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McCourt turns to Marseille after Dodgers divorce

Los Angeles (AFP) – If new Marseille owner Frank McCourt’s turbulent eight-year reign over the Los Angeles Dodgers is anything to go by, fans of the French giants could be in for a bumpy ride. 

The 63-year-old Boston-born tycoon, who on Monday completed his purchase of the Ligue 1 side, began his career in commercial real estate in the 1970s, forming a formidable team with his wife Jamie who he had met while studying economics at Georgetown University.

Having built a successful commercial real estate conglomerate under the McCourt Company banner, the couple relocated to Los Angeles in 2004 seeking a fresh challenge in sports franchise ownership.

McCourt had already made an unsuccessful bid for the Boston Red Sox, losing out to the team’s current owners led by John W. Henry — who in turn would later go on to buy English Premier League giants Liverpool. 

Following that setback, McCourt’s attention turned to the Dodgers, who were then owned by Rupert Murdoch’s NewsCorp. 

McCourt financed the $430 million purchase of the franchise with a leveraged buyout, loading debt onto the club while using commercial properties in Boston as collateral.

McCourt’s purchase of the Dodgers maintained a long family tradition — his grandfather had been one of the owners of the Boston Braves, who later relocated to Atlanta.

With Jamie employed as Dodgers chief executive, the McCourts set about transforming the franchise’s fortunes, with mixed degrees of success. 

– Revenues surge –

To help service the debts from the purchase, revenue streams were aggressively ramped up with hikes on annual tickets and subscriptions, angering longtime fans. 

Those policies saw revenue spike from $156 million per year in 2003, the year before the McCourts took over, to $286 million by 2010.

Meanwhile the McCourts overhauled the coaching staff but were unable to end their fans’ long wait for another World Series crown. 

But in the eight-year reign of the McCourts, the Dodgers reached the playoffs four times but never progressed past the second round. 

The period also included a dismal 71-91 season in 2005, among the worst in Dodgers history. 

McCourt’s ownership of the Dodgers also included friction with Major League Baseball, prompting league official Rob Manfred, who would later go on to become commissioner, to remark in 2011: “There is no owner who, during the period 2004 to 2011, that we’ve spent more time with on his business problems, his business issues and his desire to be treated differently under applicable rules, than Frank McCourt.” 

– Bitter divorce –

In 2009, the McCourts began divorce proceedings after 30 years of marriage. The bitter court battle became a tabloid sensation, as details from the wrangling filtered into the public domain. Jamie McCourt had requested $1 million a month in spousal support to fund her lifestyle.

The battle ended in late 2011 when McCourt agreed to pay Jamie a $130 million settlement, making it one of the expensive divorces in Californian history. 

By this time, Major League Baseball had grown weary of the Dodgers soap opera, and in April 2011 seized control, with commissioner Bud Selig citing “deep concerns regarding the finances and operations” of the team. 

With McCourt struggling to meet the Dodgers payroll demands, the team filed for bankruptcy protection. The beginning of the end came in November 2011, when McCourt agreed to sell the Dodgers in a process supervised by a federal bankruptcy court judge. 

“This is a swell day for Los Angeles,” the Los Angeles Times’ famous columnist Steve Lopez remarked. “I don’t know who will step up and buy this team, but whoever it is can’t do worse. You could grab anyone off the street and get better results.” 

The ownership saga concluded in 2012, when a consortium led by NBA legend Magic Johnson tabled a $2 billion bid to bring the curtain down on the McCourt era. 

McCourt however has not given up his sports interests — he remains the owner of the successful Los Angeles Marathon and in 2014 took a 50 percent stake in the Global Champions Tour show jumping series.

With the purchase of Marseille McCourt has become the latest American tycoons to take control of a European football club. Manchester United, Arsenal, Liverpool and Roma all have US owners. 

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