When it comes to the owners of sports teams, Georgetown has been able to cultivate both the good and the villainous. For the latter group, look no further than Frank McCourt (COL ’75), owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and his ex-wife, Jamie McCourt (COL ’75).
As a Dodgers fan, I’ve watched (and quietly wept) as the couple dismantled a once great franchise. Now that Bud Selig, the Commissioner of Major League Baseball, has taken control of the team’s operations, and rejected a television deal with Fox that would have bailed McCourt out, it is time to delve into what makes this current member of the Georgetown Board of Directors the most hated man in Los Angeles.
The McCourts, who met as Georgetown students, purchased the Dodgers in 2004, and since then, the team has witnessed its greatest postseason runs (two losses to the Phillies in the National League Championship Series) since Kirk Gibson’s World Series home run in 1988 (which I missed being alive for by 11 months).
But a few successful seasons aside, the McCourts made some changes that deterred fans from being able to enjoy their beloved team—prices on tickets, parking, and food skyrocketed. In 2004, the cheap seats cost $6, which had been their price since 1992. The top deck now costs $12 in advance and $15 day-of-game. It’s another $15 to park at the stadium. They also banned moving between sections during the game, an especially sucky rule since anyone who’s been to a Nationals game knows how much fun it is when this rule isn’t enforced.
But Dodgers fans aren’t the only ones who can complain about the rising prices of baseball tickets. What we can complain about, though, are the outrages committed by the McCourts using team money. The team paid Frank $5 million and Jamie $2 million per year from Dodgers-related business (Frank had split the franchise into numerous entities). Two of their sons also received $600,000 per year, while one was attending school at Stanford and the other had a full-time job at Goldman Sachs.
The team’s funds also enabled the McCourts to buy four homes in Los Angeles, for the low, low price of $89 million. And oh yeah, did I mention these salaries were almost entirely tax-free? According to Jamie McCourt’s court filings, one of Frank’s financial advisors said that the couple “used the business to fund whatever they needed, or wanted, as if it was their personal ATM or credit card”.
Last week, more atrocious money usage came to light. Apparently, the team’s charity, the Dodgers Dream Foundation, has been paying Jamie McCourt over $100,000 for her consulting contract to the charity organization. The charity had “improper expenditures totaling $361,432 in 2007 and 2008” while only distributing just over $2.1 million to actual charitable causes. And none of us can forget Jamie McCourt’s argument in 2008, when she said that if fans wanted the Dodgers to resign Manny Ramirez, it would directly stop the building of 50 baseball fields for inner city kids.
She said, “If you bring somebody in to play and pay them, pick a number, $30 million, does that seem a little weird to you? We’re really trying to see it through the eyes of our fans. We’re really trying to understand, would they rather have the 50 fields?” These were fields already promised to the community, but, of course, the McCourts of all people seem to have a hard time telling charity funds from personal funds from team funds.
All of this reckless spending has obviously taken a serious financial toll on the franchise. On Monday, news broke that the Dodgers and four related entities filed for Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, in a last-ditch effort by Frank McCourt to retain the team. He also received a $150 million loan from Highbridge Capital Management which will send the team even further into debt, as it carries a 10% interest rate and $4.5 million fee. This is 3% higher than the average for similarly sized bankruptcy loans. The ensuing legal battle between McCourt and MLB could take years and turn even more fans away from the team.
There’s also the problem of violence at Dodger Stadium. The most obvious example happened earlier this season, when two “Dodgers fans” beat Giants fan Bryan Stow into a coma in the parking lot after the game on Opening Day. This was not an isolated incident, and very well could have been prevented. It’s been years since the ballpark could be considered family friendly. In 2009, a man was arrested for stabbing another fan in the parking lot , and in 2003, a fan killed another man outside the stadium. And late in the 2005 season, private security guards and unlicensed vendors got in a fight that resulted in several hospitalizations. All for a good night of family fun entertainment.
Speaking of the entertainment, the team plays Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing” in the middle of the eighth inning of every game. EVERY SINGLE GAME. This should be reason enough to force the sale of the team.
All of these things have resulted in a drastic decrease in fan attendance this season. Whether they’re scared for their lives, in horror over the ticket and parking prices, or just boycotting until the team is out of the McCourts’s control, fans just aren’t showing up to games. It’s gotten so bad that the team’s star players are begging fans to come out.
In my opinion, this esteemed member of our Board of Directors should cement his place as the worst baseball owner of all time, and just go ahead and fire Vin Scully. And until the eventual ownership change-up, I have a plan of attack for fans: Buy tickets on Stub Hub ($1 tickets for most Dodgers games, seriously!), park outside the stadium lot, and bring in your own food. And don’t forget earplugs for the eighth inning.