Major League Baseball owners voted on Friday to approve hedge fund billionaire Steve Cohen as the new owner of the New York Mets, concluding a nearly year-long battle for control of the star-crossed franchise.
The New York native takes control of the team nearly seven years after his former company, SAC Capital, pleaded guilty to insider trading and was fined $1.8bn. Mr Cohen, who was barred for two years from managing client money, converted SAC into a family office called Point72 Asset Management and later reopened to outside investors.
The purchase concludes the team’s struggles under the Wilpon family, the majority owners of the Mets since 2002, who moved to sell the club after being caught up in another Wall Street scandal as investors in the Ponzi scheme of disgraced asset manager Bernard Madoff.
After the owners’ vote, Rob Manfred, commissioner of MLB, congratulated Mr Cohen in a statement, saying: “Steve will bring his life-long passion for the Mets to the stewardship of his hometown team, and he will be joined by highly respected baseball leadership as well.”
With a net worth of about $14bn, Mr Cohen’s deep pockets make him an appealing owner for long-suffering Mets fans, who hope new leadership might spend lavishly on the team that has not won a World Series championship since 1986.
In a statement, Mr Cohen expressed his thanks to MLB owners and the Wilpon family and suggested he was ready to pull out his cheque book to sign star players.
“My family and I are life-long Mets fans, so we’re really excited about this,” Mr Cohen said. “With free agency starting Sunday night we will be working towards a quick close.”
Mr Cohen also said he planned to reinstitute pre-pandemic salaries to Mets staff, whose pay was cut between 5 and 30 per cent in recent months, and establish a relief fund of $2.5m for the team’s seasonal employees.
The sale of the Mets — reportedly for more than $2.4bn — is the costliest transaction ever for a North American sports franchise, and among the highest-profile. An auction for the team over the summer featured bids from celebrity couple Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, as well as other Wall Street heavyweights.
Mr Cohen has made no secret of his desire to own a baseball franchise, having been outbid in 2012 for the Los Angeles Dodgers by a consortium including Guggenheim Partners and basketball great Earvin “Magic” Johnson. He made a previous bid for the Mets, in which he already is a minority stakeholder, earlier in 2020, though the deal collapsed in February.
Earlier this week, Mayor Bill de Blasio suggested the city’s due diligence review on the transfer of the land lease at the Mets’ stadium could hold up the sale to Mr Cohen, sparking an outcry from other officials.
Mr de Blasio, who is a vocal supporter of the rival Boston Red Sox, declined during a news conference on Thursday to answer questions regarding his personal views on the Mets sale.
On Friday, he said in a statement: “New York City does not object to the sale, and the Mets may proceed with the transaction.”