Dodgers headed to bankruptcy court auction

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NEW YORK (AP) - Maybe a “For Sale” sign should be erected outside Dodger Stadium.

Team, ballpark, land and television rights available. Price: $1 billion and up.

The process of finding a new owner for the Los Angeles Dodgers began early Wednesday when current boss Frank McCourt and Major League Baseball released a joint statement saying they had agreed to a court-supervised sale of the once-glamorous and now bankrupt franchise.

In the long-term, the deal will allow the Dodgers to move ahead and try to get back to baseball’s elite. But the club’s fans may well have to endure another season adrift as the sale works itself out.

While the sides hope for a quick deal, giving McCourt the money to pay his divorce settlement by April, MLB sales sometimes drag on for six months to 1 1/2 years. Once bidders are identified, the court is likely to conduct an auction.

“Baseball can choose to have their approval process move like molasses in winter or like Castor oil through a baby,” said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp, a Chicago-based consulting firm.

The price likely will break the record for a baseball franchise, topping the $845 million paid by the Ricketts family for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.

Investors will be solicited by the Blackstone Group, McCourt’s investment banker. Dallas Mavericks co-owner Mark Cuban and Pittsburgh Penguins co-owner Ron Burkle, who lives in California, have been mentioned as possibilities. Asian investors have made inquiries.

Former owner Peter O'Malley also told the Los Angeles Times he’ll work on forming an ownership group. “I want to reconnect the team and the community,” O'Malley said.

Former agent Dennis Gilbert, a friend of Chicago White Sox chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, hopes to put together a group. Former Dodgers Steve Garvey and Orel Hershiser have said they might be interested, as has former general manager Fred Claire.

Claire is aligned with former Oakland Athletics President Andy Dolich and former Dodgers batboy Ben Hwang, who brought in the financial backers. Claire, the Dodgers‘ GM from 1987-98, assumes the price will be $800 million to $1 billion and up.

“I’ve been working on this venture since early July,” Claire said. “My motivation is to see the Dodgers be what they need to be in the community.”

Given the future broadcasting rights at stake and their ownership of regional sports networks in southern California, News Corp. and Time Warner Inc. have been considered possible bidders, as could The Walt Disney Co. But News Corp. is out, an executive said.

“Contrary to questions I got today, we’re not buying the Dodgers,” News Corp. chief operating officer Chase Carey told analysts on a conference call Wednesday. “Sports rights are probably becoming more complicated. I think it’s just a reality of the marketplace. … Outside Southern California, we’ve got pretty long-term agreements in place. I feel we’ll be able to navigate Southern California reasonably well.”

Real estate companies may join in, given the land the Dodgers own in Chavez Ravine that potentially could be developed. Massive amounts of bank financing will have to be arranged.

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