Hed — Dodger green
Sentimentality aside, Peter O’Malley is making the right decision to put the Dodgers up for sale.
It’s no secret, after all, that the Dodgers’ front-office has been running the team as if it were 1967, not 1997. Dodger Stadium has one advertising billboard, no luxury boxes, and only in the upcoming season will the team launch a cable deal to televise local games (teams in other major markets have had such arrangements for years).
In an age of corporate ownership and multi-marketing tie-ins, it all comes off as a quaint way of doing business. But sooner or later, reality intrudes on anachronisms.
As O’Malley himself said last week at a press conference: “I think family ownership of sports today is probably a dying breed You need a broader base than an individual to carry you through the storms. Groups or corporations are probably the way of the future.”
That point was illustrated a few days later when first baseman Eric Karros signed a four-year, $20 million contract currently making him the Dodgers’ highest-paid player. Still ahead are salary talks with catcher Mike Piazza, who reportedly is asking for more than $50 million.
By most accounts, the Dodgers remain a profitable enterprise even without the ’90s razzmatazz. But O’Malley could see the trendline as well as anyone: His old-fashioned ways of doing business don’t mesh well with a sports world often dominated by non-sports considerations.
Even if the new owner is a local partnership of individuals as opposed to Fox or some other media titan the Dodgers organization is certain to become more aggressive in its marketing efforts. That probably means a renovation of Dodger Stadium luxury boxes are almost a certainty and perhaps renewed exploration of building an adjacent football stadium.
O’Malley himself had explored such a possibility last year in conjunction with ownership of an NFL franchise but when plans to revive the Coliseum were embraced by L.A. officials, he pulled back. That told us a lot about O’Malley’s lack of aggressiveness, and in retrospect, makes last week’s announcement pretty predictable.
Much has been made of the Dodgers’ commitment to the community and how the influence of a big money owner will be bad for Los Angeles. There also are anti-business scaremongers who fear that the team and the stadium will become one giant-sized billboard.
We wouldn’t be too quick to prejudge. Any new owner will recognize the formidable challenge of upholding the Dodger tradition, not only as a top-flight ball club but as a first-class business. No one is about to spend upwards of $300 million on a baseball team and then proceed to alienate its customers. It just doesn’t make sense.
Clearly, the O’Malleys are a tough act to follow but not an impossible one. We see the ownership change as a chance to revitalize a local sports scene that could stand some stirring around.