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Cohen’s Mets Deal Handled by Debevoise, Davis Polk Law Firms (1)

Sept. 16, 2020, 7:25 PM; Updated: Sept. 16, 2020, 8:37 PM

A pair of Manhattan-based law firms helped hedge fund mogul Steven Cohen and Major League Baseball’s New York Mets finally agree on a deal to purchase the team.

Debevoise & Plimpton represented Cohen in the more than $2.4 billion acquisition, which was announced Sept. 15 and is pending MLB approval. The team, owned for more than three decades by real estate investor Fred Wilpon’s Sterling Equities Inc., is currently being advised by Davis Polk & Wardwell.

The deal ends a nine-month quest to find new owners for the Mets, which sit in second-to-last place in the National League East division. The price tag would be the largest-ever for a professional sports club in North America. A final sign-off on the deal requires the approval of at least 23 of MLB’s 29 other team owners.

Jeffrey Rosen, chair of the corporate department at Debevoise in New York, took the lead for Cohen along with deputy corporate chair William Regner. Rosen didn’t respond to a request for comment about how the firm came to represent Cohen.

Bloomberg Law reported this summer that Wachtell, Lipton, Rosen & Katz had initially advised Cohen on an agreement to acquire the Mets that fell through in February. Wachtell then signed on to advise another bidder group led by former New York Yankees star Alex Rodriguez and his fiancé, actor and pop star Jennifer Lopez.

Davis Polk, which last week changed its compensation system, fielded a New York-based team for Mets primary selling shareholders Wilpon and his brother-in-law Saul Katz. The group was led by corporate partners H. Oliver Smith and Brian Wolfe, litigation partner Dana Seshens, and managing partner Neil Barr.

Vincent Tortorella, a former Skadden associate now serving as general counsel and chief compliance officer for Cohen’s Point72 Asset Management LP, didn’t respond to a request for comment about Cohen’s outside counsel. Nor did a spokesman for Cohen.

The Rodriguez-Lopez group, advised by Wachtell co-chairman Edward Herlihy, bowed out of the auction process in late August, preceded by another group led by private equity titans Joshua Harris and David Blitzer. That group, advised by Proskauer Rose corporate partner Wayne Katz, already owns the National Hockey League’s New Jersey Devils and National Basketball Association’s Philadelphia 76ers.

Legal Players

Other Davis Polk lawyers advising on the sale include tax partner David Schnabel and counsel Ethan Goldman; finance partner John Perry and counsel Jonathan Brown; litigation partner Andrew Ditchfield; real estate partners Michael Rishty and Brian Lichter; and M&A associate Michael Senders.

David Cohen and Gregory Nero, general counsel for the Mets and Sterling, respectively, are handling in-house affairs for the sellers, whose co-founders are Wilpon and Katz. Davis Polk has enjoyed a longstanding relationship with both men, having counseled them on a $162 million settlement in 2012 with a bankruptcy trustee overseeing the dissolution of Bernard Madoff’s Ponzi scheme.

The 64-year-old Steven Cohen, raised on Long Island, is already a minority investor in the team. He will take control of the Mets through Cohen Private Ventures LLC, his Stamford, Conn.-based family office. Willkie Farr & Gallagher previously advised Cohen on his ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2012.

Other Debevoise lawyers currently advising Cohen include finance partners Scott Selinger and Jeffrey Ross and counsel Katarina Molnarova; employee benefits partner Jonathan Lewis; tax partners Peter Furci and Michael Bolotin; real estate partner Nicole Mesard; M&A counsel Andrew Jamieson; and 10 associates.

Robert Manfred Jr., MLB’s commissioner and a former outside counsel to the league as a labor litigator at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, praised Cohen’s proposed purchase of the team earlier this week.

“Major markets generally have an outsize effect on the economics of the game,” Manfred said in an online event on the business of baseball, hosted by Hofstra University. “A change in ownership at the Mets is an opportunity to make that franchise as strong as it can possibly be, and I think over the long haul it’ll be something that will be good for the game.”

More Sports Deals

The proposed sale of the Mets comes less than a year after MLB’s Kansas City Royals were sold to Inergy LP founder John Sherman for $1 billion. The Sherman-led ownership group then sold a minor stake this summer to Patrick Mahomes II, quarterback of the National Football League’s Kansas City Chiefs and son of a former MLB pitcher of the same name.

Stinson real estate partner David Frantze, who serves as general counsel for the Royals, didn’t respond to a request for comment about the legal advisers on that transaction.

Irwin Raij, co-chair of O’Melveny’s sports industry practice, represented the Royals last month on a multi-year media rights deal with Sinclair Broadcast Group Inc. O’Melveny, which has been busy this year advising clients coping with the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, didn’t have a role on the Mahomes deal.

Daniel Straus, a former Paul Weiss associate-turned-health care mogul, is closing in on a potential deal to buy the NBA’s Minnesota Timberwolves. Bloomberg News reported in July that the Fort Lee, N.J.-based family office for Straus, who left behind a legal career to co-found with his brother the Multicare Cos. Inc., is exploring a bid for the team, which could fetch $1.2 billion.

Bruce Mooty, senior counsel at Lathrop GPM in Minneapolis, has served as a longtime legal adviser to Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor. He didn’t respond to a request for comment about the team’s legal advisers. Nor did Gregory Jackson, chief legal officer at Taylor’s Mankato, Minn.-based Taylor Corp.

(Adds detail on law firm ties in 10th and 11th paragraphs; comment from Manfred in 14th and 15th paragraphs; and information on other sports transactions in last five paragraphs.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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