McCourt hits back at Selig
Would you buy the Dodgers from Frank McCourt if you had to hand him one-third of your revenue every year?
McCourt threw that brushback pitch at Major League Baseball on Tuesday, the day after Commissioner Bud Selig vetoed the television contract that would have provided the Dodgers’ owner with a financial lifeline.
McCourt’s vow to retain Dodger Stadium and related assets even if he loses the team caught the attention of at least one prospective buyer. Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA champion Dallas Mavericks, said the Dodgers appeared to be “such a mess” financially.
“If the deal is right and they’re fixable, then, yeah, I’m very interested,” Cuban told TMZ. “Who knows what is included and what’s not?”
Robert Sacks, an attorney for McCourt, said the entities controlling the stadium, the parking lot and a huge chunk of the Dodgers’ ticket revenue were separated from the team itself -- in transactions that were approved by Major League Baseball.
If Selig were to strip McCourt of the Dodgers and order the team sold, Sacks said, the deal would not include those related entities.
That’s a position hotly disputed by the commissioner’s office.
“There is the possibility of some fairly acrimonious and extreme litigation going forward, which Frank is hopeful will not occur,” Sacks said. “If baseball were to act precipitously against Frank, which has been threatened, then there will be a showdown on that issue.”
The Dodgers had $286 million in revenue in 2009, according to the most recent data available in court documents. A new owner would owe McCourt about $21 million in annual land use payments and an undisclosed share of ticket revenue (valued at about $67 million in 2005), according to a person familiar with McCourt’s position who did not want to be identified publicly.
The person said a new owner would owe that ticket revenue even if he moved the team out of Dodger Stadium.
“Even if the Dodgers went to play in Pittsburgh,” the person said.
The commissioner’s office does not believe McCourt has the right to retain those assets, citing the owner’s signature on agreements consenting those related entities would be “subject to the terms and conditions of all Major League Baseball governing documents.”
If McCourt fails to meet the Dodgers’ June 30 payroll, an event that appears likely, Selig could seize the team and put it up for sale. Under the MLB constitution, the commissioner also would be authorized to “operate or dispose of the baseball park ... and any other property, contracts ... or other rights the Commissioner shall designate.”
Said MLB Executive Vice President Rob Manfred: “We are confident in our legal position that the multitude of legal assets created by Mr. McCourt that hold club assets are bound by the major league constitution.”
Cuban did not return an email message from The Times, but his comments Tuesday were not the first time he has expressed interest in buying the Dodgers. He has also pursued ownership of the Chicago Cubs and Texas Rangers.
The billionaire entrepreneur bought the Mavericks in 2000, in the midst of their 10th consecutive losing season. Since then, the Mavericks have not had a losing season.
Sacks said McCourt is evaluating his options after Selig’s rejection of the proposed television contract with Fox, including a lawsuit against the commissioner and a bankruptcy filing. But he added that McCourt would much prefer to settle the matter with Selig in person.
“Frank does not want to fight the commissioner in court,” Sacks said. “It is not in the best interest of anybody.”
The Dodgers’ ownership saga nonetheless appears headed that way after Monday’s events, in which Selig not only rejected the television contract but sent an 11-page explanatory letter that one person who read it called “devastating” in its indictment of McCourt’s handling of the Fox deal.
In April, McCourt pledged he would not use any upfront money from the Fox deal toward a divorce settlement or other personal uses. In a divorce settlement announced Friday -- one that became moot when Selig turned down the Fox deal --nearly half the $385 million in immediate payments would have gone not to the team but to what the commissioner called “the personal needs of Mr. McCourt.”
Sacks said McCourt made his April pledge when he had no divorce settlement, only to be told by the commissioner’s office that he had to reach a settlement with his ex-wife, Jamie. Sacks also said that McCourt is willing to sell a minority share in the Dodgers to pay back “every penny going out to Jamie.”
Such a sale would require the approval of Selig and also Jamie McCourt, unless Frank McCourt can establish he is the sole owner of the team.
The owners of the New York Mets, another franchise in substantial financial trouble, have reached agreement to sell a minority stake in their team. The commissioner’s office has urged McCourt to sell a minority share in the Dodgers for months, but a person familiar with Selig’s thinking said it now appears unlikely any such sale would be approved unless it included a path toward a McCourt exit.
“To my knowledge, he’s not prepared to give up control of the team,” Sacks said.
The now-invalid divorce settlement announced Friday also included a provision that would have prompted Fox to object even if Selig had approved the television contract.
The settlement included the possibility of a $100-million payout to Jamie McCourt, with the Dodgers’ equity stake in Prime Ticket serving as collateral for $45 million of that payout. Fox would not have allowed the Prime Ticket stake to be used for collateral, according to two people familiar with the negotiations who are not allowed to be publicly identified.
Sacks said Frank McCourt got “zero responses” from Selig to two letters and a phone call intended to explain the settlement agreement.
“He has basically been invisible. He has not responded to Frank,” Sacks said. “Baseball is acting based on misinformation. I don’t think the commissioner really has the information.”
Manfred said McCourt and his representatives have discussed the Fox deal in numerous meetings in the commissioner’s office over the last several months. Manfred said McCourt submitted written information about the divorce settlement, which was considered before Selig on Monday announced his rejection of the Fox deal.
“It is really outrageous that an outside lawyer who does not know Commissioner Selig and does not know how this office operates would make the assertion the commissioner does not understand this transaction,” Manfred said.
“Commissioner Selig has forgotten more about television transactions than Mr. Sacks will ever know.”