Dodgers land deal for McCourt includes NFL stadium rights, management fees, money room like Scrooge McDuck’s

The Los Angeles Times has acquired documents providing more details on last year’s $2 billion sale of the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium, after a judge ruled that the Dodgers’ new owners couldn’t keep them secret. And while the specifics are a bit convoluted, the upshot is: Baseball has been very, very good to Frank McCourt, who could end up with three billion dollars on the sale of the bankrupt franchise that he raided in order to line his pockets.

The short version: McCourt got $2.15 billion in cash for the Dodgers, Dodger Stadium, and half-ownership of the stadium parking lots. The new owners, Guggenheim Baseball Management, it now turns out, also were required to “invest as much as $650 million in a real estate development fund run by McCourt,” and to pay him an annual management fee of $5.5 million. As for McCourt’s remaining 50% share of the lots, McCourt is getting at least $7 million a year in rent from the Dodgers, plus has an option to sell back the lots to the Guggenheim for $150 million — or to buy the Dodgers’ share himself to build a non-baseball stadium. And since the NFL has been sniffing around the Dodger Stadium parking lots for a possible stadium, that clause might well come into play.

All this is interesting enough in terms of what happens to the Dodger Stadium property, but mostly because it’s an indication that Guggenheim’s purchase price for the Dodgers is even more insane than it appeared at the time. (“Our goal was to put together a proposal that got a yes,” Guggenheim partner Todd Boehly told the Times yesterday, which roughly translates as “We had to have the team, and money was no object.”) And also an indication that though Dodger Stadium is often referred to as “privately built,” the publicly gifted land that Walter O’Malley picked out from a helicopter ended up being worth quite a bit, indeed.

 

First look at redone Dodger Stadium shows Smith’s handiwork

The Los Angeles Dodgers home opener is today, which means the first opportunity for fans to check out the $100 million in renovations to Dodger Stadium that were done in the offseason. If you don’t have tickets, you can see a video here (though most of it consists of players batting in the new underground batting cage or team officials talking in front of a terrifyingly large bobblehead) or, perhaps more usefully, check out the graphics of the changes put together by the Los Angeles Times.

The Times graphics reveal a renovation that’s right in line with Dodgers renovation director Janet Marie Smith’s previous work at Fenway Park: Do everything possible to make the best use of space behind the scenes, while preserving the historic look and feel of the stadium overall. Fans like wider concourses and drink rails to watch the game without spilling their beers? Eliminate the back row of seats on each level, and make room for those. They want bigger, more hi-def scoreboards? Replace the current ones with new ones the same size and hexagonal shape as existed in the original stadium design in 1962, but with modern resolution. (As a side note, I also like how the Times graphics make clear that because it’s built into the side of a ravine, Dodger Stadium’s main entrances are actually level with the top deck of seating — something I never quite got until I visited the place myself.)

It all looks nice so far, and an example of how teams can get more use out of their current ballparks for a relatively low price. The Chicago Cubs should be listening, though given all the talk lately about them wanting to install a 6,000-square-foot video board at Wrigley Field, it sounds like they haven’t gotten the “unobtrusive” memo.

Forbes: MLB franchise values soar 23%, thanks to TV riches

The Forbes baseball team value estimates are out, and they’re a doozy:

The average baseball team is now worth $744 million, 23% more than a year ago and the largest increase since we began tracking MLB finances in 1998. During the 2012 season, revenue (net of stadium debt service) rose 7%, to an average of $227 million per team. Operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) per team fell 9%, to $13.1 million, mainly due to higher player costs and stadium expenses.

Yeah, you read that right: Baseball teams are less profitable, but worth more. How’s that work? Forbes doesn’t exactly explain, but does note that both TV rights fees and revenue for MLB Advanced Media (baseball’s online arm) have been soaring, so presumably prospective team buyers are expecting that those revenue streams will keep growing in coming years, enough to outpace increased payroll costs. Though the way things are going there, player costs might just eat up any new revenues faster than owners are anticipating.

More likely is that last year’s sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers for $2 billion and the San Diego Padres for $800 million forced Forbes to recalibrate its entire scale upwards. Which is fine enough — new data points should be incorporated into the calculation — but it still doesn’t exactly explain why team values are soaring this much when profits are essentially flat.

The one thing that the Forbes numbers make even more clear is that TV and internet broadcast money is king right now: MLB is starting to become more like football, where a larger share of money is generated by people watching at home, rather than the more stadium-revenues-based model it’s traditionally been. How this will affect the business of the sport is complicated: Does it dilute the advantage of teams like the Yankees because everyone now has TV riches at their disposal, or give them more of an advantage because they can expect their cable contracts to outpace their competitors by an even greater margin? Does a team like the Oakland A’s (third to last in team value, but 5th in the league in profits at an estimated $27.5 million) or the Tampa Bay Rays (dead last in value, 19th in profits at $10 million) reconsider its stadium plans if access to eyeballs outweighs ability to put fannies in the seats? If nothing else, one thing should be clear: No teams are moving to San Antonio or Las Vegas anytime soon.

NFL, Dodgers have “had talks” about football stadium at Chavez Ravine

Stop the presses!

Dan Kaplan of Sports Business Daily reported Monday that the [NFL] has had direct talks with [Los Angeles] Dodgers owner Guggenheim Partners about the possibility of a football stadium at Chavez Ravine, a concept that has been floated since the mid-1990s, when Peter O’Malley pushed to bring the NFL there.

All that remains to be done, writes the L.A. Times’ Sam Farmer: figure out a way to get ex-Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, who is 50% owner of the Dodger Stadium parking lots, to go along with a new stadium deal; start a new round of environmental impact statements; figure out whether the Dodgers would stay put or move to a new stadium on the proposed downtown site near the convention center; and wait to find out who AEG, which has proposed the downtown stadium, is ever being sold. And something else that Farmer doesn’t mention, let’s see … oh right, who on earth is going to pay for this dang thing.

All items to keep in mind before the next article alleging that other NFL teams are set to move to L.A. if they can’t extract new stadiums from their current home towns. Crap, too late.

 

Dodger Stadium upgrades almost ready, but how long will they last?

The Los Angeles Dodgers held a press conference yesterday to go over this winter’s $100 million in Janet Marie Smith-led renovations to Dodger Stadium, which amount to: new hi-def scoreboards, ripping out the back rows of each section to add wheelchair seating and make for wider concourses, renovated restrooms, a new sound system, a bit more foul territory, and walkways over the bullpens. So, exactly the kind of low-profile but worthwhile enhancements you’d expect from Smith, who previously oversaw the renovation of Fenway Park.

The Los Angeles Times’ Bill Shaikin, though, can’t help noticing that unlike with Fenway, the Dodgers’ new owners are decidedly not saying that this means they’ll stay put at Dodger Stadium for the long run. Dodgers president Stan Kasten said yesterday: “Right now, we are here. I don’t know if that’s for 10 years, 50 years or 100 years.” To which Smith added: “This assignment is very different. … Whether the Dodgers are here for five years or 50 years does not affect the assignment they have given to me. The commitment to longevity is not a criterion of this investment.”

That doesn’t mean that the Dodgers are about to move, either — it’ll almost certainly take several years for increased revenues from the stadium improvements to pay back that $100 million cost, so they wouldn’t be doing this if they weren’t prepared to stay put for at least the medium-term. But it’d take several years to get a new stadium approved and built anyway, and with rumors still rampant about what else might happen at the Chavez Ravine site, you can understand why they’d want to keep their options open, just in case.

NFL zeroing in on Dodger Stadium site?

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any screwier in the NFL-to-Los Angeles rumor wars, CBS Sports’ Jason La Canfora reports that owners at the league meetings don’t like either of the two proposed sites, and would rather see a stadium at Chavez Ravine:

Several league sources expressed doubt that the would-be buyers of AEG — the entertainment giant is for sale and could fetch upwards of $10 billion — would be willing to pour massive amounts of money into the downtown project, as the current deal for prospective funding required AEG to do. A change of ownership at AEG could also lead to a more viable agreement at that site, some inside the effort to build in Los Angeles suggested, though there remain significant issues regarding parking and infrastructure in this area.

Areas around Dodger Stadium, where parking and space is abundant, are highly desirable to the league, sources said, and discussions in that regard are ongoing. This site has not received the national attention of others, but is very logical, particularly if the Dodgers were to move downtown. I asked commissioner Roger Goodell about the area around Dodger Stadium during his post-meeting press conference, and he called it “a terrific site” and seemed enthused about the possibility. One highly-connected source maintained that Dodger Stadium has been and still is “the preferred choice” of all the current options.

That’s pretty thin sourcing to base a story on, but it’s an indication of some interest, anyway. Recall that there were rumors a little over a year ago about the Dodgers moving to AEG’s downtown L.A. site and the NFL building atop Dodger Stadium; that never went anywhere, and now that the Dodgers are pursuing imminent renovation plans, isn’t all that likely to soon. Building an NFL stadium in the Chavez Ravine parking lot, though, could work — though you’d still be stuck with the same problem of who would pay for it. Things were so much easier in the days when building a stadium was as easy as hopping in a helicopter, pointing at some land, and saying, “Give me that.”

Dodgers hire Janet Marie Smith, announce imminent renovation plans

Move over, Wrigley Field, there’s a new stadium renovation plan in town: The Los Angeles Dodgers‘ new ownership group took a major leap forward yesterday on talks about renovating Dodger Stadium by hiring Janet Marie Smith, the woman who oversaw the design of Camden Yards and the renovation of Fenway Park, among other things, to do an overhaul of the 50-year-old stadium.

“Dodger Stadium is a treasured piece of the Los Angeles community and a special place where I watched more than a dozen games per season when I lived in L.A. during the early 1980s,” said Smith in a press release. “It’s important to all of us that we restore and enhance the park in a way that honors its heritage and highlights its distinctive appeals, while still capturing what fans want and franchises need in a modern venue.”

From the sound of things, Smith will be overseeing a similar “phased construction” type deal as Fenway Park underwent over several offseasons. Reports the L.A. Times:

“We’re on an aggressive timeline,” [Dodgers president Stan] Kasten said. “We would like to do as much as we can by Opening Day next year. I suspect what we’ll have in place is going to be more than a one-year program. It’s going to take several years, probably, to do all the things we want. But our goal certainly is to do a lot of this by next year.” …

Kasten said Smith liked the “retro, ’50s feel” of Dodger Stadium and changes would be incorporated into its current design, much as was accomplished at Fenway.

“If you really look at it with a microscope, [Fenway is] very different than it was 10 years ago, but you don’t notice it,” Kasten said. “It feels the same. I think that’s a good goal.”

No pricetag yet for the renovations, but presumably the Dodgers owners will be footing the bill. It’s always possible that they’ll try to apply for federal historic preservation tax credits as the Red Sox did for Fenway; it’s weird to think of Dodger Stadium as “historic” since it was opened the same year Ringo Starr joined the Beatles, but then, Ringo is pretty historic these days, too.

New Dodger owners: What are their plans for Dodger Stadium?

First off, let’s set the headlines straight: Magic Johnson is not buying the Los Angeles Dodgers. Rather, a group of businessmen, including investment services firm Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter, longtime baseball exec Stan Kasten, and, yes, Johnson, have agreed to plunk down $2 billion to buy the Dodgers and Dodger Stadium out of current owner Frank McCourt’s bankruptcy proceedings.

Aside from the issue of why the Dodgers are suddenly worth $2 billion — something that Forbes magazine, which had the franchise valued at $1.4 billion, neatly avoided discussing, though it did give some clues in its recent article on soaring TV rights fees (hint: sports are the one remaining thing people will pay to watch live) — the immediate question here is what this will mean for Dodger Stadium, which has been the subject of various renovation and replacement rumors over the past few years. McCourt will still own much of the surrounding parking lots, which would seem to rule out the kind of major area redevelopment that he’d talked about a while back. Likewise, the notion of building a new baseball stadium downtown and putting a football stadium at Chavez Ravine probably won’t be happening given that AEG isn’t involved in the purchase (not that AEG’s football plans are exactly going anywhere at the moment, anyway).

That leaves … Orel Hershiser’s drawings? We’ll probably hear more from the Guggenheim group eventually, but you have to figure their first priority is rebuilding the team on the field and fan support, both of which were left in a shambles by the McCourt years. The fate of baseball’s third-oldest surviving stadium will have to wait a bit.

Dodgers slash ticket prices to make fans stop hating Dodgers

The Los Angeles Dodgers are responding to their dismal attendance last year (dismal by Dodgers standards, anyway — for more other teams their numbers would look pretty good) by slashing ticket prices, with some field-level seats near the foul poles dropping from $40 apiece to $16.

It just goes to show you that if your team is bad enough, and everyone hates your owner enough, fans will stop showing up and force the ticket market to respond. The problem for the Dodgers being that, since the team still sucks and Frank McCourt does too, some fans still may not be willing to show up at any price.

At least no one’s blaming Dodger Stadium yet, though that’s probably only a matter of time, especially if the AEG downtown baseball stadium rumors rear their ugly head again.

MLB mulling Dodgers downtown move?

Rumors of a combined Dodgers-NFL stadium deal in Los Angeles is back in the mill again, this time courtesy of Sports By Brooks:

In the past 48 hours multiple sources have confirmed to me that MLB has reached out to AEG to inquire about the possibility of the company assisting the league – and the next permanent owner of the team – in building a downtown ballpark for the Dodgers.

AEG already owns the Staples Center in downtown L.A. and has proposed a plan to the city of Los Angeles to build an NFL stadium in the same area – along with the renovation of a wing of the city’s dilapidated convention center.

A downtown Los Angeles stadium for the Dodgers would theoretically satisfy MLB’s desire to completely extract McCourt from any financial interest in the franchise while also boosting the financial fortunes of AEG’s L.A. Live development.

Note that unlike the last time something like this was rumored, it was as a land swap, with AEG building on the current Dodger Stadium site with its plentiful parking, and the Dodgers going downtown. This time, it sounds as if the idea is to put both baseball and football downtown, though lord knows where you’d fit them both, while leaving Dodgers (and Dodger Stadium) owner Frank McCourt entirely out in the cold.

Both MLB and AEG have issued denials, but you’d expect them to, whether there’s any truth to this or not. More to the point, as MSNBC’s Craig Calcaterra writes, is that the latest rumor doesn’t make a damn bit of sense:

I know about the football stadium thing people have talked about for downtown, but set your McCourt hate aside for a minute and ask yourself, what possible support could there be for a downtown stadium project for the Dodgers? And don’t tell me that it’s all AEG money, because no stadium project — not even the vaunted AT&T Park — is 100% privately financed. There would be tax abatements lobbied for and obtained. There would be infrastructure improvements required. Millions of public dollars would be spent on any stadium project, no matter what the press releases say about it being privately financed.

There is a gleaming, wonderful baseball stadium in Chavez Ravine that no one could sanely claim requires replacement for any reason other that the McCourt mess and the unsavory possibility of him being the landlord for any new Dodgers owner. But the McCourt mess is neither the fault nor the responsibility of the people of Los Angeles. It is the fault and responsibility of Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, who let this irresponsible jackass into the club.

If, in an effort to solve this problem, they push for the abandonment of Dodger Stadium and the construction of a new ballpark, it will be perhaps the most craven, cynical and shameless undertaking attempted since Selig took over. Sure, we can all identify a way in which Dodger Stadium is not ideal — traffic; location — but no sane person would have ever suggested its replacement absent Major League Baseball’s Frank McCourt problem. As such, this kind of proposal is the equivalent of burning down the village in order to save it.

Calcaterra allows that it could be a bluff to scare McCourt into accepting a deal to relinquish the Dodgers, but notes that “a bluff is only as good as the target‚Äôs belief that the bluffer is willing to go through with it,” making this one not so useful. Not that that’s stopped Selig before.