Faced with a $400 million revolving credit agreement due in May and falling ad revenues, WSJ.com reports that the New York Times Company (NYSE: NYT) is getting serious about selling its 17.5 percent stake in New England Sports Ventures LLC. NYTCo is the second-largest shareholder in the holding company, which owns the Boston Red Sox, Fenway Park and 80 percent of New England Sports Network. Attributing the story to two sources familiar with the discussions, the paper says NTYCo told NESV partners of its interest in selling last month and has been pursuing potential buyers. (Update: An NYTCo spokeswoman declined comment.) The company acquired the stake in 2002, before the team won two World Series; the current value has been estimated at $166 million and could be worth at least $200 million in a sale. Can it get top dollar in this climate? Sports franchises attract passionate investors and Red Sox fans go off the meter, so, yes, it’s possible. But the pool of potential investors surely is much more shallow now than it was earlier this year when NYTCo was being pressured by activist investors to sell.
Lots more after the jump…
One idea being floated — although not clear if the company is pitching it — would be to package the sports interest with the Boston Globe in a sale. That may have worked two years ago when former GE chairman Jack Welch was interested in a vanity project and credit was easier to obtain. (Today, the first thought that comes to mind when I hear something like that is of a scalper who throws in the tickets with a $1,000 pencil to make the sale legit.) The Globe produced money for the NYTCo for years and may be a true community asset but as an investment today, well, it’s a heck of a write off. NYTCo took a $166 million write-down for its New England Media Group in Q3 and expects another adjustment for Q4. The company acquired the Globe with parent Affiliated Publications in 1993 for $1 billion in cash and stock.
Back in November amid a flurry of unfounded rumors that the New York Times Company was shopping About.com, I pointed out that the publishing company would be much better off selling the NESV stake to raise cash and rid itself of a non-core distraction. I also admitted that what makes sense to me and to NYTCo’s operators doesn’t always dovetail. At an investor conference earlier this month, executives said About.com was not for sale but repeated assurances made throughout the year that they continue to look at the portfolio for assets that no longer fit and might be sold for other reasons. (To clarify: do I believe About.com is sacrosanct? No. Do I believe it’s being shopped? No. Is anything possible? Always.) any went public with a plan to raise up to $225 million against part of its 58 percent share of its mid-Manhattan headquarters.