Billionaire Steve Cohen reached an agreement Monday to purchase the majority ownership of the New York Mets from the Wilpon and Katz families.
The sale is subject to the approval of the Major League Baseball club owners. At least 23 of the 30 owners will need to approve the transaction, which was announced by the club via an afternoon news release. Once that hurdle is cleared, Cohen will assume full control of the franchise.
“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 after signing the agreement.
Cohen entered negotiations to buy the Mets last year, but the deal fell apart in February. He bought an 8% limited partnership stake for $40 million in 2012. The deal that failed to close would have seen him acquire an 80% controlling share in a transaction that valued the team at $2.6 billion.
The current Mets ownership group is headed by Fred Wilpon, his brother-in-law, Saul Katz, and his son, Jeff, the team’s chief operating officer.
— New York Mets (@Mets) September 14, 2020
Cohen bought into the Mets when the team sought $20 million minority investment stakes following the collapse of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, which heavily cost the Wilpons and their companies. The limited partnership shares were sold after a proposed $200 million sale of a stake of the Mets to hedge fund manager David Einhorn fell through in 2011.
After the franchise spoke with several potential suitors, Cohen, 64, a hedge fund manager who is the CEO and president of Point72 Asset Management, entered exclusive negotiations to buy the Mets last month. An on-again, off-again discussion with Cohen’s group began to pick up steam once and for all on Aug. 28, as both sides hoped to salvage a deal after a previous agreement to buy the team fell apart.
The emergence of Cohen, a New York native, as the winning bidder over a group led by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez came days before the process was expected to conclude. Although the Rodriguez-Lopez consortium said in a statement last month that it had made “a fully funded offer at a record price for the team,” its admission that “they are no longer pursuing the acquisition of the team” confirmed that Cohen had the inside track.
Cohen’s previous agreement to purchase the club fell apart amid concerns that Jeff Wilpon wanted to enforce a clause in the contract that allowed him to remain in his current position for five years, rather than treat it as an honorary role.
Mets fans delighted in the possibility of Cohen, a lifelong fan of the team who stands to become Major League Baseball’s richest owner, taking control of the franchise from the Wilpons, who are widely reviled by the fan base.
They now have their wish, as the sale transfers one of the league’s potential jewel franchises, which has been plagued by mismanagement and a propensity for public embarrassment, into the hands of an owner in far better position to leverage the financial advantage that comes with being a team that calls New York City home.
Since 2011, the Mets haven’t carried a payroll in the game’s top 10. In that time, they finished with a winning record only three times and advanced past the wild-card game only once, in 2015, when they lost the World Series to the Kansas City Royals.
Cohen controlled SAC Capital Advisors, which in 2013 pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges. SAC agreed to pay a $900 million fine and forfeit another $900 million to the federal government, though $616 million that SAC companies had already agreed to pay to settle parallel actions by the Securities and Exchange Commission was to be deducted from the $1.8 billion.
The publisher Doubleday & Co. bought the Mets for $21.1 million in 1980 from the family of founding owner Joan Payson, with the company owning 95% of the team and Fred Wilpon controlling 5%. When Doubleday & Co. was sold to the media company Bertelsmann AG in 1986, the publisher sold its shares of the team for nearly $81 million to Fred Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, who became 50-50 owners.
Wilpon led a buyout of Doubleday’s shares in 2002 and became chairman and sole controlling owner. Katz, the owner’s brother-in-law and partner in the real estate firm Sterling Equities Inc., became team president, and Jeff Wilpon became COO.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.