LOS ANGELES – To retain ownership of the Los Angeles Dodgers, owner Frank McCourt must overcome two formidable obstacles laid out in a binding settlement he and his ex-wife Jamie reached Friday in their contentious divorce.
Frank McCourt must first receive Major League Baseball's approval of a 17-year television contract with Fox reported to be worth up to $3 billion. Under the settlement, McCourt would receive $385 million upfront, most of which would be used for Dodger-related expenses.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig has given no indication if he would approve the deal, but McCourt said MLB officials have asked him to meet select criteria.
"Baseball has been very clear," McCourt said outside court. "They wanted to see this divorce settled, and all this white noise gone, or they wanted Jamie's consent for the Fox transaction or they wanted a judge to give them an order to move forward. Today we have achieved all three."
MLB spokesman Pat Courtney declined comment. Dennis Wasser, an attorney for Jamie McCourt, hopes the TV deal will be finalized early next week. If MLB doesn't approve the TV transaction, the settlement is null and void.
"I am just hoping for resolution, and I hope this is a step in that resolution," Jamie McCourt said.
Some observers said the settlement gives Frank McCourt the legal firepower he needs to get MLB to sign off on the TV transaction.
"There are now no impediments and if the TV deal isn't approved, it's for other reasons than what (MLB) has stated before," said Los Angeles family law attorney Lisa Helfend Meyer, who is not involved in the McCourts' case. The decision to reject the deal would then be "personal" on MLB's behalf and serves as a springboard for Frank McCourt to sue the league, she added.
In addition to the TV deal, the settlement called for a one-day "characterization" trial Aug. 4 to determine if title to the Dodgers is in Frank McCourt's name or if the team should be considered community property and sold.
If Jamie McCourt prevails at trial, the team, stadium and surrounding property — worth hundreds of millions of dollars — would be split between the former couple and "be sold by the parties in an orderly manner under the court's supervision," according to the settlement.
If the Dodger assets are deemed to belong to Frank McCourt, he would give his ex-wife $100 million and she would retain six luxurious homes. He also will continue to pay monthly spousal support up to $650,000, the agreement said.
Frank McCourt said all other issues in the divorce were settled, and a hearing set for Wednesday where Jamie McCourt was expected to ask Superior Court Judge Scott Gordon to order the sale of the team was canceled.
In April, Major League Baseball took the extraordinary step of assuming control of the troubled franchise. Former Texas Rangers President Tom Schieffer was appointed to monitor the team on behalf of Selig, who said he took the action because he was concerned about the team's finances and how the Dodgers are being run.
"I've been saying it all along, but I don't think guys really pay that much attention," manager Don Mattingly said before Friday night's game against Houston. "We've got enough troubles of our own, trying to put some wins together. Guys are focused on what we're trying to do here."
Frank McCourt also has had to contend with meeting team payroll. He's managed several times since the beginning of the season to pay the team's bills — he took a $30 million loan from Fox earlier this year — but has to account for deferred compensation for some former players by the end of June.
Among them is retired slugger Manny Ramirez, who is owed nearly $7 million on June 30 as part of a two-year, $45 million contract he signed with the Dodgers.
The former couple's lavish lifestyle was exposed in court documents where it was revealed that they took out more than $100 million in loans from Dodgers-related businesses. Their spending habits were likened to using the money from the team as though it was their personal ATM or credit card.
When pressed by a reporter about whether he has enough money to cover team expenses without MLB's approval of the TV deal, McCourt sounded confident.
"We're going to proceed and do and meet all of our obligations as we always have, yes," he said.
In December, Gordon deemed invalid a postnuptial marital agreement that gave Frank McCourt sole ownership of the Dodgers. That cleared the way for Jamie McCourt, who served as the team's CEO and was fired by her ex-husband two years ago, to seek half the team under California's community property law.
The McCourts' lawyers had spent several sessions in front Gordon to reach an agreement and they worked throughout the night before striking a deal shortly before Friday's hearing began.
Despite Frank McCourt's earlier pledge that none of the upfront TV money would be used toward his divorce, the settlement terms show otherwise.
About $50 million would be placed in an account subject to Gordon's orders, while another $10 million would be used for attorneys' fees, the agreement said.
About $80 million would go toward paying off debt and each of the McCourts would receive $5 million for their own personal use. The remainder of the money — about $235 million — would be used for the Dodgers, including repayment to McCourt for money the agreement says he advanced to the team this year that is not to exceed $23.5 million.
"I don't think anybody's worried about getting paid," Mattingly said. "It really shouldn't have an effect. If it does, it's really an excuse that's kind of useless. There's a lot of things that are going on in everybody's lives that they've got to put behind them when they get here."