Inside The Dodgers' Glitzy Reboot

9:00 AM PST 08/08/2012 by Daniel Miller
Wesley Mann

From a new television deal to luring stars back to Chavez Ravine, how L.A.'s new-look team plans to restore the glory to the franchise.

In the new issue of The Hollywood Reporter, the glitzy reboot of the Los Angeles Dodgers — baseball's storied West Coast answer to the New York Yankees — is detailed with unprecedented access to the star players, managers past and present, iconic broadcasters and the new owners of the six-time World Series-winning franchise. Big changes are in store after a star-studded ownership group that includes basketball great Earvin "Magic" Johnson and Hollywood heavyweight Peter Guber purchased the team from beleaguered former owner Frank McCourt for $2.15 billion this spring.

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The offer more than doubled the previous record price for a North American sports franchise. While the $2.15 billion spent to acquire the team is extraordinary, it’s also reflective of opportunities in baseball ownership that might not have existed a decade ago.

Now, the new ownership group headed by Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter has a multi-pronged approach to remaking the team known for its legacy of transformational players like Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax and beloved personalities such as former manager Tommy Lasorda and broadcaster Vin Scully. Ownership will look to negotiate a new television rights deal that could be worth as much as $8.5 billion, remodel an aging but historic Dodger Stadium, court Hollywood fans and improve the on-field product of a franchise that saw attendance drop precipitously during the disastrous seven-season McCourt era.

“The game doesn’t belong to the owners, this game doesn’t belong to the players, it belongs to the fans,” said Lasorda, who as manager led the Dodgers to two World Series titles in the 1980s. “You can have the best stadium, the best team, but if nobody goes through those turnstiles, you are going to have to shut the doors down. That’s why we owe the people. We’ve got the greatest fans in all of baseball, and we owe them a winner.”

Inking a TV deal:
The Dodgers’ current television arrangement expires at the end of the 2013 and already sports-business insiders have speculated whether the team will score the richest TV deal ever in pro sports. According to a study conducted by independent consultancy Desser Sports Media for THR, should the team follow the path of the Yankees and start its own network -- one of a handful of options -- during a 20-year initial term, the Dodgers could generate $8.5 billion in TV revenue. “[The valuation] goes a far distance to explain the actions of various parties,” said Ed Desser, who led the study. “There is certainly no question that there is substantial value there.”

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Remodeling Dodger Stadium:
The iconic 56,000-seat venue that has been the site of countless historic moments — from Koufax’s 1965 perfect game and Kirk Gibson’s dramatic home run in the 1988 World Series to visits from Pope John Paul II and The Beatles — is in need of changes big and small. During the off-season, the team is expected to upgrade the stadium’s water and power systems and improve mobile phone service by adding WiFi to the notoriously technology-unfriendly ballpark. To that end, on Aug. 6, the Dodgers hired Janet Marie Smith, an executive who has worked for teams including the Baltimore Orioles and Boston Red Sox, to oversee upgrades to the stadium. Bigger changes include a potential $100 million-plus renovation that might add more kid-friendly amenities, new restaurants and a Dodgers museum. But Guber, CEO of Mandalay Entertainment Group, cautioned that the new owners won’t rush to jump into a redevelopment plan: “All of us made our money the old-fashioned way — we’ve earned it hard, so we spend it carefully.”

Courting celebrity fans:
Certain stadium improvements also would better court and serve the team’s Hollywood fans. Stars such as Jason Bateman, Larry King and Alyssa Milano are regulars; showbiz attorney Howard Weitzman has season tickets; and the Zanuck family shares seats with manager-producer Michael Sugar, among others. Observers said the team could better the experience for VIPs by improving terrible traffic conditions at the stadium and adding more premium seating. In fans like Larry King and comedian George Lopez, the Dodgers already have diehard Hollywood denizens on their side. Said Lopez, “I’ve been to Rome, I’ve been to the Vatican, and this is the Vatican west.” King was similarly effusive: “I’ve bled Dodger blue all my life.”

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Improving the team:
The Dodgers have been flirting with first place in theNational League’s Western Division all season. And the team’s management has made several moves signaling the team’s willingness to spend big to build a winner. In June, the team signed star right fielder Andre Ethier to a five-year, $85 million contract extension, joining Mat Kemp, who before the season inked an eight-year extension worth $160 million. The Dodgers were major players in the lead-up to the league’s July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline, making moves for two-time All-Star Shane Victorino and former National League batting champ Hanley Ramirez. “That’s where it counts, down on the field,” said Vin Scully, the team’s announcer since 1950. “All the other statements were very nice — you know, a new look. But they did something, and that has made a huge impression in the sports community in L.A. They’ve come to play, but they’ve come to win.”

(New York- and Chicago-based Guggenheim Partners, which has an ownership interest in the Dodgers, is co-owner with Pluribus Capital Management of Prometheus Global Media, the parent company of THR.)

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller

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