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McCourt's Deal to Buy Dodgers Still on Track

He has a 'constructive and amiable' 11-hour meeting with baseball officials in New York.

January 21, 2004|Ross Newhan | Times Staff Writer

Baseball lawyers and officials met for 11 hours Tuesday with Boston real-estate developer Frank McCourt and his wife, Jamie, in the ongoing effort to iron out problems relating to the industry's debt service rule in his highly leveraged proposal to buy the Dodgers. The group will meet again today, possibly finalizing the $430-million proposal for ownership committee approval and circulation among the 30 clubs, which would subsequently vote on it by conference call, said Bob DuPuy, baseball's chief operating officer.

"I remain optimistic that the deal that both the buyer and seller want can be completed by the date in question," DuPuy said, referring to the Jan. 31 deadline in the agreement between News Corp., which owns the Dodgers, and McCourt.

DuPuy described the lengthy meeting, held at the Major League Baseball offices in New York, as constructive and amiable.

He would not discuss the specifics, but a source familiar with the meeting cited the complexity of a proposal that has "a lot of different financing pieces" and said "baseball wants to be sure it has a handle on how it all works. The McCourts have not been asked to restructure it, but there's a lot of tweaking going on, and it could be they may have more of their own money involved by the time it's done.

"Will it fully comply with debt service this year, however? That may be doubtful."

McCourt has basically proposed buying the Dodgers with borrowed money. He is receiving loans from News Corp. and Bank of America, and another from Aramark, one of Dodger Stadium's two concessionaires, in an equity partnership arrangement.

The leveraged proposal has produced concern in and out of baseball about McCourt's ability to operate the Dodgers in a competitive manner.

Eli Broad, the Los Angeles developer and billionaire philanthropist, has informed News Corp. that he would be willing to buy the club for $430 million if McCourt's bid falls through, and Los Angeles City Councilman Jack Weiss introduced a motion that was seconded by six colleagues on Tuesday urging the team and baseball to pursue local ownership.

All of that may have come too late, however.

If work on the McCourt proposal is finalized today, and the ownership committee recommends approval, it is almost certain McCourt would receive the needed three-fourths support from the 30 clubs -- many of which would delight in having the big-market Dodgers operated on a tight financial leash.

Participating in Tuesday's meeting in addition to DuPuy and the McCourts were Atlanta Brave executive Bill Bartholomay, chairman of the ownership committee; Chicago White Sox Chairman Jerry Reinsdorf, representing Commissioner Bud Selig's executive council; baseball lawyers Tom Ostertag and Jonathan Mariner; Fox executive Gary Ehrlich, who has been News Corp.'s point man in the McCourt negotiations; and Boston lawyer Larry Silverstein, representing the McCourts.

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Times staff writer Jessica Garrison contributed to this report.

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