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Dodgers deal seen near for McCourt

Pact unlikely to alter developer's local plans

South Boston landowner Frank H. McCourt Jr. continued to negotiate last night to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers and could announce the sale as early as today, several people involved in the dealings said yesterday.

But one source close to McCourt's real estate business and the McCourt Co. said that an agreement would not affect plans to find a development partner and build on his 25 valuable acres of land on the South Boston Waterfront.

As the Red Sox continue pushing for a World Series victory that has eluded them since 1918, McCourt, one of Boston's richest businessmen, appeared to be about to capture a longtime dream of his own: owning a Major League Baseball team, albeit 3,000 miles away.

McCourt, having failed in earlier bids for the Red Sox and the California Angels, could pay Dodgers owner News Corp. $330 million or more for the franchise, Dodger Stadium, and adjacent land, plus property at the club's training facilities in Florida and the Dominican Republic.

"If the $330 million price is the right price he's got a terrific buy," said Andrew Zimbalist, an author on sports and business and professor of economics at Smith College. "The market for sports franchises has been kind of soft this year."

McCourt, who flew to Los Angeles yesterday, is in discussions with companies that could be development partners on his L-shaped piece of land along Seaport Boulevard. Separately, he is putting together an investment team to buy the Dodgers.

One person familiar with both McCourt transactions, who asked not to be identified, said McCourt is committed to seeing the South Boston Waterfront land developed successfully. But, the person said, McCourt's passion for owning a Major League Baseball team is so strong that he is willing to spend time on the West Coast and tend to a sports business that now is reportedly losing between $10 million and $30 million a year.

McCourt's grandfather, Francis McCourt, was a part owner of the Boston Braves baseball team.

Frank McCourt made a bold play for the Red Sox in 2001 in which he proposed a new baseball stadium on his South Boston land. That effort didn't come together, and this year McCourt made a bid for the California Angels, who ended up being bought by Arizona businessman Arturo Moreno.

Neither McCourt, his Los Angeles spokesman, nor anyone at Major League Baseball in New York would comment yesterday on the possible sale. News Corp., whose Fox Sports unit has the Southern California regional broadcasting rights to Dodgers games, bought the team in 1998 for $311 million. News Corp. has been trying to sell the Dodgers for about a year an a half. Nicholas Weinstock, director of communications for News Corp., said the company would have no statement.

"We're keeping it pretty close to the negotiating table," he said.

Dean Bonham, chief executive of Bonham Group of Denver, a sports marketing and consulting firm, said "$300 million to $400 million sounds like a pretty reasonable figure" to pay for the Dodgers. But Bonham said there was no guarantee an agreement would go through. "Till the ink is dry and the check is cashed, the deal's not done," Bonham said.

A key element to the deal is that McCourt is not purchasing the broadcast rights to the Dodgers, which Fox Sports held before its parent company, News Corp., purchased the team. The price would be significantly higher if broadcast rights were included.

"Because of the price they're looking for, the deal does not include a broadcast network or modifying broadcast arrangements," said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd. of Chicago. "That a real estate person would be focusing on it makes sense, as opposed to a media person."

McCourt's businesses and holdings are reported to be in the hundreds of millions. "A person with a net worth in the low hundreds of millions would need a partner for acquisition in the $400 million range," Ganis said. "The Dodgers are losing money. There is not the cash flow to support debt."

The names of McCourt's potential partners in the Dodgers deal could not be learned last night. McCourt is being represented by Boston's Game Plan LLC in the negotiations. Neither Randy Vataha nor Robert Caporale, the principals of Game Plan, was available for comment yesterday.

The Boston Herald yesterday reported that McCourt was offering $430 million for the franchise and property. "It's a high number, but when you add real estate in it starts approaching that," said Ganis.

Zimbalist said the third time might be the charm for McCourt. "McCourt doesn't have experience, but he's presumably a good businessman," he said. "It seems to me like it's a good match. I don't know how Major League Baseball feels about him. Maybe by now they're trying to give McCourt his chance."

Thomas C. Palmer Jr. can be reached at tpalmer@globe.com.

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