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Dodger Sale Still on Track

A source familiar with the negotiations says McCourt will finance the transaction on his own and that his bid to buy the team remains strong.

November 12, 2003|Ross Newhan and Jason Reid | Times Staff Writers

PHOENIX — Amid ongoing questions about the extent of Frank McCourt's economic resources and the status of his bid to purchase the Dodgers, a person familiar with the transaction insisted Tuesday that McCourt will finance the acquisition on his own and complete the required documentation by the Dec. 31 deadline in his agreement with News Corp.

"Anyone who tells you that he can't do this is wrong," the person said, insisting on anonymity. "There is no doubt this [deal] is going to happen.

"He has decided for right now to do it himself, then take time at a later date to put a partnership together.

"He wants to make sure everyone is compatible and no one has a different agenda. He is still familiarizing himself with [Los Angeles] and wants to be sure he has the right people involved."

As reported by The Times in Tuesday's editions, McCourt's proposed purchase, which requires industry approval, will not be voted on during a Nov. 20 owners meeting in Chicago. A high-ranking baseball official said 99% of the required paperwork had not been completed.

The person familiar with the transaction disputed that, saying McCourt still had to submit several financial documents detailing the $430-million transaction but that he had already submitted a business plan and financial model.

In a sweeping affirmation of McCourt's bid, the person cited the fact that the Boston real estate developer didn't reach an agreement in principal with News Corp. until Oct. 10 and said, "you can't buy a house in 30 or 31 days and this deal is far more complex.

"It was hopeful thinking," the person said, "that the deal could be put on the Nov. 20 agenda, but if you look at the history of baseball sales I'm sure you'd find that very few were completed in that time.

"The only one I can think of, in fact, was Arte Moreno's purchase of the Angels, and that was basically a cash deal for far less money."

Moreno bought the Angels for $183.5 million. McCourt was involved in that bidding as well, and skeptics of his proposed Dodger purchase have asked how McCourt can finance a deal that will come in at $330 million after credits and discounts when he failed to acquire the Angels at much less.

"It's true that [McCourt] tried to buy the Angels on his own," the person familiar with the Dodger transaction said, "but he came into that game late. He made a higher bid than Moreno did but it was structured differently, and Disney wanted the quick out of a basically all cash deal."

McCourt was also among the also-rans in bidding for the Boston Red Sox, who eventually sold for $660 million, including Fenway Park and the New England Sports Network. Initially, according to the person familiar with the Dodger deal, the Boston package included only 53% of the team, park and network, and McCourt was solidly involved in the $350-million range. The situation changed when it became a 100% proposal and bids skyrocketed, the person said.

McCourt is not listed on Forbes' most recent list of the 400 richest Americans, which requires a net wealth of $600 million. His core asset is an undeveloped 25-acre parcel on the South Boston waterfront.

The person familiar with the Dodger deal acknowledged that a major Northern California investor in the proposed transaction is no longer involved and that several proposed partners from the Los Angeles area have declined the opportunity to join. The person said that a Northern California-based company called GamePlan, of which former Stanford football player Randy Vataha is co-owner, has been assisting in the search for possible partners.

There has been speculation that some proposed partners have wanted more say in the operation than McCourt is willing to offer and some have been wary of his liquidity and finances.

The person familiar with the transaction said only that McCourt has decided to go it alone for now and is working on two fronts to finalize the economic package.

"On the debt side," the person said, "he's received loan proposals from several banks in the last few days and is in the process of negotiating the best arrangement in a situation where a fraction of a percentage point in a deal of this magnitude can make a significant difference. On the equity or cash side, he's been talking to his real estate and tax people on the best way to either sell or leverage his property.

"The McCourts are as anxious as MLB is to have the transaction completed. They understand that the longer it goes into the off-season the more difficult it is for the Dodgers and everyone involved.

"They feel the pressure and understand it, but these things aren't done in 30 days."

It was learned that McCourt talked by phone Tuesday with News Corp. Chairman Peter Chernin and that "everything in that call was positive," according to a source.

However, the protracted process has also left agents and general managers meeting here this week unsure of what authority Dan Evans has to complete trades and sign free agents considering McCourt is expected to make front-office changes if and when he becomes the owner.

Although McCourt's point man in the transition, Corey Busch, is expected to have a key role, the person familiar with the transaction said McCourt has made no personnel decisions -- "it would be presumptuous of him to do that" -- and that Evans is "aware of his financial parameters."

"McCourt doesn't want to do anything that would prevent [Evans] from making the moves necessary to improve the club," the person said.

"With the pitching, he thinks it's real close to being a playoff team. All McCourt has asked of Evans is that he communicate with [his transition team], and Evans has been great about that."

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