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Could Mets saga offer hint of Dodgers' future?

January 31, 2011 | 10:45 am

As Los Angeles awaits a resolution in the battle for ownership of the Dodgers -- a resolution that could be a year or more away if Frank and Jamie McCourt cannot settle their divorce -- the fate of the New York Mets could provide a clue about the fate of the Dodgers.

Wilpon_200 The Mets' owners announced Friday they would consider selling 20% to 25% of the franchise. The owners need money -- they face significant liability associated with the Bernie Madoff scandal -- and Forbes values the Mets at $858 million. At that value, the Mets' owners could generate about $200 million by selling a minority interest in the team.

"I want to emphasize what we are discussing has not and will not affect or change the Mets' day-to-day operations and control," principal owner Fred Wilpon said during a conference call with reporters.

Easier said than done, according to experts in sports finance.

Frank McCourt has said repeatedly that he is not interested in selling any part of the Dodgers. Indeed, he raised a relatively small share of the money to buy the team with loans from would-be investors, in deals in which he would not cede any share of ownership unless he failed to repay the loans.

However, Jamie McCourt's lawyers have suggested that Frank might need to sell a minority interest in the team to settle the divorce, either to buy out his ex-wife or to raise the capital necessary to run the team as business partners.

If Frank changes his mind -- or if the court orders him to -- the Dodgers could announce the sale of, say, 20%-25% of the team. Forbes values the Dodgers at $727 million, so such a sale could generate upward of $150 million.

Here's the problem: There is no shortage of vanity investors, rich folks who would put in $1 million or $10 million for access to the owner's suite and the chance to wear a championship ring. However, an investor putting up $100 million or more generally wants control over how his money is spent -- that is, a chance to run the team.

"People who buy teams want to put their imprints on them, and without control, you can't do that," Andrew Murstein, president of Medallion Financial Corp., told the New York Times.

If Wilpon can sell a minority interest and retain control of the Mets, that would appear to make it more likely that Frank McCourt could do the same with the Dodgers. However, Commissioner Bud Selig has not met with McCourt and has reserved his right to veto any sale of a minority interest in the Dodgers.

Selig is expected to meet with Wilpon on Tuesday, according to the New York Daily News.

-- Bill Shaikin

Photo: Fred Wilpon. Credit: Kathy Kmonicek / Associated Press

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