December 1, 2010 / 1:53 AM / 9 years ago

New York Times in talks to sell Red Sox stake

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Times Co (NYT.N) is talking with a variety of potential buyers for its stake in the Boston Red Sox and expects to turn a profit on the baseball team’s sale, the media company’s chief executive said on Tuesday.

The facade of the New York Times building is seen in New York, November 29, 2010. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton

The company, which publishes its flagship newspaper and the Boston Globe, sold in April a small piece of its stake in New England Sports Ventures (NESV), the parent company of the Red Sox. At the time, it said it would explore the sale of its remaining 16.6 percent in whole or in parts.

“It continues to be for sale,” New York Times CEO Janet Robinson said at the Reuters Global Media Summit on Tuesday. “We are continuing to talk to a variety of prospective buyers, large and small.”

The Times paid an estimated $75 million for a 17.75 percent stake in 2002, before the Sox won two World Series titles, and analysts and bankers have previously said the company was seeking as much as $100 million for its entire stake. It was the second largest stake in NESV, behind owner and hedge fund manager John Henry.

However, the Times, which has been working to cut its debt, has seen its potential return damaged since the economic downturn. Prior to that, speculation had swirled that it could fetch $200 million or more for the stake.

In addition to the weak economy, the stake’s nonvoting power also hurt its value, analysts have said.

Robinson called NESV a “very fine investment” and said the Times would come out “very far ahead” on its original purchase.

“From our perspective, this has been a valuable asset,” she said. “It certainly, from a promotional perspective, is very advantageous for the Boston Globe as well. But there is keen interest in the Red Sox and Red Sox Nation — not only in Boston but even beyond — with prospective buyers.”

Times sold 50 of its 750 NESV units in April to Henry McCance, chairman emeritus of venture capital firm Greylock Partners, and recorded a $9.1 million gain in the second quarter.

Robinson said any future sales would depend on the financial wherewithal and desire of potential buyers, but both small and large deals were being discussed.

She declined to predict whether the Times would divest the rest of its stake by the end of 2011, but said a variety of potential buyers recognize the strength of NESV, which recently purchased the Liverpool soccer club in England.

Robinson said the NESV management team has done a good job operating its assets, which also include the Red Sox home field of Fenway Park, adjacent real estate, half of the Roush Fenway Racing NASCAR team and an 80 percent stake in the NESN regional sports cable TV network.

“If I were to look at what they’ve done in Boston and see the capability of that happening in Liverpool, I wouldn’t bet against these guys,” Robinson said. “They’re really very talented.”

In October, NESV bought Liverpool, the five-time European champions and one of England’s storied clubs, for almost $481 million.

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