McCourt, fighting Fox, seeks court OK to market Dodgers TV rights
In an effort to get the highest sale price for the Dodgers, owner Frank McCourt on Saturday asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to let him negotiate a sale of the team's television rights as well.
Fox Sports, which now holds the TV rights, has asked the court to enforce a contract provision that forbids the Dodgers from soliciting other offers for another year. The pending legal battle over the issue could jeopardize McCourt's ability to complete the sale of the team by April 30, as required under an agreement between McCourt and Major League Baseball.
In Saturday's filing, McCourt attorneys said that the television rights constitute "a large share of the team's overall value" and that a sale of those rights now would provide prospective Dodgers buyers with "real-world information about what the value of the telecast rights would be."
According to the filing, the winning bidder for the Dodgers would not have to sign whatever television deal McCourt might negotiate now. That would allow the winning bidder to consider starting a team-owned cable channel in 2014.
The current TV contract grants Fox exclusive negotiating rights through Nov. 30, 2012, a provision McCourt has asked the court to declare unenforceable. If McCourt sells the rights now, Fox has threatened to sue for damages it claims could be so "massive" as to threaten his ability to repay the Dodgers' creditors in full.
In Saturday's filing, McCourt asked the court to estimate the amount of any damages now — or whether they "should be capped at zero." If the court decides the Dodgers are "at risk of substantial damages," then McCourt reserves the right not to proceed with the television rights sale. However, by asking the court to address the damages issue now, McCourt is trying to preempt the claims of Fox and MLB that the specter of future litigation with Fox would depress the bidding for television rights.
In the filing, McCourt's attorneys called Fox "disingenuous" in its opposition.
"Fox clearly does not have the debtors' best interests at heart," the filing read. "Fox wants to minimize the value of the telecast rights, i.e, to pay as little as possible."
A hearing is set for Nov. 30.
Commissioner Bud Selig rejected a proposed new contract between the Dodgers and Fox that McCourt valued at $3 billion. That likely would be the starting point for any competitive bidding between Fox and Time Warner Cable, which needs a summer team for its new Lakers channel. The essence of McCourt's request: If there is going to be a bidding war between Fox and Time Warner, let's have it now.
— Bill Shaikin
Photo: Frank McCourt at Dodger Stadium during the team's home opener last season. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times