Murdoch's empire scores a media double

In LA the Dodgers fall, while in New York a rival editor is sacked
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The Independent Online
Rupert Murdoch, the insatiable media baron, is to be the new owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers, arguably the most venerated - and most lucrative - of all baseball franchises.

The deal, which still needs approval by most of the other major league team owners in the US, is a coup by Mr Murdoch that highlights his efforts to expand the sports-interest arm of his already massive global media empire.

Meanwhile, in what has been a good couple of days for Murdoch, the New York City newspaper scene was ruffled by the peremptory sacking late Thursday at the tabloid Daily News of its editor of just eight months, Pete Hamill.

The ousting of Mr Hamill,who was exceptionally popular with his journalists, threatens new turmoil at the News, which is already struggling against competition from Mr Murdoch's New York Post.

The Dodgers were the last major US baseball team in family hands. Its sale by Peter O'Malley will sadden fans as the moment when the passing of the sport - the "national pastime" - into corporate hands was complete.

While neither the O'Malley family nor Mr Murdoch have revealed the price attached to the sale, it is believed to be close to $350 million. If so, it will be one of the largest sports transactions in history.

While it seems unlikely that the other owners will move to block the transaction, it may attract strong opposition from Ted Turner, the broadcast mogul and owner of the Atlanta Braves. Messrs Turner and Murdoch have long been locked in a series of feuds.

For his money, Mr Murdoch will not only get the team, but also the 56,000 seat Dodgers stadium in Los Angeles and surrounding land, as well as team facilities in Florida and the Dominican Republic.

Owning the Dodgers also assures Mr Murdoch long-term access to their games for broadcast on his Fox TV network, which in recent years has tightened its grip on sports rights in the US, in much the way Mr Murdoch's BSkyB has poached sporting events from traditional broadcasters in Britain.

His expansion into the sporting world has also included the purchase for $550 million of the broadcasting rights for Rugby Union in the Southern Hemisphere and the acquisition of stakes in five of the ten superleague rubgy teams in Australia.

In New York, meanwhile, there can only be advantage for the New York Post in the latest traumas at the rival News. While circulation at the Post - said to be Mr Murdoch's favourite among all his newspaper titles - has risen in recent months, figures at the News have continued their slide. Between March 1996 and March 1997, sales of the News slid 30,000 to about 728,000.

Mr Hamill, whose latest book Snow In August is currently on the US bestseller list, apparently fell out with the owner of the News, Mort Zuckerman. While Hamill had been trying to steer away from Royal and gossipy coverage, Zuckerman apparently thought the paper was becoming dull.

"It's like a funeral home here right now, " one News columnist said of Hamill's dismissal. "He was treated with total disrespect by the ownership. It makes us a laughing stock".

Once the dominant tabloid of New York City, the Daily News has slowly been losing ground to the Post. It used to be owned by the British newspaper tycoon Robert Maxwell, until his mysterious death at sea. Hamill was the third News editor bumped from his office in four and a half years.