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In this June 9, 2009, file photo, Stan Kasten, at the time the president of the Washington Nationals, attends a news conference in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP2009)
In this June 9, 2009, file photo, Stan Kasten, at the time the president of the Washington Nationals, attends a news conference in Washington. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/AP2009)

Usual Suspects

Regional TV money drives Dodgers' price tag Add to ...

The sale of the Los Angeles Dodgers for over $2-billion to a group featuring Magic Johnson and Stan Kasten is likely to have a few Angelenos inhaling their Decaf Royal Mint-Infused Free-Trade Soy Lattes this morning. The purchase price almost doubles the previous U.S. sports franchise record of $1.1-billion for the Miami Dolphins.

The reason that the owners feel they can expend that much on a team that has been four shades of mediocre the past decade is simple: regional TV money. Analysts feel that taking the Dodgers brand to the TV market - even in a diminished state - will help Johnson and his pals recoup the outlay in short order. In fact, some feel the Dodgers will get more than double the purchase price when they ink a new long-term deal with FOX or one of the other regional cable sports networks.

There may even be interest from an online company such Yahoo or Apple TV for the iconic brand in the second largest media market on the continent. Or the Dodgers may eventually establish their own broadcast network, such as the Yankees YES Network. Let’s just say the rights number will be record-setting for North America.

The reason for all this TV mania is the reliability of sports programming in the era of PVR. For 162 games, advertisers can be sure that their customers will tune in live to the Dodgers telecasts. No pre-recording, no DVD box set, no Blu-ray. Virtually nothing short of the news can promise as much viewer loyalty in a market where the neighbouring Angels just spent a small fortune luring Albert Pujols from St. Louis (for $240-million) with dollars obtained in their 20-year, north of $3-billion deal with regional sports network FOX Sports West.

Already social media is buzzing: “@garyshandling Magic Johnson buys LA Dodgers! First move: add floor seats to Dodger Stadium.” “@georgelopez Lets have Cholo night RT @B_Real420: congrats to @MagicJohnson winner of the bid to buy the Los Angeles dodgers!!!”

Prime Listening: So how soon do you think Bob McCown will have his pal Kasten on his radio show? 5-4-3-2-1.....

Zaun Gone: When you think of baseball hotbeds, Uganda does not readily spring to mind. But after visiting the Little Leaguers of Mpigi, Uganda, Rogers Sportsnet’s Gregg Zaun believes that, given the chance, kids from the African nation could make the majors one day. “There are kids there who are so talented you can’t believe it,” the former Toronto Blue Jay catcher told us in Calgary this week. “They pick up the game so well.”

Zaun was in Uganda along with MLB players Jimmy Rollins and Derrek Lee to visit the team denied entry-visas into the United States just before last summer’s Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. Their first game was scheduled to be with the Canadian entry from Langley B.C. The cancellation didn’t sit well with the Langley folks, who decided the game needed to be played in Uganda. With the co-operation of Right to Play, the Langley team raised the funds to make good on that resolve.

The result is Fair Play, a Sportsnet half-hour documentary narrated by Zaun that airs this Sunday at 4 p.m. ET. Zaun made the 18-hour trek to the Nsambya ghetto where many of the young players live. As the film shows, the amenities are very basic. “It’s terrible how bad the living conditions are there,” says Zaun. “I couldn’t believe it. But the kids are so great and so eager to learn how to play the game. You couldn’t help but root for them.”

The documentary, produced by Paul Sidhu, shows the touching contrast as the kids from affluent B.C. bond with their African opponents, playing in the makeshift baseball field swirling with dust and grass. The look on the faces of the Ugandan kids who receive new equipment and the visits from major leaguers makes watching the documentary worthwhile.

Blue Jays Central: Speaking of Zaun, he and partner Jamie Campbell are set for another season of Blue Jays telecasts on Sportsnet. This year their 30-minute pregame show will be called Blue Jays Cental (as part of Toronto’s brand re-make, everything is Blue Jays, not simply Jays any more). Assuming they do a show for every one of the 162 Jays games, that means the pair - who’ve become good friends since teaming up in 2009 - have 4,860 minutes of material to assemble.

“I don’t know if people know that we prepare and research all the material we do on the show,” Campbell told us. “We don’t really have a research staff. We think it up and then we try to explain it to the producers that night. It’s frustrating sometimes, but it’s also rewarding to have that kind of an outlet to express yourself.” Zaun is impressed watching Campbell. “He never gets mad, even when things don’t work out perfectly,” says Zaun. “He makes my job easier.”

When we spoke to them, the pair had just finished wardrobe fittings for this year. As anyone who’s watched them knows, Campbell wears the sober suits while Zaun... let’s just say he’s earned the nickname “Zaun Cherry” for his threads.

Round Round Get Around: Now those are some kinda’ air miles. TSN’s hockey analyst Ray Ferraro’s travel for this week: In Vancouver Monday, in Winnipeg Wednesday, in Toronto on Thursday and back to Vancouver Friday for a game there. So if you see him nibbling Bits ‘n Bites they’re probably from a plane. He’s not alone. Play-by-play announcer Gord Miller estimates he’s been everywhere, man, too. “I flew 134,000 base miles in 2011,” Miller told Usual Suspects. “That included a trip to Korea, and some CFL games. Take off the miles I've done for the CFL and NBC games, factor in the playoffs and I would say approximately 90,000 miles.” So journalism students need to take a course in how to pack a suitcase if they want a job in today's market.

Tebow sure is excited: If you thought Tim Tebow was excited at his press conference joining the New York Jets, you’re right. Tebow used the word excited 44 times in 32 minutes. ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt wasn’t buying. “He’d say he was excited even if he was going to the Canadian league,” Van Pelt said on his radio program.

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