Their are a lot opinions on the subject out there, but few I’ve heard hit the nail on the head.
Major League Baseball took over the Dodgers’ day-to-day operations earlier this season and the baseball world has watched closely over the last month-plus to see if McCourt would make payroll. On Monday, the Dodgers filed for bankruptcy protection. The biggest question since MLB took over in April has been if and/or when would MLB Commissioner Bud Selig try to seize the team away from McCourt.
Millions of Dodger fans throughout Southern California and across the country are anxiously waiting that day as they’ve grown disgusted with McCourt and believe he’s largely to blame for all Dodger ills: a dwindling payroll, a lackluster on-field performance by a mediocre team as well as safety concerns at Dodger Stadium.
Meanwhile, ticket prices certainly have not gone down and much of the news you hear is that McCourt is taking on more debt to cover his expenses and racking up more legal bills. Dodger fans have to feel like buying a ticket is just financing McCourt’s woes and not improving the ball club.
That’s why attendance is down by more than 15 percent at Dodger games. I’ve heard the sports pundits on the radio say none of this off-field drama matters to Dodger fans — that if the team were 10 games over .500 instead of 10 games under, the fans would still be lining up.
That may be true to a degree. If the boys in blue were in contention in the N.L. West more people would be walking through the turnstiles. But Dodger fans aren’t staying away because the team is losing. They’re staying away because of McCourt’s issues.
You can argue how deep McCourt’s issues run, but the perception is they’re pretty bad and perception is reality. Even when the Dodgers have lost, L.A. fans have gone to games, but not so this year.
In 2007, the Dodgers were 82-80, not horrible, but well out of contention as they finished fourth in their division. Still, 3.8 million fans came to the stadium that year, the team’s highest yearly attendance ever.
In 2005, the Dodgers were a porous 71-91 but yet 3.6 millions fans came out to support the club, the sixth-best yearly attendance mark since the team moved into Dodger Stadium in 1962.
Only twice in six full seasons since 1980 where the team won fewer than 80 games has attendance been lower than 2.9 million. The National League average has never even topped 2.8 million.
The perception of McCourt in Southern California is keeping fans away, not poor baseball.
The Dodgers had a proposed TV deal in place with Fox that would have given McCourt up-front money and he says solved his and the team’s funding problems. The problem is much of that money would have paid off McCourt’s debt or gone to his ex-wife in a settlement.
So Selig nixed the deal. McCourt and some talk radio heads have been on Selig’s case for scuttling the deal, but they are way off base. Money from a TV deal to show Dodger games should go to the Dodgers and bettering the franchise, not paying off McCourt’s bad decisions.
Plus, Selig wants to force McCourt to sell the team to get a better funded and more baseball-wise owner in place. The Dodgers are a more enticing sell to another ownership group if they’re not saddled with a long TV deal that McCourt needed but might not have been the most competitive.
Selig has to look out for the best interest of baseball. Having a strong product in Los Angeles, in the form of the Dodgers, one of the most storied franchises in all of professional sports, is what’s good for baseball.
Dan Eckles is the Sparks Tribune’s sports editor. He can be reached via email at: email@example.com