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Steve Lopez: How Frank McCourt made out like a thief

Frank McCourt

Steve LopezNot to spoil the party, but here’s an unpleasant thought on the Dodger deal:

Did the winning bidders pay too much, at the reported $2-billion price, setting up the franchise for yet another fall?

A source close to the process, which involved multiple bidders, told me it was more than a little surprising to see the winning bid surpass by roughly a half-billion dollars other bids on the table.

TIMELINE: The McCourts and the Dodgers

Beyond that, it’s unbelievable and thoroughly unacceptable  that Frank McCourt ends up flush, with close to $1 billion in his pocket once the sale is complete, along with a continued role in the operation. This is the guy who bought the team with other people’s money, drove fans away, had to repay $100,000 to the team’s charity after a state investigation and led the team into bankruptcy while draining its resources and living like a king.

For this, he makes out like a thief? Why would the new owners settle for anything other than a restraining order, requiring that McCourt never set foot within 20 miles of Dodger Stadium?

It doesn’t make sense, nor does the $2-billion price, much of it coming from Chicago investors.

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What are they investing in, and will they have enough money left over for badly needed stadium repairs that will cost millions, or for a lineup anyone cares to see?

Is the plan to turn Chavez Ravine into a shopping mall that happens to have a baseball stadium attached to it?

If so, does everyone have to park in a high-rise parking garage to free up land for the  development? That ought to be fun – 50,000 people trying to get out of a garage at the same time.

And if that kind of development is the plan, is Magic Johnson supposed to be the guy who glad-hands city officials and gets them to pave the way?

By some estimates, the new owners can expect to sign a TV rights deal worth roughly $3.5 billion over 20 years. That’s a lot of dough, but does it justify a $2-billion purchase price that’s only the beginning of what it’ll cost to run this team and cover payroll?

It could be that this purchase has more to do with television sports marketing and financing, in fact, than a baseball team.

And if you’re a fan, you could get dinged twice. First with higher ticket, parking and concession prices, and second, with higher cable TV bills.

Kind of takes the magic out of the day’s big news, doesn’t it?

There’s definitely a chance, says USC sports economics expert David Carter, that the new owners “may be using the Dodger franchise as a way to extract media dollars and turn Chavez Ravine into a real entertainment destination, not unlike L.A. Live.”

But the development aspect sounds more than a little impractical to me, given the location and access issues. Neighbors will never let it happen. And is there any strong evidence that L.A. Live is working financially, or that it needs a twin?

Who knows, maybe the new owners don’t have any intention of keeping the Dodgers up on the hill. Maybe they’re waiting for the planned downtown NFL stadium to fall through, and then they’ll build a new baseball stadium downtown rather than fix Dodger Stadium. Meanwhile, they can turn Chavez Ravine into something else – condos, parks, offices, retail.

Then again, this could all be nothing more than ego. Guys with too much money buying the one thing they don’t already have.

I suggest you buy some tickets now, if you haven’t already.

Next season, you might not be able to afford them.

TELL STEVE WHAT YOU THINK: Share a comment below.

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-- Steve Lopez

Photo: Dodgers owner Frank McCourt before play starts in the team's season opener at Dodger Stadium last spring. Credit: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times

 
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