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Hedge-fund executive Steven Cohen is bidding for the Dodgers

Sources say that the billionaire is highly interested in acquiring the team, going as far as meeting with several major league owners and engaging a sports architecture firm to explore renovations to Dodger Stadium.

December 27, 2011|By Bill Shaikin
  • Billionaire hedge-fund executive Steven Cohen is interested in buying the Dodgers.
Billionaire hedge-fund executive Steven Cohen is interested in buying… (Ronda Churchill / Bloomberg…)

Steven Cohen, a billionaire eight times over, is bidding for the Dodgers in a process tilted toward the high bidder.

However, the East Coast hedge-fund executive is not content to let his wealth speak for itself. He has engaged one of America's notable sports architecture firms to propose renovations to Dodger Stadium, allied himself with one of baseball's power brokers, secured the support of at least two prominent Angelenos and met with several major league owners.

He was joined in those meetings by Arn Tellem, an influential sports agent who could run the Dodgers if Cohen were to buy the team.

The developments were confirmed by several people familiar with the Dodgers sale process, each of whom said he could not comment publicly. Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesman for Cohen, declined to comment.

Cohen is among the first bidders submitted to Major League Baseball for approval, according to a person familiar with the process but not authorized to discuss it. Initial bids for the Dodgers are due Jan. 13.

Dodgers owner Frank McCourt took the team into bankruptcy in June and agreed to sell last month. According to a court filing Tuesday, the Dodgers' parent company has spent $12.05 million in "bankruptcy-related expenses," more than the team paid any of its players last season.

Cohen, 55, is the founder of SAC Capital Advisors, a Connecticut-based investment firm that controls $14 billion in assets. In September, Forbes estimated his net worth at $8.3 billion.

Two former SAC fund managers have pleaded guilty to insider trading as part of a wide-ranging federal investigation in which the company's records have been subpoenaed, according to the Wall Street Journal. No charges have been filed against Cohen or his company, according to the Journal.

If the league were uncomfortable with those circumstances, Cohen would have no recourse under the usual MLB sale process, in which the league's owners have the final say in approving bidders.

However, under the Dodgers' sale process, the league has agreed to approve up to 10 bidders, with McCourt granted the right to conduct an auction and select the winner. If he believes that the league has unreasonably rejected Cohen or any other bidder, McCourt can appeal to the mediator appointed by the Bankruptcy Court.

In the meantime, Cohen is reaching out to baseball insiders. He has retained Steve Greenberg, the Allen & Company sports broker who formerly served as deputy commissioner.

"You can't get much more inside than Steve Greenberg," said one person familiar with the sale process. Greenberg declined to comment.

Cohen also has met with several owners, although the focus of the discussions was less on securing the approval vote of those owners and more on the challenges of operating a professional sports team, according to people involved in the meetings.

A participant in one of those meetings said he left with the impression that Tellem would run the Dodgers if Cohen won the bidding. Tellem would consider an executive position with the Dodgers but has not committed to taking one, according to a person who has spoken with him.

Tellem, who declined to comment, represented Kobe Bryant when he first joined the Lakers. A principal at Wasserman Media Group in Los Angeles, Tellem represents the Lakers' Pau Gasol. His baseball clientele includes the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley, a former UCLA standout, and Yu Darvish, the Japanese pitcher who is in negotiations with the Texas Rangers.

In addition, Cohen has retained Populous, a sports architecture firm, to suggest changes to Dodger Stadium that would enhance comfort and safety. Populous has worked with more than half the teams in the major leagues, according to its website, including the design of AT&T Park in San Francisco and Petco Park in San Diego.

Cohen's hiring of an architecture firm at this early stage might show how serious he is but might have no impact on whether he wins, a person familiar with the process said.

"It'll make a difference in how he assesses what he thinks he should spend for the team," the person said. "I don't think it makes a difference to Frank or to Major League Baseball."

Cohen is a world-class art collector. So are noted Angelenos Eli Broad and David Geffen, each of whom offered public support to Cohen on Tuesday.

"I've encouraged Steve to buy the Dodgers," Geffen said in an interview. "I think it would be good for Los Angeles and good for the Dodgers. Steve has the resources to make the team all it can be."

Said Broad in a statement: "He's a person of integrity and may well have more financial wherewithal than anyone bidding. He's a lifelong baseball fan, and from all I know, I believe he would be a responsible owner of the Dodgers and would be satisfied with nothing less than eventually winning the World Series."

Cohen explored bidding this year for a minority share of the New York Mets. If he were to buy the Dodgers, he probably would invite local investors, but for now he would be bidding against such local icons as Magic Johnson and Peter O'Malley for a team whose fans appear wary of another out-of-town owner.

"I don't think it matters one way or the other," Geffen said. "What you really need is an owner who has the resources to win, the drive to win and who cares more about winning than he cares about money. Where he lives makes absolutely no difference."

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

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