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CHRIS ERSKINE / FAN OF THE HOUSE

Best owner for the Dodgers could be you and me

Selling shares of the team works for the Green Bay Packers and their fans. It could work for the Dodgers and their fans too — if it were allowed to happen.

December 07, 2011|Chris Erskine
  • Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier signs autographs for fans prior to a game against the Atlanta Braves in April. Why can't the Dodgers become a community-owned franchise like the Green Bay Packers?
Dodgers right fielder Andre Ethier signs autographs for fans prior to a… (Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles…)

Let me now back, personally and forever, an initiative for the fans to buy the Dodgers. What's the precedent? Well, there's the Green Bay Packers, pro sports' most functional franchise, a green-and-gold standard. We'll get to the legal hurdles in a moment. They are substantial — OK, colossally substantial — but as you already know, whenever you get lots of lawyers in a room, life only gets better and better.

Why not the Dodgers? If the little prairie pit stop of Green Bay can own a team, why not the country's most progressive and Utopian city? I'm talking about Los Angeles, in case you were scratching your head. And I mean Utopian in the sense of lots of great weather and an almost embarrassing bounty of nail salons.

Back there in Green Bay, meanwhile, where murderous weather is a way of life, they had a little stock sale the other day, offering shares of the team for $250 a pop to finance some stadium upgrades. Demand was so high, it slogged the website.

By the way, if you're looking for the ideal gift for the Packers fan in your life, consider snapping up one of these stock certificates. If purchased by Dec. 12, the certificates should arrive by Christmas, the team says.

So why not the Dodgers? Well, one reason is that Major League Baseball frowns upon majority ownership by fans.

"Game over," you say, except that California's newest congresswoman, Janice Hahn, is pushing a "Give Fans a Chance Act," in an effort to force MLB to change its policy.

It's all an act, you say, except that Hahn, and fellow representative Earl Blumenauer of Oregon, have insisted that pro sports reexamine their rules on fan ownership, or lawmakers might have another look at those sacred antitrust exemptions.

Go ahead, hold your breath. This particular project doesn't have a snowball's chance in Charleston. But hey, it's a start.

In fact, this whole fan ownership initiative is nothing but a bunch of small loopy starts — musket fire, really — that may reflect similar grass-roots frustrations in other areas of our lives.

The more I think about it, maybe only rich people should own things. They are pre-proven, having already shown their moxie in the marketplace. The McCourts and Rupert Murdoch spring immediately to mind.

The rest of us should feel lucky to lease, or rent by the hour.

Of course, this being Los Angeles, not everyone agrees. Stanley Stalford Jr., for one, a real estate developer who has formed a group with the express purpose of fans purchasing the Dodgers. Two million shares at $500 apiece is the way he's penciled it out, which would raise the $1-billion price tag that's being waved around by Team McCourt.

By way of resume, Stalford likes to point out: "I'm not some half-drunk guy in a T-shirt in an apartment on Hollywood Boulevard," and he doesn't seem half drunk at all when you meet him. He has an impressive business record, a website (ownthedodgers.com) and a reasonable sales pitch.

"We have positives and we have negatives," Stalford admits. "The positive is that we have a great idea. The negative is that in the current environment, in the bidding process for the Dodgers, we are blocked out. I chose to put us [fans] collectively into what is probably the most complex sports transaction in recent memory."

Astute fellow that he is, Stalford knows that total fan ownership is pie-in-the-sky unless Congress gets involved. (Are you still holding your breath?).

Stalford does not rule out some sort of hybrid plan, something along the lines of what the Cleveland Indians did in 1998, when the fans purchased 40% of the team. According to Stalford, MLB would still support such a minority stake, giving fans at least some stake in the proceedings in a private-public enterprise.

So names like Rick Caruso come up. Caruso, as you know, is the Steven Spielberg of mall developers, a force-of-nature visionary with an eye on the mayor's chair. In short, he's nothing at all like you or me.

Stalford's dream is for someone such as Caruso to purchase the Dodgers solo, then sell off a chunk to the fans as a way to pay down his debt, upgrade the stadium, buy a Pujols or two.

As shameless populist gestures go, this would rank right up there with any stunt Jimmy Stewart ever pulled, and would give Caruso a leg up — at least till Zev Yaroslavsky enters the mayor's race early next year, at which point Caruso may find himself in need of grand gestures. Caruso would not comment.

So, while fat cats circle our beloved Dodgers here on the coast, back in the heartland, shares of Packers stock are doing fly patterns off the shelves. It's as if the front office is printing its own currency, for the shares offer no dividend or appreciation, really nothing much more than bragging rights.

Bragging rights to a defending world champion, that is.

So why not the Dodgers?

chris.erskine@latimes.com

twitter.com/erskinetimes

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