For the NFL, the journey back to L.A. might include Frank McCourt. (Mark Boster / Los Angeles…)
On his first day as an owner of the Dodgers, Magic Johnson had heard one too many questions about Frank McCourt, and what role the outgoing owner would continue to play at Chavez Ravine.
"Frank is not here. He is not part of the Dodgers any more," Johnson said. "We should be clapping for that."
McCourt might not be part of the baseball team any more, but he remains a major player in deciding the future of the land surrounding Dodger Stadium. As The Times reported Wednesday night, McCourt could be the sole landlord for an NFL stadium put up on the Dodger Stadium parking lots.
McCourt's previous involvement in pro sports did not end harmoniously. He agreed to sell the Dodgers -- and got a record sale price -- only after Major League Baseball accused him in a court filing of "looting" $189 million in team revenue. McCourt denied the allegation.
"As a practical matter," one pro sports executive said Wednesday, "what sports entity do you think is going to make a deal with Frank McCourt?"
Under the sale agreement with Guggenheim Baseball Management, the new owners of the Dodgers, McCourt retained half-ownership of the parking lots. The Times reported Wednesday that McCourt could either buy back full ownership of any of that land used for a sports stadium or sell his half-ownership to Guggenheim for $150 million.
"He's in a strong position legally," said a sports consultant who deals with the NFL regularly. "He's in a weak position vis-a-vis the NFL."
If the NFL wants nothing to do with McCourt, the league hasn't said so to Guggenheim, according to Dodgers co-owner and Guggenheim partner Todd Boehly. That the league is negotiating with Guggenheim could mean the parties are deciding whether there is a tenable way to include McCourt in a stadium deal, or how to exclude him from one, or it could mean nothing at all.
Boehly said the NFL has been advised the Dodger Stadium possibility "comes as a collaboration between McCourt and Guggenheim."
"The NFL has made it clear they're interested in L.A.," Boehly told The Times. "Guggenheim Baseball Management has made it clear we're interested in the NFL."
Ultimately, this might all be about leverage about McCourt -- for an opportunity for civic rehabilitation, or for another $150 million payday. Either way, the residue of McCourt's involvement lingers into the first full season of the Dodgers' new ownership, clouding the team's slogan: "A Whole New Blue."
McCourt split the Dodgers and the parking lots into separate entities during his ownership, with the approval of Major League Baseball. McCourt took the Dodgers into bankruptcy -- but not the entity that controlled the land -- so the sale agreement for the team was the only one that had to be revealed in court.
Guggenheim did disclose that McCourt would retain half-ownership of the land and would share revenue from any development.
"His only future profits is new development, if we do it," Johnson had said.
Johnson had insisted McCourt "won't get a dime" from parking, although The Times reported two days later that Guggenheim and McCourt would split $14 million per year in parking revenue. Guggenheim also had said it would retain veto rights over any development McCourt might suggest, although McCourt would become the sole owner of whatever Dodger Stadium land he might buy for a sports venue.
Boehly said he did not believe the Dodgers' new owners had misled fans in any way.
"We've been clear all along," he said. "There is an entity that controls the land that Frank has a profits interest in."
Guggenheim went to court twice -- once in Delaware and once in California -- to try to prevent disclosure of deal details that ultimately became public.
Should that matter to fans? Or is it enough that the new owners have poured money into revitalizing the team and its stadium?
On his first day as an owner, Johnson gave his answer loud and clear.
“We’re not talking about Frank McCourt any more,” Johnson said that day. “This franchise is moving forward with us. If he’s part of future development, so what? What’s important is new owners are sitting here.”