Dodgers sale could be on deck

News Corp. eyes DirecTV buy

NEW YORK — As giant media congloms prowl for cash, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. may just get down to business on a sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Murdoch said publicly last year he’d sell the team for the right price but wasn’t then — and still isn’t –engaged in any formal negotiations. But as News Corp. prepares for a second run at DirecTV, speculation has intensified on Wall Street that the company may look to unload the team in coming months.

News Corp. bought the Dodgers in 1998 for just over $300 million as a West Coast pillar for regional sports channel Fox Sports Net. Today, the team would fetch more — anywhere between $350 million and $500 million. Insiders stress that’s still small potatoes considering DirecTV’s $5 billion or so purchase price.

But cash is cash. While News Corp. has more in the bank than many of its peers, it’s not yet clear if Liberty Media, a major investor in the losing offer for DirecTV the first time around, will join News Corp. again to help defray the cost.

A push to sell the Dodgers would be par for the course in the media biz just now. Walt Disney is looking to sell World Series champs the Anaheim Angels and hockey’s the Mighty Ducks. AOL Time Warner may unload baseball’s Atlanta Braves, the Atlanta Hawks basketball team and the Atlanta Thrashers hockey team.

In all three cases, execs have deemed the sports franchises non-core. They’re fun to own when times are good and when companies, like News Corp., are looking to jump-start strategic projects. But teams become expensive hobbies when stocks tank, cash is scarce, and Wall Streeters push management to focus.

News Corp. spokesman Andrew Butcher declined to comment Sunday evening on a potential sale. People close to the company said there are no talks ongoing and no immediate plans to start them, but they stressed again that News Corp. would sell in a second if the right offer came along.

There’s no one obvious buyer either, although a consortium of local players the likeliest scenario.

Some note that Dodger Stadium, while a terrific venue, lacks some of the revenue-producing features of other stadiums and might have to be revamped. Also, it’s not clear if television rights, which News Corp. and Fox probably want to keep, could be a stumbling block for a potential buyer.

Formal talks would require notification of baseball commissioner Bud Selig.

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