Cohen agrees to buy Mets; Yankees to work with Amazon to stream games
US hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen has agreed to buy Major League Baseball franchise the New York Mets while city rivals the New York Yankees are set to team up with Amazon, the online retail giant, to become the first team in the league to stream its games direct to consumers.
The Mets announced that Cohen is negotiating an agreement to acquire a controlling stake in the team from current ownership group Sterling Partners, the investment vehicle led by owner Fred Wilpon.
Cohen initially purchased a 4-per-cent stake in the team in 2012, and has since doubled it. With this deal, he is expected to acquire an 80-per-cent stake in the franchise and become the majority shareholder.
Under the terms of the agreement, Wilpon will remain as the Mets chief executive and the “control person”, with his son Jeff Wilpon to continue as chief operating officer, for the next five years, the length of time it will take for the takeover to be completed.
Cohen owns hedge fund company Point72 Asset Management and will continue as chief executive and president during the takeover process, while his family office, Cohen Private Ventures, will continue to manage his Mets interests
The billionaire, who is estimated to be worth around $13.6 billion by Forbes, failed with a takeover bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.
According to Forbes, the Mets are currently valued at $2.3 billion.
The Yankees, the dominant team in New York and the most valuable MLB team, are working with Amazon to allow fans to stream games via mobile, laptops and tablet devices without the need for a cable subscription in a move to attract a younger audience.
The franchise recently completed a deal to buy back the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network from Walt Disney in a deal worth $3.47 billion and are keen to stream a limited number of games from as soon as the 2020 season.
Amazon owns a stake in YES having been among the investors in the takeover group along with Sinclair Broadcast Group, the telecoms conglomerate and Blackstone, Redbird and Mubadala, the private equity companies.
The games could be made available on the Amazon Prime Video platform, according to the New York Post.
The service has acquired a number of premium sports rights in recent years, notably the NFL’s Thursday Night Football, and English soccer’s Premier League.
The Yankees will build towards providing an annual subscription-based streaming package at a cost.
The desire to enter the streaming market is believed to have been influenced by the Yankees’ television audiences dropping by 17-per-cent this year.
It is a move that the majority of MLB teams are likely to follow as all team owners unanimously voted in favour of streaming local games last month.
In-market streaming rights were previously owned by the league but it sold the rights to individual regional sports networks, such as YES, for $2 million a year.
After recently purchasing the Brooklyn Nets, of basketball’s NBA, Joseph Tsai immediately requested talks with the team’s regional broadcaster YES in an effort to roll out a digital service along with linear broadcasts.
Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Rays’ plan to play half of their home games in Montreal, Canada in the future has been halted, according to the local mayor.
Earlier this year, MLB gave permission to the Rays to explore the possibility, with a proposal presented to the league for the team to play games in the early portion of the season at their Tropicana Field home in St. Petersburg, Florida, and later in Montreal.
However, the proposal was immediately met with a negative response from officials in the city of St. Petersburg, which owns the Rays’ Tropicana Field stadium, with the team contracted to play home games at the venue until 2027.
At the time, Rick Kriseman, the mayor of St. Petersburg, told the Tampa Bay Times newspaper that he has already informed the Rays he would not grant permission for talks with Montreal.
In a memo to the city council obtained by the Times, Kriseman said: “Both parties have agreed that the best path forward is to abide by the existing use agreement. In accordance with the existing use agreement, should the Rays organisation wish to continue exploration of the shared season concept with Montreal, that exploration must be limited to the 2028 season and beyond.”
It means the Rays will have to fulfil their contractual obligation and be unable to negotiate playing elsewhere through the end of the contract term.
Kriseman added on Twitter: “My door is open if the Rays want to discuss a new stadium in St. Petersburg. But we are not a part-time city. We are not a part-time region. We are a Major League community. No one can doubt St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay's trajectory.”
Elsewhere in MLB, the Los Angeles Angels have reached a deal to continue playing in Anaheim, California until 2050.
As part of the agreement, the city has sold the Angel stadium and the surrounding land to SRB Management LLC, of which the team’s owner Arte Moreno is a partner, for $325 million, meaning the Angels will own their stadium for the first time in their history.
Under the terms, the Angels will remain in Anaheim for at least another 30 years.
The Angels had until the end of the year to either exercise an opt-out clause in their contract, play out their existing lease through 2029, or negotiate a way to play in a new or renovated stadium in Anaheim.
The Angels have agreed to fully fund all development with the stadium and surrounding land but also profit off all the revenue.