Kasten found it.
He will focus on player development, not free agency. He will stress continuity, not splashy headlines. And he will demand perfection.
Money will not be a problem, but the ownership group certainly won't use it to magically cure their woes.
First, it's time to restore the team's legacy, reconnecting with their abused fans, and resurrecting the franchise's legacy.
This is a start, and for $2 billion, a new chapter is beginning in Los Angeles.
The turmoil is finally over.
Finally, the Dodgers can focus on baseball again.
Source: USA Today