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Mets in Talks to Sell 80% of Team to Investor Steve Cohen

Scott Soshnick
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Mets in Talks to Sell 80% of Team to Investor Steve Cohen

(Bloomberg) -- The owners of the New York Mets are in talks to sell up to an 80% stake of the Major League Baseball team to billionaire Steve Cohen, who is already an investor in the club, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The transaction would value the team at a baseball-record $2.6 billion, said the person, who asked not to be identified because the discussions are private. The Mets confirmed the talks in a statement.

The move would put a sometimes-controversial Wall Street figure in charge of a team that’s long sat in the shadow of the New York Yankees. Cohen, who grew up in Great Neck on Long Island rooting for the Mets, was the inspiration for the show “Billions” and his deep pockets may give hope to long-suffering fans. But the transition will take time.

Fred Wilpon, the Mets’ principal owner, will remain in his current role for at least five years, at which time Cohen would control the franchise, said the person. Jeff Wilpon, his son, will remain as the team’s chief operating officer for the five-year period, the person said.

Cohen, whose net worth is $9.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, will remain as chief executive officer of Point72 Asset Management, the person said. Cohen didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

“Steve Cohen is a brilliant businessperson, he’s a passionate New Yorker, he’s a passionate Mets fan, and he’s wanted to own and control a baseball team for a very long time,” Leo Hindery, the founder and former CEO of the Yankees’ broadcast network, told Bloomberg Television. “It’s no surprise that he picked the Mets, his hometown team.”

Cohen unsuccessfully bid on the Dodgers, who were bought by a group that included Guggenheim executives for $2.15 billion in 2012.

Fred Wilpon is making the move as part of estate and philanthropic planning, the person familiar with the matter said. The Wilpons will retain a stake in the franchise they assumed control of in 2002 at a valuation of $391 million.

Fraud Case

Cohen, 63, started his former firm, SAC Capital Advisors, in 1992 and it averaged returns of about 30% annually. But the hedge fund pleaded guilty to securities fraud in 2013 and paid a record fine as part of a U.S. crackdown on insider trading on Wall Street.

Cohen raised $5 billion from outside clients when his family office Point72 Asset Management became a hedge fund last year, saying it was easy to gather money. He said at the time that he took only 10 to 15 meetings, including one overseas trip. Point72 now has about $14.6 billion under management, most of it Cohen’s.

The Mets have made the playoffs just three times since the Wilpons took control, with a losing World Series appearance in 2015.

The Mets are represented by Allen & Co.

Tough Stretch

Once one of baseball’s biggest spenders, the Mets went through a period of lean years. Fans attribute that to the owners’ involvement in Bernie Madoff’s ponzi scheme, which put the team in financial disarray.

The team took $65 million in loans from Major League Baseball and Bank of America Corp., then repaid them after selling a handful of minority stakes in the team. The owners also agreed to pay $162 million to settle a lawsuit brought by the liquidator of Madoff’s firm.

Bringing on Cohen may signal a turning point in how the franchise spends. The team’s payroll this season was $160 million, 10th in MLB behind such clubs as the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Angels. The club lost one of its best pitchers Wednesday as right-hander Zack Wheeler agreed to a five-year, $118 million deal with the division-rival Philadelphia Phillies.

“That’s not the kind of number that the current ownership could have matched,” said Hindery, who is now chairman of Trine Acquisition Corp. “It’s important for Mets fans to see in Steve Cohen somebody who will stay competitive with the Yankees, and on the West Coast, stay competitive with the likes of the Los Angeles Dodgers.”

That’s true off the field as well. MLB just gave non-television streaming rights to its teams, freeing them to partner with whoever they want to offer digital packages to local fans. The Yankees recently partnered with Amazon.com Inc. to buy back the YES Network and are likely to stream games through Amazon’s site.

“It’s important that the Mets have an owner capable of doing the same,” Hindery said.

(Updates with comments in the sixth paragraph)

--With assistance from Eben Novy-Williams and Katherine Burton.

To contact the reporter on this story: Scott Soshnick in New York at ssoshnick@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Nick Turner at nturner7@bloomberg.net, John J. Edwards III

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