DETROIT (Reuters) - George Steinbrenner was the New York Yankees to many sports fans but neither the noted pinstripes on the baseball team’s uniforms nor its business operations will change with the death of the colorful owner.
Steinbrenner, who had owned the successful and lucrative Yankees for 37 years, died on Tuesday in Florida at the age of 80.
With his health failing over the last several years, he already had handed over daily operations of the Yankees to his sons Hal and Hank, who became co-chairmen in May 2008. Hal Steinbrenner assumed control of the club later that year.
“It won’t make any difference in the operations of the team because George and family had already made arrangements to account for his potential passing,” said Marc Ganis, president of consulting firm Sportscorp Ltd.
“There’s going to be speculation that the Steinbrenner children will sell their controlling interest in the team,” he said. “I would characterize that as bunk and wishful thinking. This team is going to stay under Steinbrenner family control for years to come.”
The team Steinbrenner bought for $10 million in 1973 from CBS Corp is now worth $1.6 billion, nearly twice as much as any other club in baseball, Forbes magazine estimated. Only Britain’s Manchester United soccer club -- at $1.84 billion -- is worth more.
The Yankees also own about 40 percent of YES Network, a regional cable operation that broadcasts its games.
The network was valued at around $3 billion in 2007, when the Yankees and other stakeholders, including Goldman Sachs Group and private equity firm Providence Equity Partners, looked at selling it.
In 2008, the Yankees also formed Legends Hospitality with the Dallas Cowboys football team, Goldman Sachs and private equity firm CIC Partners to handle operations at the teams’ new $1 billion-plus stadiums that opened last year.
Not having Steinbrenner tied to deals anymore may give pause to future partners, said Robert Boland, professor of sports management at New York University.
“You lose that vision, that elder statesman, that power. It certainly will make the Yankees’ lenders a little more careful,” he said. “In the absence of George Steinbrenner, bean counters will be looking to see how a deal adds up.”
If damage is felt anywhere, it may be to the Yankees brand with which Steinbrenner was so closely associated. The team won seven Major League Baseball championships under his ownership.
“George Steinbrenner the person and the Yankees as a brand have been so directly tied for so many years that his passing can’t help but negatively impact the brand,” Ganis said.
But Steinbrenner’s absence from the spotlight in recent years due to his declining health may mitigate that damage.
“This certainly, while a very monumental passing, is not as critical to the ongoing business of the Yankees as it would have been say five to 10 years ago,” said Rick Horrow, a sports lecturer at Harvard Law School.
In fact, Steinbrenner’s image even transcends his life, especially as long as his family maintains ownership. In addition to his two sons, Steinbrenner is survived by two daughters.
Analysts agreed that a Yankees sale is not likely, especially since -- barring an act of Congress -- the family will not face a federal estate tax. Florida, where Steinbrenner lived, does not have an estate tax.
While the value of his sports assets did grow, Steinbrenner cared about only one thing, said Yankees minority owner Lewis Katz, who also used to own the National Basketball Association team in New Jersey.
“He was probably as good a sports owner as there’s ever been because all he really cared about was winning,” said Katz. “He had no real interest in money.”
Additional reporting by Bernie Woodall in Detroit; Editing by John O'Callaghan