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A $2 Billion Bargain for New Dodger Owners?

2012 April 3
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by Brian Goff

The $2 billion winning bid the group headed by Guggenheim Financial CEO Mark Walter and Magic Johnson as PR owner raised many eyebrows.  It blows away the $1.5 billion paid by the Glazers for Man United or the $845 million paid for the Cubs in 2009.  Is this just another highly leveraged deal leaving owners cash-strapped in terms of baseball operations?

Matthew Futterham’s piece in the Wall Street Journal lays out the driving force behind the deal — local TV broadcast rights.  As he observes:

Recent rights deals for the Los Angeles Angels and Texas Rangers are valued at nearly $150 million a year, including equity in the sports networks. As the top baseball brand in such a large market, the Dodgers would likely command more than that, Lee Berke, a sports media consultant, said.

The lowly Padres inked a $75 million per year deal.  All of these rights deals run for about 20 years.  A simplistic present value estimates of the Rangers and Angels deals falls in the neighborhood of $1.8 billion at a 5% discount rate.  Of course, front-loading of any payments or different discount rates change this estimate.  Nonetheless, given that the new Dodger owners can sign their own new deal starting in 2014, their bid is roughly equal to the likely value of TV rights.  If they can turn a profit from other revenues (gate attendance, concessions, parking, league-shared revenues), then baseball operations should be fine.  Of course, the near term flow of cash and interest terms on their debt-financing matter.  The details of the deal are due to be publicly released in bankruptcy court April 6.

Ok, local TV rights provides the revenue stream, but doesn’t this just push back the insanity one level?  Why would anyone bid these amounts for baseball — America’s dying pastime?  A funny thing happened on the way to the funeral — baseball franchises discovered that a substitute was actually a complement.  Over the past several years, teams switched to televising most, if not all, of their games via local broadcast/cable/satellite.  Teams long resisted such TV saturation, thinking that televised games substitute for fans in the seats.  Texas drew almost 3 million fans last season in spite of extensive regional televising of their games.  Yes, a few fans, at the margin, will choose to attend fewer games and watch on TV.  However, many potential fans will attend very few games regardless.  Televising the games becomes a way of extending the stadium capacity to include these households.  The TV advertisers along with cable/satellite fees pay for these “at-home season ticket holders.”  So instead of these households doing other things, they watch the Rangers.  My 70-something parents fit this description.

The televising of  Cubs and Braves games in the 1980s on WGN and TBS serve as a precursor for these recent developments.  Both teams expanded their fan bases and energized existing fans by putting every game on TV.  Even gate attendance increased.  Other teams hated it because they saw this as a siphoning of their fan bases.  It took a while, but other teams slowly caught on.  It also reflects the same views and experience with radio broadcasts, resisted by teams at first because they saw them as a threat to live gate.

One Response
  1. Duane Rockerbie permalink
    April 4, 2012

    I think you hit the nail on the head Brian with the television revenues. Still I wonder if $2 billion is too much for the Dodgers. Could the winner’s curse be at work here? Manchester United and Liverpool were purchased with highly leveraged funds and they have suffered financially and on the pitch. It remains to be seen how this deal will affect the Dodgers payroll, but I can’t see heavy investment in talent on this club in the near future given the debt load.

    I don’t think that Magic Johnson has a billion dollars sitting around to invest so most of it must be debt. His participation adds a marquee value, but usually these sorts of partial owners fall out of the ownership group after a few seasons. The deal includes Dodger Stadium (but not the parking lots) which is quite old and in need of renovations. Will there be money for this? The p0tential TV revenues are there, but if the club does not add talent and fix up the stadium, the TV revenues could be less than expected.

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