- Ramona Shelburne, ESPN Senior Writer
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Magic Johnson said a lot of things at the press conference in May of 2012 when he and his partners with Guggenheim Baseball Management were introduced as the new owners of the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The one thing anyone remembers is that he lowered the cost of parking from $15 to $10.
It was a symbolic gesture to the fans who’d felt taken advantage of and used by previous owner Frank McCourt. An immediate, here’s some money back in your pocket for all the ugliness of the previous few years that the new owners had nothing to do with, but still needed to start cleaning up.
A little olive branch to get fans back in Dodger Stadium, so the work of regaining their trust and loyalty could begin immediately.
Then came the trade and quarter-billion dollars of additional salary for Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto, the $147 million deal for Zack Greinke and the $215 million contract for Clayton Kershaw. Along the way they dropped $150 million to improve Dodger Stadium, too. All told, another billion invested in the team on top of the $2.15 billion they paid to buy the team.
So everyone knew the reckoning was coming at some point, right? The new owners were going to have to make their money back somehow.
The promise of a new regional sports network was always part of the setup. The Dodgers new owners never tried to hide that.
They said it to reassure fans they weren’t pulling a Jeffrey Loria and going on a winter spending spree just to make Miami taxpayers feel better about building his franchise a new ballpark, then trading away decent players making much over the league minimum by the end of the summer when things didn’t go well.
They said it to explain how they could greenlight contracts like the massive deals they gave to Greinke and Kershaw and the record $235 million payroll the team will take into this season.
They had to say it over and over to convince fans they actually did have money coming in to pay for things, and not just a parking lot in Boston to borrow against.
They didn’t apologize for it either. This is how big market clubs like the Yankees and Dodgers should operate. That’s the advantage of being an iconic brand in the No. 1 and No. 2 media markets in the country. You get to make more and spend more than any team you want to, if you so choose.
Teams like the Seattle Mariners can drop $240 million on Robinson Cano in the year their new TV deal starts, but that’s pretty much their one indulgence. Because their TV deal with the Direct-TV owned and operated RSN ROOT Sports Northwest is valued at $2 billion over 17 years, according to a recent Forbes magazine report, while the Dodgers' deal with Time Warner is valued between $8.35 billion (Forbes) and $8.8 billion (The Hollywood Reporter) over 25 years.
As long as they kept reinvesting those profits in the team and not on a bunch of houses and fancy swimming pools, there was a tacit acknowledgement amongst fans that this was part of the deal.
Same way there’s a tacit acknowledgement amongst Google users that the service is free because the company sells ads and metadata off their search history to make a profit off them.
It’s not always pleasant to think about the implications of that, or peek behind the curtain at how much money is being made off your personal information, but on some level, if you use the service, you’re comfortable with the arrangement.
The real question, the only question that really matters in these business arrangements, is whether the consumer trusts the company profiting off them.
And for the last two years, that’s why the Dodgers new owners have worked so hard to earn back the trust of the franchise’s fans. Shoot, they practically hit fans over the head with that message. So that when it came time for them to make back their money with a new TV deal, fans were OK with how they went about doing it.
They may not want to hear how much money is involved. Those kind of numbers are a turnoff to 99.99999 percent of the world.
They really don’t want to hear about the negotiations between Time Warner Cable and all of the cable and satellite television distributors it is trying to get to carry the Dodgers new regional sports network.
And they really, really don’t want to be caught in the middle while those negotiations play out.
So long as Vin Scully is back in their living rooms soon, the cable bill doesn’t go up by too much, and the profits go back into the team, all this public negotiating between Time Warner and distributors like Direct TV sounds like noise to most fans.
That is, until they start missing games.
That’s when the moment of truth arrives for both sides.
And it’s the moment the Dodgers new owners have been preparing their fans for since they bought the team. The contract was always transparent, if anyone was paying attention.
Do Dodger fans like walking around and acting like the Yankees? Do they like that fat checkbook? Do they trust ownership to keep writing those checks?
Both sides are about to find out.