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Sold: Dodgers Get New Owners


It's the day Dodger fans have been waiting for. The Los Angeles team has new owners, provided a bankruptcy judge approves. Current owner Frank McCourt has agreed to sell for a record $2 billion. As NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates reports, Los Angeles couldn't be happier with the new management team and one man in particular.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: The bulk of the funding for this sale comes from Guggenheim Partners, a Chicago-based financial services company. And while Guggenheim is from out of town, one of his partners is about as L.A. as the famous Hollywood sign. Former Los Angeles Laker Earvin "Magic" Johnson was a key part of the deal, and he told ESPN it was a deal.

MAGIC JOHNSON: We know that two billion is a lot, but sometimes you go after a marquee franchise. These don't come on the market too often.

BATES: Reaction to the sale was immediate and positive.

LORENA HUBBARD: We wanted Magic Johnson. That - it's actually good. It's really good.

BATES: Lorena Hubbard(ph) is at a mechanic's shop down the street from Chavez Ravine, home of Dodger Stadium. The team's new ownership has her approval and her brother Steve's.

STEVE: I've seen a lot of people leaving. So now, it's like, yeah, I think it will definitely bring more people to the game.

BATES: The last year has taken its toll on Dodger fans. There was the excruciatingly public divorce of Dodger owner Frank McCourt and his wife Jamie, then visiting Giants fan Bryan Stow was beaten almost to death in the stadium parking lot by drunken hooligans, add in a lackluster season. Now, says season ticket holder Dennis Paniagua, things are looking up.

DENNIS PANIAGUA: Now, it's like a big plus because of Magic, owner. So it's just frosting on the cake now.

BATES: Johnson is a minority holder in the enterprise, Guggenheim's public face of goodwill. But he's a demonstrated success in real estate development, especially in minority communities and in meaningful community outreach. Team management will be handled by Stan Kasten, the former president of the Atlanta Braves and the Washington Nationals. Michael Ozanian writes about the business of sports for Forbes Media, and he says the group is a powerful trifecta.

MICHAEL OZANIAN: In Magic Johnson as the frontman, they have someone who's adored in Los Angeles. Stan Kasten, they have a proven successful, longtime former baseball executive. And then on the financing side, they have Guggenheim Partners, which has a lot of money.

BATES: David Carter is executive director of the University of Southern California's Sports Business Institute, and he says that while Johnson is attractive, the deal might have gone through anyway.

DAVID CARTER: You know, Magic Johnson is important to this, but basically, at this point, there would have been goodwill associated with anybody that wasn't Frank McCourt.

BATES: The team will realize billions from an upcoming TV deal, and that may eventually offset the huge amount paid Frank McCourt, who will still maintain partial ownership of the stadium's parking lots. There are plans to ultimately restructure Chavez Ravine into an upscale mixed-use facility that encompasses the stadium but also shops, restaurants and residences. That, says USC's David Carter, may justify the $2 billion price tag.

CARTER: It's certainly a massive amount of money, and I think the only way it makes sense is not as a sports deal but as a media deal and as a real estate deal and ultimately turning the Dodgers and Chavez Ravine into an entertainment property.

BATES: But in the near future, Dodger fans just want to get back to baseball, says blogger Robert Timm. He's been chronicling the team's ups and downs for five years at dodgerdugout.com.

ROBERT TIMM: They want to come back. I mean, Dodger fans, diehards like myself and, you know, lots of us have put off going to games over the last couple of years. I know my attendance was down, and I'm already excited about going back.

BATES: They won't have long to wait. The Dodgers' home opener is April 10th. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Grigsby Bates is the Senior Correspondent for Code Switch, a podcast that reports on race and ethnicity. A veteran NPR reporter, Bates covered race for the network for several years before becoming a founding member of the Code Switch team. She is especially interested in stories about the hidden history of race in America—and in the intersection of race and culture. She oversees much of Code Switch's coverage of books by and about people of color, as well as issues of race in the publishing industry. Bates is the co-author of a best-selling etiquette book (Basic Black: Home Training for Modern Times) and two mystery novels; she is also a contributor to several anthologies of essays. She lives in Los Angeles and reports from NPR West.