The money — the most ever paid for a North American sports franchise — may not have come out of his wallet, but Magic Johnson brings something else to the group that submitted the winning $2 billion bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers at auction Tuesday.
He’s Magic Johnson. He’s Los Angeles. He’s class. He’s a winner. He’s Showtime. He’s the anti-Frank McCourt. The Dodgers can use all of those things right now.
“I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise,” Johnson said in a statement, “and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles.”
The price easily tops the $1.1 billion that Steve Ross paid for the Miami Dolphins three years ago, the previous high for a U.S. sports franchise. Johnson’s net worth has grown substantially since his retirement from the Los Angeles Lakers. It’s now estimated at $500 million with a series of smart investments bringing Starbucks to African-American neighborhoods and in tech ventures. He is the face of the group that includes controlling partner Mark Walter of Guggenheim Partners and Stan Kasten (formerly the Nationals’ president), Peter Guber, Bobby Patton and Todd Boehly. They and two other groups submitted bids; technically, the winning bid was $2.15 billion — a “100-percent cash deal” that ended the bidding as soon as it began, according to the Wall Street Journal — and includes the surrounding land. The Journal reports that Walter, the CEO of Guggenheim, is making a “significant personal contribution” to the purchase price and Guggenheim is playing “a substantial role.”
Still, $2 billion for a sports team is something accountants calls a “yowza” figure. Only three years ago, the Ricketts family paid $845 million for the Chicago Cubs. In Forbes’ list of the 50 most valuable franchises last summer, the Dallas Cowboys were listed as being worth $1.81 billion; the most valuable franchise anywhere was Manchester United at $1.86 billion.
Although the deal must work its way through the closing process and be approved by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the ignominious reign of Frank McCourt is nearly over — to the delight of Los Angelenos and baseball fans. Johnson was being kind when he mentioned the “fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt.” He purchased the team in 2004 for $420 million, but filed in June for bankruptcy protection after a series of questionable financial moves that included diverting $100 million for his personal use. Details of his shenanigans became public during his divorce and the franchise was plunged into disgrace, leading to a feud between McCourt and Major League Baseball. Under his ownership, Dodger Stadium had lost its luster as an attraction. Last spring, a San Francisco Giants fan was beaten in the parking lot at the stadium — yet another black eye for the franchise.
All that should begin to change now. The money is in place. As for the product on the field, Kasten will play a key baseball role. In addition to the Nationals, he formerly led the Atlanta Braves, Hawks and Thrashers. He hired Bobby Cox and John Schuerholz, ushering in stability with the Braves for years.
But the star, the guy who’ll be expected to restore the magic, is Magic. When he played for the Lakers’ dynasty, every game was Showtime. Can he do the same with the Dodgers and make $2.15 billion look like a steal?
@magicjohnson congrats on buying dodgers need a 1b or pinch hitter of the bench? Will play for free. Will donate salary charity— Jose Canseco (@JoseCanseco) March 28, 2012
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