Chase Carey said back in November that News Corp had no interest in buying the Los Angeles Dodgers, but that appears to have changed. The Wall Street Journal reports today that Fox has signed a nondisclosure agreement that allows it to bid to purchase the team. According to WSJ, Fox would seek a 15%-20% minority interest only — it doesn’t want to own the team outright, like it did from 1998-2004 — in a move designed to give it leverage over lucrative local TV rights. Currently, Fox Sports’ regional Prime Ticket network has exclusive rights through the end of next season, and just settled a lawsuit with the Dodgers, who wanted to shorten that exclusivity window to force a bidding war for TV rights, which could be worth as much as $3 billion. That monster number is at the heart of what will be a wild bidding process to buy the team, with that potential windfall driving up the price of what any new owner (and there are many lining up to bid) will have to pay to purchase the team from owner Frank McCourt. Those initial offers from those numerous ownership groups are due January 23.
The Los Angeles Dodgers sued Fox Sports on Wednesday, accusing the News Corp-owned network of attempting to ”interfere with the sale of the Dodgers and their assets in bankruptcy.” The Dodgers’ goal is to sell the team and its valuable TV rights through separate court-sanctioned auctions to maximize returns. In a sharply worded court response filed Wednesday night Fox said it would ask that the Dodgers be dismissed from bankruptcy, according to the LA Times. Fox slammed Major League Baseball as “Prime Ticket’s former ally” and asserted the only reason Frank McCourt wants to auction the team’s TV rights now is to put “value rightfully belonging to Prime Ticket,in his own pocket” — referring to Fox Sports’ package of programming. The Dodgers’ suit was filed in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Delaware, where Fox already has a suit pending against the team for alleged breach of contract in the continuing squabble over TV rights. Responding to the latest development, the Dodgers called Fox “obviously desperate” to prevent an auction that would reveal the “enormous value” of those rights and “lead to a record-smashing sale price for the team and benefit not just the Dodgers but all of baseball.”
With a November 1 deadline looming, News Corp. today purchased a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times sports section warning DirecTV customers that the satcaster was poised to drop nine networks if Fox’s dispute with DirecTV isn’t settled by month’s end. The full-color ad featured the heavy-handed banner ‘GAME OVER’ along with game pictures of USC Trojans and UCLA Bruins football and Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks ice hockey, all of which are threatened should the regional sports networks Fox Sports West and Prime Ticket be dropped. The ad then lists the networks that DirecTV could force to go dark: FS West, Prime Ticket, FX, Speed, National Geographic Channel, Fox Soccer, Fox Deportes, Fuel TV and Fox Movie Channel. “And soon,” the advertisement continues, “you could even lose Fox 11 and My 13,” specifically targeting viewers in Southern California. The Times ad then implores sports fans to “Get direct with DirecTV” by logging onto KeepMyNets.com or calling 866-KEEP-MY-NETS. As reported Thursday by Deadline’s Nellie Andreeva, DirecTV claims in its statement that Fox is seeking a 40% increase in its license fees.