Earvin Johnson works “Magic” at Chavez Ravine

Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

By Dan Groob, TiqIQ

Wherever Earvin Johnson decides to show up, the impact is felt immediately. Now, after resurrecting the Lakers, growing his business into a $700 million dollar conglomerate, and revitalizing a handful of inner city communities, Johnson is bringing his "magic" to Chavez Ravine.

For nearly every season of this millennium, the Dodgers’ team payroll has exceeded that of the average MLB team-- with mixed-to-poor results to show for ownership’s investment. However, as former owner Frank McCourt began to hemorrhage his net worth through what is believed to be the most costly divorce in California history, the Dodgers’ payroll converged upon the league average during the last few years of McCourt’s ownership. In 2012, team payroll dipped below the league average for the first time in over a decade.

Baseball-prospectus-compensation-chart-tiqiq_medium

(Source: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/index.php?team=LAN&cyear=2013)

The decline in payroll reflected the team’s decline in revenue. From 2010 to 2011, the Dodgers fell from third to 11th in the league in ticket sales, despite winning more games in the latter season. Revenue fell by an estimated $27 million dollars. With even fewer people showing up to the stadium than those buying tickets, the decline in concession sales was steepest of all. As a result of the lost concession revenue, the Dodgers were forced to raise ticket prices. This naturally compounded the decline in ticket sales. In just one year, average attendance at Dodger Stadium had dropped from 43,979 to 36,236; the largest decline in baseball and lowest such figure for the team since 2000.

This past season, Dodgers tickets on the secondary market jumped in average-- from $45 to $49. Although there was no material improvement in the win column-- attendance bounced back up to fifth across baseball. This still pales in comparison to basketball in Los Angeles. At the start of the season, Lakers tickets averaged $362, while Clippers tickets averaged $123.

While some of the improvement in attendance can be chalked up to Dodgers playoff hopes lasting longer into the season as a result of the addition of a second wildcard spot, the real draw may have been something completely unrelated to baseball itself. Just as the 2012 season began, Guggenheim Baseball Partners closed on the purchase of the Dodgers for an unprecedented $2.15 billion dollars—the most expensive franchise sale in the history of pro sports. Among the partners is none other than Los Angeles legend, Magic Johnson.

America is a celebrity-obsessed culture, and this goes tenfold for the city of Los Angeles. With Johnson in the public spotlight as the face of the new ownership group, the Dodgers set out to build on the buzz by further spending on numerous high-priced acquisitions. This season, the Dodgers have already dedicated $213.8 million dollars in payroll, good for tops in baseball and over double what they spent last year. There are also at least two spots left to fill on the 25-man roster, and if recent history is any indication, management will spare no expense. Here is the earlier graphic continued:

(Source: http://www.baseballprospectus.com/compensation/index.php?team=LAN&cyear=2013)

A good barometer by which to judge Magic’s impact on the Dodgers would be to look at the A.L. team with which the Dodgers share their city. The Angels are the superior of LA’s two teams, as well as the one with the best and most exciting player in baseball (that would be Mike Trout, folks). But despite an MVP-caliber season from Trout and the signing of megastar Albert Pujols to the third largest deal in baseball history, Angels attendance fell for the third consecutive season in 2012, and sixth time in the past seven years.

While the Angels carry higher on-field expectations and have gone nearly dollar-for-dollar with the Dodgers this offseason via the $125 million dollar signing of Josh Hamilton, any excitement has certainly not manifested itself in the way management would hope-- ticket sales. According to TiqIQ, the average Angels tickets on opening day last year would have run you $59 dollars. Currently, the average Angels ticket for opening day this year will set you back only $55 dollars. Conversely, the average Dodgers opening day ticket price has skyrocketed, from $49 to $77 dollars-- this despite the fact that Dodger Stadium seats roughly 10,000 more than Angel Stadium of Anaheim.

It becomes apparent that Magic in the owner’s box means more to L.A. fans than Hamilton in the outfield. Frankly, Los Angeles might not care about Hamilton until TMZ snaps some shots of the inevitable Hamilton/LiLo rendezvous in The Grove. Watch out for the temptation of California, Josh. Your $125 million dollar contract could make a divorce quite expensive. Just ask Frank McCourt; no longer able to afford Dodgers games, he just might end up in the cheap seats at Angel Stadium.

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