Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig should be allowed to sell the bankrupt Los Angeles Dodgers, said season-ticket holders including the heirs of singer Frank Sinatra.
The request was among dueling court papers filed yesterday in which Selig, News Corp.’s Fox Sports and ticket holders lined up against team owner Frank McCourt, who is battling to retain control of the club.
The Dodgers claim that since McCourt bought the team in 2003 for about $325 million the club has seen record success financially and on the field. The team wants court permission to auction future television rights to raise enough money to exit bankruptcy.
Fox, Selig and the Ad Hoc Committee of Season Ticket Holders asked U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Kevin Gross in Wilmington, Delaware, to say no.
The auction “appears to be self-motivated by Mr. McCourt and his personal financial issues and not the interests of the Dodgers and its core creditors, the season ticket holders,” the ticket owners said.
Yesterday was the deadline for written arguments on competing proposals that would either force McCourt to sell the team or allow him to auction the TV rights.
The Dodgers filed for bankruptcy in June after Selig refused to approve a new television contract that McCourt negotiated with Fox Sports, the current broadcaster.
The ticket holders want Gross to approve Selig’s motion to strip McCourt of exclusive control of the Dodgers’ bankruptcy case. That would allow MLB to file a reorganization plan in which McCourt would be forced to sell the team.
Frank Sinatra Jr., Tina Sinatra and Nancy Sinatra hold eight box seats their father bought in 1958 when the Dodgers moved to Los Angeles from Brooklyn, New York. The elder Sinatra died in 1998.
His children belong to the Ad Hoc Committee, which is seeking official recognition by the court to have more influence in the bankruptcy case. There are about 17,000 season-ticket holders.
“The U.S. Trustee already has denied status in these Chapter 11 proceedings to this so-called, self-described, ad hoc committee consisting of a handful of individuals,” the Dodgers said in a statement. “As the Dodgers have previously stated, Dodgers Tickets LLC intends to honor all of its agreements with season ticket holders.”
Fox, which televises the games under its Prime Ticket unit, repeated its contention that the Dodgers’ cannot negotiate with any potential buyer until after October 2012. The company claims that under its current contract it has an exclusive right to negotiate until then and has the right to match any offer.
MLB claimed in court papers that McCourt is unfit to be owner of the team and is using the bankruptcy to sell the TV rights in violation of its baseball contracts to settle his personal debts.
McCourt had $47,765 in his personal bank account as of Aug. 31 and owed his ex-wife, Jamie McCourt $640,000 a month in spousal support related to their divorce, MLB said in court papers.
The TV deal rejected by Selig was worth about $3 billion, McCourt said at an April 27 news conference in New York.
The team would have collected $1.7 billion in fees under the proposed 17-year deal, MLB said in its objection. Fox would have paid $385 million of the fees upfront in the form of a loan, with $173.5 million earmarked to satisfy McCourt’s personal debts and pay for his divorce settlement, MLB said in court papers.
McCourt took $180 million from the Dodgers as owner, MLB claimed. The Dodgers said in court filings that many of those payments were approved by Selig and others did not involve the team and were not subject to the commissioner’s approval.
Last year, McCourt and Fox amended the television contract, resulting in a payment of $25 million to the Dodgers as an advance on 2011 fees, according to court papers. That represents 71 percent of the $35.2 million telecast fees owed to the Dodgers that year, MLB said yesterday.
After McCourt paid about $325 million for the Dodgers eight years ago, its value grew to more than $800 million, Forbes magazine estimated earlier this year, the Dodgers said in a court filing.
The team went to the playoffs four times in the first six years of McCourt’s ownership, success not matched since the Dodgers’ moved to Los Angeles, the team said.
The case is In re Los Angeles Dodgers LLC, 11-12010, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).