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Dolans again intrested in buying Yankees


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From Jon Heyman at SI.com:

With age creeping up on George Steinbrenner and his team's succession plans seeming unsettled, it was only a matter of time before someone surfaced with interest in buying the Yankees. And the first new name to be heard in quite awhile is an old name: the Dolans, owners of Madison Square Garden, the Knicks, Rangers and cable-TV behemoth Cablevision.

Industry insiders say the Dolan family, which nearly closed a deal on baseball's most historic team and its TV station nine years ago, has made periodic runs at the franchise since then. Those same insiders say the Dolans are again showing signs they'd like to be first in line should the Yankees come up for sale. The Dolans retain interest in expanding their sporting empire in a big way, and the Yankees are not only in their backyard, but also right up their alley.

"There's been no offer, and the Yankees and the YES Network are not for sale. The Not-for-Sale sign is up," Steinbrenner spokesman Howard Rubenstein said on Thursday. Pressed as to whether there's been any sort of recent overtures by the Dolans, Rubenstein said he was unsure about that.

Regarding any current interest by the Dolans in the Yankees and YES Network, Madison Square Garden spokesman Barry Watkins said they would "politely decline to comment."

While the Yankees aren't fielding offers now, industry experts said a sale can't be ruled out eventually in light of Steinbrenner's advancing age (he's 76) and declining condition. Some close to him say he's "struggling" and that the pace he's kept has slowed dramatically in the past couple years. ("He's fine ... he seems in decent shape," Rubenstein, the high-powered P.R. man, insisted.) There's also the matter of his succession plans, which fell apart in March with the decision of his daughter, Jennifer, to divorce the heir apparent, Steve Swindal.

Swindal's impending ouster has given rise to parlor games as to who will succeed Steinbrenner. The favorite at the moment appears to be elder son Hank, whose main business was the family thoroughbred farm until six months ago, when he began reporting to a Yankees office at the team's Legends Field facility, by his father's. Whether Hank's presence portends an ascension remains unknown. Steinbrenner's sons, unlike their famous father, prefer to stay out of the spotlight.

Any renewed interest by the Dolans could be unrelated to changes within the Yankees' hierarchy, as industry insiders say the Dolans' interest in baseball has never waned. In addition to their 1998 talks with the Yankees that nearly resulted in a sale for an estimated $600 million (which would have been a steal), the Dolans tried hard to buy the Red Sox and NESN in late 2001, bidding around $400 million for those entities plus Fenway Park before losing out to John Henry, a former Yankees limited partner and Marlins owner. Charles Dolan's brother Larry currently owns the Cleveland Indians.

Jim Dolan has shown one similarity to Steinbrenner (at least the old Steinbrenner) in his manner of running the Knicks in that his payroll knows no bounds in his lust to win. However, unlike the Yankees, who have won six World Series titles during Steinbrenner's reign and become practically a postseason certainty (though things look iffy at 8-12 early this season), the Knicks have floundered during Dolan's tenure, occasionally to the point of embarrassment. Jim Dolan's time at the top of the Knicks' hierarchy has been marked by misplaced faith, a rotation of big-name coaches and ill-conceived rosters, but mostly by wasted dollars

Even if Steinbrenner decides to sell, the Dolans may have a tough time wresting the team from him, anyway. If the idea of Jim Dolan, who has had his share of documented difficulties trying to make the Knicks a winner, scares Yankees fans, the idea of the Dolans may elicit a similarly negative reaction from Steinbrenner, industry insiders say.

If Steinbrenner doesn't want to sell, word is he particularly doesn't want to sell to the Dolans, with whom he's had disputes in the past. The Dolans refused to carry Yankees games on Cablevision for the entire 2002 season, following Steinbrenner's launch of the highly successful YES Network, which replaced the Dolans' MSG Network as the Yankees' main station. The Dolans didn't carry the games, in fact, until after New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg interceded.

Experts think that it would be more feasible for the Dolans to simply buy the YES Network, which by some estimates could be worth almost as much as the team itself. The reasons are that Steinbrenner has less control over the network and is far less emotionally involved.

The Yankees were recently estimated by Forbes magazine to be baseball's most valuable franchise, at about $1.2 billion, but that guess may be short. Even so, that represents a 120-fold increase over the approximate $10 million Steinbrenner paid CBS for the team in January 1973.

Experts have estimated the team's TV network to be worth close to as much as the team, meaning possibly another $1.2 billion.

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IF the Yanks are sold, and that's a helluvan "if" whether Steinbrenner's alive or dead, it'll go to an NFL-style auction in order to maximize value. The limited partners (one whom I know) wouldn't let it go down any other way.

That said, the Yankees could easily command upwards of $2 billion in the open market, if there's someone out there with that kind of jack in cash. MLB rules prohibit financing more than 40% of any team purchase, so a $2B sale would require:

- One investor (could be a partnership though) with at least a 51% controlling interest, which means

- Having an absolute minimum of $ 612 million in cash as of the closing date.

There are folks out there with that much of course, but it does narrow the playing field quite a bit.

My guess: whoever buys them eventually takes the Yankees public, like was done with the Cleveland Indians a decade ago - retaining majority control, but giving fans the chance to buy into the team. In fact, I'm kind of surprised Steinbrenner hasn't done this himself, as in one shot he could raise a billion in working capital without relinquishing control of the franchise.

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The better idea is the Dolans getting out of sports altogether. Look at how they've ruined the Knicks. They could only do worse with the Yankees. Their main reasoning is so that they can have them on Cablevision without having to pay.

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I know that fortunately this is unlikely to happen as George isn't going to sell the team. That said I don't even want to think about this. Jim Dolan is probably one of the worst sports owners out there. He has no clue how to run a sports team at all. He s just lucky enough that he was given the cash cow that is MSG.

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