Billionaire Steve Cohen reached a deal to buy the New York Mets baseball team on Monday for a reported value of about $2.42 billion.
“I am excited to have reached an agreement with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement from the team announcing the deal.
It comes after an earlier move to buy the team fell through in February.
The sale must still be approved by 23 of the 30 Major League Baseball team owners before it can become official. While Cohen already owns a minority stake in the team, which he acquired in 2012, his legacy is fraught with controversy.
Cohen is the founder of SAC Capital Advisors, a hedge fund conglomerate that went defunct after Cohen pleaded guilty to insider trading charges. He now serves as chairman, CEO and president of Point72 Asset Management, which is the successor and recipient of most of SAC Capital’s assets. Point 72 has faced multiple discrimination claims brought by female employees.
Regardless of these concerns, the reality is that a hefty price tag could mean higher team valuations for other owners, to which they’re unlikely to object.
"The New York Mets have been a moribund franchise," said Jeffrey Klein, a sports attorney at Weil, Gotshal & Manges. "I think an infusion of talent and excitement, committed ownership and a long-term business plan will bring back fans, increase viewership and make for a healthy and competitive franchise. If you’re the business partners of Major League Baseball, the advertisers or broadcasters, they’ll be applauding having another viable team.”
Before Cohen landed the deal, he faced competition from a group led by former MLB star player Alex Rodriguez and his fiancée, the actress and singer Jennifer Lopez. The couple previously announced they would be withdrawing from negotiations, but as things stalled between Cohen and the Mets, they reportedly revised their bid.At one point the owners of the Philadelphia 76ers, Josh Harris and David Blitzer, were also in the bidding for the team.
If the Lopez-Rodriguez group had purchased the team, Lopez would have been the controlling owner, making her the first Latina to hold such a position within Major League Baseball. Having Lopez at the helm would have meant a less controversial figure in charge than Rodriguez, who violated the league's performance-enhancing drug policy, got suspended and then waged a legal and public relations battle with MLB over the suspension.
Lopez also reportedly pledged to raise the Met's payroll into the $225 million range and said she'd donate $100 million to New York charities if the team didn't win a World Series within a decade.
The current owners, the Wilpon family, aren’t popular among Mets fans and have been seen as mismanaging the team for years. While the Wilpon family technically owns the team, it is largely run by Fred Wilpon and his son, Jeff. The hope is that Cohen would approach the team differently and better leverage the Mets’ status as a big market team.
"The Mets have a revenue, market size and fan base that should spend more on players than they’ve been doing over the past several years," Klein said. "Cohen’s a competitive guy, he’s won in his business, my sense is he will invest the necessary money to be competitive."
While the Mets currently have the fifth-highest payroll of any MLB team, they hadn’t been in the top 10 since 2011. During that time they only had a winning record three times and only made it past the wild-card game once.
"Owning a professional sports team is very different from other M&A activity because there’s very limited supply," Klein said. "Unlike other parts of business where you can go build an alternative and compete, this is different, this is a trophy investment."