LOS ANGELES: A group led by NBA legend Magic Johnson (pictured) won an auction for Major League Baseball’s Los Angeles Dodgers on Tuesday night with a record $2bn bid, the bankrupt baseball club announced.
The purchase price from current owner Frank McCourt is the highest sum ever paid for a North American sports franchise and does not include iconic Dodger Stadium, which went for $150m in another deal.
Johnson led the Los Angeles Lakers to five NBA titles before his retirement in 1991 after announcing he was HIV-positive. He made brief comebacks, one as coach of the Lakers, before becoming a successful businessman.
“I’m thrilled to be part of the historic Dodger franchise and intend to build on the fantastic foundation laid by Frank McCourt as we drive the Dodgers back to the front page of the sports section,” Johnson said.
Johnson has been the major figure in new ownership group Guggenheim Baseball Management LLC, which will create affiliates to form a joint venture with McCourt to obtain the parking lots and property around the stadium for another $150m, bringing the full payout by the winning group to $2.3bn.
Two losing final bidders in the auction included Stan Kroenke, owner of the National Football League’s St. Louis Rams, and a group that included agent Arn Tellem and billionaires Steven Cohen and Patrick Soon-Shiong.
The Dodgers entered bankruptcy last June after Major League Baseball commissioner Bud Selig refused to approve a $3bn television rights fee extension between the Dodgers and Fox.
Selig said he was concerned the income from the sale would go to satisfy the personal debts of McCourt, who was embroiled in a bitter divorce from ex-wife Jamie at the time, and be removed from the Dodgers, giving them a major competitive disadvantage.
McCourt and Major League Baseball reached a settlement deal overseen by a bankruptcy court that gave him until next Sunday to identify a winning bidder for the Dodgers and until April 30 to close the deal.
McCourt must pay Jamie McCourt a divorce settlement of $131m on April 30.
“This transaction underscores the debtors’ objective to maximise the value of their estate and to emerge from Chapter 11 under a successful Plan of Reorganisation, under which all creditors are paid in full,” the Dodgers said in a statement.
McCourt bought the Dodgers in 2004 from Fox for $371m plus a $50m infusion of operating funds to the club.
“This agreement with Guggenheim reflects both the strength and future potential of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and assures that the Dodgers will have new ownership with deep local roots, which bodes well for the Dodgers,” McCourt said in a statement.