Magic Johnson to Bid to Buy Los Angeles Dodgers

9:37 AM PST 12/02/2011 by Daniel Miller, Matthew Belloni
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Magic Johnson

The former Lakers star and businessman is partnering with Mark Walter, CEO of financial firm Guggenheim Partners, and former Washington Nationals president Stan Kasten on an effort to acquire the storied baseball franchise from Frank McCourt.

Magic Johnson, businessman Mark Walter and former baseball executive Stan Kasten will submit a bid to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers.

The alignment of the former Los Angeles Lakers superstar with Walter, the CEO of New York and Chicago-based financial firm Guggenheim Partners, and Kasten, former president of the Washington Nationals and Atlanta Braves, pairs a prominent local figure with an out-of-town investor with deep pockets and another with serious baseball savvy. Many observers believe such a grouping is needed in the aftermath of Frank McCourt’s rocky tenure as owner of the storied franchise.

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Johnson's ownership of the Dodgers would be historic: He would be the highest profile African American investor in a Major League Baseball franchise. No African American has ever been the majority owner of a Major League Baseball team, though there have been a few teams with black limited partners. (It is not yet clear what sort of ownership position Johnson would have in the group, though he is expected to be one of the most visible faces of the franchise.) It would be fitting for the Dodgers organization to be the first team to be majority owned by an African American -- the franchise was the first in Major League Baseball to integrate when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947. Kasten would serve as team president if the Johnson/Walter/Kasten bid is successful.

"Stan Kasten is my man," Johnson told Los Angeles Times sports columnist Bill Plaschke on Friday. "He's a winner, he's built two incredible organizations, and he's well respected. That is what was important to me. I had to get with a winner, a guy who understands baseball inside and out."

Blackstone Advisory Partners, the investment bank that is handling the sale of the bankrupt team for the beleaguered McCourt, is expected to send potential buyers information on the team later this month. The Dodgers could fetch more than $1 billion. A first round of bidding is slated for January.

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In October 2010, Johnson sold his minority ownership stake in the Lakers in a move widely believed to be a harbinger of his investment in another sports franchise. Since then, there has been speculation that Johnson would make a play for the Dodgers. He also is part of the Anschutz Entertainment Group-headed consortium working to bring an NFL franchise to the company’s planned Farmers Field in downtown L.A. He told ESPN.com in September that he would be a part of the ownership group that will solicit a football team to play at the stadium.

Prior to his recent tenure running the Nationals, Kasten was the longtime president of the Braves. During his 16-year stint with the team, the Braves won five National League pennants and the 1995 World Series. He ran the Nationals for almost five full seasons and stepped down at the end of the 2010 season.

A handful of other high-profile businessmen and Los Angeles figures have expressed interest in the Dodgers. ESPN reported Nov. 30 that one prospective ownership group fronted by former sports agent and Chicago White Sox executive Dennis Gilbert also would include Larry King. Mark Cuban, the billionaire owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks, Landmark Theatres and Magnolia Pictures, also has shown interest. In April, THR rounded up several potential entertainment business players that sources said could make a run at the team, including Mandalay Entertainment Group CEO Peter Guber, Miramax Films co-owner Thomas Barrack and Cuban.

“You are going to want to have local representation because you didn’t have it last time and it’s a model that works,” said Jeff Marks, managing director of Premier Partnerships, a Los Angeles-based sports and entertainment business development firm. “The community is really demanding that.”

But, because of the Dodgers’ Chapter 11 bankruptcy, the team will be sold through a bankruptcy court auction and will ultimately go to the highest bidder. “It is going to come down to money,” Marks said. McCourt filed for bankruptcy in June in an effort to prevent Major League Baseball commissioner Bug Selig from seizing the team. While Marks expects that MLB will have a say in which ownership group prevails, he cautioned that the inclusion of a token local figure in an ownership group may not be enough to “get it done.”

Walter's Guggenheim Partners, which would not be involved in the ownership group, is an owner of New York-based Prometheus Global Media, the parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.

Email: Daniel.Miller@THR.com; Matthew.Belloni@THR.com

Twitter: @DanielNMiller; @THRMattBelloni

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