News Corp.'s protracted efforts to sell the Dodgers took another turn Tuesday as word emerged that Boston real estate developer Frank H. McCourt is on the verge of completing a purchase agreement, baseball executives said.
The Dodgers' parent company, frustrated in its inability to finalize a deal with one of three previously identified bidders, has quietly negotiated for weeks with McCourt, 49, who failed in attempts to purchase the Boston Red Sox in 2001 and the Angels this year.
With News Corp. unable to unload a team citing losses of $40 million annually and McCourt eager to add a baseball franchise to his significant Boston property holdings, the sides are moving quickly to resolve the numerous remaining sticking points, officials said.
McCourt, whose family has operated a heavy-construction company for four generations, is believed to be bidding about $330 million for the team, Dodger Stadium and surrounding property, Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., and Campo Las Palmas, a player-development facility in the Dominican Republic.
News Corp. purchased the Dodgers and their holdings for $311 million in 1998.
Attempts to contact News Corp. officials and McCourt were unsuccessful. Derrick Hall, Dodger senior vice president, referred questions about the sale to News Corp.
The low-profile McCourt has deep roots in South Boston, according to Boston Globe stories that have chronicled his waterfront development projects and bid to purchase the Red Sox.
McCourt began his career in his family's infrastructure business, McCourt Construction Co., before staking out on his own and founding The McCourt Co., a real estate development firm. McCourt's wife, Jamie, is vice president and general counsel of the company, and they have a net worth estimated in the hundreds of millions of dollars.
The McCourts, however, were not included on Forbes Magazine's most recent list of the 400 richest Americans, which required a net worth of at least $600 million.
Moreover, McCourt was not perceived to be in position to finance the purchase of the Red Sox or Angels on his own.
The Red Sox ultimately sold for $700 million, which also included the New England Sports Network. Arte Moreno bought the Angels for $180 million from the Walt Disney Co., which had purchased the club for $140 million in 1996.
McCourt has sought advice about running the Dodgers from at least one influential Los Angeles-area businessman. He might consider bringing in someone locally to help run the team if he decides to maintain his residence in Brookline, Mass.
Although News Corp. and McCourt might reach an agreement as early as this week, several hurdles would still need to be cleared before the franchise could change hands.
If McCourt is unable to finance the transaction independently, additional investors could delay the sale process, which requires approval from Major League Baseball owners.
Regardless of possible impediments, News Corp. appears intent on moving forward with McCourt after encountering problems with other interested parties.
Tampa Bay Buccaneer owner Malcolm Glazer had been the leading candidate, but was unable to overcome complex financing regulations in the NFL and MLB and apparently is out of the process, officials said.
Glazer, who bid about $360 million for the team, stadium and property, was News Corp.'s top choice and had reached a sale agreement. The NFL and baseball, however, rejected the submitted parameters of a Dodger sale to Glazer.
NFL rules prohibited Glazer from leveraging the Buccaneers as equity, requiring him to use "independent resources" in the purchase of the Dodgers and "independent management" in operating the franchise.
What's more, NFL and baseball officials also expressed concerns about the probable Dodger management structure under Glazer.
Glazer was expected to turn over day-to-day operations to his son, Edward, raising questions about whether that would satisfy the NFL's mandate of independent operation.
Although Edward Glazer was the point man in negotiations with News Corp. and lives in Beverly Hills, NFL owners expressed reservations about letting one of their own establish a perceived foothold in the Los Angeles market, creating the potential for a franchise shell game at a time when the league is demonstrating a new commitment to putting a team in Los Angeles.
Jeff Smulyan, the former Seattle Mariner owner who is chairman and chief executive of Emmis Communications Corp., was the popular choice among some baseball owners, who had privately expressed reservations about Glazer because of his anonymity in a baseball context.
Smulyan, whose group includes former agent and current Chicago White Sox executive Dennis Gilbert, remained in negotiations with News Corp. even after Glazer emerged as the media conglomerate's top choice.
News Corp. executives continued to have discussions with Smulyan while courting McCourt, but Smulyan is only willing to purchase the Dodgers if News Corp. includes six television stations in the deal. Smulyan believes ownership of the TV stations is the only way to insulate the franchise from annual losses of millions and eventually turn a profit.
Alan I. Casden, a Southern California developer, was believed to have made the highest bid of about $400 million. Casden said Tuesday he had withdrawn his offer and is "no longer interested in pursuing a deal with the Dodgers and haven't been for a couple of months." Casden in August, however, met with Commissioner Bud Selig in Milwaukee at the request of News Corp. chairman Peter Chernin. It was doubtful Casden would be approved because of a legal issue he faces, officials said.
Staff writers Ross Newhan, Roger Vincent and Bill Shaikin contributed to this report.