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MURDOCH NON-COMMITTAL ABOUT BUYING DODGERS.

Byline: Tom Hoffarth Daily News Staff Writer

Although it appears nothing could get in his way if he wanted to do it, Rupert Murdoch is taking a wait-and-see approach amid speculation he may buy the Dodgers, according to Fox Sports.

``Ever since our high-profile entrance into the world of sports, Mr. Murdoch and Fox seem to have a perpetual place on the `usual suspects' list,'' said Fox Sports spokesman Vince Wladaka, who would not elaborate.

Murdoch's News Corporation Limited - which includes the aggressive Fox Sports - has been unpredictable in purchasing new entities since he decided to make Fox a national network to contend with in recent years.

In 1994, Murdoch plunked down $1.6 billion for the rights to four years of NFL games, including this year's Super Bowl.

In 1995, he bought the rights to do five years of major-league baseball for $565 million, a deal that started last year and included the World Series.

When Peter O'Malley announced Monday his team was up for sale, Murdoch's name surfaced as a potential buyer. He has the financial means. He'd probably keep the team in L.A., where his Fox Broadcasting offices are located.

But could someone who controls exclusive rights to the league's national broadcast be precluded from also owning a team?

There's a precedent already set, and it's right down the freeway.

Disney, which has a 25 percent stake in the Angels and took over daily operations of the team last season, also owns Capital Cities, Inc. One of its holdings is ESPN, the all-sports cable giant that has both a midweek and Sunday night package of regular season and playoff games.

Disney has a similar arrangement with the NHL, owning the Ducks, which are part of ESPN's national cable package.

Aside from the national over-the-air deal, Murdoch's fX cable channel will do an undetermined number of games this season.

Murdoch's Fox Sports West cable operation also has a lot at stake from the sale of the Dodgers.

Fox Sports West made a strategic deal a few months ago, sub-licensing the rights from KTLA to do 40 Dodger games this season after Tele-TV, an unlaunched digital service that signed a deal with the Dodgers last April, went belly up.

Add to that the fact Fox Sports West 2 will launch on Jan. 27 - using the Dodgers as their main selling point. Cable systems that don't add on FSW2 by the launch date are being warned that they could be left in the cold if they wait until spring to find space on the cable box. So far, commitments for FSW2 from cable systems such as Continental and Century have not come in.

The Dodgers will televise at least 50 of their 81 home dates between Fox Sports West 2 and KTLA, plus the national packages at Fox and ESPN. Another 50 road games, most on KTLA (38), are also guaranteed.

Media corporations have not been shy about getting into the sports ownership business and using the team for local programming. The Tribune Company, which also owns KTLA in L.A., has the Chicago Cubs and superstation WGN. Atlanta Braves owner Ted Turner, who just included WTBS into a merger with Time Warner, has enjoyed the relationship for years. Wayne Huizenga, who owns the Florida Marlins, also has SportsChannel Florida.

Murdoch's ability to come up with some $500 million to pay O'Malley for the team might be the only question. Sources say he might not be liquid enough in his assets to free up the money. O'Malley, of course, can also decide not to sell him the team based on fears Murdoch would not uphold the ``Dodger tradition.''

An indication of Murdoch's next move could come at baseball's owners meeting set in Scottsdale, Ariz., next Thursday.

Turner is to present a deal that will allow him to keep 100 Braves games a year on WTBS through the year 2000, but it must be approved by Fox and ESPN. WTBS is shifting from a superstation to regular cable network status and will run up against exclusive deals ESPN and Fox's fX have for MLB cable rights.

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Title Annotation:SPORTS
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jan 9, 1997
Words:691
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