Yankees pitch $1.4 bil plan on MSG renewal

Abraham also tapped as exec VP and COO

NEW YORK — Madison Square Garden vaulted into the news Monday on two fronts:

  • The New York Yankees organization has opened the possibility of a renewal of its exclusive contract with the MSG regional cable net, but the terms will require lots of hard bargaining: The Yankees want MSG to pony up a wallet-whopping $1.4 billion for the next 10 years — triple the price of the 12-year contract that expires after this season.

  • And MSG has tapped Seth Abraham, president of Time Warner Sports, for the new post of exec VP and chief operating officer. Sources said Ross Greenberg, senior VP and executive producer of HBO sports, will succeed Abraham.

Abraham won’t have anything to do initially with the Yankees deal because he’s staying on at HBO for another month to negotiate a new contract with boxer Roy Jones Jr. and to arrange the next two pay TV prizefights of Prince Naseem Hamed.

But sources at the Yankees said the team is eager to start negotiating with MSG, which has to respond formally to the $1.4 billion opening bid by Sept. 18. If MSG can’t work out a deal with the Yankees, the team plans to set up its own regional sports net, which would deliver a serious blow to MSG.

MSG has more than tripled its subscriber count (from 2.3 million to 7.6 million) since it engineered its first exclusive deal with the Yankees in 1988 for what was at the time a record price of $493.5 million.

If the Yankees disappeared from MSG, the network would lose tens of millions of dollars in license fees from cable operators in the greater New York area, which have indemnification clauses in their contracts.

Boxed in

Although Abraham, 53, has shepherded hundreds of boxing matches onto HBO’s schedule since he joined the network as director of sports operations in 1978, he said that boxing will not be his only duty at MSG. “I love the fact that I’m going to be using my showmanship to program two of the greatest stages in the world, Radio City Music Hall and Madison Square Garden,” he said. “My goal is to make them brassier, noisier, sexier and hipper.”

Abraham, who will report to MSG prexy-CEO Dave Checketts, will run Radio City Entertainment, MSG Sports Properties and MSG Networks. He’ll also take over corporate marketing and three sales areas: special event, group and suite.

While boxing made up the bulk of his sports responsibilities at HBO, Abraham also commissioned other sports programs during his 22-year watch, including “Inside the NFL,” the “Real Sports” magazine series hosted by Bryant Gumbel and dozens of documentaries.

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