When Magic Johnson and a group of fellow investors plunked down $2.15 billion to purchase the Los Angeles Dodgers, the deal was the largest amount ever paid for a sports franchise.
But Johnson’s involvement in the deal could possibly mean more than just the further diversification of the former NBA great’s business portfolio.
Johnson, who has already become the face of the organization, also has an opportunity to lend his star power to baseball, perhaps spurring the increased participation of African-American players and fans.
Johnson has a stake in a sport in which the number of black players and fans has been its lowest numbers in several decades.
Sixty-five years after Jackie Robinson integrated baseball wearing a Dodgers uniform, African-Americans and baseball have an estranged relationship. For example, the percentage of African-Americans on Opening Day rosters has dropped from 18 percent of players in 1991 to 8.5 percent last year.
In addition, only nine percent of fans who attended a major league game last season were African-American, reported a Scarborough Research study. Meanwhile, only six percent of African-Americans consider baseball to be their favorite sport, according to a separate Harris Poll.
However, Tommy Hawkins, the Dodgers’ VP of communications from 1987 to 2005, said Johnson’s involvement in baseball is great news but admitted that one man couldn’t resuscitate African-American interest in the game alone.
“Magic will not be able to wave a magic wand over baseball and make that kind of meaningful impact. I think it’s great that he becomes a part-owner, but a lot of work needs to be done to reignite the black response.”
Currently, there are several outreach programs in urban areas that help generate interest in baseball including Reviving Baseball in Inner Cities (RBI) initiative. New York Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia and Boston’s Carl Crawford both participated in RBI as young players.
For his part, Johnson is working with the Jackie Robinson Foundation. Robinson’s daughter, Sharon, is set to be an advisor and focus mostly on community outreach.
The 2012-2013 season has just started and Johnson wants show baseball he’s serious.
“When my group bought this team, I said I was going to be there with them, and for them. Today I wanted to show the players exactly what I meant.”