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sports in the spotlight

Dodgers Brand Takes a Beating in Very Public Dispute

Posted by Barry Silverstein on April 28, 2011 12:00 PM

One of the most storied teams in the annals of baseball is the Los Angeles Dodgers. Why? Primarily because their roots are in the Brooklyn, New York of the 1950s. That's where the "Bums," as they were affectionately known, were the classic National League underdogs to the American League New York Yankees.

It wasn't that the Dodgers were bad; in fact, they had some of the best-known players in baseball — such immortals as Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, and Roy Campanella. It was just they could never beat the Yanks (well, not never: after playing the Yankees in four World Series, the Dodgers finally beat them to win the 1955 World Series — only to lose to the Yankees again the next year).

A 1959 World Series win as the Los Angeles Dodgers may have somewhat soothed the bad blood surrounding the Brooklyn Dodgers' relocation to the West Coast, but the team would never be quite the same. Still, they won two more World Series in the 1960s (one against the Yankees) and another in 1988.

But now the Dodgers brand is being battered by a controversy that seems to reinforce the famed phrase coined by Yogi Berra (he of the Yankees): "It ain't over 'til it's over."

The owner of the team, Frank McCourt (not be be confused with the famed writer of the same name, who passed away in 2009), is in a very public debate with Major League Baseball over his management of the Dodgers and the team's finances.

It all began with the 2009 messy divorce filing of Frank and Jamie McCourt. In October 2009, Frank McCourt fired his wife Jamie as CEO of the Dodgers. A week later, Jamie McCourt filed for divorce, asking to be reinstated as the Dodgers' CEO. By December 2010, after legal wrangling that went as far as the Los Angeles Superior Court, the McCourts were told that they had to settle the team ownership dispute outside of divorce court.

It gets better. According to TMZ, the McCourts are being investigated by the IRS for money they took from the team without paying taxes. 

In the midst of all this, Frank McCourt, who claims to be authorized to make decisions for the team, says he has a deal on the table to license the Los Angeles Dodgers' media rights to Prime Ticket, a regional sports network owned by Fox. The deal reportedly runs over 17 years with income of $3 billion, $300 million of which would be an upfront payment to the Dodgers. McCourt would also become part owner of the network. Interestingly, McCourt bought the Dodgers from NewsCorp, the owner of Fox, in 2004.

Apparently, Major League Baseball (MLB) is "concerned [Frank McCourt] was going to use the money from the TV deal for personal reasons, namely to buy out his wife's 50% share of the franchise," according to the Wall Street Journal. As a result, Bud Selig, MLB's commissioner announced last week that MLB would take control of the Dodgers' day-to-day operations "in the best interests of baseball." He has appointed a former minority owner of the Texas Rangers and former diplomat, Tom Schieffer, to act as the MLB-Dodgers go-between.

There may be more than just money behind MLB's power play. Tom Verducci, writes on SI.com, "Under Frank McCourt's ownership, the Dodgers are fielding no star players, with declining attendance that could influence future spending and a weakening footprint in the amateur market, especially internationally." In other words, the Dodgers need a management shake-up — and a revitalization of its brand.

For his part, Frank McCourt says the game ain't over. In a news conference yesterday, he said, "I took my life savings and invested it into the Los Angeles Dodgers. No one handed me the Dodgers and no one is going to take it away. I'm not going anywhere." Strangely enough, MLB has posted a video of McCourt criticizing MLB itself on its website.

Where will this dispute end? It may just go into extra innings.

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