Frank McCourt leaves court in downtown Los Angeles after a hearing on Wednesday. (Jason Redmond / Associated…)
The Dodgers on Friday asked for court permission to sell their television rights, the key to owner Frank McCourt's strategy to remain the owner of the team when it emerges from bankruptcy protection.
The long-awaited court filing sets up a likely legal confrontation with Commissioner Bud Selig, who will have to argue why a team in bankruptcy should not be allowed to maximize the value of its television rights by auctioning them off.
"Objecting to the highest and best bid generated by this process ought to be hard to do," said Bruce Bennett, the Dodgers' lead bankruptcy lawyer. "It usually fails."
Fox Sports holds exclusive negotiating rights for another year and has threatened to sue for damages if the Dodgers solicit other offers before then. Neither Fox nor Major League Baseball commented on the filing Friday. A hearing is set for Oct. 12.
The Dodgers asked the U.S. Bankruptcy Court to authorize a 45-day exclusive negotiating window with Fox, followed if necessary by an auction. In court papers, the Dodgers said Fox, Time Warner Cable, Charter Communications, Dish Network and DirecTV all could be interested in paying the team a lucrative rights fee or partnering in a Dodgers-branded regional sports network, in which the team would own all or part of the cable channel that airs its games.
With such a deal, the Dodgers say they would be able to emerge from bankruptcy protection next year, repay all of their creditors and have "excess cash of more than $175 million at the end of 2012."
The Dodgers said they were "hopeful" that Selig would approve a new television deal but were prepared to ask the Bankruptcy Court to overrule Selig if necessary. Under MLB rules to which McCourt agreed, Selig has the final say.
Bennett said the competitive bidding should result in a sale for significantly more than the $3-billion Fox deal proposed by McCourt and rejected by Selig in June.
In court papers, the Dodgers say that the bidding should resolve one of the primary factors cited by Selig in his rejection — that is, McCourt did not maximize his team's media rights because his immediate need for cash had compelled him to negotiate with Fox rather than wait until he could solicit bids from other parties.