Hd All Sports, All L.A.

Any doubts about Rupert Murdoch's intentions as an L.A. sports mogul were put to rest recently with word that his Fox Group unit is acquiring options to purchase minority stakes in the Lakers and Kings. In addition, another Murdoch partnership has acquired a minority interest in the downtown Staples Center sports arena presumably to play a role in making the facility as a place for entertainment as well as sporting events.

All that, of course, is in addition to Murdoch's recent purchase of the Dodgers for $311 million along with persistent rumblings that the Fox people remain interested in an NFL franchise and/or football stadium.

Murdoch's incursion is a testament to how major corporations have taken over the ownership ranks of professional sports, which, up until a few years ago, was the purview of a few wealthy men with very healthy egos.

Today, the considerations go straight to the bottom line. Murdoch's group has identified sports as the centerpiece of its programming and marketing strategy, and hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent all over the world in that pursuit whether it's securing television rights to the NFL games or buying sports teams.

A scan of the television dial these days could find the Stanley Cup hockey playoffs on the main Fox network, Dodgers baseball on one of two Fox-owned sports channels and Major League baseball on Fox's F/X cable channel.

Fox is hardly the only mega-corporation with an eye toward sports. Walt Disney Co. is doing much the same thing with its ownership of the Anaheim Angels and the Mighty Ducks not to mention sports channels ESPN, ESPN2 and the ABC TV network. Much to the chagrin of Burbank-based Disney, the local Fox Sports West channels have the local TV rights to both the Angels and Ducks. Lawsuits over the contracts have ensued, and Disney is reportedly trying to start its own regional sports channel to compete with Fox.

Purists might find it all a bit much and to some extent, they have a point. The corporate dominance of professional sports has raised the stakes as well as the payrolls among all concerned. That's created a self-indulgent class of athletes, agents, coaches and sportscasters who take themselves all too seriously. As for team spirit? Well, as long as the price is right.

In fairness, Murdoch and Disney are only capitalizing on a phenomenon that was fueled long before they came on the scene. They invest in sports because, simply put, sports attract big audiences on television and offer endless marketing opportunities.

There's nothing wrong with that frankly, it's just good business.

And before lamenting too much on the O'Malley family's sale of the Dodgers and how it marks the end of a glorious era it should be remembered that the Dodgers had been operating in a time warp going back 30 years or more. (That includes the rotary phones in the Dodger offices.)

It's cute stuff, all right, but it's no way to run a business, circa 1998. The Murdoch people, well aware of the necessary changes, are planning, among other things, a major overhaul of Dodger Stadium, plus an increase in the number of televised games.

Now if they can only do something about the hitting

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