Future rights for team put in play early

A federal bankruptcy judge ruled Thursday against Fox in its bid to forestall the accelerated sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers’ future television rights.

Fox will contest the decision, which puts the cable rights to the Dodgers’ post-2013 games in play nearly a year earlier than Fox’s current TV contract with the team allows. The rationale for the decision was to maximize value of the upcoming sale of the Dodgers and better satisfy the bankrupt franchise’s creditors.

“While we are disappointed in the judge’s decision, we understand the court process and will appeal this decision to protect our contractual rights,” a Fox spokesperson said. “Those rights are material and valuable, and the current owner accepted them as binding when he purchased the team in 2004.”

Fox still has an initial period of exclusive negotiation with the Dodgers, but that will expire before the April 30 deadline that has been set for Dodger owner Frank McCourt to sell the team — and no TV deal that McCourt agrees to is binding for the new owners. So effectively, it renders the Fox exclusive negotiating period meaningless.

This creates the possibility that early next year, bidding on the Dodger rights will open to Fox rival Time Warner Cable.

Both companies are keen on the Dodger rights to provide content for their respective Los Angeles cable networks: Time Warner Cable’s upcoming channels featuring the Lakers, and Fox Sports’ Prime Ticket.

However, yet another new wrinkle in the looming face-off between the TV giants emerged this week, when the Los Angeles Times reported that the current Dodger-Fox contract precludes a Dodger-Time Warner partnership. Whether that includes Time Warner Cable, which spun off from Time Warner in 2009, is likely to be disputed.

“The contract, which was written in 2004, states the Dodgers are restricted in partnering with ‘Time Warner’ in an RSN,” FSN communications veep Chris Bellitti said, “and both sides have always, up to today, acted consistently with the understanding of the meaning that Time Warner Cable is restricted from making a media rights deal with the Dodgers.

“For (the Dodgers’) lawyer to indicate otherwise is revisionist history designed to mislead prospective buyers into thinking the Dodgers are unfettered in making a media rights deal with whomever they choose.”

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