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Peter O'Malley teams with South Korea investor in bid for Dodgers

Former owner would be team's chief executive, and E-Land would provide major financing; group also would include L.A. investors. O'Malley is one of at least eight prospective owners to make first cut.

January 30, 2012|By Bill Shaikin and John M. Glionna
(Los Angeles Times )

Peter O'Malley's bid to buy back the Dodgers is supported by financing from the South Korean conglomerate E-Land, two people familiar with the Dodgers' sale process said Monday.

If the O'Malley bid is successful, E-Land Chairman Song Soo Park will become a major investor in the Dodgers, one of the people said.

The ownership group also would have investors from Los Angeles. O'Malley has had discussions with Tony Ressler, a minority owner of the Milwaukee Brewers and co-founder of Los Angeles-based Ares Capital, according to a person familiar with the talks.

O'Malley would be the Dodgers' chief executive. Foreign investment is not necessarily an obstacle to MLB ownership; the Seattle Mariners' ownership group includes a significant Japanese presence.

An E-Land spokesman confirmed Tuesday the company is involved in the Dodgers bidding but would not elaborate. O'Malley declined to comment.

On Tuesday, as South Koreans woke up to the news that local investors might own one of America's most storied baseball teams, the Korean Baseball Organization — the top professional league in South Korea — had no comment.

Among the baseball fans in chat rooms and on bulletin boards, the reaction leaned negative.

Rather than being proud of owning a foreign franchise as a way to extend Korean cultural and economic influence abroad, many fans here wondered why their moneyed elite didn't invest their millions in Korean clubs. And, despite the experience of the Mariners, the fans expressed skepticism that foreign-backed ownership would be permitted.

"If an outsider could purchase a Major League Baseball team, then Chinese companies would've gotten their hands on it already," wrote one bulletin board contributor.

Wrote another: "Why won't they invest in finding a new Korean Baseball team instead?"

The people who liked the idea said it would pave the way for more Korean talent to make its way to the major leagues.

"Having a hand in the Dodgers will allow Korean players to more easily make the jump. It's good marketing," wrote one fan.

O'Malley is one of at least eight prospective owners to make last Friday's first cut.

The others include East Coast investment baron Steven Cohen, St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke, and groups led by Magic Johnson, Beverly Hills developer Alan Casden, Los Angeles developer Rick Caruso and former Dodgers manager Joe Torre, investor and civic leader Stanley Gold and the family of the late Roy Disney, and New York media investor Leo Hindery and investor Tom Barrack of Santa Monica-based Colony Capital.

Frank McCourt, the Dodgers' departing owner, expects the team to sell for at least $1.5 billion. That would be almost double the previous record price for a major league club, set when the Ricketts family bought the Chicago Cubs for $845 million in 2009.

Under O'Malley, the Dodgers were pioneers in international baseball, particularly in Asia. In 1994, three years before O'Malley sold the team to News Corp., Dodgers pitcher Chan Ho Park became the first Korean player to appear in a major league game.

In November, O'Malley joined Park and former Dodgers pitcher Hideo Nomo — the second Japanese player to appear in the majors — in an investment partnership to own and operate the Dodgers' old spring home in Vero Beach, Fla. Park and Nomo agreed to use their homeland connections to help lure teams, camps and clinics to Vero Beach.

E-Land, a dominant fashion retailer in South Korea, has expanded its business interests into such areas as hotels and resorts, restaurants and construction, according to the company website. The company is family-run and privately held.

According to the E-Land website, the company opened its first U.S. retail store in 2007 at a mall in Stamford, Conn., under the brand name "Who A.U." The slogan for the brand: California Dream.

bill.shaikin@latimes.com

twitter.com/BillShaikin

Shaikin reported from Los Angeles and Glionna reported from Seoul.

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