Stanley Stalford has always dreamed of being president of the Dodgers. He's a lifelong Angeleno and a real estate developer. But he's also a mere millionaire — not a billionaire — so he couldn't afford the team even if it were on the market.
But much like current owner Frank McCourt, Stalford is not letting his lack of capital stand in the way of his dream. Instead, he has developed a creative financial solution: public ownership.
Stalford, 47, has been working for months to put together a public bid for the team. If it sounds crazy, that's because it is, a little. But it's good crazy, and at the very least it's a provocative idea. Here's how it would work.
There would be a public offering. Investors would have to pay a few thousand dollars per share. The shareholders would elect a governing board, which would hire the CEO.
Investors could trade their shares, and potentially realize a profit if the team appreciated in value. But the team would be run as a non-profit, like the Green Bay Packers, meaning revenues would be plowed back into the club, and not spent on Olympic-sized swimming pools and haircuts for the owners.
“I have no profit motive here,” Stalford said. “I'm doing this purely because I'm a young businessman who gives a damn.”
Stalford, who lives in Hancock Park with his wife and son, rehabilitates old houses and apartments through his company, Stalford Homes. He served on the Los Angeles Cultural Heritage Commission, and was involved in the effort to designate the Capitol Records Tower a historic monument.
He was raised in Beverly Hills, where his father was a bank president. His only previous brush with publicity was in 1968, when as a 4-year-old boy he was kidnapped and held for ransom. After two days, he was rescued by the FBI.
As developers go, he is small-time. (Though he may have developed about as many properties as McCourt has.) But in contrast to McCourt, he says, “my partners still talk to me, and no one has ever sued me.”
Just about anything would be better than McCourt ownership, but there are a few hurdles that come immediately to mind.
First, the team is not for sale. But as McCourt battles with Major League Baseball, a sale seems like an increasingly likely outcome.
“I believe at some point, the team will be disposed of to another buyer,” Stalford said. “Why not us?”
Another hurdle is that MLB does not allow public ownership. The Cleveland Indians experimented with it in the 1990s, allowing the public to buy a minority stake in the team, with the shares listed on NASDAQ. But in that case, the team owner retained voting control.
A handful of minor league teams — mostly in small Rust Belt cities — are community owned. But at the major league level, the owners don't have much interest in the uncertainty that comes with genuine public ownership, nor do they want to make the financial disclosures that would be required by the Securities and Exchange Commission. Commissioner Bud Selig could change the policy, but it seems extremely unlikely.
“If it were the case that there was no owner out there who Selig liked, and who the owners in general liked, and who they felt were well capitalized, then it's possible under special circumstances that they would consider the alternative,” said Andrew Zimbalist, an economics professor at Smith College, who was being generous. “I think [public ownership] would be at the bottom of their list.”
Third, there is the issue of investor interest. Stalford said he would have to raise $800 million to make a bid for the team. In general, investors in publicly traded sports teams are fans who want a token of their sentimental attachment to the team. They may balk at the high share price, and there may not be enough demand to make a go of it.
But Stalford is undaunted by the practical considerations. He acknowledges the enterprise makes him sound like “Don Quixote, Jr.” But he plans to set up a website to promote the idea — ownthedodgers.com — and has retained a lawyer and recruited advisers.
“I think it's an exciting concept,” said Albert Kam, the former CEO of the Royal Kona Coffee Company, and an adviser to Stalford. “Here's an opportunity for the people of Los Angeles to take ownership of the team. What better way to take ownership of it than by owning a physical share of the Dodgers?”
Side note: Councilwoman Janice Hahn, campaigning for Congress, has come out in favor of public ownership. Hahn has called for federal legislation that would allow a public bid for a Dodgers.
Also last week: Dave Zirin wrote an op/ed in the L.A. Times supporting public ownership.