News Corp stake in YES a boon to Yankees

YES Network broadcasters Michael Kay and Ken Singleton. YES Network broadcasters Michael Kay and Ken Singleton. Photo Credit: Getty Images

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News Corp., which owns Fox Sports, announced Tuesday it will purchase 49 percent of the YES Network, with perhaps more to come.

The deal will provide a cash windfall for the Yankees and ensure them another three decades of lucrative local television rights fees.

But despite speculation that the move could be the first step in an eventual sale of the Yankees, the team has denied that.

Hal Steinbrenner, chairman of Yankee Global Enterprises, said in a news release his family "expects to have a continuing, long-term ownership stake in the YES Network and we will continue our yearly commitment of fielding a championship-caliber team for decades to come."

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The biggest chunk of News Corp.'s new stake -- which will cost an estimated $1.5 billion -- is expected to come from portions owned by Goldman Sachs and Providence Equity Partners, which total about 40 percent. Goldman has been shopping its stake for several years.

But about 9 percent of the purchase will come from the Yankees and former owners of the Nets.

At $3 billion, YES' value is higher than the estimated value of the Yankees themselves, much as SNY is assumed to be worth far more than the Mets.

News Corp. will have the ability to buy up to 80 percent of YES after three years, but even if it does the Yankees plan to retain a "significant minority share," according to the release.

The agreement extends YES' rights to Yankees games through 2042, at ever-escalating levels.

As part of the extension, the Yankees will receive some of that money in advance, for a total of about $300 million now and $200 million in three years.

It remains to be seen what impact, if any, the cash influx will have on the Yankees' baseball strategy.

There likely was urgency to complete the deal by year's end, as many companies anticipate higher tax rates for 2013.

Part of News Corp.'s motivation was to extend the reach of its Fox regional sports network to New York. The company also owns 49 percent of the Big Ten Network; with Rutgers announcing Tuesday that it will join that conference, Fox can bundle those channels and others to drive hard bargains with New York-area cable and satellite distributors as current carriage agreements expire.

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James Murdoch, News Corp.'s deputy chief operating officer, referenced "strategically re-entering the New York market."

YES, which launched in 2002, annually is the most-watched local sports channel in the nation.

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