Judge approves Dodgers media rights sale

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WILMINGTON, DEL. (AP) - A judge said Thursday that he would overrule an objection by Fox Sports and approve a process for the Los Angeles Dodgers to sell the media rights to future games as part of the team’s plan to exit bankruptcy.

U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross said at the end of a two-day hearing that he would approve the Dodgers‘ plan to sell media rights to games starting in 2014, a key component of a settlement with Major League Baseball that also calls for Dodgers owner Frank McCourt to sell the team.

“I just think it’s in the debtors’ best interests,” said Gross, who told attorneys he would issue a formal written ruling in a few days.

Fox Sports attorney Greg Werkheiser asked Gross to stay his ruling for 14 days so Fox can file an appeal in U.S. District Court.

Gross did not immediately grant the request but noted that he always includes a “courtesy stay” in his rulings. He did not offer any other details.

Under the proposed sale process, the Dodgers would receive initial bids by Jan. 13 and complete the sale by April 30.

Fox Sports objected to the proposed sale, saying it would violate its rights under an existing contract with the Dodgers. That contract gives Fox certain protections, including an exclusive 45-day period starting in October 2012 to negotiate a contract extension with the Dodgers.

“While we are disappointed in the judge’s decision, we understand the court process and will appeal this decision to protect our contractual rights,” Fox said in a statement. “Those rights are material and valuable, and the current owner accepted them as binding when he purchased the team in 2004.”

The Dodgers want to move up the timetable for Fox’s exclusive negotiating period, saying a media rights sale now in conjunction with a sale of the team is the best way to maximize value for creditors and emerge from bankruptcy.

Gross appeared to agree with the Dodgers that Fox would maintain many of the same rights under the proposed sale process as it has under its existing contract, including the exclusive negotiating period.

“I am satisfied that the proposed modifications are nonmaterial, and that to me is the key,” the judge said.

The Dodgers contend that because of discussions with Fox during the bankruptcy, the 45-day negotiating period started Nov. 30, meaning Fox has less than six weeks to try to renegotiate its contract with the Dodgers.

Werkheiser asked Gross to halt the time clock on the negotiating period until he issues a formal ruling, but the judge was noncommittal.

Dodgers attorney Bruce Bennett also seemed disinclined to go along with the request.

“We’re talking about burning up a couple of days,” said Bennett, who told Gross he would talk to Fox attorneys and let the judge know by Friday whether the two sides can agree on how much time is left for the negotiations.

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