McCourt agrees to sell Dodgers

Court-supervised auction to take place this winter

Los Angeles Dodgers owner Frank McCourt has agreed to sell the franchise and Dodger Stadium properties at a court-supervised auction, bringing to an imminent conclusion a saga that threw the franchise into bankruptcy and created chaos that spilled over into the team’s valuable television rights.

Blackstone Group will manage the sale process, which will be supervised by the federal bankruptcy court that has controlled the Dodgers’ fate since June, when McCourt filed in a last-ditch effort to preserve his ownership of the franchise.

Throughout this year, McCourt had hoped that he gain approval on a new deal for local TV rights (currently held by Fox Sports through 2013) that would solve his financial woes. But MLB commissioner Bud Selig, whose approval had allowed McCourt to buy the Dodgers from Fox seven years earlier, refused McCourt on the grounds that it undervalued the Dodgers’ rights, harming the rest of baseball.

McCourt then went to a strategy that involved getting the bankruptcy court’s blessing to break his contract with Fox and immediately sell the TV rights without Selig’s approval. A key hearing on the matter was originally scheduled to begin this week, though most observers felt a series of preliminary rulings seemed to bring more hurdles for McCourt to overcome. Fox, which early in the year made a personal loan to keep McCourt afloat, turned against him in recent months to oppose in court his bid to break the current contract.

When, days before it was to begin, that TV rights hearing was delayed a month, speculation increased that McCourt was possibly eyeing an exit strategy.

With this agreement, it is believed that the Dodgers could have new ownership in place by the start of the 2012 season. No party is considered a frontrunner, though the Los Angeles Times reported earlier Tuesday that Mark Cuban remains interested but balked earlier this year at the asking price of at least $1 billion that he said McCourt had laid out.

New ownership could bring happy tidings to Fox Sports, which according to its contract with the Dodgers has an exclusive negotiating window through November 2012 for the post-2013 local TV rights. Given that Fox Sports has lost the Los Angeles Lakers to Time Warner Cable (which plans to create separate English- and Spanish-language Laker channels before the 2012-13 season), the Dodgers are the centerpiece to Fox Sports’ Southern California sports endeavors , even more so in probability with McCourt no longer complicating their future.

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