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Category: TV

Fox seeks stay of 'legally unprecedented' TV-sale order

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Fox Sports asked Wednesday that the Dodgers be barred from selling their television rights pending an appeal of what the television company called "a legally unprecedented order that is economically disastrous for Prime Ticket and completely unnecessary to the upcoming team sale."

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross ruled last week that the Dodgers could sell their television rights along with the team, despite a contract with Fox that prevents the team from negotiating with another broadcast outlet until Nov. 30, 2012.

"Although it is black-letter law that a bankruptcy court cannot rewrite a debtor's contract ... the bankruptcy court did exactly that," according to the Fox filing in U.S. District Court in Wilmington, Del.

Gross agreed with the Dodgers' position that advancing that date to Jan. 19 was "not material" to the contract and could help command a higher price for the sale of the team, which owner Frank McCourt must complete by April 30.

In its filing, Fox asserted the contractual rights at issue were crucial to the company's chances of retaining the Dodgers' television rights. In an echo of an argument that failed to sway Gross, Fox claimed that an early negotiation would increase the likelihood of the company losing the Dodgers' rights and ultimately closing Prime Ticket, triggering a damage claim that could threaten the team's ability to repay its creditors.

"This will result in Prime Ticket asserting a ... claim of at least $1 billion, which will render the debtors' estates insolvent and destroy any hope of rehabilitation," according to the Fox filing.

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MLB wants to prevent Fox Sports from deposing Bud Selig

Fox Sports should not be permitted to take the deposition of Commissioner Bud Selig or obtain documents from Major League Baseball, attorneys for MLB argued in a court filing Tuesday.

While Fox might still be contesting the Dodgers in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the league argued that it has resolved its differences with the team and should be excused from further substantive involvement in the case.

"Fox should not be permitted to drag Major League Baseball back into the very litigative morass from which it extracted itself through the settlement," the filing read.

The settlement agreement between MLB and Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has not been filed with the court. Fox has objected to the lack of disclosure. In its filing, MLB called the settlement "highly confidential in part" and not relevant to the pending issue of whether the court would permit the Dodgers to sell their television rights earlier than allowed under their contract with Fox.

The league argued Fox had no need and no right to depose Selig and executive vice president Rob Manfred on the issue, calling the bid to depose Selig "particularly inappropriate" because of his status as a "singularly unique, public figure who should not be subject to unwarranted harassment and discovery abuses."

MLB also said it should not have to produce information on valuation of the Dodgers' assets and on prospective buyers for the Dodgers.

"It appears Fox is misusing the process to identify potential bidders so that Fox can contact them and interfere with the sales process," the MLB filing read.

A hearing on the issue is set Wednesday.

-- Bill Shaikin

Dodgers sale: Would Fox Sports or Time Warner consider bidding?

Fox_300Option A: Pay the Dodgers' new owner $3 billion -- or more -- to buy the team's television rights.

Option B: Buy the team itself, for something closer to $1 billion.

That second option could be the better bet for Fox Sports and Time Warner Cable, who could join in the bidding to buy the Dodgers. Although corporate ownership has faded in baseball, simple math might make this opportunity irresistible for Fox and Time Warner.

FULL COVERAGE: Dodgers sale

Time Warner needs something to put on its new Lakers channel when the Lakers do not play, while the viability of Fox's Prime Ticket channel could be in jeopardy if the Dodgers followed the Lakers in abandoning Fox as their cable home.

Fox would consider bidding for the team in order to secure the television rights, the primary reason the company bought the team from the O'Malley family in 1998, according to a person familiar with the company's strategy.

At this early stage, Fox has made no decision whether to bid. The person said a Fox bid was "not impossible" but could be complicated by "baggage" from the company's previous ownership of the Dodgers.

Under Fox ownership, the Dodgers never made the playoffs, traded Mike Piazza and reported losses of $50 million per year, with those losses scaring away potential suitors and paving the way for Frank McCourt to buy the team in a highly leveraged 2004 purchase.

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-- Bill Shaikin

Photo illustration: Special to The Times

Angels -- not Dodgers -- close to new TV deal with Fox?

Angels
As Dodgers owner Frank McCourt seeks the intervention of the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to pursue a new television contract for his team, the Angels could be nearing a lucrative deal of their own with Fox Sports.

And, with the Texas Rangers one victory away from their second consecutive World Series, the Angels could be close to securing billions of dollars to use in fighting back against their American League West rivals.

In a court filing this week on behalf of Major League Baseball, Los Angeles sports media consultant Ed Desser said the Dodgers would be unlikely to succeed in launching a cable channel of their own, in part because they would not have "any other significant sports team" to join them. He noted that the Lakers are launching two channels of their own, the Pac-12 Conference is launching another for UCLA and USC, and the Kings and Clippers are bound to Fox.

"The Los Angeles Angels are expected to close a new transaction," Desser said in the filing.

Desser declined to elaborate when reached by telephone, and spokesmen for both Fox and the Angels declined to comment.

However, Fox and the Angels have had dialogue about a new deal for an extended period of time, according to parties familiar with the conversations but not authorized to discuss them. No deal is imminent, the parties said.

With Fox losing the Lakers and potentially losing the Dodgers, the Angels have the leverage to command a deal in excess of the 20-year, $1.6-billion contract to which Fox and the Rangers agreed last year.

That deal averages $80 million per year. The Angels' current contract with Fox, which extends through the 2015 season, averages $50 million per year.

The Angels also would be likely to get an ownership share in Fox Sports West. The Rangers' new deal does not include an ownership stake in its Fox Sports affiliate.

In the proposed Dodgers' contract rejected by Commissioner Bud Selig, the team would have gotten an ownership share in Prime Ticket as well as average annual rights fees in excess of what the Rangers got. McCourt valued the entire deal -- the annual rights fees and the ownership share in Prime Ticket -- at $3 billion.

McCourt now has asked the Bankruptcy Court to let him auction the Dodgers' television rights, with MLB and Fox in opposition. U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross is scheduled to consider the issue -- as well as the league's request that he order the sale of the Dodgers -- during a four-day hearing set to start Oct. 31.

Desser, the founding president of NBA TV and former chief television negotiator for the NBA, could be an expert witness for MLB. In his filing, he argued that the Dodgers would be best served by waiting to sell their television rights rather than auctioning them off at this time and dismissed the Dodgers' claims that the market might be at its peak now.

"Based on industry trends, I believe [the Dodgers] might be able to get 10[%]-20% more for the media rights if they wait a year or two," Desser said.

Desser said he led negotiations for the Lakers for their new channels with Time Warner Cable. Although the Dodgers said interested bidders for their rights could include Charter, Dish Network and DirecTV, Desser said that none of those entities showed interest in the Lakers and that the bidders for the Dodgers likely would be limited to Fox and Time Warner.

He also said the specter of litigation could "chill" the bidding, noting that Fox already has sued the Dodgers for breaching their current contract. He also said potential bidders would consider "team performance, attendance, public sentiment and TV ratings trends" in deciding how much to offer the Dodgers.

"Now is not the time to sell the media rights, when their value will be depressed by the current poor condition of the club," Desser said.

In a filing last week, the Dodgers said the condition of the club was strong, citing in part stadium renovations and attendance increases through 2008 and four playoff appearances in McCourt's first six years of management.

"Although the Dodgers did not make the playoffs in 2011, the team's 82-79 record was an improvement over 2010," the filing read. "The current roster includes numerous players from the team's farm system, including players in contention for both the National League Most Valuable Player award and the National League Cy Young award."

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-- Bill Shaikin

Photo: Angels players celebrate a win with Mike Scioscia on Sept. 18. Credit: Steve Ruark / Getty Images.

Fox seeks to block Dodgers' hiring of firm to market TV rights

Frank-mccourt_250 Dodgers owner Frank McCourt should not be allowed to hire an investment bank to sell the team's cable television rights, Fox Sports argued in a bankruptcy court filing on Friday.

McCourt has asked the court for permission to retain Blackstone Advisory Partners -- for a $7-million fee and $175,000 per month -- for the purposes of restructuring the Dodgers' finances and marketing the team's cable rights. McCourt and his attorneys have said the revenue from a new cable deal would be critical to the Dodgers' plan to emerge from bankruptcy by the end of the year.

But under the Dodgers' current contract with Fox, the team cannot negotiate with any party besides Fox before Nov. 30, 2012, according to a previous court filing.

In Friday's filing, the Fox attorneys wrote: "The telecast agreement sets forth an explicit negotiation timeline and process with which [the Dodgers] must abide. ... The current employment of Blackstone for that purpose is premature."

If the court were to approve the hiring of Blackstone, Fox wants permission to oppose the sale of the Dodgers' cable rights later in the bankruptcy proceedings and to sue the Dodgers at a later time.

If McCourt is allowed to auction the Dodgers' cable rights, Fox's Prime Ticket channel presumably would bid against Time Warner's new Lakers channel, with the loser running an all-sports outlet with no live summer programming. 

Major League Baseball also is expected to oppose, in bankruptcy court, McCourt's bid to sell the Dodgers' cable rights.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross is expected to hear arguments on the issue Aug. 16.

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-- Bill Shaikin

Photo: Frank McCourt. Credit: Mary Altaffer / Associated Press

Vin Scully: All class, all the time

Heroes, idols, they're easy to find in youth. Difficult to hold onto as the years advance.

For those able to actually meet a great figure from their formative years, disappointment often awaits. An almost inevitable letdown.

When I started out as a sportswriter, I was able to meet several sports figures I had always held in high esteem. A precious few withstood the test of unrealistic expectations. One, though, surpassed every improbable hope.

Vin Scully.

Listen to Vin broadcast a game and you begin to believe you know him. And the crazy thing is, you actually do. He is every bit the gentleman, the kind soul, the warm and sincere man you think he is.

He is intelligent, but never condescending. He's the people's aristocrat. Both warm and professional, friendly and respectful, outgoing and yet somehow still private.

An avid reader, he turned me onto Elmore Leonard's westerns during an Atlanta bus ride to the ballpark. Shared stories of starting out frightened in Brooklyn. Would speak pointedly on team failings.

A man who always seems to know the right thing to say on the air and off. When I saw him for the first time last summer after being out of work for several months, he stopped me and said simply: "I miss reading you.''

Every time I enter the Vin Scully Press Box at Dodger Stadium, it feels like an honor. Vin's "soundtrack to summer'' has left a lasting impression on generations. And it's a very real one.

-- Steve Dilbeck

Dodgers vs. Yankees will be on prime time

Dodgerslogo The full Fox national 2010 baseball television broadcast schedule will be released Wednesday, but one game to be nationally televised will be the Dodgers hosting the Yankees on June 26 at 4 p.m. Pacific time.

It is one of only two prime-time (for the East Coast ) Saturday night games.

The only other time Fox aired a regular-season game in prime time was in 2004 -- Yankees at Red Sox, of course. 

-- Diane Pucin

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