NEW YORK (AP) — A group that includes former Lakers star Magic Johnson and longtime baseball executive Stan Kasten agreed Tuesday night to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers from Frank McCourt for $2 billion.
Mark Walter, chief executive officer of the financial services firm Guggenheim Partners, would become the controlling owner. The price would shatter the record for a North American sports franchise, topping the $1.1 billion Stephen Ross paid for the NFL's Miami Dolphins in 2009.
The deal, revealed about five hours after Major League Baseball owners approved three finalists for an intended auction, is one of several steps toward a sale of the team by the end of April. It is subject to approval in federal bankruptcy court.
As part of the agreement, the Dodgers said McCourt and "certain affiliates of the purchasers" would acquire the land surrounding Dodger Stadium, including its parking lots, for $150 million.
The acquiring group, called Guggenheim Baseball Management, has several other investors, among them Mandalay Entertainment chief executive Peter Guber.
"This agreement with Guggenheim reflects both the strength and future potential of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and assures that the Dodgers will have new ownership with deep local roots, which bodes well for the Dodgers, its fans and the Los Angeles community," McCourt said.
McCourt paid $430 million in 2004 to buy the team, Dodger Stadium and 250 acres of land that include the parking lots, from the Fox division of Rupert Murdoch's News Corp., a sale that left the team with about $50 million in cash at the time. The team's debt stood at $579 million as of January, according to a court filing, so McCourt stands to make hundreds of millions of dollars even after a $131 million divorce payment to former wife Jamie, taxes and legal and banking fees.
Kasten is expected to wind up as the team's top day-to-day executive.
The other two finalists were:
— Stan Kroenke, whose family properties own the NFL's St. Louis Rams, the NBA's Denver Nuggets, the NHL's Colorado Avalanche and Major League Soccer's Colorado Rapids, and who is majority shareholder of Arsenal in the English Premier League.
— Steven Cohen, founder of the hedge fund SAC Capital Advisors and a new limited partner of the New York Mets; biotechnology entrepreneur Patrick Soon-Shiong; and agent Arn Tellem of Wasserman Media Group.
It remains to be seen whether Major League Baseball will challenge the deal in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, where the case is before Judge Kevin Gross.
Under an agreement reached by MLB and McCourt in November, a private auction among the finalists was to have started Wednesday and McCourt was to select the winner by Sunday. The sales agreement is to be submitted to the bankruptcy court by April 6, ahead of a hearing seven days later, and the sale completed by April 30, the day McCourt is to make the divorce settlement payment.
"I am thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section in our wonderful community of Los Angeles," Johnson said in a statement.
The acquiring group will gain the ability to sell the Dodgers' local broadcasting rights starting with games in 2014. The Guggenheim group likely would use money gained from the sale — or form the team's own network with outside investment — and use those funds to pay down the debt from the acquisition.
"The amount of leverage is a big question," said Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based consulting firm Sportscorp, which is not involved. "The likely scenario is that they have a broadcasting deal in mind so that they pay up now and pay themselves down from a big broadcasting up-front payment.
"The problem with this strategy is that the more paid upfront by the broadcast deal, the less money is available for team operations. The more debt they take on, the more debt service is required, the less money that's available for team operations. With the only beneficiary being the man walking out the door. A challenging result that baseball tried to avoid."
The current record for a baseball franchise is the $845 million paid by the Ricketts family for the Chicago Cubs in 2009.