Frank McCourt's Increasing Triumph Means More Pressure on New Dodgers Owners
Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
"You can forget about Frank McCourt, Dodgers fans. He's out of the picture now, and the new sheriffs in town are going to make things all better."
Nobody actually said that when Magic Johnson and the Guggenheim group assumed control of the Los Angeles Dodgers last year, but that was the general message. Goodness knows it was a welcome one.
But here we are a little over a year later, and the new—we can still call them "new," right?—Dodgers owners haven't made things all better. What's more, McCourt just keeps finding ways to stay in the picture.
And every time he does, McCourt looks more and more like a genius while the guys at his old post look more and more like dolts. The pressure's on them to change that.
If you missed it, the former Dodgers owner finds himself back in the picture today because of what Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times reported on Wednesday night. Suddenly, McCourt has emerged as a key figure in the National Football League's potential return to Los Angeles.
When Shaikin reported on the sale of the Dodgers last May, he noted that McCourt was going to retain half-ownership of the Dodger Stadium parking lots and that he would have a say on any new developments on the site.
Now we know the details.
The sale guaranteed McCourt at least $7 million in fees the Dodgers pay to rent the parking lots, but he also has the option of either selling his stake in the lots back to the current Dodgers' owners for $150 million, or he could buy back full ownership of the land and put an NFL stadium on it.
It's far from a slam dunk that a deal will get done. Sam Farmer of the Times wrote that Los Angeles is "as far away from an NFL team as it has been at any point since the Raiders and Rams left after the 1994 season."
Farmer also acknowledged that McCourt's potential role in bringing the NFL back to L.A. muddies the picture. ESPN's Molly Knight acknowledged that too:
Not worried about Frank McCourt ruining LA's future NFL team because I do not believe the league would ever, ever work with him.— Molly Knight (@molly_knight) June 13, 2013
However, the part of me that's a grumpy baseball fan forever skeptical of the NFL believes Farmer hit the nail on the head with this sentiment: "If the [NFL] were to toss out every deal based on the objectionable personalities of the participants, it might never do another deal."
Indeed, and don't think McCourt doesn't have the coin to buy the land back. As Shaikin reported back in April, McCourt got a profit of well over $1 billion in the sale of the Dodgers.
You have to give the guy some credit. It takes a certain something to run a storied baseball franchise into the ground and then walk away with a beaming smile fixed on one's face.
Getting $2.15 billion for the Dodgers was a huge victory in and of itself, as McCourt had only paid $430 million for the team when he bought it in 2004. Also, Shaikin wrote that it is believed that no other bidders offered more than $1.6 billion for the Dodgers.
On top of that, Shaikin noted that McCourt also got the Guggenheim group to agree to invest as much as $650 million in a real estate development fund headed by McCourt. Then factor in the parking lot money. Then consider the potential NFL stadium on McCourt's land.
It really boggles the mind just how well McCourt made out. Knowing that, one's eyes can't help but turn to the guys who bought the team from him. What have they gotten out of the deal?
Not much besides a heaping helping of trouble so far.
Johnson and the Guggenheim group took over last May, and you'll recall that the vibes were incredibly positive at the time. The Dodgers had just wrapped up a surprising 16-7 showing in April, and here were these awesome new owners with loads of the stuff McCourt didn't have at the end of his reign: cash.
But ever since last April, it's all gone wrong. The Dodgers have won 98 games and lost 106.
It's not for lack of trying. The new owners have allowed general manager Ned Colletti to spend big bucks to extend Andre Ethier and to bring aboard the likes of Yasiel Puig, Hanley Ramirez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Hyun-Jin Ryu and Zack Greinke. Some of these players have worked out. Others haven't.
What the Dodgers are finding out is that building a winning ballclub simply by opening the organizational checkbook isn't as easy as the New York Yankees made it look for so many years. Spending is easy. Spending wisely isn't.
The Dodgers' new owners haven't yet proved to the club's fanbase that it's capable of doing the latter, and the fans now have to worry about the organization potentially cutting back on the spending in general.
It was expected that the Dodgers' gigantic new TV deal would allow them to pay for pretty much anything, but a wrench has been thrown in those plans. The New York Post reported in May that the Dodgers are being forced to rework the 25-year, $7 billion TV deal they agreed to with Time Warner Cable due to revenue-sharing issues.
The new deal could cost the Dodgers over $1 billion in revenue. The simple math says that they were going to get $280 million per year from their TV deal, but will probably only get maybe $240 million per year from it once everything is cleared up.
The lessened financial wiggle room may ultimately force the Dodgers to take the luxury tax into consideration and decide they're better off keeping their payrolls under $200 million. At the very least, the TV difficulties should put dreams of a $250 million payroll on hold.
The short version: On one side of last year's sale is a group of people who are not getting what they were hoping for, and on the other side is a guy who has every excuse to make funny faces and say, "Neener neener!"
Dodgers fans aren't about to start missing McCourt, but forgetting him is going to prove to be difficult until the new regime starts giving the fans some reasons to forget him. They'll do that when they show that allowing McCourt to get such a great deal in the sale was totally worth it.
The Dodgers have tried the spending trick, which, to be fair, has served to drum up interest. That's the narrative of the attendance, anyway, as the Dodgers are among the game's biggest attendance gainers this year, according to Baseball-Reference.com.
But there's a limit to how long fans will cheer a high payroll. They'll cheer for wins for much longer. Accumulating those is a the trick the Dodgers have to master now.
Until they do, well, there will be the specter of McCourt still looming over the Dodgers and going, "muahaha."
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