Multibillionaire Long Island native Steve Cohen has agreed to buy the Mets from the Wilpon and Katz families, pending approval from Major League Baseball, the team announced Monday.
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 $2.35 billion that the NBA's Brooklyn Nets went for in 2019. The previous high for an MLB franchise was the Dodgers’ $2.15 billion price tag in 2012.
Cohen, 64, has rooted for the Mets since their inception and is set to own 95% of the team, up from his 8% stake, a source said. The Wilpons and Katzes will retain the other 5%.
A person familiar with the process said Cohen is expected to receive the required approval from at least 23 of the other 29 team owners when MLB holds a vote. That might not happen until the previously scheduled owners’ meetings in November as MLB fully vets Cohen and the financial details and other aspects of the sale.
If and when Cohen is approved, he would become the Mets’ "control person," which is baseball’s term for a franchise’s majority owner and top decision-maker. He would be the richest owner in the sport, with a net worth of an estimated $13 billion.
In the meantime, while chairman Fred Wilpon officially remains in charge, Cohen is allowed to "consult" on organizational decision-making, a source said. Autumn is a critical time of year for major-league clubs as they form offseason agendas, set 2021 budgets and make personnel decisions for baseball operations and other departments.
"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 released by the Mets.
A spokesman for Cohen declined to comment further.
Commissioner Rob Manfred welcomed a Mets sale. "It’s important for us to be strong in our major markets," he said Monday during an online event hosted by Hofstra. "A change in ownership at the Mets is an opportunity to make that franchise as strong as it can possibly be, and I think over the long haul it’ll be something that will be good for the game."
SportsNet New York, the television home of Mets games since its launch in 2006, is not part of this transaction. Sterling Equities — the Wilpon/Katz family business that owns the Mets — owns a controlling interest in SNY. Its deal to broadcast Mets games runs through at least 2030, a source previously said.
For Cohen, this marks the fulfillment of a lifelong goal.
"I’ve been going to Mets games since I was a kid, when they played in the Polo Grounds," he wrote in a letter to shareholders of his hedge fund, Point72 Asset Management, in December. "It has always been a dream of mine to be a majority owner of a Major League Baseball franchise."
Cohen grew up in Great Neck and lives in Connecticut. He returned to the finance industry after a two-year ban from managing other people’s money. His previous firm, SAC Capital Advisors, pleaded guilty to securities fraud and paid a $1.8 billion fine. Cohen wasn’t charged with wrongdoing.
For the Wilpons, it marks the just-about-end of an era that has been long on controversies and short on accomplishments.
Fred Wilpon first obtained 5% of the Mets in January 1980 as part of Doubleday & Co.’s purchase of a controlling interest of the team from the Charles Payson family. In 1986, he and Nelson Doubleday Jr. bought the team outright, splitting it 50% each. Wilpon bought out Doubleday in August 2002 and immediately installed his son, Jeff Wilpon, as chief operating officer.
In the 18 years since, the Mets have had eight managers, five general managers, three playoff appearances and zero World Series championships.
According to a source with knowledge of the family’s thinking, Fred Wilpon and team president Saul Katz — brothers-in-law both in their early 80s — decided to sell the Mets as part of their estate planning, something Wilpon wanted to do while he was alive as opposed to leaving it to the next generations.
This also brings nearly to an end a sale saga that has lasted more than nine months.
In early December, Sterling Equities announced that Cohen was in talks to increase his stake in the team to up to 80% in a deal that would have valued the club at $2.6 billion. The original terms included a five-year window in which Fred and Jeff Wilpon would have retained their titles and power before Cohen fully took over. Those negotiations fell through in February when Cohen decided he didn’t want to wait five years, according to a source familiar with the dynamic.
Upon the collapse of those talks, the Wilpons sought new bidders — and found some. The finalists were Cohen, a group of investors fronted by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez, and private-equity partners Josh Harris and David Blitzer. Cohen entered exclusive talks with Sterling on Aug. 28.
Although he did not formally re-enter the process until July, Cohen was always the perceived favorite because of his financial might and his personal interest in the Mets.
"Stevie gets," an acquaintance said during the first go-around, "what Stevie wants."
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