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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Time is even better for NY Times to sell the Red Sox

The NY Times dropped its dividend by 74% causing speculation they might take the company private. A good source of needed financing would be the sale of the Boston Red Sox. The Times is part of a group who bought the team before the 2002 season. The NY Observer remembers (posted on this blog 5/12/08) including these words from Roger Angell: On the impending partnership of the NY Times and Boston Red Sox, along with Padres' former owner Tom Werner and one-time tobacco lobbyist George Mitchell, from the New York Observer, 12/9/01: Worse, the Yankees are a far more likable team than the Reggie-era roughnecks who tormented Boston in the late 1970's during the heyday of the clash. If anything, the attack of the Times Company could make affronted New Yorkers angrier than Bostonians.
  • I don't think Yankee fans care much about the Red Sox,
From New York Observer article by Sridhar Pappu and Jason Gay, "Times Pitches for Red Sox," 12/9/01 (item near end of article)*********** NY Times pitches for Red Sox with Werner, Mitchell group--Dec. 2001

"The New York Times wants a piece of the Boston Red Sox, and talk about a strange romance. Like Caesar and Cleopatra.

  • The Times Company has hitched itself to a bidding group headed by television producer Tom Werner-former owner of the San Diego Padres, co-creator of Roseanne , Katie Couric's boyfriend-because the ball club comes with a television station. That's easy to understand: The Times , for 50 years a television tortoise,
  • is eager to strengthen its media grip in the region where the paper paid $1.1 billion for The Boston Globe in 1993.
But to accelerate its long-marinating TV ambition, the Times Company is trying to dip a long toe into the baseball business,
  • and not just the baseball business-the Boston Red Sox, of all things, the team that seems to exist as a photographic negative of the New York Yankees....
There are other bidders-Cablevision's Charles Dolan; New York lawyer Miles Prentice, possibly to be backed by Steven Rattner's Quadrangle investment group, The Globe reported-but the Times Company's play for the Red Sox certainly had the anything-can-happen weirdness of-who knows what?-Russia joining NATO....
  • There was also some moaning about conflicts of interest should Mr. Werner's and the Times Company's bid-
  • other partners include skiing kingpin Les Otten, and "adviser"
  • and former Maine Senator George Mitchell-go through.

"The more I think about things, the Red Sox are a really swell organization," Dan Shaughnessy, the Globe columnist and author of The Curse of the Bambino , the primer on Boston's tragic baseball history, wrote, jokingly, in the paper on Nov. 30. "I think I've been too harsh on the Sox over the years."

  • ...Now, entered into the Red Sox race, the company may been looking to "solidify its position as the leading news and advertising media in New England," as it said in a written statement, but it's trespassing into territory far deeper and more complicated than the weird 1946 near-trade of Ted Williams for Joe DiMaggio.

"The whole idea of what it is to be a Red Sox fan is not just about the Red Sox,

  • it's about the Yankees," said Bob Costas, the NBC sports broadcaster." Even though The Times doesn't represent the Yankees, it's a strange connection to the city that has dealt them so much heartache, and is the object of so much resentment."
  • The Times Company, of course, carefully points out that its minority-ownership stake in Mr. Werner's group means it will not have any role in the operation of the ball club. ...

Likewise, the Times Company insists that editorial coverage will not be influenced.

  • "The integrity of our news reports and the vitality of our business depends on maintaining the independence of our journalists from commercial pressure," the written statement read. (Through a spokesperson, the Times Company declined an interview request about their involvement in the Red Sox bid and how it fits within the company's broader television mission, saying it was too early to do so.)
  • Between the lines, however, the Times Company is signaling that this deal is just business. If the Red Sox accept Mr. Werner's group's bid,

the newspaper will have control of the New England Sports Network, a bland but potent MSG-type carrier that is now in 3.6 million homes. To the Times Company, NESN is purely a vessel, one that would not only carry local sports teams, but also serve as a platform for Globe -oriented programming and personalities-and more important, a lure for advertisers seeking a multi-media buy....

"This idea of TV makes no sense to me," said Mr. Shaughnessy, the Globe columnist. "I don't see having a TV network as particularly advantageous for what we do on a daily basis. This is The Times being The Times , and they're trying to beef up the company, which is good."...

If Mr. Werner's group gets the team-the Red Sox have been valued at around $400 million-the Times Company will be close to establishing in New England what it has longed for at a national level. In addition to the Globe , the area's dominant media presence, the Times Company also owns the Worcester Telegram & Gazette, a nearby daily. A NESN- Globe - Telegram combination is not quite the TV-radio-print headlock the Tribune Company has in Chicago with the Cubs-and it's certainly not anything like Braves games on Ted Turner's national TBS Superstation-but it's close to the kind of integrated, multi-platform distribution that Mr. Sulzberger covets.

  • Of course, this is also a news organization, and the synergy pill won't go down easily. There has been grumbling at the Globe -which the Times Company purchased from the Taylor family, the longtime publishers-
that The Times gave preferential treatment to its own paper in revealing its role in the Red Sox bid.
  • A Times spokesperson denied this allegation, saying the Globe' s reporters were given the same information....
There's also the conflict issue.
  • While few believe that a Times stake would influence day-to-day coverage of the Red Sox in either the Globe or The Times, it could become more complicated when it came to stadium projects or land-use issues,

when a newspaper's editorial page would usually be employed. "When the interests of the team intersect with public policy, then you have an interesting situation," said Bob Costas.

Mostly though, it just feels odd. The Red Sox are perhaps Boston's most famed cultural institution. While Mr. Werner's group scored Boston points by announcing a plan to save Fenway Park by wrapping a 21st-century stadium around the old bandbox--there has also been a predictable groundswell of support for a local ownership group headed by businessman Joe O'Donnell.
  • Mr. Werner has also been lambasted in the press for his role in gutting the San Diego Padres roster in the early 1990's.
Still, even in diehard Boston, there is general acceptance that an era has passed, that baseball is a business, that conglomerates buy local treasures, that border wars aren't what they once were. "We're all cousins now," said the documentary filmmaker and producer of Baseball,
  • Ken Burns, a Red Sox fan.

WNYC radio host Jonathan Schwartz lamented the loss of the "magic of the geography that informed my childhood … the Yankees were here, and there, in another world, almost in another country, were the heroes of my own heart." (the Red Sox)

  • It's also true that the rivalry on the field isn't what it was. While the Red Sox have fielded consistently solid teams for several years, the Yankees, of course, have won three of the last four World Series. Worse, the Yankees are a far more likable team than the Reggie-era roughnecks who tormented Boston in the late 1970's during the heyday of the clash.
If anything, the attack of the Times Company could make affronted New Yorkers angrier than Bostonians.

Then again, the Times Company as puppet owner

  • might inspire a round of conspiratorial fury in Boston akin to the Babe Ruth sale and the DiMaggio brothers, not to mention the triumphs of Sparky Lyle, Bill Monbouquette and Roger Clemens in the Bronx."
From NY Observer article, "Times Pitches for Red Sox," 12/9/01, by Sridhar Pappu and Jason Gray

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