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Frank Has Bud Right Where He Wants Him

Selig won't answer in public, but this is what he has told baseball officials: If the McCourts had not spent all that money on themselves, the Dodgers would have been just fine.

Bill Shaikin continues his fine reporting on the ownership story with his latest column about the perceived differences in how Bud Selig is treating the financial problems that two of his big market teams are having.  

Now, no one is talking on the record but in the last few months it appears that Frank McCourt has been denied at least twice in possible financial deals to had some cash to the Dodger coffers.  No one is reporting that the Ddogers are having current issues to meet payroll or other obligations but it certainly seems likely that there are some issues, probably with debt payments that making things tight in Dodger Town.

At the same time, a financial crisis, that while not of their making, the story certainly seems to indicate that the Wilpons may have not taken all precautions they should have, the Mets are in very serious financial trouble.  Unlike the Dodgers, the Mets are reported to be seeking out investors and has by some reports, borrowed $25M from the Commissioner's fund to meet current obligations.

Let's step back for a moment and take a quick look at the McCourt ownership period, in 2004, he purchased the Dodgers, Dodger Stadium, and the training facilities in Vero Beach and Dominican Republic for $430M.  From a tangible asset view, he has added new seating areas and new seats in Dodger Stadium, some upgrades on the Field level, though he has continued to delay improvements on other levels (in particular the Reserved where he does have room to do so.)  The Dodgers moved their spring training facility to Arizona and despite the nostalgia of Vero Beach, by almost any measure, that has been a big success.  He has the same basic media package he has had since he bought the team. 

Forbes publishes valuations of professional sports teams every year, and while there is dispute about their methods, last year, they valued the team at $727M.  And in recent articles they have speculated on the team being put up for sale, the $1B figure has been tossed around.  Though, I question the reality of Dodger TV network, certainly, with the probability of 150 games being available for sale in two years, makes them a valuable commodity in the media world so that is an asset with high value.

Of course, valuation is not just the value of every physical item in the store, there are non-tangible assets, primarily known as brand or goodwill.  Also, Forbes add Market, which I am guessing takes into account the large metropolitan area that the Dodgers have sat in for over 50 years plus the demonstrated loyalty those fans have showed by coming out year after year to the Stadium.  Even with the Yankee's success, probably the Dodgers have the most consistent fan base in terms of buying tickets in baseball.

Anyway, back to the focus of this post.

Until October 2009, nary a peep of dissatisfaction was heard from Bud Selig about the McCourts, as far as I could tell, all was fine with the Dodgers relationship with MLB.  Soon after the McCourts separated, Jamie McCourt filed some papers with the Court, including a declaration that detailed her demands for contiuing spousal support while the dissolution proceedings took their course.  Of all the details to emerge from their litigation, in my opinion, this first one was the most damaging because it exposed the details of the lifestyle the McCourts (or at least Jamie) had grown accustomed to since moving to Los Angeles.

And really since then, it has all been downhill, the McCourts have never been popular figures (especially by the writers of the LA Times) and certainly while some jabs were more in great fun (and perhaps boredom with the ineptitude of the 2010 Dodgers), the employment of the psychic, the number of homes purchased, the amount of debt incurred all became too familar storylines in the last 18 months or so.

But, from where I sit, it has been hard to figure out how that as affected the product on the field, this off-season, they did not go after Cliff Lee, Jayson Werth or Carl Crawford but the Yankees ended up with no Lee under their Christmas tree and the Angels ended up with no Crawford but instead Vernon Wells.  The Dodgers entered spring training with a solid rotation for the first time in several years.

And even if the McCourts' usage of club revenues was in poor taste and practice, I am not sure how the commissioner can determine that is any different than what other clubs choose to do with their revenues.  

By apparently raising a flag of good taste, in his view, of how the McCourts spent their money, and using that as his criteria to act differently with the McCourts than the Wilpons, he may have the shield of the Commissioners' office to protect him now, but will Frank McCourt ultimately decide to do something that I can't recall any owner doing since Al Davis, and sue the league.

Now, perhaps McCourt is barred to do something like that based on his franchise agreement but we all know that McCourt is not scared of litigation.

And if he is able to settle his divorce with Jamie and gets that approved with the Court, and he still owns the team, I would think MLB would be in a very precarious position to deny him much without risk of a lawsuit that could expose every owner to open their books and show exactly where each dollar goes.

MLB is probably hoping that Frank and Jamie won't settle, the team will have to be put up for sale in order to distribute the community property and that Frank will leave the Fraternal Order of Water Buffalo otherwise known as MLB owners.

If something else happens, look out.  Lord Voldemort may have ultimately lost to Harry Potter but it took 8 movies and a lot of overacting to do so.

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