No. 1

Murdoch Buys the Dodgers

In the often turbulent world of professional sports, the Los Angeles Dodgers stood as solid as Gibraltar an old-time, family-run organization immune from the squabbles and commercialism besetting other teams.

But in 1997, all that changed.

The sale of the Dodgers to a unit of Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. is expected to be approved by Major League Baseball owners this month, and in its wake the Dodgers are likely to be run more like a corporate property than a ball club.

“Certainly the whole larger issue is who bought it,” said Frank Deford, sports columnist for Newsweek and a commentator for National Public Radio. “Certainly it was not bought as a baseball team, but as a television property. I don’t think the price would be justified otherwise.”

The price that Fox Group paid for the Dodgers was originally placed at more than $350 million, but more recently it has been estimated at closer to $311 million. Even at the lower amount, it’s the most expensive franchise sale in the history of Major League Baseball higher than the previous record of $175 million paid for the Baltimore Orioles in 1993.

In announcing last Jan. 6 that the team was for sale, Dodger President Peter O’Malley said a family-run company could no longer afford to run a major league ball club that escalating salaries and the risks of labor disputes were too great a burden to handle. Corporate owners, on the other hand, can develop synergies between a team and other ventures (like cable television) to make the enterprise pencil out.

The vote to approve the sale is scheduled for Jan. 15. Dodgers executives do not expect any complications; after that, the exchanging of documents is expected to take less than two days.

Although major upgrades are expected at Dodger Stadium which lacks many of the amenities that modern stadiums have those changes are not likely to be in place for the 1998 baseball season.

But fans can expect Fox to begin pushing the brand name, which has not been exploited to the extent of other teams. It will be given an even bigger push in Asia, where Dodgers Hideo Nomo and Chan Ho Park have a following.

In other words, the L.A. Dodgers may become more like the Pacific Rim Dodgers.

“It’s going to change, that’s for sure,” DeFord said. He noted that when Walter O’Malley moved the team from Brooklyn to L.A., “geography was the issue. Now it’s electronics television which is the motiviating force.”

Daniel Taub

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