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Baseball owners could end up footing Dodgers' bills

Team Vice Chairman Steve Soboroff warns that if Commissioner Bud Selig continues to block owner Frank McCourt from completing a lucrative TV deal with Fox, other teams could be forced to underwrite Dodger payroll.

April 29, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, left, and team Vice Chairman Steve Soboroff speak with reporters on Wednesday. The Dodgers' financial troubles could become a problem for other team owners.
Dodgers owner Frank McCourt, left, and team Vice Chairman Steve Soboroff… (Mary Altaffer / Associated…)

The owners of the 29 other major league clubs could be stuck paying the Dodgers' bills very soon, the team's vice chairman said Friday.

"If I'm an owner in Kansas City or Washington, the last thing I want to do is to put $1 million a month into the Dodgers when there's $3 billion sitting in the bank," Vice Chairman Steve Soboroff said.

With Commissioner Bud Selig taking no action on a proposed long-term television deal with Fox valued by the Dodgers at $3 billion, Dodgers owner Frank McCourt needed to get a $30-million loan to meet the April payroll. Now that Selig has taken control of the team's finances, McCourt could run out of cash, which could require the other owners to finance the May payroll.

McCourt told the Wall Street Journal on Thursday that Selig has created the cash-flow problem by refusing to approve the Fox deal in order to accelerate an ownership change.

"Baseball is trying to make it appear that the Dodgers are under financial duress, and it's not true," McCourt said. "What is true is baseball is trying to put the Dodgers into financial duress."

In a round of interviews Thursday with CNBC, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, McCourt targeted his remarks not for Dodgers fans so much as fellow owners who might persuade Selig to reconsider. No owner has spoken out publicly against Selig, a noted consensus-builder, regarding his decision to wrest financial control of the Dodgers from McCourt.

"I can't think of one owner that is going to say Bud is wrong and Frank is right," said an owner of another major league club, speaking anonymously because of the possibility that McCourt might sue Selig.

A lawsuit could take more than a year to resolve, but sports business consultant Marc Ganis said owners would not rebel at supporting the Dodgers during that time because they would be at the head of the line for repayment, whether McCourt sells the team or regains financial control.

"McCourt has a cash-flow issue," Smith College sports economist Andrew Zimbalist said. "Major League Baseball does not have a cash-flow issue."

Soboroff reiterated that McCourt would work with Selig to resolve concerns about McCourt's operation of the Dodgers.

"We want a chance," Soboroff said. "Let it be probation."

He said McCourt can settle his divorce without team revenues by using a share of the ownership stake he would get in Prime Ticket as part of the Fox deal.

"He can use that money to pay Jamie off," Soboroff said. "That has nothing to do with the Dodgers."

McCourt is willing to hire a club president, according to Soboroff. The Dodgers have operated without an experienced sports executive at the top since McCourt ousted club president Dennis Mannion last fall.

Tom Schieffer, the trustee appointed by Selig to oversee the Dodgers' business operations, is the former president of the Texas Rangers.

Former Dodgers owner Peter O'Malley said last fall that McCourt had "lost all credibility through the city." Soboroff said McCourt deserves a chance to implement plans to revitalize the Dodgers, on the field and within the community.

"I guarantee you there is no owner or prospective owner in Los Angeles that has a better handle on the community than we do," Soboroff said.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

Twitter.com/BillShaikin

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