Cable Operators

MSG Plays Defense vs. Stadium Plan

11/28/2004 7:00 PM Eastern

Looking to protect its struggling Madison Square Garden unit, Cablevision Systems Corp. is bankrolling an army of lobbyists, political consultants and media experts in an attempt to kill New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg's plan to build a new football stadium on Manhattan's West Side.

A new stadium in Manhattan could sap event revenue from the Madison Square Garden arena, home to the Cablevision-owned New York Knicks basketball team and New York Rangers hockey franchise, and a facility which plays host to concerts and other events.

The proposal also comes as Cablevision's New York regional sports networks, Madison Square Garden Network and FSN New York, face a potential loss of subscriber and advertising revenue.

LOSING BASEBALL GAMES

MSGN lost rights to prized New York Yankees games in 2002, and FSN New York is expected to lose rights to the New York Mets games at the end of 2005.

Executives at MSGN have remained mostly quiet on the proposal for the West Side Stadium, which is backed by Bloomberg, the New York Jets and groups working to see New York become the host city of the 2012 Summer Olympics.

Cablevision CEO Jim Dolan has instead relied on an MSG-financed group called the New York Association for Better Choices to battle with Bloomberg and the Jets in their New York media war.

Dolan did jump into the fray three week ago, buying full-page ads in New York-area newspapers.

LETTER FROM DOLAN

The ad consisted of a letter on MSG letterhead that criticized Bloomberg for his proposal. In it, Dolan said the plan includes more than $600 million in taxpayer subsidies.

Bloomberg fired back during a radio address on Nov. 14, accusing MSG of “lying to New Yorkers and trying to end their Olympic dreams.”

MSG officials declined to comment, referring all questions about the stadium to Whit Clay, a spokesman for the NYABC.

Clay, like many parties associated with NYABC, is paid by MSG.

His public-relations firm, Sloane & Co., represents MSG sister company Rainbow Media Holdings Inc. and other cable companies, and was paid $40,000 by MSG from January through June, according to the New York State Temporary Commission on Lobbying.

Clay said he doesn't know who formed the NYABC, or if there are any other businesses that have contributed financially to the group's media blitz. Its members also include several local politicians and some tenant associations.

But lobbying records show that Laura Walters of The Glover Park Group Inc., which was hired as “an advisor to MSG on communications matters,” worked on the development of NYABC. Walters also bought the group's Web site address, NewYorkABC.org, on April 8.

Glover Park Group, which MSG paid about $185,066 from May through August, is one of the dozen firms MSG has hired this year to fight the stadium proposal.

OUTSPENDING JETS

MSG is outspending the Jets and other stadium supporters, shelling out $8.2 million on ads opposing the stadium through August, while the Jets spent about $3 million, according to nonprofit advocacy group Common Cause.

MSG initially signed Irvington, N.Y.-based political media firm Arthur J. Finkelstein & Associates Inc. to work on “strategy, media and message advice,” agreeing to pay the firm $20,000 per month, according to lobbying records.

The firm has ties to former New York Republican U.S. Sen. Al D'Amato.

AJF and its media company, Murphy Powers Media, also receive a 10% commission from MSG on all gross media placed by the firms.

Ask Public Strategies, a firm run by Democratic Party strategists Eric Sedler and John Del Cecato, have also been working on the media campaign in New York.

MSG paid the firm $2.5 million from May through October to create ads.

D'AMATO ON BOARD

D'Amato is also on MSG's payroll. The company hired Park Strategies, the former senator's firm, in May, agreeing to pay it $5,000 per month through the end of October. Park Strategies' lobbyists include D'Amato's son Christopher and David Poleto, a former director of New York Gov. George Pataki's Office of Regulatory Reform.

Graubard Miller, a law firm hired by Cablevision in 2001 to help it fight a cable-franchise issue, is now helping MSG fight the stadium proposal. MSG put the firm on retainer for the year, paying hourly rates ranging from $200 to $450 per hour for attorneys and $150 per hour for paralegals.

Also on retainer are 18 attorneys and lobbyists from the New York firm Wilson, Moskowitz, Edleman & Dicker, which MSG hired in April for a $15,000 monthly retainer.

Cablevision lobbyist Patricia Lynch is another key player lobbying for MSG. Her firm receives $102,000 annually from the company, plus expenses.