Major League Baseball officially welcomed News Corp. chairman Rupert Murdoch into its ownership ranks on Thursday, with team owners voting overwhelmingly to approve the sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers to Murdoch’s Fox Group, staving off a late bid to block the deal by Time Warner vice chairman and Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner.
Meeting in St. Petersburg, Fla., the owners passed the purchase by a comfortable margin, with National League teams voting 14-1 (Turner casting the negative ballot) — with the New York Mets abstaining — and American League clubs tallying 13-1 in favor. Chicago White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf was the lone opposing voice among AL teams.
There had been strong speculation on Wednesday that Turner, attending the owners meeting for the first time in nine years, had mustered four of the five votes necessary in the National League to quash the deal, which is said to be valued at about $350 million.
But in the end, Turner’s decidedly low-key pitch against Murdoch at the meetings was offset by some reassuring damage control on the part of Fox executives and seller Peter O’Malley, according to sources. Even San Diego Padres owner John Moores, who had been the most vocal opponent of the sale for months, had, by late Wednesday, started to soften his stance and wound up voting to pass the deal on Thursday.
Turner, who has carried on a verbal battle with Murdoch for years, had no comment on the passage of the sale.
A chief concern of the deal’s critics had been that Murdoch has local cable contracts with 22 of the 30 MLB teams and that allowing him to buy in as an owner could negatively impact revenue streams for the involved teams.
Evidently, however, Fox was able to mollify the naysayers.
“They answered our questions about having the financial interest in 21 others clubs,” said San Francisco Giants owner Peter Magowan, who had been one of those leaning toward voting down the deal.
The fact that Fox Sports has had a relationship with baseball over the past few years via its national broadcast rights pact also worked in Murdoch’s favor. Texas Rangers prexy Tom Schieffer noted that Fox has been “good partners with baseball, and I think that relationship spoke well of them as a potential partner, and I think that’s what carried the day.”
Though Murdoch was in England, he said in a statement, in part, “As owners of the Dodgers, we will work hand-in-hand with the other owners to further assure the long-term growth and success of America’s pastime.”
The Dodgers, which was the last of baseball’s old guard teams to remain family-owned (with the O’Malleys controlling the team since 1950), will now be handled for Murdoch jointly by News Corp.’s co-chief operating officers Peter Chernin and Chase Carey. O’Malley will remain on in a largely advisory capacity as chairman of the board, with the former owner committing to stay on for at least the remainder of 1998.
Besides the Dodgers, the sale includes Dodger Stadium, 300 acres surrounding the ballpark in Chavez Ravine and training complexes in both Vero Beach, Fla. (where the Dodgers hold spring training annually), and the Dominican Republic.