McCourts divorce settlement raises even more questions about Dodgers' future

June, 17, 2011
6/17/11
9:47
AM PT
So is this what shaking hands while going off a cliff feels like?

Like two skydivers who finally stopped fighting over their single parachute, Frank and Jamie McCourt have reached a settlement in their intergalactic divorce battle, turning the bitter enemies into allies trying to save the family's ownership of the Dodgers before it goes over the edge.

Like so much in the McCourt saga, the latest news creates more questions than it answers. Such as:
  • The settlement is likely contingent on the proposed television rights deal with Fox being approved — a deal that logically undervalues the Dodgers in exchange for the quick fix. But will that deal be approved by Bud Selig and Major League Baseball, which, if it declines, would risk a lawsuit they don't want from a now-united McCourt opposition?
  • Are the Dodgers sole or community property? Ruling on this issue by the courts has yet to be determined, and isn't scheduled to be until August 4.
  • How much does Jamie's cooperation increase the chances for the Dodgers making their balloon payroll payment of June 30?

Those are lots of moving parts in a story that has been built on a veritable earthquake fault, but fans hoping for a swift end to the McCourt ownership might have more to fear than to celebrate from today's news, which no doubt strengthens the family's bid to keep the team.

Even if Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon determines that the team is community property, splitting it between Frank and Jamie, there remains the possibility that ex-husband could buy out ex-wife (though that would seem to go against the promise that the Fox money would be used for the Dodgers and not personal affairs).

The sense here is that much will depend on just how resolved Selig is to rip the McCourt parachute for good.

Update: New details about the proposed divorce settlement between Frank and Jamie McCourt offer encouragement to fans looking for a forced sale.

A source told ESPN The Magazine’s Molly Knight (see link above) there is skepticism that MLB will approve the Fox television rights deal. That would void today's settlement and send both parties back to the drawing board.

In addition, if the Dodgers are ruled community property on August 4, Judge Gordon would order an immediate sale of the Dodgers. I'm not sure how "immediate" is defined, but "order" plus "sale" surely means something.

These notes don't eliminate doubt, but they do paint a rosier picture for the anti-McCourt faction, since so much depends on the actions of MLB and the court.

I do agree with those who have said that if Frank McCourt does come away from all this with ownership of the team, he would probably aim to make a grand gesture (the "buy the fans a pony" thing I have written about at times) to improve the on-field product. You can file that under short-term gains for long-term costs if you like, since I really don't doubt that the proposed Fox deal, if approved, undervalues the team's TV rights. McCourt is just in too poor of a negotiation position for anything else to be true, I believe.

Update 2: From today's court filing, here's how the $385 million loan from Fox would be allocated, subject to MLB approval:
  • $5 million to each party for attorney’s fees
  • $5 million to each party “to use as she and he desires”
  • “Approximately $235 million will be used for the Dodgers (including repayment to Frank’s moneys advanced to the Dodgers in 2011, not to exceed $23.5 million), but not for any payments to or between entities (other than the Dodgers) owned or controlled, directly or indirectly, by Frank
  • Approximately $80 million to pay off indebtedness
  • Approximately $50 million “will be put in an account subject to the Court’s orders.”
Update 3: Per the agreement, Frank will owe Jamie $650,000 per month in spousal support until the Aug. 4 community property trial.

If the Dodgers are declared community property, Jamie will continue to receive $625,000 per month — paid out of the $50 million court account described in my second update above, “until the assets are divided and distributed.” That’s $7.5 million per year.

If the Dodgers are declared Frank’s sole property, Jamie will receive the first $55 million of the $100 million she is owed as part of the settlement within 10 days of the decision. Jamie will then receive $325,000 per month until Frank pays the remaining $45 million, due within two years of the court’s decision or August 2013.
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