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Los Angeles Dodgers baseball legends including iconic announcer Vin Scully, onetime owner Peter O’Malley, former manager Tommy Lasorda and more than a dozen former players were on hand Wednesday morning at Dodger Stadium to introduce the team’s new ownership group.
The group, toplined by former Los Angeles Lakers legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson and headed by Chicago-based financial services firm Guggenheim Partners, purchased the team from beleaguered former owner Frank McCourt for $2.15 billion. The deal closed May 1.
Johnson was joined on a stage in Dodger Stadium’s center field by Guggenheim CEO Mark Walter, the team’s controlling owner, and partner Stan Kasten, the former Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals president. After an introduction from Scully, who told the throng of more than 100 reporters and L.A. luminaries including Larry King and Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa that he expected the new owners to take the team “higher than the Sistine Chapel” ceiling, the group spoke about its plans.
Johnson choked up at one point and told the audience, “I can’t even put it in words. …God is so good. And I know that because I am standing here a Dodger owner.” But there were also practical matters to discuss, including the announcement that general parking at the stadium would be reduced from $15 to $10 — a gesture of goodwill that is sure to go over well with fans.
Kasten said that the new regime would work to make fans’ experience at the stadium more interactive, and planned to allow more access to batting practice and have players greet fans at the entrance gates. He, Johnson and Walter also emphasized fan safety and a family-oriented environment at Dodger Stadium. (San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow was critically injured in a beating in the parking lot on opening day last season.)
Walter fielded questions about the high price paid for the team — a record for a U.S. sports franchise — with a simple answer: “It’s the Dodgers.”
The trio also was barraged with questions about the role McCourt would have in owning the parking lots that surround Dodger Stadium. After the group’s winning bid was announced March 27, the new owners released a statement saying McCourt and “certain affiliates of the purchasers” would acquire the Chavez Ravine property on which Dodger Stadium is situated for $150 million.
Walter said that McCourt’s involvement would be limited to potential financial benefit from the possible development of the parking lots. (The owners stressed that they have no current plans to develop the property; it has been suggested that the lots could be turned into a retail plaza with shops, bars and eateries.)
At one point, Johnson said firmly: “We are not going to talk about Frank McCourt anymore.”
Johnson said that his focus would be on sponsorship and marketing, and that he would have the ability to sign off on personnel moves. Johnson said he would be at the stadium regularly, adding that he couldn’t wait for his office to be ready next week. “I’m a control freak.”
Also introduced were Peter Guber and a handful of other minority owners. Guber, the Mandalay Entertainment CEO, has a long history in the sports business world. He has been co-owner of the NBA’s Golden State Warriors since July 2010, and Mandalay Entertainment owns and/or manages several minor-league baseball teams. After the press conference, Guber spoke with The Hollywood Reporter and said that he would use his experience in Hollywood and apply it to the Dodgers.
“It is show business, it is entertainment,” Guber said. “A fan comes to the stadium, and the minute he or she makes the decision … every moment is a connection that you have to have with that audience. And if you fail them in any one place, they will remember that even more than the successes.”
Guber said he would draw on his experience owning minor league teams to make the Dodgers “fan friendly” and “generous to the audience.”
“We are in the emotional transportation business,” Guber said. “We have to move people emotionally.” When asked what his involvement would be day-to-day, Guber joked, “Big financial involvement. B-I-G.”
Johnson and Guber are already business partners. The NBA hall of famer is an investor in Mandalay’s Dayton Dragons, a Class A team that has sold out more than 800 consecutive games at its 7,230-seat ballpark. And when Guber was CEO of Sony Pictures Entertainment from 1989 to 1995, he helped Johnson launch his chain of movie theaters. “I’ve been in sports for 17 years. This isn’t my first rodeo,” Guber said.
Guggenheim Partners is an owner of New York-based Prometheus Global Media, parent company of The Hollywood Reporter.
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