New York -- Spurned by the New York Yankees Major League
Baseball club, Cablevision Systems Corp. reportedly has its eye on purchasing the
Yankees' crosstown rivals, the New York Mets, as a way of securing at least one
baseball team for its regional-sports network.
According to a report in the New York Daily News,
Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan is in talks with Mets co-owners Nelson Doubleday and
Fred Wilpon to buy the club outright for between $500 million and $600 million -- about
$100 million to $200 million less than what the Yankees were offered several months ago,
according to reports.
There were reports the Yankees deal fell apart after
Cablevision grew angry over leaks to the media and owner George Steinbrenner's
insistence that he retain control of the team.
The Mets deal would reportedly call for Cablevision to
purchase all of the club's shares. Wilpon would be installed as the general partner.
Buying the Mets is seen by observers as a defensive
mechanism for Cablevision in order to lock up television rights for the team. Most
televised Mets games are currently carried on Fox Sports New York, which is 60
percent-owned by Rainbow Media Holdings Inc., Cablevision's regional-programming
This comes at an important time for Cablevision, since the
Yankees signed a letter of intent to form a new company with the New Jersey Nets of the
National Basketball Association, called YankeeNets. That combination would create a
powerful bargaining tool for television rights, and it could even lead to the two teams
forming their own regional-sports network.
Cablevision's Madison Square Garden Network owns the
rights to Yankee games, but that agreement expires in 2000. The Nets' deal with FSNY
ends after the 2000-01 season.
FSNY owns the Mets' programming rights for another 10
Gary Farber, an analyst with SG Cowen Securities Corp.,
said a deal between Cablevision and the Mets would make sense, particularly because
sports-programming costs are among the fastest-growing in the industry.
"It's all part of the negotiating process in
general," Farber said. "I think that at the end of the day, you're probably
better off in the long term owning than renting."
Farber added that if Cablevision is indeed courting the
Mets, it may also be a move to bring the Yankees back to the bargaining table.
"Steinbrenner came up with a great negotiating move
[with the YankeeNets deal]. It's only natural that [Cablevision] came up with one of
their own," Farber said.
Cablevision would neither confirm nor deny the reports.
"While it is our policy not to comment on rumors and
speculation in the media, we note that Cablevision has enjoyed excellent long-term
relationships with the Mets and Yankees as their primary television provider," the
company said in a prepared statement. "We communicate regularly with the ownership of
both teams and maintain an active interest in the future of those relationships."