Halloween, New Year’s and an official end to Groundhog Day were all rolled into one Friday for the Mets.
Steve Cohen went from hedge-fund billionaire to the richest owner in MLB. And the team he will be presiding over is none other than the Mets, ending nearly two decades of sole family ownership by Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz.
The 64-year-old Cohen received the necessary 75 percent of the vote by MLB owners, approving his $2.4 billion purchase of the team from Wilpon and his brother-in-law Katz to become Mets majority owner and control person. Shortly after, mayor Bill de Blasio signed off on the deal, clearing the final hurdle for Cohen, who grew up a Mets fan on Long Island and was a minority shareholder.
“I am humbled that MLB’s owners have approved me to be the next owner of the New York Mets,” Cohen said in a statement. “Owning a team is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility. I would like to thank the owners and Commissioner [Rob] Manfred and his team for welcoming me to Major League Baseball.
“And I want to thank Fred Wilpon for inviting me to buy into the franchise in 2012. Fred is one of the game’s true gentlemen and I consider it to be an honor to be the new owner of this iconic franchise.”
Cohen’s first act was to announce his intention to donate $17.5 million to NYC small businesses and pledge a dramatic increase in giving to the Mets Foundation in coming years. He also said he will reinstitute all pre-pandemic salaries for Mets employees.
As The Post reported in recent days, de Blasio had been searching for legal loopholes that would kill the sale to Cohen or at least delay it. Two law firms hired by the Mets to study the matter both concluded the mayor would be without legal standing in trying to block Cohen.
“The New York City Law Department has completed its legal review of the proposed sale of the Mets,” de Blasio said in a statement. “New York City does not object to the sale, and the Mets may proceed with the transaction.”
Cohen has an estimated net worth of $14 billion and is expected to invest heavily in a team that has faced financial restrictions in recent years. Cohen’s arrival was trumpeted not only by the team’s tortured fanbase.
“All I plead is that the new owner treats players and personnel in the organization like people and less like expendable commodities,” Noah Syndergaard told The Post. “That being said, I couldn’t be more excited having the real-life Bobby Axelrod leading the charge.”
Axelrod is a fictional character in the Showtime series “Billions” who is based on Cohen.
Among the issues facing Cohen in the approval process was the fact his former hedge fund, S.A.C Capital Advisors, pled guilty to insider trader charges and was fined $1.8 billion. Cohen was reprimanded by the SEC and received a two-year ban from managing outside money. Cohen’s firm Point72 faced a gender discrimination lawsuit from a female employee that alleged unfair pay practices and a sexist work environment. That case was settled out of court.
Wilpon and Katz became the Mets’ sole owners in 2002 after buying out Nelson Doubleday’s 50 percent stake in the team. Wilpon and Katz were heavily invested with Bernie Madoff, whose 2008 arrest for running a Ponzi scheme choked the club’s finances.
Cohen entered exclusive negotiations to buy the club last winter, but the deal disintegrated over disagreement about team COO Jeff Wilpon’s future role in the organization. The initial agreement called for Wilpon to retain his title for five years.
The Mets remained for sale through baseball’s shutdown for the pandemic with a group fronted by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez making a strong push for the team. Another group, headed by 76ers and Devils managing partners David Blitzer and Josh Harris also emerged. Final bids were submitted in August, at which time Cohen again entered exclusive negotiations to buy the team. The deal does not include SNY.
Cohen has told associates he expects the Mets to lose about $400 million over his first two years as the new owner.