Home Maury Brown Why the McCourt Divorce May Be the Least of the Dodgers Worries

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Why the McCourt Divorce May Be the Least of the Dodgers Worries PDF Print E-mail
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Written by Maury Brown   
Monday, 18 April 2011 07:40

Few who have been following the Los Angeles Dodgers off the field are unaware of the divorce between Frank and Jamie McCourt. The nasty case that appalled many at the overtly opulent lifestyle has had some point to the split and say that the reason for the financial downfall of the organization is tied directly to the divorce.

You could also make a case that the Dodgers would be in dire shape, regardless of the churn around the McCourts divorce.

Upon closer examination, the Dodgers are in the midst of a slide of other sorts, namely at the gate.

According to court documents from the divorce, the Dodgers lost 14% of their season-ticket base in two years, dropping from 26,941 in 2007 to 23,300 in 2009.  In looking at estimates, the Dodgers could be losing as many 10,000 full season equivalents since 2007.

That was 2007 to 2009, and early numbers from this season point to the overall paid attendance dropping, as well.

Be it the marketing loss of Manny Ramirez, or missing the playoffs last year with a sub-.500 record after going to the NLCS in the prior two seasons, the Dodgers are seeing some of their worst attendance in years. The club drew 36,282 for Friday’s 11-2 loss to the Cardinals, which according to Bill Shaikin of the LA Times was the lowest attended Friday night home game since 6/6/03 when the Dodgers played the White Sox and Kaz Ishii beat Mark Buehrle. The rest of the weekend did not fare well, either. On Saturday 31,614 in paid attendance was counted, the lowest attended Saturday home game since 9/7/02 vs Astros. Finally, Sunday saw just 27,439, or 49% of capacity. Through 8 games the Dodgers are averaging 40,270, a healthy number (now second in the league behind the Phillies), until you realize that that is just 72 percent of Dodger Stadium’s 56,000 seating capacity (last season, the Dodgers averaged 43,979, down from 46,440 in 2009 and 46,056 in 2008). By capacity, the Dodgers currently rank 11th in the league just ahead of the NY Mets.

And season tickets could be taking a hit, as well.

Based on preseason attendance of 16,732 on 3/30/11 one can only speculate there FSE count has fallen to below 18,000 FSE's or a loss of at least 9,000 FSE's since 2007. This ticket loss is sure to be felt in the Dodgers' pockets to the tune of $25 million based on recent Team Marketing Report data plus any ancillary income associated with these tickets. Here’s why:

Each club reports its season ticket sales – full season equivalents (FSEs) – to MLB just before the season starts. Here’s how those numbers (along with attendance leading up to the season), break out:

  • 3/29/07 attendance: 29,841 (ESPN) FINAL FSE 26,941
  • 4/3/09 attendance:  24,899 (MLB) FINAL FSE 23,300
  • 3/30/11 attendance: 16,732 (MLB) 3/15 FSE 17,068

With the team seeing a recent 5 game losing streak (4-7 in their last 10), where the Dodgers could slip into last in the NL West, attendance woes could continue.

And on Saturday, there was more alarming news.

According to the LA Times, Frank McCourt has secured a $30 million loan from FOX to meet payroll obligations, which according to the report will cover expenses into next month. It marks the second loan since the end of last season that the Dodgers have had to take on. What’s more disturbing is the loan is not to the Dodgers, but rather McCourt directly. The league has yet to rule whether it will allow McCourt to ink an extension with FOX. Just over two years ago, Commissioner Selig rejected a similar request by then Texas Rangers owner Tom Hicks as he was looking to the extension to pay down debt rather than increase it through improving the player roster. According to USA Today, the Dodgers had an Opening Day payroll of $ 104,188,999, up 8.5% from last season’s Opening Day payroll of $95,358,016.

To add to the Dodgers woes, it’s this: the front office has been a perpetual state of turnover. Some of this is largely due to the divorce proceedings (of course Jamie McCourt, but also Charles Steinberg and other high-placed execs associated with her), but some of it is due to the financial constraints that the club is under. Whether it has been Kim Ng (Commissioner’s Office), Camille Johnston (White House), or Marty Greenspun (Yankees), according to sources more than 100 front office employees have left the organization in the last 5 years.

Finally, the brutal beating of 42-year-old paramedic that left him in a medically-induced coma on Opening Day at the Stadium can’t be helping attendance. Credit the Dodgers and the City of Los Angeles for trying to step up security.

All told, it points to an anemic year for the Dodgers, and possibly the one that pushes Frank (and Jamie) McCourt to sell the organization. Should MLB not allow the extension with FOX, and attendance continues to be flat by Dodger Stadium standards, a sale could be looming. How much might the Dodgers fetch on the open market? Several sources indicate that given the historic brand and stadium that while MLB’s third oldest is more than capable of competing with its newer ballpark brethren, the Dodgers could sell at or in excess of $1 billion.


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SPECIAL BUSINESS OF SPORTS NETWORK REPORTS:


Maury BrownMaury Brown is the Founder and President of the Business of Sports Network, which includes The Biz of Baseball, The Biz of Football, The Biz of Basketball and The Biz of Hockey, as well as a contributor to FanGraphs and Forbes SportsMoney. He is available for hire or freelance. Brown's full bio is here. He looks forward to your comments via email and can be contacted through the Business of Sports Network.

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