Wednesday, November 28, 2012
A tall young man stands, three piece Brooks Bros, Florsheims, and straight bow tie.
"Let me open these negotiations. My name is Mr. Importance, and this is my assistant. And for the record, the gentleman at the other end of the table needs no introduction. The once NBA super star Earvin Johnson."
And yes, there's Magic sitting at the end of the polished mahogany table. Pin stripe suit, championship ring, no tie. He raises his cup to the man. He has a Big Smile. And why not? He's Magic Johnson.
Mr. Importance nods, and continues. "I represent Fox Sport, Incorporated. This meeting is to determine the new contract between Fox Sports and the Los Angeles Dodgers, for exclusive television rights."
Mr. Importance puts his hands behind his back, and begins to pace. "Let me begin with our offer, which, I must say, is an extremely generous offer from Fox Sports. Our sharpest legal minds have worked this out so it is unquestionably fair to all sides. We will offer you...Two and three quarters Billion Dollars for the Television Rights extending out 25 years, starting in the year 2014. I'm sure you'll agree this is far better than your current contract."
Magic motions to Jeffery, his assistant, who stands. "This is unfortunate. Our price is much higher. We are looking at $9 Billion for 25 years. Remember, the Dodgers are the most expensive team in the history of professional sports. You're not buying the rights to an triple-A team, you know."
Magic nods, sips his coffee, and smiles over at Mr Importance.
"What?" says Mr. Importance. "Nine Billion? You got to be kidding me...us. That's outrageous. Nobody's going to pay that much. Nine Billion?"
He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly. "Look, we're Fox Sports. We asked you to come by as a courtesy. This meeting is really a formality. We have the contract all ready. Just the amount is left blank." He reaches for a copy of the contract, and slides it toward Magic. "Just sign it. We'll get out of here. We certainly have other things to do. This is a,"...he looks around..."a grand-slam deal." He giggles, and lightly punches the shoulder of his assistant.
He leans down and stares into his assistance's laptop. He scratches his neck. "Okay, gentlemen, perhaps a little higher bid will solve this impasse, get this over with quickly. I'm authorized to go a tad higher. $3 Billion for 25 years. We'd certainly like to offer more, but what with the economy, you know. That's Three Billion, with a 'B.' We know what the Dodgers are worth, gentlemen, and Three is very reasonable. On the high end for sure."
"You're not even in the Ball Park." says Magic. "We know how much we're worth, too."
"Look, Mr Johnson," he says, waving his hand in the air. "Fox has control here. Where would you be without our Television coverage?"
Magic stares back at Mr. Importance. He folds his hands and smiles. "We're reasonable people here, Mr Importance. I've been given the right to negotiate for the other owners. Remember, teams change. Sure we don't have Loney anymore, but we're the only team in Los Angeles. You got a deal at $8 Billion."
"Eight?" says Mr. Importance. He shouts, "We're the ones putting up the money." He blinks, then says, "$4 billion, and we're done. It's the best deal you're ever going to get. Four and it's a deal. You'd be insane not to take it. And, a warning, you won't get a penny more. From us or anybody."
Jeffrey raises his hand. "The money we're asking will be used to purchase quality young players. That is paramount. That will help us both."
"Please," says Mr. Importance. "You'll simply become the Yankees of the West. We both know when payroll increases, ticket prices also go up. You'll do what the Lakers did and shut out the every day fan. The Dodgers will become irrelevant. You'll never get an offer like $4 Billion ever again."
"No, no, no," says Magic. "I think you'll pay our price. Fox wants to monopolize sports on Cable Television, leaving fewer games on free TV. Live sports broadcasts are the last place where the viewer can't just pre-tape the show and cut out the commercials. You know you'll make it back. $8 Billion, my friend."
"You think we're a lousy team?" says Jeffery. "Shows how much you know. We dealt with a lot of injuries with Kemp, Bills, Lilly, Jansen, Guerra, Ellis, and Kershaw. No matter what, injuries are always a risk. You have to give the new owners time to put together the team. The more money you can spend, the better chance you have of getting the best players, better chance of winning."
"25 years is a long time," says Magic. "Who knows what the market will be like in 15 or 20 years--or even 10 years. You know what we're worth. $8 Billion is cheap."
"This is crazy," says Mr. Importance. He snaps his fingers, and his assistant tunes the laptop.
"It's right here." He points at the screen. "Your current deal, Fox Sports spends $40 million a season. If we pay your price, it's like over $200 million per season. Be reasonable."
Magic looks up at Mr. Importance. "In the next 25 years, and we both know, Los Angeles will become, not only the largest and wealthiest sports city in the world, but the Dodgers will be worshiped in Asia like they are in Latin America. Fox is getting off cheap here. Real cheap."
Mr. Importance folds his arms and looks down at the floor. "If I agree to this, and I'm not saying I will, this will be the most expensive TV deal in the history of professional sports."
He walks slowly over to the expansive window. He looks off toward a high school asphalt basketball court.
He stands there quietly.
"How about this, Mr Johnson. We in essence flip for it. A game of H.O. R. S. E. We split the difference. You win, it's the $6 billion, and if I come out on top, then we'll go with a flat $4 Billion for the 25 years. What do you think? You can still shoot hoops, can't you?"
"But," he says, "I must warn you, Sir. I played two years Varsity for Princeton."
"But..but..Mr. Importance," say his assistant. "This is Magic Johnson...?"
"That's Princeton, Sir. Ivy League. But, if you don't think you're up for it?"
Magic puts his head back and looks at the ceiling.
"I can understand, if you're afraid. There is a huge amount of money at stake. You're getting older and well, it's youth that now dictates what happens in this world. But, I can understand if you don't think you have the...."
"You're on," says Magic. "I'm not that far away from my MVP year. Why not?" He looks at Jeffery, and smiles. "It's only money, right?"
Still looking out the window, "Agreed." He points. "There. That court down there, at that school. Twenty minutes, we'll play." And he turns and strides out, followed by his assistant, arms full of a laptop, forms, yellow legal pads, fumbling with his glasses, one shoe untied.
Magic drinks the rest of his coffee. And with a grin, "And I just happen to have a basketball in the trunk of my car."
Two hours later it's getting dark. Mr. Importance sits at a Hotel bar. He gulps down number five and calls for number six, another double. "Son of a ****. A thirty foot bank shot. The guy's 53, and I'm 26. Come on. Princeton Varsity.
He looks at the TV above the bar. It's a smiling Magic Johnson on SportsCenter. A big grin. A very big grin, the Son of a ****. A thirty foot bank shot. Who makes that? A Two Billion Dollar shot. Son of a ****.
He downs number six, calls for another, and glances at the text on his iPhone.
'We know where you are, Importance. Don't move. We're sending a car. WE NEED TO TALK.'
"Oh boy." he mumbles. "We need to talk? TALK? Two Billion Dollar screw up, they'll want to do a whole lot more than just talk. OH BOY."
A deep breath, he salutes the bartender, jumps off the stool, and stumbles out the door. Then bolts down the sidewalk, a cold wind in his face, last seen fleeing South toward LAX.
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