New York football franchise bought for $635 mil

NEW YORK — While they may still be without a coach, the New York Jets are no longer without an owner: Robert Wood Johnson, heir to the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical empire, has purchased Gotham’s AFC franchise for $635 million — beating out a similar bid by Charles Dolan, chairman of Cablevision Systems.

The sale is pending final approval from 24 of the NFL’s 31 owners. The next owners meeting is skedded for Jan. 18 and the group will likely rubber stamp the deal since owners are said to favor Johnson over Dolan due to the latter’s corporate ownership of sports teams and related assets. That’s despite the fact that Dolan’s bid was from his personal account, not from the coffers of Cablevision, which owns the New York Knicks, Rangers and Madison Square Garden.

In a statement, Dolan said he had hoped to “field the team that could compete for a championship and make Jets’ fans proud. I congratulate Woody Johnson and his wife, Sale, whom I know share that goal.”

Johnson was officially selected by the estate of oilman Leon Hess, the Jets late owner. The NFL’s finance committee unanimously approved Johnson’s offer, which is the third-highest ever paid for a NFL club following $800 million for the Washington Redskins and $700 million for the Houston’s upcoming expansion team. The D.C. deal included a stadium and this one doesn’t.

Matched bid

The bidding has been tense. Dolan’s final offer late last week exceeded Johnson’s by $25 million. But Dolan was met with resistance from league owners, and when Johnson matched Dolan’s bid earlier this week, it was quickly approved by the Hess estate, which was eager to get the deal over with.

It was Dolan’s third attempt to buy an NFL franchise. Two years ago, he led a unsuccessful campaign to buy the expansion Cleveland Browns. Reportedly, it was current the Browns owner who led the move to block Dolan.

Coaches ankled

Perennial losers, the Jets are still best known for their upset Super Bowl victory 1969. While the franchise had stabilized in the past three years under coach Bill Parcells, things began to fall apart last week when within 24 hours of Parcell’s resignation as head coach, his chosen successor, Bill Belichick resigned as well.

Until Johnson is approved as the new owner, Leon Hess’ son John Hess and Jets prexy Steve Gutman will continue to run the team while Parcells will remain in charge of all football decisions.

Johnson said one of first priorities is to meet with Gutman and Parcells to iron out the coaching situation. He’s also likely to get moving on a new stadium. The Jets play in Giants’ stadium.

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