Billionaire hedge-fund manager Steven A. Cohen has reached an agreement to purchase the New York Mets from the controlling Wilpon and Katz families, the team said, in a deal that would set a new benchmark for North American sports franchise valuations.
The deal, which will become official after a vote of Major League Baseball’s owners later this autumn, values the team at between $2.4 billion and $2.5 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter.
That would be the most ever for a North American professional sports franchise, topping the $2.2 billion the NFL’s Carolina Panthers sold for in 2018 and the $2.35 billion valuation the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets achieved last year when Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. co-founder Joseph Tsai bought the portion of the team he didn’t already own.
The most expensive baseball transaction had been the $2.15 billion that Guggenheim Partners LLC CEO Mark Walter and a group of co-investors, including basketball legend Earvin “Magic” Johnson, paid for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012. The transaction was partly financed by a group of insurance companies associated with Guggenheim.
Should the sale for the Mets be approved, Mr. Cohen will own 95% of the team, while the Wilpon and Katz families will retain a 5% stake, the person said.
“I am excited to have reached an agreement with the Wilpon and Katz families to purchase the New York Mets,” Mr. Cohen said in a statement released by the team.
Mr. Cohen’s impending purchase ends an extended courtship that included the collapse of a previous agreement last winter and a ferocious push by a competing, star-studded group led by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez.
In December, Mr. Cohen reached a tentative agreement to acquire the Mets in a deal that would have had current chairman Fred Wilpon remain in that position for the next five years. Jeff Wilpon, Mr. Wilpon’s son, would have continued as the team’s chief operating officer for the same period. The proposed deal unraveled in February over these control issues.
Talks breaking down with Mr. Cohen opened the door for other bidders, and the celebrity couple of Mr. Rodriguez, a former star baseball player, and Ms. Lopez, a pop star and actress, rushed in. They hoped to leverage their fame and status as cultural icons to attract a new, younger audience to baseball, a sport that has struggled with that demographic in recent years.
But Mr. Cohen, who has a net worth of more than $14 billion, wouldn’t be denied. A lifelong baseball fan who grew up in the shadow of the team’s stadium in Queens, Mr. Cohen long dreamed of owning his beloved Mets. He already owns a minority share of the franchise.
Mr. Cohen comes with baggage. His former firm, SAC Capital Advisors LP, pleaded guilty to insider trading in 2013 and agreed to pay a record fine of $1.8 billion. He later reached a civil settlement with the Securities and Exchange Commission that restricted him from serving as the supervisor of a registered fund until 2018. He didn’t admit or deny wrongdoing as part of the civil settlement. Mr. Cohen’s firm is now known as Point72 Asset Management LP.
Once he assumes control, Mr. Cohen is expected to spend aggressively on talent in the hopes of turning the Mets into a perennial contender and competing for attention with their more popular cousin in the Bronx, the Yankees. The Mets haven’t won a championship since 1986, though they have appeared in the World Series twice since, most recently when they fell to the Kansas City Royals in 2015. They have a losing record again this season and are unlikely to qualify for the playoffs.
Mets fans have anticipated the arrival of Mr. Cohen—and his fat bank account—for months, particularly given the financial issues that have plagued the Wilpons for years. Despite playing in baseball’s most lucrative media market, the Mets’ payroll dropped dramatically in the wake of the family’s difficulties stemming from Bernard L. Madoff’s fraud.
In 2010, Mr. Wilpon was named in a lawsuit by Irving Picard, the court-appointed trustee for Mr. Madoff’s firm. The Mets owners settled the lawsuit two years later for $162 million and a pledge that Mr. Picard would drop his claims that they were “willfully blind” to signs that Mr. Madoff was carrying out a fraud.
The Wilpon family’s real-estate firm, Sterling Equities, will develop Willets Point, the land around the Mets’ stadium, with Mr. Cohen getting a small piece of the property, according to a person familiar with the matter.
The family is also keeping SNY, the television network associated with the team, whose proceeds could aid the family in offsetting pandemic-related losses at the team, the person said.
Corrections & Amplifications
The area around Mets’ stadium is known as Willets Point. An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Willis Point. (Corrected on Sept. 14)
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Appeared in the September 15, 2020, print edition as ‘Cohen to Buy Mets for $2.5 Billion.’