Mets sale to Cohen approved by MLB

October 30th, 2020

NEW YORK -- Major League Baseball owners and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio both approved the Mets’ sale from the Wilpon family to Steve Cohen on Friday. MLB announced that it expects Cohen to assume ownership within 10 days.

“On behalf of Major League Baseball, I congratulate Mr. Cohen on receiving approval from the Major League Clubs,” Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement. “Steve will bring his lifelong passion for the Mets to the stewardship of his hometown team, and he will be joined by highly respected baseball leadership as well. I believe that Steve will work hard to deliver a team in which Mets fan can take pride.”

Cohen will purchase the team for a record $2.4 billion-plus, according to sources.

“I am humbled that MLB’s owners have approved me to be the next owner of the New York Mets,” Cohen said in his own statement. “Owning a team is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility.”

In his first act following the approvals, Cohen announced plans to reinstitute pre-pandemic salaries for all full-time Mets employees, and institute a relief fund for seasonal employees this offseason. He also intends to donate $17.5 million to New York City programs designed to assist small businesses, and “dramatically increase the giving of the Mets Foundation in the coming years, with priority given to non-profits and causes in communities surrounding Citi Field.”

Cohen’s total outlay for those initiatives will be more than $27 million.

“The purpose of this statement is to make the public aware that in connection with our purchase and ownership of the New York Mets, we intend to be vigorous supporters of the team’s home communities in Queens,” he said.

Cohen, 64, is a hedge fund manager and lifelong Mets fan who already owned an 8 percent stake in the team. He attempted to purchase a majority share of the Mets last November, but negotiations fell apart. In that deal, the Wilpons would have retained operating control of the Mets for five years.

The Wilpons’ parent company, Sterling Equities, subsequently put the club up for auction, before re-entering exclusive negotiations with Cohen this summer. This time, the sides struck a deal to transfer ownership within months, announcing in September that they had signed a record sale agreement. The $2.4 billion-plus valuation topped the $2.35 billion valuation of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets, partially sold last year. The NFL’s Carolina Panthers sold for $2.275 billion in 2018.

The deal was still subject to the approval of MLB owners, who voted on Friday to approve it. The final remaining obstacle was de Blasio, whose legal department needed to approve Citi Field’s lease transfer from Sterling Equities to Cohen. That process finished within minutes of the MLB ownership vote.

“The New York City Law Department has completed its legal review of the proposed sale of the @Mets,” de Blasio tweeted. “New York City has no objections and the Mets can now proceed with the transaction. #LGM”

For weeks, the sale appeared inevitable despite its lengthy process and obstacles. Longtime Mets chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon held a Zoom call with employees earlier this week in what multiple sources described as a farewell meeting. Although Sterling Equities will retain a 5 percent ownership stake in the Mets, Wilpon will no longer run the franchise’s day-to-day operations. Sterling Equities will, however, retain ownership of SNY, the cable network under contract to broadcast all Mets games through 2030.

"It has been a privilege and honor for our families to have been a part of this great franchise for the past 40 years," Fred Wilpon said in a statement. "We would like to express our deep appreciation for our loyal and passionate fans, who have consistently supported this organization through the years. We’d also like to thank the many great players, managers, coaches and dedicated employees with whom we’ve been privileged to work through the years, for their commitment to the interests of our organization, our industry and our community."

A successful Brooklyn-born businessman, Fred Wilpon and his brother-in-law, Saul Katz, purchased their initial stake in the Mets in 1980, before entering a 50-50 partnership with former majority owner Nelson Doubleday six years later. Wilpon served as team president until 2002, when Sterling Equities bought out Doubleday’s holdings to make Wilpon majority owner and control person. Katz was named team president at that time, while Jeff Wilpon became COO.

Under the Wilpons’ stewardship, the Mets won the World Series in 1986 and the NL pennant in 2000 and ’15. But the team made the postseason just three times in 19 seasons.

“I extend my best wishes to Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Jeff Wilpon and thank them for their longstanding efforts for the Mets,” Manfred said. “In particular, we appreciate Fred’s decades of service to league committees and the governance of the game.”

The baseball operations structure will change under Cohen, who has already announced plans to hire former Mets general manager Sandy Alderson as his inaugural team president. Alderson, in turn, will name a GM to serve beneath him. Under new leadership, the Mets figure to attack free agency with vigor, needing a catcher and multiple starting pitchers as they look to improve a fourth-place team heading into 2021.

“My family and I are lifelong Mets fans, so we’re really excited about this,” Cohen said. “With free agency starting Sunday night, we will be working towards a quick close.”