Exclusive: Dodgers bidders list narrowed

LOS ANGELES Sat Jan 28, 2012 3:34am GMT

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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The dazzling line-up of entrepreneurs and sporting figures vying to buy the Los Angeles Dodgers has been whittled down, with some of the bidding groups already notified that they had made the cut, according to sources familiar with the matter.

The Dodgers confirmed that a preliminary round of bidding had been completed, adding that all parties would be notified of the results. A spokesman for Major League Baseball did not respond to requests for comment.

An estimated 12 parties submitted non-binding first-round bids for the storied baseball team, the stadium and related assets on Monday.

Blackstone, which is handling the high-profile auction of one of baseball's oldest franchises for the league, picked suitable suitors from among some of the biggest names in business and sports.

"Blackstone is notifying all of the bidders as to which ones will and which ones will not advance in the sales process," a statement from the Dodgers said.

Sources familiar with the matter said billionaire hedge fund manager Steve Cohen and ex-Yankees and Dodgers manager Joe Torre received the green light, while basketball great Magic Johnson was also in the running.

Representatives for these bidders declined or were unavailable for comment.

Those that did not make it into a second round will be notified promptly, one source said on condition of anonymity because the process was not public.

"This is very quick. The indication here is that there was lots of discussion with the prospective bidders before the bids were submitted," said Marc Ganis, president of SportsCorp, a Chicago-based sports business consulting firm.

"The sales prices could reach $1.6 billion based on the incredible interest in the team and the media rights," he said.

AND WE'RE OFF

The Dodgers landed on the auction block after owner Frank McCourt was forced to place the team under bankruptcy protection last year.

Other bidders include Internet entrepreneur and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban and former Dodger greats Orel Hershiser and Steve Garvey.

News Corp's Fox group, the current broadcast partner of the Dodgers, has also received a nondisclosure agreement from bankers involved in the sale and has been talking with bidders about potentially buying a minority stake to help secure TV rights beyond 2013.

The lucrative media rights beyond 2013 are at the center of the Dodgers' sale.

Banking and sporting experts also expect various groups could forge ties as the process rolls on, and note the potential for confusion as alliances are made and remade.

The sale is being conducted by the Blackstone Group and is being overseen by the U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Wilmington, Delaware. McCourt bought the team in 2004 for $430 million, primarily financed with debt.

Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig said on January 14 he was counting on the bankrupt team to be sold by April 30. Under the terms of a settlement between the league and McCourt, the Los Angeles businessman must sell the Dodgers and the stadium within that time frame.

Fox owned the Dodgers from 1998 to 2004. A spokesman said the company has no desire to own the team.

(Additional reporting by Lisa Richwine; Editing by Edwin Chan and Steve Orlofsky)

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