After being backed into a corner by Commissioner Bud Selig, Los Angeles Dodgers’ owner Frank McCourt lashed out at Major League Baseball by filing for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy. That’s what rats do.
According to a press release released by the Dodgers, McCourt justified his decision by claiming that Selig’s refusal to approve a tentative media rights deal with FOX Sports was detrimental to the team. “I simply cannot allow the Commissioner to knowingly and intentionally be in a position to expose the Dodgers to financial risk any longer,” McCourt stated. If anything, the reckless owner has proven more than capable of doing that all on his own.
Needless to say, no one around baseball is laughing at the irony expressed by McCourt, but, the bankruptcy filing could turn out to be a blessing in disguise. Although the filing’s motivation was likely to stave off an attempt by Selig to officially seize the team, it could eventually leave McCourt without an ally in the process. According to the Los Angeles Times, FOX has hinted that it would not be willing to have its proposed contract with the Dodgers consummated by a court ruling. If true, McCourt could find himself trying to scurry off his own sinking ship. That’s also what rats do.
Although the MLB bylaws seem to give the commissioner power over rouge owners like McCourt, it’s almost a given that enforcement would only come after a long and expensive legal battle. For that reason, baseball would be better off if the bankruptcy court is the entity that requires a sale. Even though that would give Selig and company less control over the next Dodgers’ owner, it would save them from costly litigation, further embarrassment, and the continued destruction of a flagship franchise. In the meantime, the bankruptcy filing does provide the Dodgers with enough liquidity to meet its short-term obligations, including payment of all salaries and benefits as well as funding of day-to-day operations.
As mentioned, the wild card in this latest soap opera is FOX, another irony considering many in Los Angeles believe the Dodgers began losing a grip on the city when it owned the team. To many, FOX and Frank McCourt are almost interchangeable, which is one reason the rumored media rights deal has been met with so much suspicion.
Considering how closely the Dodgers and FOX Sports have been aligned in the past, it’s easy to see why one might think they are working in concert. However, the company actually has two dogs in the fight. Not only is FOX one of baseball’s national broadcast partners, but several of its regional networks do business with other franchises. In other words, FOX might have more of an incentive to stand on the sidelines, rather than thumb its nose at the rest of the baseball. Perhaps that’s a trump card Selig has been holding all along?
There is another third party that could also hold sway in the matter: the fans. Attendance at Dodger Stadium is already down a whopping 19% year-over-year, or 8,653 fans per game, and, the longer this situation drags out, the lower those figures could continue to fall. Although an empty Dodger Stadium would be a temporary embarrassment to baseball, it could be another short-term pain that brings about a remedy to the franchise’s current ills. If the fans continue to vote with their feet, it might make McCourt finally take notice of the decline his fiscal mismanagement has wrought.
Frank McCourt has been no stranger to litigation over the last couple of years, so it’s very likely that he has deluded himself into believing he is the victim. Unfortunately for Los Angeles, and all of baseball, the Dodgers’ proud tradition is truly paying the price. Bankruptcy always sounds like a nuclear option, but both the Texas Rangers and Chicago Cubs recently used the vehicle to effect a more stable ownership structure, so hopefully the same outcome will result for the Dodgers.