Why did Selig reject the Dodgers-Fox deal? Because it was more looting of the team by Frank McCourt

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The primary reason the Dodgers are in the boat they’re in right now is because Frank and Jamie McCourt took some $100 million out of the organization for personal use, carved up the team into individual components and leveraged it all to the hilt.

Bud Selig has just released his official statement regarding why Major League Baseball has rejected the Fox deal that Frank McCourt claims is critical for the Dodgers.  He is a bit more polite about it all, but his reasons are basically the same: the Fox deal would have put money in Frank and Jamie McCourt’s pockets, and would not have benefited the team.  In saying so, he cites “the best interests” power that Commissioners have always had, but which is so very rarely cited so explicitly:

Pursuant to my authority as Commissioner, I have informed Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt today in a detailed letter that I cannot approve the club’s proposed transaction with FOX. This decision was reached after a full and careful consideration of the terms of the proposed transaction and the club’s current circumstances. It is my conclusion that this proposed transaction with FOX would not be in the best interests of the Los Angeles Dodgers franchise, the game of Baseball and the millions of loyal fans of this historic club.

Mr. McCourt has been provided with an expansive analysis of my reasons for rejecting this proposed transaction. Critically, the transaction is structured to facilitate the further diversion of Dodgers assets for the personal needs of Mr. McCourt. Given the magnitude of the transaction, such a diversion of assets would have the effect of mortgaging the future of the franchise to the long-term detriment of the club and its fans.

As I have said before, we owe it to the legion of loyal Dodger fans to ensure that this club is being operated properly now and will be guided appropriately in the future. This transaction would not accomplish these goals.

What has gone on with the Dodgers under McCourt’s watch is an atrocity.  What’s worse, it’s now being reported that even if Major League Baseball seized the Dodgers, McCourt would still own the parking lots and all manner of ancillary income.  McCourt is clearly using this as a buffer against MLB action, saying in effect,”if you take my team, I’ll be your new owner’s landlord.”  Which could certainly serve to depress buyer interest in the club.

Of course, the fact that that business arrangement is even allowed (i.e. an owner parsing out what should be team assets away from potential MLB control) is Major League Baseball’s fault.  As was letting McCourt into the club in the first place, so let us not weep too much for Major League Baseball here. Letting in clearly unqualified owners with questionable motives is something that never should have occurred, but which in any event needs to end now.  You can’t claim the best interests of baseball now when, a few years before, you weren’t all that damn diligent about it.

So where does it go from here? It would almost have to be litigation, one would assume, with Frank McCourt suing baseball for not approving the Fox deal or demanding that it be ratified immediately via some sort of injunction.  Baseball’s best bet is probably to simply take over when McCourt fails to make payroll at the end of the month and hope that they can swing it to a posture where the team and the ancillary assets could both be wrenched from McCourt’s control so as to make the Dodgers a more attractive asset for some billionaire.

But it’s going to get darker, it seems, before it gets light again.

Cubs owner Tom Ricketts continues to cry poor

Tom Ricketts
Nuccio DiNuzzo/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images
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MLB owners and the MLB Players Association continue to hash out details, some in public, about a 2020 baseball season. The owners have been suggesting a shorter season, claiming that they lose money on every game played without fans in attendance. The union wants a longer season, since players are — as per the March agreement — being paid a prorated salary. Players thus make more money over the 114 games the MLBPA suggested than the 50 or so the owners want.

Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts has been among the more vocal owners in recent weeks, claiming that the coronavirus pandemic and the ensuing shutdown of MLB has greatly hurt MLB owners’ business. Speaking to ESPN’s Jesse Rogers, Ricketts claimed, “The scale of losses across the league is biblical.”

Ricketts said, “Here’s something I hope baseball fans understand. Most baseball owners don’t take money out of their team. They raise all the revenue they can from tickets and media rights, and they take out their expenses, and they give all the money left to their GM to spend.” Ricketts continued, “The league itself does not make a lot of cash. I think there is a perception that we hoard cash and we take money out and it’s all sitting in a pile we’ve collected over the years. Well, it isn’t. Because no one anticipated a pandemic. No one expects to have to draw down on the reserves from the past. Every team has to figure out a way to plug the hole.”

Pertaining to Ricketts’ claim that “the league itself does not make a lot of cash,” Forbes reported in December that, for the 17th consecutive season, MLB set a new revenue record, this time at $10.7 billion. In accounting, revenues are calculated before factoring in expenses, but unless the league has $10 billion in expenses, I cannot think of a way in which Ricketts’ statement can be true.

MLB owners notably don’t open their accounting books to the public. Because the owners were crying poor during negotiations, the MLBPA asked them to provide proof of financial distress. The owners haven’t provided those documents. Thus, unless Ricketts opens his books, his claim can be proven neither true nor false, and should be taken with the largest of salt grains. If owners really are hurting as badly as they say they are, they should be more than willing to prove it. That they don’t readily provide that proof suggests they are being misleading.

It’s worth noting that the Ricketts family has a history of not being forthcoming about their money. Cubs co-owner Todd Ricketts got into hot water last year after it was found he had used inaccurate information when paying property taxes. In 2007, he bought two properties and demolished both, building a new, state-of-the-art house. For years, Ricketts used information pertaining to the older, demolished property rather than the current property, which drastically lowered his property taxes. Based on the adjustment, Ricketts’ property taxes increased from $828,000 to $1.96 million for 2019, according to The Chicago Tribune. Ricketts also had to pay back taxes for the previous three years.

At any rate, the owners want to pass off the financial risk of doing business onto their labor force. As we have noted here countless times, there is inherent risk in doing business. Owning a Major League Baseball team has, for decades, been nearly risk-free, which has benefited both the owners and, to a lesser extent, its workforce. The pandemic has thrown a wrench into everybody’s plans, but the financial losses these last three months are part of the risk. Furthermore, when teams have done much better business than expected, the owners haven’t benevolently spread that wealth out to their players, so why should the players forfeit even more of their pay than they already are when times are tough?