Ford acquires a diamond in the rough
Defaulted loan made credit unit the owner of the Houston Astros
That year, Ford Motor Credit Co. became the sole owner of the Houston Astros baseball team as well as the sole operator of their stadium, the Houston Astrodome.
And in September 1978, Bill Odom entered the world of pro sports. He had been senior loan officer for real estate financing at Ford Credit.
“I went to Houston to take over the sole management responsibility for the baseball team,” says Odom, 67, who retired in 1997 after a nine-year stint as chairman of Ford Credit. “My office was in the Astrodome.”
Odom arrived in Houston to clean up the fallout from a loan made to the Houston Sports Association.
In 1972, as part of a diversification strategy, Ford Credit and GE Capital jointly refinanced the debt of the Houston Sports Association.
By 1978, oil-shortage shocks, high interest rates and a dismal economy led the association’s principal stockholder, Roy Hofheinz, to default on the loan. The lenders foreclosed and took over the myriad assets of the Houston Sports Association.
“We owned the whole shooting match,” Odom says. “It included the Houston Astros baseball franchise, the sole operating rights to the Astrodome, the Astro Arena, the Astro Hall, three hotels and a huge amusement park in Houston.”
The lending partners soon sold the amusement park, and Ford Credit used the proceeds to buy out GE Capital.
Odom says he didn’t try to run the baseball team.
“Talbot Smith was the general manager of the Astros,” Odom says. “Tal and I talked about all the player contracts. I gave him a budget, and he negotiated the deals. That was when a super baseball player was making $200,000 or $250,000 a year.”
That was the type of salary that Smith negotiated with outfielder Cesar Cedeno, the Astros’ highest paid player, Odom says. “In the 1978 baseball season, Cesar Cedeno made more money than John C. Dean, who was then chairman of Ford Credit,” Odom says.
By September 1979, Odom had accomplished his main task: selling the entire block of assets, including the Astros. The buyer was marine industrialist John McMullen.