The Dodgers-Fox courtship, in the face of TWC

Norm Macdonald on tonight’s episode of “Sports Show” for Comedy Central: “First McCourt loses his wife, then he loses his baseball team. From the thrill of victory to the agony of defeat.”


How much blame should Fox Sports be saddled with in the recent downfall of Dodgers co-owner Frank McCourt?

Did it send up the ultimate warning flare to Bud Selig and expose the McCourt house of cards by agreeing to take on $30 million personal loan just so he could make payroll?

It depends on how much fault you put on a business that is by all measures trying to retain a client in the face of competition.

Long before Fox drew up the papers with McCourt, Major League Baseball had picked up troublesome scent of the ownership team it once approved of, and had been tracking him step by step for the last couple of years.

Commissioner Bud Selig’s ability to invoke the “best interest of baseball” decision-making clause could have put the breaks on the McCourt roller coaster ownership ride months ago. The fact is, even before the McCourt’s messy, public divorce proceedings started unraveling last year, Selig could have appointed an outside caretaker to oversee the team’s business matters last off season, preventing all the latest day-to-day drama from overshadowing the team’s performance on the field under first-year manager Don Mattingly.

The fact that Selig let this all go on so long really is really his issue.

The way it looks now, Fox granting McCourt a personal loan to help him through a payroll might have been the proverbial last straw, but the team with a springtime home at Camelback Ranch in Arizona had camel back-breaking straws to deal with long before that act of desperation.

The reports now are that Fox has a 13-year, $1.8 billion TV deal on the table with McCourt – not a 20-year, $3 billion agreement that’s been widely reported, and even quoted as fact last week by new vice chairman Steve Soboroff.

All of McCourt’s business dealings to this point have been working toward this kind of payoff.

And then, Time Warner sticks its head into the fray.

If McCourt had run the Dodgers franchise down, why would this cable giant be so anxious to want to give him more money for broadcasting rights?

Just months after it laid the groundwork on an unsettling 20-year agreement with the Lakers to create two new channels for the franchise, Time Warner was throwing its weight around again.

Fox had to answer.

It could have done it without the McCourt loan, but . . . If you’re focused too much on that aspect, you’re missing the point. This is what businesses do. If Fox saw someone trying to pry “American Idol” to another channel, it would put up as much a fight as it could to keep its business relationships stronger.

All things equal, Fox provides what Time Warner hasn’t shown that it can – history and stability. Fox has been a partner with Major League Baseball for more than a decade, and pays out millions for cable and national rights to regular season, post season and All-Star games. Fox Sports’ cable arm has the rights to 16 teams – including the Dodgers and Angels.

What has Time Warner done except erect websites telling customers to boycott certain channels all in the name of consumer advocacy?

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