Dodgers’ TV Deal Designed to Bind Team to Fox, Witness Says

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ contract with Fox Sports, which the network claims gives it an exclusive right to negotiate for the baseball team’s television rights, was “designed to perpetuate a marriage,” a Fox witness said.

Edwin Desser, president of Desser Sports Media Inc., a company that represents sports teams in media arrangements, said today that so-called back-end provisions in the Dodgers’ current TV deal “provide a very high likelihood that the team and the network continue their relationship.”

“The incumbent nine times out of 10 renews its right,” Desser testified in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware. Fox’s exclusive right to negotiate with the Dodgers through November 2012 was structured as “an anti-cheating provision” designed to keep the Major League Baseball team faithful to the network, Desser said.

Desser has worked more than 35 years in the sports media industry, specializing in negotiating TV contracts and advising teams on the value of future rights, he said. He previously was the National Basketball Association’s director of broadcasting and head of broadcasting for the Los Angeles Lakers basketball team and Los Angeles Kings hockey team.

The Dodgers and Fox Sports Net West 2 LLC are fighting over the team’s proposal to solicit bids for future TV rights. Fox Sports, a unit of New York-based News Corp., currently has a contract to broadcast Dodgers games through the 2013 season.

Prime Ticket

Fox claims that Frank McCourt, the Dodgers’ owner, is wrongly trying to use bankruptcy to break the team’s contract with Fox’s Prime Ticket unit.

The team has said it wants to start talking to potential TV-rights buyers now. The Dodgers first would give Fox 45 days to extend its contract. Should those negotiations fail, the team would seek other offers, according to court documents.

The proposed time frame “essentially truncated” Fox’s rights and “cuts it down by 10 1/2 months,” Desser said. “One can see significant decay in Prime Ticket if they cannot retain these rights.”

The proposed TV rights sale “is not necessary to complete the sale of the team” and probably isn’t needed to pay off the team’s debt, Desser said. “The Dodgers are going to be very handsomely rewarded for their rights in 2014,” he said.

The case is In re Los Angeles Dodgers LLC, 11-12010, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of Delaware (Wilmington).

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