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Keith Rupert Murdoch
- School University of Oxford
Rupert Murdoch is a prominent Australian-American global businessman who was the principal owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers for five years.
Murdoch's father was already active in the news industry in Australia, but the family business grew tremendously after he inherited it in 1952, eventually becoming "News Corporation", the world's largest media conglomerate. He first took over a number of newspapers in Australia and New Zealand, then expanded to the United Kingdom where he took over a couple of tabloid newspapers, News of the World and The Sun, neither of which was known for the quality of its journalism. The deal which put him on the world map, however, was his purchase of the venerable Times of London in 1981, one of the world's most prestigious daily newspapers. His arrival ushered in a revolution in the British news industry, as he destroyed the grip held by various unions on the paper after a series of very bitter labor disputes.
Murdoch became a United States citizen in 1985, in order to further his business ambitions. He acquired a number of valuable properties in the country, including the motion picture studio Twentieth Century Fox and associated television stations which became the basis of the FOX network, and HarperCollins Publishers. He formed the BSkyB television network in the UK in 1990, which became the principal private sector competitor of the British Broadcasting Corporation, and expanded his television properties into Asia and South America.
As he was expanding the Fox Entertainment Group's interests into cable television in the 1990s, Murdoch purchased the Dodgers from Peter O'Malley on March 19, 1998, ending over half a century of ownership by the O'Malley family. He paid $311 million for the team, at the time the highest price ever paid for a professional sports franchise in North America. Under the O'Malleys, the Dodgers had been characterized by stability at the top: they had only two managers from 1954, when Walter Alston was appointed when the team was still the Brooklyn Dodgers, until 1996, when Tommy Lasorda gave up the job, and there was little turnover in the rest of the front office as well. The team's strength was understated excellence, but that changed under Murdoch's leadership, as he made countless changes, splurged on costly free agent signings that did not pan out and generally tried to generate a continual media buzz, but with little practical success: the team never reached the postseason during his five-year tenure. The synergy between professional sports teams and media corporations was not quite ripe either, and the purchase did not reap the windfall profits Murdoch was expecting, while the business and culture of baseball remained profoundly alien to him. After only five years, in 2003, Murdoch put the team up for sale in order to generate some cash, and it was bought by real estate magnate Frank McCourt, who paid $430 million with a highly-leveraged deal which fellow owners still approved because they wanted to get rid of Murdoch.
Murdoch was always a controversial figure because of his support of conservative politics and allegations of exerting undue influence on the editorial staff of the media outlets he owns. He was criticized for approaching the entire media industry purely from a profit angle, with little regard as to the quality of the programming or other content, and for applying business methods that pay little regard to the qualities that have made the companies he bought profitable in the first place. He was tainted by a scandal that affected many of his British newspapers in 2011, when allegations came to light that they had used immoral and sometimes illegal methods to obtain news, such as tapping telephone lines; those papers had long faced criticism for paying informers for stories, but now the allegations also included cases of bribery. Not all of his business ventures have been successful, but the most profitable sectors of his empire have been used to subsidize less performing ones, and he has not been shy of getting rid of assets if they do not meet performance expectations. All of these characteristics were on display during his ownership of the Dodgers - except perhaps for the part about paying bribes and hacking phone lines.