When Frank and Jamie McCourt announced their separation prior to the Dodgers first Division Series game against the Cardinals, you just knew that was only the beginning. And not to disappoint, it’s now obvious that the LA power couple is headed for a long, nasty, salacious divorce, even by Hollywood standards.
Frank fired the first public salvo when he sent future ex-wife Jamie a termination letter, accusing her of, among other things, insubordination. Jamie held a number of titles with the Dodgers, including Chief Executive Officer and Vice Chairperson, that were conferred on her by hubby, who claims to be the sole owner of the team. But Frank giveth and Frank can, apparently, taketh away. His termination letter - cold, calculated, impersonal, and perhaps legally necessary - made it clear that Jamie is being treated like any other at will (no employment contract) employee.
One difference, of course, is that not every employee is the wife of the owner. As such, Jamie will receive a divorce settlement that is guaranteed to trump the average employee’s termination pay. California is a community property state, meaning the couple has an equal share in marital assets, regardless of which party holds title. If the parties can’t agree on a division of marital property, an obvious assumption based on what we’ve seen thus far, the court will ultimately decide what portion of the Dodgers’ value goes to each party.
Much has been said and written about the McCourts since they (or Frank) purchased the Dodgers from Fox (News Corp) in 2004 with OPM - other people’s money. Major League Baseball was so motivated to do broadcast partner Fox (who was desperate to unload the team they purchased from the O’Malley family) a favor that they allowed McCourt, who had no ties to LA, to purchase the team. At the time, McCourt was a Bostonian whose claim to fame was having been one of several suitors who were stiffed when Bud Selig and the boys steered the sale of the Red Sox to the John Henry group.
McCourt reportedly paid $430 million for the Dodgers. He has steadfastly maintained that he put up $200 million in cash at the time of purchase. But he fails to add that the cash was someone else’s. Public information suggests that McCourt financed the purchase of the team by borrowing $225 million from Bank of America (another MLB “partner”) and executing a promissory note for $195 million with Fox.
The McCourts took to tinsel town like a duck takes to water - purchasing multiple homes in trendy neighborhoods, immersing themselves in high society, organizing media and publicity campaigns designed primarily to promote themselves - but the reverse was never true. The couple has been mocked for, among other things, being “outsiders,” their collective lack of knowledge about the game, and their alleged penurious ways with the team.
Perhaps most offensive to long-time Dodger fans, the McCourts instilled themselves as the face of the team. They controlled everything. Nothing happened involving the Dodgers that didn’t require their stamp of approval – in advance. Working for the Dodgers, who were once lauded as the model organization in the game, is now akin to the reality show “Survivor.” Employee longevity, once the hallmark of the team, has been replaced by a revolving door.
Divorce is almost always difficult and seldom friendly, especially when, as in this case, the parties have been married for 30 years. Those of us who have been through the process can and should be sympathetic, regardless of our opinion of the individuals involved. But legitimate questions exist regarding the effect a divorce may have on the Dodgers. Who will own the team? Will it be sold to a third party? Will the team remain competitive? Neither the parties nor MLB has an answer at this point.
The McCourt’s situation presents a cautionary tale on operating a family business. When things go well, the relationship family members have with one another can be a tremendous advantage in a successful operation. When things go bad, issues become personal and emotional, rather than being viewed as just another business decision.
When Frank and Jamie left New England for the left coast, they determined to live a public life. They will continue to do so. Only now, that publicity will include the airing of dirty laundry.
Look for an article shortly on The Biz of Baseball detailing Jamie McCourt's divorce filing
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Jordan Kobritz is a staff member of the Business of Sports Network. He is a former attorney, CPA, and Minor League Baseball team owner. He is an Assistant Professor of Sport Management at Eastern New Mexico University and teaches the Business of Sports at the University of Wyoming.
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