Dodgers' Magic Johnson: 'You'll see the team invest money'
By By Bill Shaikin
Mar 28, 2012 at 8:42 PM
NEW YORK — For Magic Johnson and his partners, a long day and a surreal night spilled into the wee hours of the morning.
Johnson and Co. awoke Tuesday morning as one of three remaining bidders for the Dodgers, with a final auction set to start Wednesday. Baseball's owners approved all three bidders Tuesday afternoon.
Frank McCourt then threw a curveball. The Johnson group's last offer was so much more lucrative than the others that McCourt wanted to take it right then and there. The attorneys on both sides hurriedly completed the documents, the court-appointed mediator blessed the deal, and McCourt congratulated the winners.
Stan Kasten, the Dodgers' incoming president, was there. So was Mark Walter, the chief executive of Guggenheim Partners and the money man in the deal. So too was Lon Rosen, an advisor to Johnson for decades and McCourt's first marketing chief with the Dodgers.
McCourt fired Rosen after one year. But, for $2.15 billion, bygones. McCourt gave Rosen a big hug.
The Johnson team adjourned at 2 a.m., for a celebration at P.J. Clarke's, a century-old Manhattan saloon. A few hours later, the team sat down for an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
Johnson's Lakers featured the star-studded cast of "Showtime." Kasten, former president of the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, never has signed a player to a $100-million contract. Johnson did not shy away from comparisons to the New York Yankees, baseball's biggest spenders.
Johnson: "Other teams are doing it. It's not just the Yankees. The Angels invested a lot of money into Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. You see what the Tigers just did with Prince Fielder. Teams are investing. That's what you do when you put a winning team on the field. We're not going to be any different from those teams.
"Also, we would love to copy the Yankees' success. If you're saying, 'Do we want to be the Yankees?,' the answer is yes. We want to win the World Series. We do want to win."
Johnson will invest millions of his own into buying the Dodgers, but how much time will he invest?
Johnson: "I'm going to be out in the community, selling the team and selling the plan. When Stan sets the plan, we're going to execute on it. Mark and I will make sure the business of the Dodgers gets handled.
"If the players need to talk to me about anything, I'll be there. My door is always open. I'll have an office there, and I'll be working there daily."
The new owners are scheduled to take over May 1, so free agents and trades will have to wait. Will the front-office executives remain in place for the rest of the season?
Kasten: "For sure. I go in assuming everyone is doing their job properly. The problems that have been reported over the last few years have to do with organizational problems. I look forward to spending time with everyone and seeing how I can help them.
"I think the duties of a president are to make sure everything is organized, to make sure you have the right people in the right boxes, and to get people the resources they need to do their job. Resources means money, but it also means support. It means time. I think, with those things, the people now there can be successful. I don't have any plans to come in and change things right now."
Walter: "We don't have anything specific. We are open to and will rigorously consider anything and everything that is going to make the fan experience better."
Johnson: "You got a man in Stan who built two stadiums."
Kasten: "And a pretty cool arena." (Turner Field and Philips Arena in Atlanta, and Nationals Park in Washington.)
Johnson: "He knows what the fan experience should be like. We're excited to lean on him to make sure the fan experience is great, to make sure that they get from their cars to their seats and back to their cars safe, and that they have an incredible time."
Will fans see parking structures in the Dodger Stadium parking lot?
Kasten: "There are none on the drawing board."
McCourt previously has proposed parking structures. The sale allows him to share ownership of the parking lots, with any development subject to the approval of both McCourt and the new owners. How concerned should fans be about what might happen to their iconic ballpark?
Walter: "We care very much. We bought this franchise to maintain and build it to be the best franchise it can possibly be, from on the field to fan experience and how it relates to the community. We don't think there is anything we ever would let happen that would be inconsistent with that — and parking is just part of that."
How concerned are the new owners about going into business with McCourt, whose history is dotted with litigation against his business partners?
Walter: "My experience with him has not been like that. We 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."
The Dodgers just sold for three times what any baseball team ever has sold for. How does this deal make business sense?
Walter: "I think you have a few moments in life where you have the opportunity to own an asset and really be a custodian of something that should be multigenerational and iconic. I understand it's a lot of money. But it's not as if you can go buy another one tomorrow.
"I think that franchise has a lot of value. I believe the value is there. I actually hope my daughter and granddaughter are going to opening day because that's just what we do, and whether the franchise is worth five times what we paid for it or just what we paid for it, that won't matter, because we hope we never, ever are going to sell it. We're going to be going with generations of grandchildren if our hopes are realized."
How does ownership work when ownership includes insurance funds managed by Guggenheim?
Walter: "I think a lot of teams have ownership groups that are multiple limited partnerships. This structure is really pretty simple. We formed a company. I'm the general partner. I have 100% of the vote. There are other folks and companies that put in what we will call limited partnership interests. They have an economic interest in the team. There have been institutional or corporate-owned teams. There have been individual-owned teams. This is, I guess, a mix."
What is the balance between institutional and individual investors?
Walter: "I don't know what it will be. It may change. It's likely to be fairly balanced."
How much debt are the Dodgers adding?
Walter: "We are not adding any debt. Not one penny."
When Arte Moreno bought the Angels, his first move was to lower the price of beer. How about lowering the price of parking at Dodger Stadium?
Kasten: "We have things we are considering right now, not so much beer prices or parking prices. But we are considering a lot of things. We have the next month to have something ready to go for when we take over.
"I'm a huge fan of Arte. I've spoken to him several times. We look forward to competing, and we look forward to having him continue to challenge us."