Steven A. Cohen’s Baseball Dream Strikes Out in Hedge-Fund PleaScott Soshnick
Steven A. Cohen’s dream of owning a Major League Baseball team may have ended with his hedge fund’s guilty plea to securities and wire fraud.
“The potential ownership market is too strong for baseball to keep Cohen on the short list,” Paul Swangard, managing director of the Warsaw Sports Marketing Center at the University of Oregon, said in an e-mail. “The potential relationship comes with too much baggage.”
In addition to the plea three days ago, SAC Capital Advisors LP -- which averaged 25 percent returns for clients over the past 20 years -- agreed to pay $1.8 billion in fines and forfeitures and stop managing money for outside investors. Cohen, 57, wasn’t charged in the indictment of the Stamford, Connecticut-based firm.
Cohen, a limited partner in baseball’s New York Mets, was among the final bidders in the auction for the Los Angeles Dodgers. After missing out to a group that includes Guggenheim Partners executives, Cohen sought and received approval by MLB to view the financial records of the San Diego Padres when that club was available. It was sold to California beer distributor Ron Fowler last year.
Jonathan Gasthalter, a spokesman for SAC and Cohen with Sard Verbinnen & Co., declined to comment on the billionaire’s desire to own a team or the effect the plea might have on him getting one. Cohen didn’t respond to an e-mail.
Cohen was represented in his bid for the Dodgers by Allen & Co.’s Steve Greenberg, who from 1990 to 1993 was deputy commissioner of Major League Baseball under Fay Vincent.
“I would hazard a guess that it would be very difficult for him to get a team,” Vincent said in a telephone interview. “People like (Chicago White Sox owner) Jerry Reinsdorf, who is very important and a strong keeper of that tradition of vetting owners, would be a very major obstacle.”
Reinsdorf, who also owns the National Basketball Association’s Chicago Bulls, said in a telephone interview that Vincent was right about his being a strong advocate of vetting owners. Reinsdorf is a member of the eight-person executive council, which, according to MLB spokesman Pat Courtney, the commissioner relies on the most.
As for Cohen’s chances of getting a team, however, Reinsdorf said he didn’t have enough information.
“I couldn’t tell you where I would be on that,” Reinsdorf said. “I only know what I read in the papers.”
Mets spokeswoman Danielle Parillo said the team wouldn’t comment on SAC’s plea or Cohen, who in 2012 bought a $20 million stake in the club, where the ownership group bolstered capital after the Bernie Madoff scandal.
MLB approved Cohen as a bidder for the Dodgers, even though at the time SAC Capital’s records had been subpoenaed as part of a federal investigation in which two former employees had been charged with insider trading. The Dodgers were sold by Frank McCourt for a record $2.15 billion in 2012.
SAC was accused of operating a conspiracy stretching back to 1999, reaping hundreds of millions of dollars in illicit profit.
Gasthalter said in an e-mailed statement this week that the hedge fund takes “responsibility for the handful of men who pleaded guilty and whose conduct gave rise to SAC’s liability. These wrongdoers do not represent the 3,000 honest men and women who have worked at the firm during the past 21 years.”
Cohen faces an administrative action filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for his alleged failure to supervise the hedge fund’s activities.
“The two words that ownership and commissioners hate the most are investigation and deposition,” Andy Dolich, a former executive in multiple U.S. sports leagues and a member of another group that unsuccessfully bid on the Dodgers, said in a telephone interview. “Deposition is probably more feared than free agency.”
Courtney declined to comment on Cohen’s chance of owning a team.
“The reality is, it’s not good,” said Bob Caporale, chairman of Game Plan LLC, which represented McCourt when he bought the Dodgers from News Corp. and who has handled sales of limited interests in baseball’s Boston Red Sox and New York Yankees.
Sal Galatioto, founder of the sports advisory firm Galatioto Sports Partners, said in a telephone interview that it’s difficult to handicap Cohen’s chances of owning a team until Commissioner Bud Selig’s successor is named. Selig has said he will retire after next season.
“That’s a very powerful position,” said Galatioto, who represented Tom Ricketts in his $845 million purchase of the Chicago Cubs from Tribune Co. in 2009. “Everybody gets rehabilitated. Given enough time it’s possible.”
Dolich, now a partner in the executive search firm Odgers Berndtson, said the global nature of sports ownership makes it less likely that MLB would need to welcome Cohen, whose net worth is $7.2 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaire Index.
“There’s a lot of money out there,” Dolich said. “When you know that you ask, ‘If we don’t have to do this, why are we doing this?’”