The demons of the old and troubled ownership were hanging over Dodger Stadium, until Magic Johnson had heard one too many questions about Frank McCourt.
To Johnson, the exorcism was complete, and he all but shouted it from the microphone in center field.
“Frank is not here,” Johnson said. “He is not part of the Dodgers any more. We should be clapping for that.”
Johnson and his partners in the Dodgers’ new ownership group held their first news conference Wednesday, from which only one bit of news emerged: The Dodgers are lowering the price of parking from $15 to $10, effective immediately.
It remains unclear how much of that money, if any, could end up with McCourt. The new owners said they would not share parking revenue with him but declined to say whether McCourt’s half-ownership of the Dodger Stadium parking lots would entitle him to a share of the team’s annual lease payment for use of the lots.
Johnson announced the reduction in the Dodger Stadium parking price, a fan-friendly counter to Arte Moreno, whose first move upon buying the Angels nine years ago was to lower the price of beer.
The Angels raised their parking fee from $8 to $10 last year. McCourt raised the Dodgers’ parking fee from $10 to $15 five years ago.
McCourt retains half-ownership of property around the stadium that includes the parking lots, and the new management team has declined to detail the structure of that deal.
Stan Kasten, the new Dodgers president, called the decision to reverse McCourt’s price hike “an organic, obvious, good, positive, strong message on our first day.”
The rest of the day was light on specifics and heavy on celebration, with promises of championship baseball. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa led a parade of speakers.
“I have just one piece of advice,” Villaraigosa said to Johnson. “Win. A lot.”
Larry King, the former talk-show host, commandeered a microphone to ask Kasten whether the Dodgers might try to trade for, say, New York Mets third baseman David Wright.
Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, artfully dodged the question by saying the Dodgers would invest in scouting and the minor leagues but also would pursue high-priced free agents.
Kasten said Dodger Stadium “needs TLC” and would be upgraded “into the 21st century.” He also announced that fans would have increased access to batting practice and player autographs. Fans, he said, would occasionally find a uniformed player greeting them as they entered.
There are no plans to abandon Dodger Stadium or to sell naming rights to the stadium, Kasten said, though he declined to guarantee that neither would happen.
Johnson said the purchase price for the Dodgers — $2.15 billion, a record for a sports franchise — would not prevent the new owners from spending on players, or on stadium renovations. Indeed, the new owners already have earmarked some $300 million to improve Dodger Stadium.
“We’re not here to gouge the fans just because we paid a nice price for this franchise,” he said.
The new owners invited Peter O’Malley to the news conference, seating him front and center. O’Malley’s family owned the Dodgers for 47 years before selling to News Corp. in 1998.
The Dodgers won six World Series championships under the O’Malley family, whose ownership generally was considered beloved and dignified. The Dodgers won no championships under either News Corp. or McCourt.
“We don’t have to reinvent the wheel,” Johnson said, nodding to O’Malley. “We just have to go back to where you had it before.”
O’Malley, who tried unsuccessfully to buy back the Dodgers, now is trying to purchase the rival San Diego Padres.
While fans embraced the O’Malley ownership, they voted with their feet last year in turning against the McCourt ownership. The Dodgers played to a half-empty stadium as McCourt took the team into bankruptcy, and the new owners bristled at questions about his remaining stake in the Dodger Stadium property.
Mark Walter, the new chairman and controlling owner, confirmed that McCourt would share in the profits from any development of the parking lots. Walter said there were no current plans for development. Kasten confirmed that no development could occur unless the new owners agreed.
Walter said he was “a little surprised” by questions about McCourt, and Johnson said the new owners did what they needed to do to induce McCourt to select them as the winning bidders.
“If he is part of the future development, so what?” Johnson said.
However, the new owners have declined to explain how revenues will be split in the joint venture that now owns the parking lots. McCourt has a 50% stake in the joint venture, as does an affiliated entity of the new owners.
Under McCourt, the Dodgers leased the parking lots for $14 million a year. Dodgers attorney Bruce Bennett told the U.S. Bankruptcy Court last month that the lease would be extended from 25 years to 99 years as part of the sale agreement.
The new owners will collect the $10 parking fee — and all of team revenue — but they have declined to say whether the Dodgers’ annual rental fee would remain at $14 million and what percentage of that fee might end up in McCourt’s pocket.
“He gets some percentage of the profits from the joint venture,” Walter said.
Kasten will run the Dodgers on a day-to-day basis. Walter is the chief executive of Chicago-based Guggenheim Financial; he will work and live there.
“I do plan to get a residence here,” Walter said.
He paused, with a twinkle in his eye and a nod to the legacy of the former ownership and its collection of properties, including side-by-side estates in Holmby Hills and Malibu.
“Just one residence,” Walter said.