What private equity wants with the LA Dodgers

March 2, 2012, 9:43 PM UTC

Private equity is circling the Los Angeles Dodgers, but not because of baseball.

Private equity is no stranger to professional sports. Several NBA teams are owned by private equity funds, while Bain Capital once considered buying the entire NHL.

So it wasn’t too surprising to read that several private equity firms are looking to get involved in the Los Angeles Dodgers auction. From Forbes:

People familiar with the matter but who are not authorized to speak publicly on about the sale process say that several big funds, including KKR, Thomas H. Lee Partners, Providence Equity Partners and Highbridge Capital Management have expressed interest in joining one of the remaining groups bidding for the Major League Baseball team…

A person familiar with the sale of the Dodgers says there are several funds looking to play a role with various bidders and that these funds are considering cash investments of $200 million to $300 million.

It is true that private equity firms have been talking to Dodgers bidders, but not because they want to be minority owners in the baseball franchise. A source familiar with the situation says that the goal is to own — or partially own — the Dodgers’ media assets.

Fox currently has broadcast rights to the Dodgers through the end of 2013, and is one of the reported bidders. Once 2013 ends, however, the Dodgers could form their own regional television network, similar to what the New York Yankees have with YES or the Boston Red Sox have with NESN. The only caveat is that the current Fox contract effectively prohibits the future  creation of such a network if Time Warner, Comcast or ESPN is involved as an equity partner. That could be where private equity comes in — as the money men to support Dodgers TV (or whatever it gets called).

The plan would be to run the regional network under a different corporate umbrella than the Dodgers, since my understanding is that none of the interested PE firms want exposure to the actual baseball franchise (likely to rise in value, but possibly difficult to manage and/or sell). In fact, certain PE firms floated a similar proposal when the Boston Red Sox were for sale in 2000/2001, but nothing came of it. Chances are that nothing will come of this either — particularly if Fox prevails in the auction — but it is at least being discussed.

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