Patrick Soon-Shiong and wife Michele B. Chan at the KCET Visionary Award… (Lee Salem )
Patrick Soon-Shiong, the richest man in Los Angeles, has joined the Dodgers bid group led by hedge-fund billionaire Steven Cohen.
The alliance is the strongest indication yet of Cohen's intention to present outgoing owner Frank McCourt with a final bid that reflects prominent local support rather than just overwhelming East Coast money.
If McCourt were to accept the Cohen bid, he would be rejecting one led by local icon Magic Johnson. Soon-Shiong has held several meetings with McCourt since the Dodgers were put up for sale in November, according to people familiar with the process.
Soon-Shiong had been widely expected to join the bid group led by Johnson, from whom he bought a minority share in the Lakers two years ago. Soon-Shiong's decision to join Cohen was confirmed Sunday by two people familiar with the sale process but not authorized to comment.
Neither Cohen nor Soon-Shiong could be reached for comment.
Soon-Shiong would be the owner of an undetermined minority share of the Dodgers, the people said. Cohen had submitted a bid under which he would own 100% of the team.
The new bid, if successful, would put the Dodgers in the hands of primary investors worth more than $15 billion.
Soon-Shiong, 59, is a doctor, biotech investor and philanthropist. Forbes this month estimated the net worth of Cohen at $8.3 billion and Soon-Shiong at $7.2 billion.
Cohen last fall retained Populous, a prominent sports architecture firm, to recommend improvements to Dodger Stadium. Cohen is prepared to commit close to $2 billion to buy the Dodgers and renovate their stadium without financing any of that amount, according to a person familiar with the sale process.
Tim Leiweke, the president and chief executive of AEG, said he has met with Cohen to discuss the Dodgers. Leiweke is familiar with Soon-Shiong because of his investment in the Lakers.
"We both agree Steve would be a great owner," Leiweke said. "He has the resources. He certainly has the passion to do it.
"He certainly gets the commitment it's going to take with the team and the stadium."
Leiweke said AEG has rejected overtures to join a Dodgers bidding group but would be willing to cooperate on stadium rehabilitation.
"We bring some knowledge of facilities," he said. "We don't want to lead the charge. We're not baseball guys. That's not our area of expertise."
Cohen and Johnson lead two of the four bid groups whose structure and financing have been approved by Major League Baseball. The other two finalists, as of Sunday: St. Louis Rams owner Stan Kroenke; and a partnership between Memphis Grizzlies owner Michael Heisley and Tony Ressler, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Ares Capital.
Two bidders rejected by MLB — Stanley Gold and the family of the late Roy Disney; and a group led by former YES Network chief Leo Hindery and Tom Barrack, founder of Santa Monica-based Colony Capital — can appeal their rejections to a court-appointed mediator on Monday.
All 30 major league owners will vote on all remaining bidders late this week. McCourt then can conduct final negotiations with approved bidders, with the goal of selecting a winner by April 1.
He has agreed to close the sale of the team by April 30, the day he must pay his ex-wife $131 million as part of a divorce settlement.
McCourt said in November that he hoped to sell the team to someone "who loves this community and is willing to commit to this community."
Cohen, who grew up a fan of the New York Mets, works and lives in Connecticut. If he buys the Dodgers, he would be expected to install prominent Los Angeles agent Arn Tellem as team president. Cohen also has received endorsements from Eli Broad and David Geffen.
The city of Los Angeles has no say in the sale process. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who has expressed a preference for local ownership, said in a statement Sunday that he welcomed the participation of Soon-Shiong.
"Patrick is one of our city's leaders in both business and sports, so it is good to see that he's now involved, with Steve Cohen, in the Dodgers bidding process," Villaraigosa said. "We look forward to working with whoever the next owner of the Dodgers turns out to be, as the team continues to play a central role in the life of our community."