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PRO SPORTS IN L.A. Owners of Southland professional
teams look to the future.

Dodgers Sale Near, O'Malley Says

Sports: Owner says dashed NFL hopes helped lead to deal he expects to conclude in two months.

May 12, 1997|T.J. SIMERS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Dodgers will be sold in the next two months, owner Peter O'Malley has told The Times, suggesting that negotiations currently underway could soon result in new ownership of the team.

O'Malley also told The Times that the city's rebuff of his plan to build a professional football facility next to Dodger Stadium was a tremendous setback that figured significantly in his decision announced Jan. 6 to sell the family franchise.

The City Council has endorsed a plan to build a new stadium within the Coliseum walls as the best way to attract a National Football League team back to Los Angeles.

"I can't deny that was a factor," said O'Malley, who was asked by city leaders in August to put aside his football efforts. "I must tell you I was extremely disappointed when we were asked to shelve our ideas."

O'Malley said he could not comment further on his plans for selling the team, citing confidentiality agreements signed by all parties involved in the talks.

But sources within the NFL said signs point to a corporate deal with Fox Sports and Rupert Murdoch that could fetch $400 million for all the baseball properties O'Malley owns. Although O'Malley said corporate ownership of the Dodgers would be a plus, he is not looking for a partner or a corporate sponsor to front the Dodgers financially while allowing him to remain in control, he said.

Proponents of returning pro football to the Coliseum and some city officials have speculated that O'Malley might change his mind, deciding not to sell his baseball team and once again begin working on bringing football to Chavez Ravine.

But O'Malley insisted he will sell the team, and, as a result, he will probably not be in any position to construct a football stadium or own an NFL franchise. He says he does not know whether he will remain at his desk or be looking for work in the next few months. But after the Dodgers are sold, he wants time away to reflect.

Although he will undoubtedly dwell on a lifetime of success, there will be nagging questions of what might have been: What if his plan had gotten the same political consensus the Coliseum has enjoyed for the past eight months? What if he had been able to construct a state-of-the-art football facility, and that, in turn, had led to a rebuilt Dodger Stadium?

If those things had happened, would he still sell the Dodgers?

O'Malley will not directly answer.

History offers some insight: His father, Walter, had the financial and engineering background and vision to propose the nation's first domed stadium at the corner of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues in Brooklyn almost 40 years ago. When the elder O'Malley could not get unswerving political support in Brooklyn, he brought his baseball team to Los Angeles.

And now Peter O'Malley, too, is moving on. But he is leaving his team behind--in part, because one August day last year he realized that his idea to add the world's greatest football stadium to Southern California lacked the overwhelming political support he considered essential.

Football Became First on Agenda

For months O'Malley had spent as much as 80% of his working days on football. Associates said he had become enthralled with the NFL while tiring of baseball's labor problems and spiraling costs of doing business.

A new football stadium appealed to him initially because he believed it would force people to look more closely at Dodger Stadium and conclude that it was time to rebuild utilizing modern specifications. A new Dodger Stadium would have increased revenues and let the family continue to compete successfully in the high-priced baseball market.

His chief financial officer, Bob Graziano, worked even longer hours in meetings with Dodger Stadium neighborhood groups and then enlisted the Catellus Development Corp. to evaluate the project's feasibility.

"It was No. 1 on my agenda and we were getting positive results," O'Malley said.

At one point in the interview, O'Malley held a pink message slip recording a phone call he said came from Mayor Richard Riordan at 3:25 p.m. on Aug. 22, 1995, soliciting his help in bringing an NFL franchise back to Los Angeles. "From the time and date of that initial phone call until this past August, was an exciting and extraordinary time in my life," he said.

There have been some suggestions within City Hall that O'Malley's interest in football was fed by a desire to drive up the value of his property in preparation to sell, and that he never intended to build a football stadium. There were other suggestions that he had spent very little money in studying the feasibility of a stadium and had received input from business associates in exchange for future considerations rather than upfront cash.

When that was repeated to O'Malley, he rose from his chair, visibly upset. "When we first started, we agreed we were going to spend up to $1 million . . . but . . . we paid about $1.5 million.

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