Frank McCourt: The rat in the punchbowl
At first, their message was that McCourt had laid a "fantastic foundation" for the Dodgers. That wasn't going to fly with fans, so now they've moved on to desperately trying to minimize McCourt's stake in the Dodger parking lots.
The overall message is borderline schizophrenic: Frank McCourt is a wonderful guy who we have nothing to do with. Clearly they are concerned about anger at McCourt, which caused a fan boycott last year.
Thankfully, there is a way for fans to express both their love for the Dodgers and their loathing for McCourt: Boycott the lots.
The easiest way to send a message to Frank McCourt is to take the Dodger Stadium Express. Or ride your bike. Get a cab. Don't pay $15 to park in Frank McCourt's parking lots.
Mark Walter, the main investor in the Dodgers, argued in an interview with ESPN yesterday that fans shouldn't worry about McCourt because he won't be involved in the "fan experience."
"Frank's not involved in the team, baseball, any of that," Walter said. "What Frank does have is an economic interest in land, but we control the parking and all the fan experience and that's of the utmost importance to us."
Walter is proclaiming that "we control the parking" as though that is a major concession on McCourt's part. But of course the Dodgers will control the parking. The team will lease the lots from McCourt and the other partners who own the land. If Walter contemplated buying the team without a lease for the parking lots, he would have to have his head examined.
Another effort to reduce McCourt's role found its way into the pages of the L.A. Times:
The money fans pay to park at Dodgers games goes to the new ownership group.
Yes, and then what happens to it? It goes to McCourt and his partners in the form of lease payments -- to the tune of $14 million a year. Let's go back one month in the L.A. Times archives:
The new owner of the Dodgers would inherit a lease for the parking lots -- at $14 million per year, with increases starting in 2015...
Unless that's changed (and if it has, the new owners have been mysteriously quiet about it) fan parking revenues will get passed from the Dodgers to McCourt via lease payments. (See update below.) Now, it's true that those payments don't go up or down based on parking revenues. But boycotting the parking lots is a simple way to send the message that McCourt's continuing role with the Dodgers is unwelcome.
While Walter has been downplaying McCourt's involvement as much as possible, he's also said he looks forward to partnering with him to develop the parking lots. (Good luck with that.) In an interview with the L.A. Times, he said:
have respect with each other, in terms of the things we care very much
about. He believes there is long-term value in that. He used the number
30 years. I told him we would care very much about the fan experience
and could not be associated with anything that would not have that in
mind. So I project that we will have a positive relationship.
Did you hear that, Dodger fans? 30 years. That's how long McCourt wants to hang around.
There's a scary echo in that of something McCourt told the Boston Globe back in 1998, when he was working on an ambitious waterfront development plan.
"This is a 100-year process," he said at the time. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the city."
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That 100-year process actually lasted only six years, at which point McCourt sold the land having developed nothing. In 2008, he dialed it back a bit, proposing a plan for the "Next 50" years at Dodger Stadium. That plan also resulted in nothing.
Fans may at least take some comfort that now McCourt is scaling it back to 30 years. But they've also been put on notice. He hasn't changed, and he's not going anywhere. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something.
Update: Three anonymous sources have told ESPN's Ramona Shelburne that McCourt will not get any parking revenue. Perhaps the $14 million lease agreement has been voided, though they don't quite say that. If that's true, presumably the new owners will have no trouble saying so on the record.
Either way, McCourt is still in the real estate development business with the Dodgers, and plans to be for the next several decades. That's a choice the new owners did not have to make. Having made it, they are now furiously trying to spin it away.