Frank and Jaime McCourt have spent over a week in court trying to come to some resolution on part of their divorce settlement, specifically whether or not Jaime can claim half ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers. With Jaime’s side able to raise some doubts last week about Frank’s account of the history of the Marital Property Agreements signed over the years, both parties entered into mediation on September 24. The first day of mediation reportedly was unsuccessful, and the couple headed back to court today, September 27, to fight it out for another week.
Jaime once held the title of CEO with the Dodgers, historically one of the premier teams in baseball. In October of 2009, Frank ousted her from her $2 million per year position and accused her of having an affair with a bodyguard. Jaime filed for divorce at that time, and by this March was seeking close to $1 million per month in support and funds to cover mortgages on the couple’s many homes. In May, a temporary ruling lowered that amount, with a judge granting her $225,000 per month in support plus $412,159 in mortgage payments.
If Frank wins this fight, he retains sole ownership of the team and will likely keep the team for the long term, possibly to pass on to his children. If Jaime wins, she could take her old position back, but with this couple’s history of animosity, it is more likely that they will end up selling the team to new owners.
Dodger fans are unlikely to grieve the McCourts’ loss of the team, as the six years of ownership has driven the franchise into heavy debt, with the couple admitting to borrowing $100 million from Dodger-related interests over the years. Even though the team has made the playoffs four of the last six years, financial questions still nag at the edges and fans wonder about the franchise’s ongoing ability to attract and retain good players. This year’s payroll was down to $94.9 million, down over $36 million from last year’s.
The Dodgers’ business plan, revealed in court documents during the divorce proceedings, shows an even bleaker picture. While proposed ticket prices will rise to nearly double their 2007 cost by 2018, player compensation will occupy a mere 25 percent of team revenue by that time, down from 2007’s 46 percent. The recent departure of former fan-favorite Manny Ramirez, and the announcement that future Hall-of-Fame manager Joe Torre is resigning at the end of the season, cannot be enhancing Dodger fans’ sense of team stability.
Yet, any direct effects of the McCourt sideshow on fan enthusiasm are hard to gauge. Certainly fans have heard more on the divorce proceedings this past week than on the team’s three wins and four losses. Ticket search engine and price forecaster Seat Geek has Dodgers’ ticket prices peaking at $74.84 in late June and then dropping precipitously soon after the team suffered a six-game losing streak the following month. Prices never recovered, dropping to their lowest ($20.71) just as the McCourts’ divorce proceedings began on August 30, though this fall also coincided roughly with another six-game losing streak in early September.
Brokers are not really seeing a change in sales which could be attributed to the divorce proceedings. Steve Parry, co-owner of Golden Tickets, has seen no decrease in interest over recent weeks, adding “We haven’t seen any increase either. We haven’t seen any activity at all.”
Max Waisvisz, owner of Gold Coast Tickets, agrees. “You know, the Dodgers only get interest if they make the playoffs. The tickets weren’t selling out at the Dodgers [this season].
Though the effects of the McCourts’ divorce is unclear, it is safe to say that club performance has played its role in ebbing fan interest this season, with a 26-42 record following the All-Star break and the team recently being eliminated from playoff contention. And even though the Dodgers are second in overall attendance for the National League this year (at 44,175), they’ve lost an average of 1,999 fans at home games since last season, and home game attendance has continued to fall this summer, down an average of 1,579 seats per game since the All-Star break.