Steven A. Cohen, the billionaire hedge fund manager, received two critical rubber stamps on Friday that all but completed his $2.4 billion purchase of the Mets: One was from Major League Baseball’s owners and the other from New York City — the latter having posed a potential hurdle of late.
“Owning a team is a great privilege and an awesome responsibility,” Cohen said in a statement on Friday afternoon, adding later, “I consider it an honor to be the new owner of this iconic franchise.”
The 29 other M.L.B. owners approved Cohen’s group as the buyers of the Mets in a conference call on Friday, the league announced. Cohen, who had already been vetted by M.L.B. and approved by its ownership committee, needed 23 other owners to vote in favor. Two people familiar with the vote, who spoke on condition of anonymity because M.L.B. did not disclose the tally, said the total was 26-4.
M.L.B. said in a statement that Cohen’s approval was contingent on the closing of the sale with the current owners of the Mets. That was expected to happen “within the next 10 days,” the statement said.
M.L.B. Commissioner Rob Manfred thanked the departing owners — Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Jeff Wilpon — in a statement and welcomed Cohen, 64, who grew up as a Mets fan in Great Neck, N.Y.
“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,” Manfred said. “I believe that Steve will work hard to deliver a team in which Mets fans can take pride.”
In a goodbye statement, Fred Wilpon thanked past employees and said it had been “a privilege and honor for our families” to have been a part of the Mets for 40 years.
“I know that Steve Cohen and his family share the same passion we’ve had for the Mets and for this city,” he said, adding later, “Steve and his family are lifelong Mets fans and we wish them, and our fans, nothing but success on and off the field in the future.”
Soon after M.L.B. owners approved Cohen, Mayor Bill de Blasio — whose office had a contractual right to review the deal because the Mets lease Citi Field from New York City — announced approval of the sale.
“The New York City Law Department has completed its legal review of the proposed sale of the Mets,” de Blasio said in a statement Friday afternoon. “New York City does not object to the sale, and the Mets may proceed with the transaction.”
The legal review involved a provision in the Citi Field lease, which states that a transfer of ownership is a “permitted transaction” only if the buyer is not a “prohibited person.” The lease agreement defines a “prohibited person” as anyone who “directly or indirectly controls, is controlled by, or is under common control with a person that has been convicted in a criminal proceeding for a felony or any crime involving moral turpitude.”
Cohen has never been charged with a crime, but his former company, SAC Capital Partners, was found in 2013 to have engaged in insider trading, and it ultimately paid $1.8 billion in fines. One of Cohen’s employees, Mathew Martoma, was convicted of insider trading and sentenced to nine years in prison.
Several discrimination claims have also been filed by women at Point72 Asset Management, Cohen’s current firm.
De Blasio had previously expressed a preferred choice among the candidates to buy the Mets: a group led by the singer and actor Jennifer Lopez and her husband, Alex Rodriguez, the former baseball star and current television analyst. Lopez and Rodriguez made a competitive bid, but the Wilpons chose to sell to Cohen, whose fortune is estimated to be about $15 billion.
“Some folks are trying to ascribe it to personal feelings — it’s not,” de Blasio said at a news conference on Thursday. “It’s a legal responsibility that we have to undertake appropriately.”
A day later, de Blasio announced the completion of the city’s review. Cohen — who is seen by Mets fans as a savior for a franchise that has struggled with its finances, its on-field performance and personnel mismanagement — announced initial gestures that he said were examples of his group’s intention to be “vigorous supporters” of the Mets’ community in Queens and beyond.
Cohen said he would make a tax deductible donation of $17.5 million to the New York City Economic Development Corporation to support city-run grant programs that will help local small businesses hurt during the coronavirus pandemic.
He also announced that salary cuts for Mets employees, which went into effect in March and ranged from 5 to 30 percent, would be reversed as of Nov. 1 — a commitment he said was worth more than $7 million. Cohen also said the Mets would establish a relief fund of about $2.5 million that would contribute up to $500 per month each to 1,000 seasonal stadium workers from Nov. 1 until opening day of 2021.
A previous effort by Cohen to purchase the Mets from the Wilpons was scuttled. After an agreement was reached last winter, the deal fell apart in February over the Wilpons’ desire to retain control of the franchise for a five-year interim period. Months later, the Mets reopened the bidding and Cohen won.
In his statement, Cohen thanked Manfred and the owners for welcoming him. He also thanked Fred Wilpon for inviting him to buy a minority stake in the team in 2012.
“Most of all, I’d like to thank Mets fans for their unwavering support throughout this process,” Cohen said in his statement. “My family and I are lifelong Mets fans, so we’re really excited about this. With free agency starting Sunday night, we will be working towards a quick close.”
Tyler Kepner, Dana Rubinstein and David Waldstein contributed reporting.