Meet Bobby Patton, Colonial chairman and Dodgers owner

Posted Thursday, May. 23, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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A man dressed in an emphatically red plaid sport coat, blue ball cap and a purple tie walked toward the pitcher’s mound at TCU to throw out the first pitch last week.

While the garments didn’t match, Bobby Patton said all of the clothing held meaning for him as he ceremonially opened the baseball game between Texas Christian University and the University of Texas. In the grandstands, a handful at best grasped the sartorial significance.

Enveloping his upper body was the famous Colonial sport coat, signifying Patton’s role as chairman of this week’s Crowne Plaza Invitational at Colonial. Purple symbolized his adopted deep affection for TCU’s Horned Frogs, even though he earned his bachelor’s degree from UT, and a specialized law degree at Southern Methodist University.

Then there is the royal blue Dodgers cap, which he has worn since becoming part of an investment group in 2011 that purchased the Los Angeles Dodgers baseball franchise last year.

Fort Worth businessman Bobby Patton is clearly on a winning streak. And as his choice of wardrobe suggests, he sets his own agenda even when close friends may think far differently.

If you had asked him 20 years ago where he’d be today, Patton says he likely would have replied that he expected to be living a quiet, middle-class existence as a Fort Worth attorney — not rich, but not scraping by.

As it turned out, life has taken some extraordinary turns for Patton, a low-profile, deliberative 49-year-old Fort Worth native who is having the time of his life.

In a bit more than a decade, he has gone from being a general practice attorney to a big-league investor, deftly working his money with private equity whizzes at Guggenheim Partners, successfully dabbling in local real estate, cattle ranching in South Texas, New Mexico and Kansas, becoming an investor in Fort Worth, Texas magazine and owning part of the Dodgers. Moreover, he has deep pockets for political donations if candidates — from liberal Democrats to conservative Republicans — suitably impress him.

There may be Texas millionaires with their own airplane, but probably no others have the petrified remains of 15 dinosaurs. And certainly none is a partner with NBA legend Magic Johnson and four other investors in the Dodgers. The group took control of the National League team after he and several partners missed a chance to acquire the Houston Astros, then had the good fortune to hook up with Johnson and former Atlanta Braves president Stan Kasten.

“It was anything but a slam dunk,” Patton said, noting that 30 competing groups were coveting the team at one point. “But we were able to strike a deal with (former owner) Frank McCourt that precluded the need for an auction. The Dodgers are a storied franchise and I thought it would be a good investment.”

Although the group’s offer of $2.15 billion reportedly may have been as much as $850 million more than the next closest bid, Bloomberg Businessweek quoted a sports analyst as saying that the price was reasonable considering the L.A. media market.

And Patton said that was a big part of the club’s underlying value. His group appraised regional television rights at $9 billion over 25 years, he told the Star-Telegram. Under the old Time Warner deal, the team received “in the low 40 millions” range; next year it will be $290 million, he said.

As for being part of an MLB franchise, “it’s kind of changed my life,” Patton said. “I don’t follow every single pitch of every Rangers game like I used to. Now I follow every Dodgers game.”

And he’s not a silent partner. Patton said the team’s controlling partner, Mark Walter, who helped put together the deal, calls to ask things like, “Should we spend $147 million over six years to sign (pitcher) Zack Greinke?”

He now gets to rub shoulders with former manager Tommy Lasorda, who Patton says provides nonstop commentary and entertainment at games, and Magic Johnson.

If he had any doubts about his choice to become part of Major League Baseball, they vanished on opening day this year when pitcher Clayton Kershaw won what had been a 0-0 game by hitting a homer in the eighth inning. “It was the single most exciting moment in person watching a baseball game in my life,” Patton said. “I was told it was the loudest cheering ever heard in the baseball stadium.”

The Dodgers deal has raised Patton’s relatively low profile, which he’d prefer not being elevated at all.

“That’s the beauty of living in Fort Worth,” he said of his desire not to stand out. “If I had grown up in Dallas, it would probably have been different. But this is how you act in Fort Worth.”

A friend, John Goff, CEO of Goff Capital and co-founder of Crescent Real Estate Equities, says Patton’s good fortune is not a matter of luck. “He’s very tactical about everything he does, including ranching,” Goff said.

“There’s a mysteriousness about Bobby. You don’t know what’s under the surface. He’s comfortable sitting silent; at the same time he can be very engaging,” said Goff..

The source of Patton’s investment money was an inheritance (“Less than half a million”) from his parents, which he received by his early 30s. He won’t go into details, but Patton attributes much of his financial success to investing with Guggenheim Partners, and a predecessor firm, Liberty Hampshire, for the past 10 years.

He became acquainted with Walter, Guggenheim’s CEO — and eventual partner in the Dodgers — through their wives who were roommates at Southern Methodist University law school, where Patton also studied law.

Earlier, Robert Patton dabbled in oil and gas investments. Did he understand what he was getting into? “No, but it was a good education.” Was there a net gain? “Experience.”

Without Guggenheim, Patton makes clear, “I’d would always have been an investor but maybe not as successful.... I don’t want to pretend to any level of sophistication in some of his (Walter’s) investments. I was smart enough to say yes.”

But not all of his wins came through Guggenheim.

By February 2005, Patton was financially well-situated enough to participate in a real estate auction on the courthouse steps. In his pocket was a $13 million cashier’s check he was prepared to spend on the foreclosed TCOM hospital building on Camp Bowie Boulevard.

Because of a general belief that J.P. Morgan Chase would bid above market value to keep property against which it had loaned $100 million, there were only Patton and two other bidders. But Chase decided not to buy the building and Patton picked it up for a bargain price of $6.5 million.

Two months later, Patton sold it to the University of North Health Science Center for $15.7 million.

The coup caught the attention of Wendy Davis, then a councilwoman, and later a Democratic state senator.

“He scooped that building up and turned around and sold it at a pretty hefty profit,” Davis said. “ It was a logical companion to the UNT Health Science Center. Bobby obviously is someone who is on the ball, a natural born entrepreneur.” Davis said she made a point of approaching Patton as a potential political donor.

While he votes in Democratic primaries, Patton doesn’t want to be ideologically categorized. He voted for Gov. Rick Perry in 2002, but made contributions to his opponents in 2006 and 2010, including a whopping $250,000 to the last challenger, former Houston Mayor Bill White. He told the Star-Telegram that a full third term for Perry was too many.

Patton has been keen on Hillary Clinton, but when she failed to get the nomination he donated to President Barack Obama’s campaigns. He has also gave to conservative Republican Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, in his losing primary bid against Tea Party-backed Ted Cruz for the open U.S. Senate seat. And while he is a fan of Kay Granger, the area’s Republican congresswoman with a right-wing voting record, Patton has actively Davis, a hands-on progressive Democrat who is capable of tying her Republican colleagues in knots.

Says Davis: “He will tell you he’s a Democrat even though he supports Republican candidates from time to time like Kay Granger.” And that’s not uncommon in Tarrant County where many of the same faces show up at events for both her and Granger , she asserted. “He supports people whom he knows and trusts.”

Needless to say, Patton’s embrace of liberal Democrats has some of his Fort Worth friends perplexed.

“I avoid the subject” of politics, said Goff. Otherwise, he explained, “it would end up in argument.”

Like many Texans, Patton in his middle age had an itch to try cattle ranching.

Fort Worth born and raised — he grew up in the Tanglewood neighborhood and played baseball for Paschal High School — he came late to the range.

Unlike those with a ranching lineage, or who had spent a lifetime learning the finer points, Patton says his South Texas spread not only survived the prolonged drought that proved devastating to large and small ranches throughout the region, but had two excellent years.

How’d he do it? When he bought the ranch, he also acquired two parcels in a nearby county that had water to grow more than enough hay to feed his 450 cows and their calves even during dry spells. He sells his surplus bales to less blessed operations nearby.

And it’s more than a business. Patton says he spends more time working on the cattle spread than any other pursuit at this time.

Beyond work, Goff said Patton is an avid fisherman and hunter. But his interests and enthusiasms, from dinosaurs to hardball Texas politics, are too numerous to list. “When Bobby calls, you don’t know what he’s currently into. I’ve learned not to be surprised,” he said

“If life was a sponge, he’s going to leave it dry. He’s going to wring every drop out of life.”

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