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Frank McCourt's Wife Is Only the Latest to Get the Raw End of a Deal

Thursday, Aug 5 2010
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Page 6 of 6

In addition to surfing, it seems, Drew is a big fan of soccer. So McCourt engineered a proposal to buy an English Premier League team. In the business proposal to CITIC, a Chinese state-owned enterprise, Drew was listed as "managing director — Europe," with responsibility for buying the EPL team and for stadium development.

Travis, meanwhile, was paid $200,000, though he worked full-time at Goldman Sachs.

In addition, there appear to be plans to raise ticket prices further still. In the CITIC proposal, the Dodgers said that their tickets are still "relatively inexpensive and there is substantial room for prices to increase without resulting in a decline in attendance."

click to flip through (5) ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS RAHN
  • ILLUSTRATION BY CHRIS RAHN
 

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The proposal contemplated an average ticket price of $53.50 by 2018. The parking fee would be $40, while player salaries would be held nearly flat.

Those figures might have been wildly unrealistic — an attempt, perhaps, to hoodwink Chinese investors — but they should alarm fans nonetheless.

The Chinese, meanwhile, didn't bite.

"They're awfully cautious on non commodities investments," says Bart Fisher, an adviser to CITIC on U.S. investments. "The last thing the Chinese want is to be publicly flagellated when Manny [Ramirez] screws up."

These revelations have been damaging to the McCourts' public image, but it's not clear that they've affected attendance. The Dodgers led the majors in attendance last year. So far this year they are third, and the per-game average has slipped by about 1,600 fans.

That could have as much to do with the economy or the team's inconsistent performance as with the revelations around McCourt and Jamie.

The recession accomplished what Jamie could not; it forced McCourt to trim his sails.

He had once hoped to raise $600 million in new capital. In August 2009, he cut back his goal to $125 million.

By most standards, even his scaled-down plans were ambitious. In an e-mail to the sports finance desk at Bank of America, Ingram explained what the money would be used for. Some would go toward securing rights to build a football stadium and large-scale commercial development in the parking lot at Dodger Stadium.

Some would go to "a campaign to get public investment for infrastructure at the [Dodger Stadium] property, including mass transit" — likely a light-rail line. Ingram noted that would entail "efforts at federal, state and local levels."

Aside from that, McCourt has long wanted to launch a regional sports network, which could add $1 billion in value to the Dodger franchise. But Ingram said it would be best to hold off on raising money for that until closer to 2013, when the Fox TV contract expires.

Even those trimmed-down ambitions, however, were put on hold when Bank of America rejected McCourt's request for capital.

Also on hold is the "Next 50" project — a $500 million plan, announced in 2008, to revitalize Dodger Stadium in time for its 50th anniversary in 2012. For now, McCourt has ordered his employees not to spend money on it.

The recession also helped to scuttle the CITIC partnership. At least at the moment, there are no plans to buy any soccer teams or establish a global sports empire.

As fans are well aware, the Dodgers' player payroll is down this year, to $95 million. McCourt emphatically denies that this is due to the divorce, and it does appear from Dodger financial records that the intent to cut payroll predated the McCourts' split.

This year, McCourt tried to borrow $10 million to cover legal expenses and couldn't. More recently, he has had to borrow money from his brother and business partners to make his monthly spousal-support payments.

The divorce trial looms as a big unknown. Though McCourt has the upper hand, he and Jamie each have something to lose by taking the case to trial. Jamie's lawyers, led by superlawyer David Boies, are challenging the validity of the marital-property agreement. She claims she didn't know what she was signing, and Judge Scott Gordon could rule that it unfairly favors McCourt and decide to split their assets 50-50.

They may still settle before the case goes to trial. But to do that, they'll have to overcome their instinct to keep fighting until the other one gives in.

On the eve of trial, David Chase has some unsolicited advice for his former business partner: "I hope he comes to his senses one day and realizes that money is important, but family and people are more important. It's just a shame.

"So many young people when they get a lot of success, then the friends of yesterday are no longer important. Money is all that is important. That's the pity of it all."

Reach the writer at gmaddaus@laweekly.com

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