Fox Sports sued the Dodgers on Tuesday, trying to halt the proposed television rights sale that Frank McCourt says is his key to emerging from bankruptcy as the team owner.
McCourt’s strategy now faces at least two significant obstacles -- from Fox, which claims the Dodgers have breached their current cable contract, and from Major League Baseball, which has vowed not to approve any television deal that would leave McCourt in control of the Dodgers.
Baseball also has asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to order the sale of the Dodgers. On Tuesday, the Dodgers asked that the hearing on that issue be delayed from Oct. 12 until at least Dec. 11, which would leave the team’s ownership situation uncertain during the height of free agency.
Also, the Major League Baseball Players Assn. sent a memo to Dodgers players Tuesday, saying that all current and former players have been paid during the bankruptcy case and that the union would monitor the team’s winter spending.
“The Dodgers should be able to operate normally during the off-season,” wrote Michael Weiner, the union’s executive director.
“We cannot say for sure, of course, how they will operate in the upcoming free-agent market and salary arbitration season, but we will be watching the overall situation very carefully.”
The Fox suit, filed in Bankruptcy Court, asks the judge to reject any proposed sale of the Dodgers’ television rights that does not abide by the terms of the current contract.
Under that deal, Fox retains exclusive negotiating rights through November 2012 as well as the right to match any other offer. The auction process proposed by McCourt and his advisers would not preserve those rights.
The suit also seeks unspecified damages, claiming that the Dodgers already have violated the current Fox contract in part by sharing confidential broadcast rights information -- “even after direct and explicit warnings,” the suit alleges.
Dodgers spokeswoman Lyndsey Estin said in a statement that the team has “fully complied” with the terms of the current contract and awaits court approval for a television rights sale that would “enable the Dodgers to emerge from bankruptcy on a solid financial footing.”
The Dodgers’ filing earlier Tuesday called the MLB motion for a sale of the team a “heavy-handed response” to their effort to sell the team’s television rights.
In their filing, the Dodgers cited at least 20 areas in which they believe extensive discovery is warranted. If those discovery requests are granted, the hearing on whether to sell the team could be delayed well beyond the Dec. 11 date that the Dodgers’ attorneys say is the earliest such a hearing should be set.
The discovery requests essentially seek to explore whether Commissioner Bud Selig has treated the Dodgers in good faith and he can back up his allegations of mismanagement.
“The commissioner asserts that ‘Major League Baseball believes a sale of the Dodgers is necessary,’ ” the Dodgers’ filing read. The Dodgers “are entitled ... to probe whether this view is genuine or merely a pretext ... particularly in view of the paramount policy of the bankruptcy laws of the United States to promote reorganizations and prevent liquidations.”
The filing takes issue with the MLB claim that McCourt has used the Dodgers to advance his personal interests. It cites the success of center fielder Matt Kemp and pitcher Clayton Kershaw to rebut the alleged failure of McCourt to operate the team in “the best interests of the Dodgers and Major League Baseball.”
“The Dodgers are guaranteed to complete the current season with a winning record,” the filing read, “and its player development system appears to have generated the leading contenders for the National League most valuable player and Cy Young awards. It is, therefore, not self-evident that [the Dodgers are] acting in anything but in the best interests of the Dodgers or of baseball more generally.”