Checketts checks out of MSG

Abraham has inside track to be next topper, insiders say

Madison Square Garden said it’s engineering “a nationwide search” for a successor to Dave Checketts, who is out as prexy-CEO.

Insiders said Checketts’ lieutenant Seth Abraham has the inside track on the job. Under this scenario, Abraham resigned as president and CEO of Time Warner Sports in September to be MSG exec VP and chief operating officer with the understanding that he’d be heir apparent should Checketts end up with his neck on the guillotine.

Chuck Dolan’s Cablevision Systems, the parent company of MSG, imposed a blackout on information about Checketts’ departure, deflecting all inquiries to a press release. Release called the ankling a “resignation” but said “the decision was mutual.”

Yankees leave home

The leave-taking wasn’t voluntary, but David Carter, a principal in the Sports Business Group, said Checketts may be getting out at the right time as the MSG regional sports network faces the loss of New York Yankees games when its contract expires after this season.

Harvey Schiller, chief executive of YankeesNets, said the team is moving inexorably toward setting up a new regional sports net to kick off as early as 2002. The disappearance of the squad from MSG would hurt the network deeply; its revenues, propelled by Yankees games, soared from $39.6 million in 1988 to $219 million in 1999.

Without the team, MSG would be hard pressed to get cable operators in the greater New York area like Time Warner Cable to pay monthly fees of as much as $1.50 per subscriber — a higher price than any other network.

A new channel featuring the schedules of the Yankees and the New Jersey Nets pro basketball team would impose an additional expense on cable operators of at least $1 a month per subscriber.

Knicks nosedive

Checketts’ ouster came just 10 days after the New York Knicks, one of MSG’s properties, suffered elimination in the first round of the National Basketball Assn. playoffs for the first time in 10 years. MSG’s other premiere sports property, the New York Rangers hockey team, has failed to make the playoffs for the last four seasons.

Whoever replaces Checketts will also take over responsibility for Radio City Music Hall, the Clearview Cinemas, MSG’s sister regional network Fox Sports New York and the New York Liberty WNBA team.

According to the press release, James Dolan, president and CEO of Cablevision, will run MSG until the company names a new president.