December 24, 2008 / 11:44 PM / 9 years ago

New York Times may sell Red Sox stake: report

<p>New York City police vehicles are seen outside the New York Times headquarters building in New York in this file photo from October 22, 2008.Mike Segar</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The New York Times Co is trying to sell its stake in the holding company of the Boston Red Sox baseball team, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing people familiar with the discussions.

The sale, which could give the Times desperately needed cash as newspaper advertising revenue falls and its debt payments loom, could involve its 17.5 percent stake in New England Sports Ventures and possibly the struggling Boston Globe daily newspaper, the Journal reported.

New England Sports Ventures owns the Red Sox, the Fenway Park baseball field where the team plays, and most of the cable network that shows their games.

A New York Times spokeswoman declined to comment.

The Journal report comes on the same day that the Times Co reported a 20 percent drop in advertising revenue in November, compared with the same period last year.

The Times has said that it is evaluating the future of its assets, which also include online encyclopedia About.com and several daily newspapers throughout the United States, as it tries to meet its debt obligations and cut its borrowing.

Debt is proving difficult for many U.S. publishers to handle because they are bringing in less cash to make them able to meet their obligations. This is partly because of the fading relevance of printed newspapers to people now used to getting news for free online. The world financial crisis has only worsened the ad sale declines.

The Times could raise at least $200 million if it sold its stake, analysts and sports bankers told Reuters earlier this month. The team, while not central to the Times's business, could be attractive to many buyers despite the recession because it is popular with fans.

Other baseball teams are up for sale as well, including the Chicago Cubs, which is owned by Tribune Co, the privately held newspaper publisher that filed for bankruptcy this month.

The Times got the Red Sox stake in 2002 as part of a group led by hedge fund manager John Henry that bought the team, Fenway Park and an 80 percent stake in the New England Sports Network. The price for the deal was $700 million, including debt. The network also includes a NASCAR auto-racing team.

The Times previously refused to sell the Globe after former General Electric Co Chief Executive Jack Welch and former advertising executive Jack Connors reportedly asked about the possibility. At the time, they valued the Pulitzer prize-winning newspaper at $550 million to $600 million, the Journal said. Barclays now values the Globe at about $20 million.

Reporting by Robert MacMillan in New York and Ben Klayman in Chicago, Editing by Leslie Gevirtz

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