Dodger Stadium: the LA Dodgers franchise may fetch a record $1bn when sold in April
This year, two of the biggest dramas in Major League Baseball have centred on Los Angeles. First, the movie Moneyball was nominated for six Oscars—a triumph, given its slow and thoughtful tone—but came away with nothing. Second, the LA Dodgers, one of the biggest franchises in the game, are being sold in April—just before the new season begins—as part of owner Frank McCourt’s divorce settlement.
Moneyball was always going to be hard to bring to the big screen. It is based on the true-life story of Billy Beane, manager of the Oakland Athletics, a team with a tiny payroll that couldn’t compete financially with the giants of the game. Beane decided to ditch the traditional way that scouts and the transfer market evaluated players and instead use new forms of statistical analysis. Hitting home runs, it turned out, was hugely overvalued, while the ability to get to first base was the most undervalued asset in the game. Recruiting a team on these principles, the A’s made the playoffs—the games that lead to the baseball’s biggest prize, the World Series—for four years in a row; an immense achievement.
But that was in the early 2000s and the A’s haven’t enjoyed a Hollywood-style happy ending. They are back where they started—not because the moneyball theory doesn’t work, but because it works too well. Every baseball franchise now uses this kind of analysis. Undervalued positions have been re-evaluated and the same player bargains are no longer available.
The story of the sale of the Dodgers might have a better shot at the Oscars. It can offer a cast of billionaires drawn from hedge funds, private equity, publishing, real estate and financial services. It has the drama of an against-the-clock, winner-takes-all auction. The backstory is a tale of domestic strife. And there’s a twist: McCourt has spun off the Dodgers’ parking lots into a separate company that he hopes to keep while selling the club and the stadium. Unlike the team, the car parks are moneymakers, though many fans say they will not come back if he holds onto them.
Rather like the Glazers with Manchester United, property developer Frank McCourt borrowed money to buy the Dodgers in 2004. Increasingly expensive tickets have helped service his debts but the team’s performance has been poor for its payroll. Frank’s wife…