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.

Went to a Dodger game, and a nap broke out

Bill Plaschke of the Los Angeles Times has a first-person report on buying Dodgers tickets for $2.55 each and going to a half-empty game at Dodger Stadium, which gets you scenes like this:

There were no lines to enter the parking lot, no lines to enter the stadium, and nobody clogging the concourses as we walked to our seats just in time to watch the first of many lousy pitches from Chad Billingsley.

Actually, I don’t think those were our seats. Because our section was virtually empty, we could pick any seat we wanted, so we pulled into a middle row and spread out like three people sitting in an empty theater before a bad movie.

We put our feet up on the seat in front of us. We spread our arms across the seats between us. There were no heads to block our view. There was little sound to distract our attention. Down below, the Dodgers and Reds battled each other as if they were Little Leaguers playing for a handful of parents.

It was actually pretty cool. Life in Frank McCourt’s Ghost Town is eerie, but it has its advantages.

Plaschke’s column is mostly a good reminder that official sales figures don’t reflect either actual attendance or actual ticket prices, especially in the age of StubHub. I know I went to a New York Red Bulls game a few weeks back, and sat in what were technically $20 seats, but paid only $5 apiece through a discount program the team runs for my son’s AYSO soccer league; and while press reports had it a virtual sellout of the 20,000 seat stadium, there’s no way more than 5,000 people were there. (Not that this made it any easier to get in and out of the parking lot.)

We are badly in need of legit attendance figures, especially when cities are basing subsidies on the amount of foot traffic a team is expected to generate — but unless the sports leagues see that as in their best interests, or we get an iPhone app that estimates attendance and lets us crowd-source this, don’t hold your breath.

McCourt sale to spur Dodger Stadium demolition, NFL land flip-flop?

This is so far into rumor-land that I don’t even know what to do with it, but here it is, courtesy of Yahoo! NFL writer Jason Cole:

Out of all the places in L.A. available to build an NFL-quality stadium (the Los Angeles Coliseum site is out of the running with USC in charge of it), the Dodger Stadium site in Chavez Ravine is the one most coveted by the NFL. That’s not new information, but the critical obstacle the past eight years has been [Dodgers owner Frank] McCourt, who the NFL has been leery of working with for the financial reasons Major League Baseball is now addressing…

There are some who see even bigger ideas with the Dodgers potentially in play. The idea of moving the team from Chavez Ravine to the downtown site where Anschutz Entertainment Group president Tim Leiweke has been proposing a football stadium has been met with some interest among people inside baseball and the L.A. sports scene…

If someone with extremely deep pockets (such as Anschutz) could buy the Dodgers, build a football stadium next to Dodger Stadium and then buy a football team, the marketing possibilities could be endless. … Or, there’s this idea: Anschutz, who NFL people think just wants another professional team to help build the traffic and convention business downtown, could buy the Dodgers and basically flip the stadiums. He could use the convention center space for a state-of-the-art baseball stadium, tear down Dodger Stadium and build a football paradise in Chavez Ravine. Of course, the cost would be problematic, but the idea for someone like Anschutz isn’t farfetched because it would build the value of the downtown area.

That’s all a heck of a lot of hand-waving speculation, and Cole provides exactly bupkis in terms of numbers making the case that this would cost out. (Or quotes from any named sources, for that matter.) Still, McCourt has explored the idea of an NFL stadium at Chavez Ravine in the past, so it’s not entirely crazy. Unless you consider anything to do with McCourt as inherently crazy, which probably isn’t a bad assumption.

Could Dodgers mess derail A’s move even more than it’s already derailed?

I haven’t chimed in here yet on MLB commissioner Bud Selig’s takeover of the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ finances — you can see a brief writeup I did for Baseball Prospectus here and more discussion during my chat here — because it didn’t seem to affect any stadium issues. But that could be changing, as the fine folks at note:

The McCourt-Dodgers meltdown could have an unusual and for-now unmeasurable impact on the A’s depending on one decision: Who will be brought in to oversee the team now that MLB has seized it? According to ESPNLA’s Tony Jackson, the shortlist has three candidates:

* Stan Kasten, former Nats president

* John McHale, Jr., executive VP within MLB

* Corey Busch, frequent MLB committee member and former team exec

Yes, that’s the same Corey Busch who’s on the A’s stadium panel with Irwin Raij and Bob Starkey.

If it’s Busch, you can forget about him spending much time finalizing that never-finalized A’s relocation report he’s supposed to be working on. Unless, of course, the study is actually done, and it’s just waiting on A’s owner Lew Wolff and San Francisco Giants owner Bill Neukom to come to an agreement on how much the A’s would pay the Giants for territorial rights to San Jose. Something that’s not likely to happen without the involvement of Selig, who’s now going to be busy fighting with Dodgers owner Frank McCourt over the future of that team.

Add in that Wolff (as well as Milwaukee Brewers owner Mark Attanasio) has been rumored as a possible buyer of the Dodgers (Wolff swears he’s not interested), and it’s a fair bet that nothing is going to be moving on the A’s situation until the Dodgers mess is untangled. Which, if McCourt files a lawsuit as expected, could take years. Good thing attendance in Oakland is up.

McCourt: The NFL so totally wants me to build a football stadium

Give Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt (no, not that one) credit, he knows how to make headlines. When he’s not talking about the bitter divorce trial he’s engaged in, he’s … okay, this actually came up during his divorce trial anyway:

Court filings in the divorce case revealed that McCourt also remains active in planning for an NFL stadium in the Dodger Stadium parking lot.

“There’s no question L.A. should have an NFL franchise,” he said. “It’s probably the worst-kept secret in Los Angeles that the NFL would love to be at Chavez Ravine. Other than that, I can’t comment right now.”

Yeah, that’ll distract the press from your marital problems in a hurry. There doesn’t seem to be any actual evidence that the NFL is working on a Chavez Ravine stadium other than McCourt’s oblique hint, but that still has the NFL rumor mill a-flutter that the NFL is turning its back on Ed Roski’s City of Industry stadium that’s supposed to bring in two teams and somehow pay for itself and instead is looking to L.A. proper. Because this is totally different from the last time McCourt tried to woo the NFL to his land and got nowhere. Totally.