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MLB owners and NYC approve sale of the Mets to Steve Cohen

Steve Cohen, shown here at the SkyBridge Alternatives

Steve Cohen, shown here at the SkyBridge Alternatives (SALT) conference in Las Vegas in 2011, was approved by MLB as the Mets' new owner on Oct. 30, 2020. Credit: Bloomberg/Ronda Churchill

The Mets’ Steve Cohen era has begun.

His purchase of the Mets from the Wilpon and Katz families was approved by MLB on Friday when franchise owners voted to accept Cohen into their club, then was given the OK by New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, all but finalizing his takeover of his favorite childhood team.

The sale — which values the Mets at about $2.475 billion, a record for a North American sports franchise — is expected to close within the next 10 days.

"I am humbled that MLB’s owners have approved me to be the next owner of the New York Mets. Owning a team is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility," Cohen said in a statement.

It continued: "My family and I are lifelong Mets fans, so we’re really excited about this. With free agency starting Sunday night we will be working towards a quick close."

When it does become official, Cohen will own 95% of the team, up from his preexisting 8% stake. The Wilpons and Katzes will retain the other 5%.

Cohen, a Great Neck native and longtime hedge-fund boss worth an estimated $14 billion, will be the richest owner in baseball.

"Steve will bring his lifelong passion for the Mets to the stewardship of his hometown team, and he will be joined by highly respected baseball leadership as well," commissioner Rob Manfred said in a news release. "I believe that Steve will work hard to deliver a team in which Mets fan can take pride."

Manfred also said so long to the outgoing owners. Fred Wilpon has owned at least a minority share of the Mets since 1980 and has owned them outright with brother-in-law Saul Katz since 2002.

"I extend my best wishes to Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Jeff Wilpon and thank them for their longstanding efforts for the Mets," Manfred said. "In particular, we appreciate Fred’s decades of service to league committees and the governance of the game. "

Mets patriarch Fred Wilpon said in his own statement: "It has been a privilege and honor for our families to have been a part of this great franchise for the past 40 years. … I know that Steve Cohen and his family share the same passion we’ve had for the Mets and for this City."

Already, Cohen is spending some of his money — albeit not on players or baseball-related items just yet.

That includes donating $17.5 million to New York City to fund grants for local small businesses, as well as a plan to "dramatically increase" the Mets Foundation’s giving, with a focus on Citi Field-area causes.

Cohen also is ending the Wilpon-instituted pandemic pay cuts — ranging from 5-30% — as of Sunday and will support 1,000 seasonal ballpark workers with $500 per month from November through Opening Day. The total value of those employee commitments, he said, is $9.5 million.

"Steve will continue, and will build upon, this organization’s longstanding commitment to the support of our community, and of those in need, which is especially important at this time," Fred Wilpon said. "He shares the view that Saul, Jeff and I have long held, that ownership of the Mets is a public trust. I know that he will take that as seriously as we always have."

Those promises came after more than a week of de Blasio saying the city’s law department was reviewing Cohen and his purchase, a process that could have held up the sale becoming final. The city has a say because it owns Citi Field and the land it sits on.

But de Blasio announced Friday afternoon, shortly after the owners’ vote, that he was fine with it.

"The New York City Law Department has completed its legal review of the proposed sale of the Mets," de Blasio said. "New York City does not object to the sale, and the Mets may proceed with the transaction."

In addition to being chairman and chief executive officer, titles he is giving himself, Cohen also will be the Mets’ "control person," which is MLB’s term for a club’s majority owner and top decision-maker. And, as Cohen announced last month, former general manager Sandy Alderson will return as team president, overseeing all baseball and business operations.

The public portion of this sale saga took nearly a year. The Mets first announced Dec. 4 that Cohen, a minority owner since 2012, was in talks to buy up to 80% of the team. But that deal fell apart in February because of a five-year period in which Fred Wilpon and his son, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon, would have retained their titles and power even as Cohen in effect owned the team.

The Wilpons declared they were open to other bidders but in August entered exclusive negotiations with Cohen. They announced Sept. 14 that they agreed to a new deal, pending MLB approval.

Cohen, who lives in Greenwich, Connecticut, made his fortune on Wall Street and is the founder of the hedge fund Point72 Asset Management.

Under its previous name, SAC Capital Advisors, the firm pleaded guilty to criminal insider-trading charges in 2013 and paid a $1.8 billion fine in 2014. Cohen, as an individual, was never charged with a crime, though he was banned from managing others’ money for two years as a result of a civil suit from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

SportsNet New York, the television home of the Mets since its inception in 2006, is not part of this sale. The Wilpon and Katz families own a controlling interest in SNY. Its deal to broadcast Mets games runs through at least 2030, a source previously said.

As far as the Mets themselves, though, the Wilpons are only technically involved.

This is Steve Cohen’s team now.

"I would like to thank the owners and Commissioner Manfred and his team for welcoming me to Major League Baseball," he said. "And I want to thank Fred Wilpon for inviting me to buy into the franchise in 2012. Fred is one of the game’s true gentlemen and I consider it an honor to be the new owner of this iconic franchise. Most of all, I’d like to thank Mets fans for their unwavering support throughout this process."

His statement ended with three words: "Let’s go Mets!"

Timeline of Wilpon family's ownership of Mets

Jan. 24, 1980: Doubleday & Co. purchases controlling interest in the Mets from the Charles Payson family for $21.1 million. Minority partner Fred Wilpon’s share is a reported to be 5 percent.

Nov. 14, 1986: Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, Jr., purchase the Mets from Doubleday & Co. for $80.75 million, becoming full partners with each owning a 50-percent controlling interest.

Aug. 13, 2002: The Wilpon family agrees to buy Doubleday's 50-percent interest in the team. The deal is officially completed 10 days later.

Dec. 7, 2010: Irving Picard, the trustee appointed to recover and distribute Bernard Madoff’s assets, files a lawsuit against Fred Wilpon and his real estate firm, Sterling Equities, for withdrawing money they invested with Madoff. In 2009, Madoff was convicted of defrauding thousands of investors in a massive Ponzi scheme.

Jan. 28, 2011: Fred and Jeff Wilpon announce they will sell a 20-25 percent minority stake of the Mets.

Feb. 3, 2011: Settlement negotiations between the Wilpons and Picard break down. The lawsuit is expected to become public the following day.

Feb. 4, 2011: The lawsuit becomes public and the Wilpons are accused of feeding off Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The report also states that Fred Wilpon tried to get Madoff to buy a piece of the team in 2002. Picard wants the Wilpons to surrender at least $300 million in fictitious profits to help pay back Madoff investors.

Feb. 16, 2011: At the Mets spring training facility in Port St. Lucie., Florida, Jeff Wilpon tells reporters his family is not selling control of the team.

Feb. 17, 2011: Also at the Mets’ spring training site, Fred Wilpon says his family “will be vindicated” in the Madoff case. He added that they were "duped" by Madoff, a former close friend.

Feb. 25, 2011: It is announced the Mets received a $25 million loan from Major League Baseball in November, 2010, to cover short-term operating costs.

March 2011: Forbes Magazine values the Mets at $747 million, a 13-percent drop from the $858 million the season before. It was the steepest decline for any team in baseball.

March 1, 2011: MLB receives a list of potential candidates seeking to buy a minority interst in the team.

March 18, 2011: Picard amends his original complaint and now seeks more than $1 billion from Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Sterling Equities.

May 26, 2011: The Mets announce an agreement to sell a minority share of the team to hedge fund manager David Einhorn for $200 million.

Sept. 1, 2011: The exclusive negotiating period between David Einhorn and the Mets expires and ownership decides not to extend it. Since no deal was reached, the Mets will have to explore other options to cover their losses.

Dec. 12, 2011: Five days after the Miami Marlins introduced Jose Reyes as their new shortstop, the cash-strapped Mets confirmed they took out another loan. A source said the loan was for $40 million. The team owes $25 million to MLB for a loan issued in November 2010 and, reportedly, hundreds of millions more to financial institutions.

March 3, 2012: Newsday obtains a report that the Mets' ballpark-related revenue (parking, concessions, stadium advertising and more) has dropped more than 30 percent since Citi Field opened in 2009, and premium-ticket sales have fallen almost 50 percent.

March 19, 2012: Mets ownership reached a $162 million settlement with trustee Irving Picard on the day a civil trial was set to begin. The Mets' owners will not have to begin paying any of that settlement for three years.

January 2015: Fred Wilpon named chairman of Major League Baseball’s finance committee by commissioner Rob Manfred.

Dec. 4, 2019: Mets announce they are in talks to sell a majority stake of the team to hedge fund titan Steve Cohen.

Feb. 6, 2020: Steven Cohen’s deal to buy up to 80% of the Mets, which would have valued the team at a baseball-record $2.6 billion, falls through over disagreements about the Wilpons’ continued control of the organization after he took over. “I gave it my best shot,” he said. The Wilpons announce they will look for a new buyer.

Aug. 28, 2020: After more than six months of rumors, Steve Cohen is the last bidder standing, entering exclusive negotiations with the Wilpons to buy the Mets. The other finalists: celebrity couple Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez, who announce they are no longer pursuing the team with their group of investors, and private equity duo Josh Harris and David Blitzer, owners of the Philadelphia 76ers and New Jersey Devils.

Sept. 14, 2020: Steve Cohen agreed to buy the Mets from the Wilpon and Katz families, pending approval from Major League Baseball, the team announced. The deal values the Mets at about $2.475 billion, according to a source. That is the most ever for a U.S. sports franchise, topping the $2.2 billion that the NFL’s Carolina Panthers went for in 2018. The previous high for an MLB franchise was the Dodgers’ $2.15 billion price tag in 2012.

Oct. 30, 2020: MLB owners approved the sale of the Mets to Steve Cohen.

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