Major League Baseball dropped a bombshell last week, announcing that they were effectively seizing control of the Dodgers’ finances for the foreseeable future. Most people are assuming this is the beginning of the end for current Dodgers owner Frank McCourt.
Naturally, names about possible buyers started popping up shortly after the news broke. And predictably, Brewers owner Mark Attanasio’s name kept getting mentioned as a possibility. The connection is nothing new — we heard the same rumors last summer when the McCourts were starting their messy divorce and it became clear that the team would eventually have to be sold.
I’m only going to do one post on this, because I’m not in the mood to keep writing this until the mess in Los Angeles gets sorted out. Brewers fans can relax. Mark Attanasio isn’t going anywhere.
Yes, he’s an “LA guy.” He conducts his business from LA, his family is still based there, and he’s there more than he’s in Milwaukee. It would certainly be more convenient for him to own a local team. Logistically, though, it just doesn’t make sense.
First, MLB rules prevent anyone from having simultaneously having stakes in two different teams. If Attanasio even wanted to make a run at buying the Dodgers, he would have to sell the Brewers. In most cases, buying and selling franchises takes a long time (to put it mildly). MLB’s process for sifting through candidates and selecting an owner — clubs don’t simply go to the highest bidder — is extremely drawn out. If it was as simple as giving the team to whoever wants to pay the most, Mark Cuban would be owner of the Cubs or the Rangers right now. Instead, the Cubs were left twisting in the wind until the Ricketts family finally got approval, and the Rangers were basically awarded in a court room.
I say these things normally take awhile to resolve because that isn’t expected to be the case for the Dodgers. McCourt will fight tooth and nail to keep the club, but once MLB can force him out, they won’t want to hang onto the club for long — they don’t want another Montreal situation, where MLB ownership caused them to let guys like Vladimir Guerrero walk once they hit free agency.
At the same time, baseball will want to make sure a McCourt situation doesn’t happen again. If you thought the buying process was long before, you probably can’t fathom how diligent the league will be now when it’s combing through ownership prospects. That means if Attanasio were going to sell the club with eyes set on taking that money and buying the Dodgers, he would need to plan ahead. Even if McCourt drags this out and tries to keep the team for another couple years, Attanasio would basically need to start the process of selling the team soon. Do you see that happening this year, of all years? The year his team is going “all in?”
Aside from the issue of time, there’s also the issue of finances. In their latest franchise valuations, Forbes valued the Dodgers at $800 million, behind only the Red Sox ($912 million) and Yankees ($1.7 billion). The Brewers ranked as the 22nd-most valuable franchise, worth $376 million. Considering Attanasio paid $200 million for the Brewers prior to the 2005 season, he’s in line to make a pretty solid profit if he were to sell the team.
But he’d have nowhere near enough money to take a majority stake in the Dodgers. If he was interested in LA, he’d have to scrape together many more investors than he did for Milwaukee, and that kind of thing takes time — especially when it comes to convincing people to buy into a brand that needs to take out $30 million loans to make payroll. It’s probably reasonable to assume the Dodgers will see a drop in their value because of this situation, but if McCourt is the one selling the team (and not the league), he’s not going to let it go for cheap. He owes too much money to too many people to sell his team for 5 cents on the dollar. And as Biz of Baseball points out, the Dodgers (and Dodger Stadium) have a ton of historical value that isn’t necessarily depicted monetarily. One of their sources seems to think that if sold by McCourt, the Dodgers could be had for over $1 billion. Attanasio is a rich man, but that may be out of his price range.
Those are the main logistical issues, but of course, there are also other reasons — mostly intangible — why it’s hard seeing him leave anytime soon.
At the risk of being overdramatic, Attanasio saved the Brewers. In less than 10 years, he’s built them up from one of the most inept and ineffective organizations in professional sports to a team that expects to be in the playoffs. He’s poured everything he has into this team, whether it’s finances or his free time.
Since 2005, the Brewers have raised payroll from just under $40 million to around $90 million. He’s made big improvements to Miller Park every year he’s owned the team. He’s turned the club into a family business, he’s built a home in Wisconsin, and he’s incredibly active in the community. He grew up a Yankees fan, but if you look at his interactions with Doug Melvin, he’s much more a fan of the Brewers than he is an absentee owner.
It’s those qualities that would obviously make him an attractive choice for the Dodgers, who have undergone a series of PR nightmares under McCourt. It’s those qualities that would make it so crushing to many Brewers fans if he were to leave. But it’s also those qualities that give the impression that he’s in Milwaukee for the long haul.
Even if this is a hobby for him and he’s treating the team like a real estate property he can fix up and flip, the job isn’t quite done in Milwaukee. He has the Brewers back to being a respectable club, but they’re aren’t a consistent winner — yet. They aren’t a pennant contender — yet. And it’s hard to believe Attanasio would leave without taking the team as far as he felt it could go.
Yet the rumors won’t stop. People like Buster Olney and Ken Rosenthal will continue to bring his name up because he’s someone other front office types say “makes sense.” Nevermind those sources likely don’t know any more than we do, if not less because they’re not even aware of what the situation in Milwaukee is like. We likely won’t even be able to dodge the rumors when it comes to in-state media, even if it’s only half-serious discussion.
So I’ll end by saying this — just ignore it all. Things can always change, but for the time being, it’s pretty obvious Attanasio isn’t interested in the Dodgers’ ownership situation. If he’s saying he’s not interested and there’s nothing there connecting the two, we should have nothing to worry about.