Right Field: Murdoch's Yes Network move surely a prelude to Yankees takeover

What Murdoch wants, Murdoch gets so his purchase of a stake in Yes Network is simply a prelude to buying the Yankees

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 25 November, 2012, 2:44am

Before you judge, ask yourself one question: what would you do? You're 81 years old; your wife is 38 years younger than you. You have six children; the oldest is 54, the youngest nine. But you still have some life, damn it, and thankfully you own one of the largest media companies in the world. Up until three weeks ago you also thought of yourself as a kingmaker extraordinaire because, basically, you were.

But it came with a cost; one part of your company was responsible for, arguably, the most odious episode in recent media history through a phone-hacking scandal that gets more despicable by the day and has spawned a government inquiry in the UK. Your other media company, again, arguably the most overtly biased news organisation in your adopted country, has all kinds of egg on its face after totally missing its predictions about the current US president soon becoming the ex-US president. You're even wading into the bloodshed in the Middle East because you're undeterred in the ramifications of your global influence.

You proceed to send out a tweet asking: "Why is Jewish-owned press so consistently anti-Israel in every crisis?" Naturally, that inspired a chorus of outrage not only from the pro-Jewish lobby and media but also from freedom-of-the-press zealots, who claimed that as one of the world's largest media barons you were implicitly implying that the job of the press is not to report the news but to craft it into a self-serving narrative.

Besieged? Controversy is your cousin; you have been walking hand in hand with it for years. So I ask one more time, what would you do if you were Rupert Murdoch? You would spend US$1.5 billion this week to buy 49 per cent of the Yes Network, the television arm and lifeblood of the New York Yankees, the most storied of all American sporting franchises. Part of the deal also includes an option where you can up your stake in the network to 80 per cent within a few years. Now, any time Murdoch invests in something, it is quite natural to assume he does it with dubious intent. He makes people nervous because he is a strategic master who redefines the control-freak genre.

Almost immediately after his purchase of half of Yes, pundits were speculating that Murdoch's real ploy was to eventually own the Yankees themselves, an idea that was sacrilege to many fans of the great team. "Rupert Murdoch is knocking on the door of Yankee Stadium," wrote Wallace Matthews on ESPN.com "How long before he owns the entire building, and everything in it?"

Yankee officials were forced to issue an unequivocal denial. "This has nothing to do with selling the team," an official said. "Under no circumstances will the team be sold." Under no circumstances? When George Steinbrenner, known as "the Boss", passed away in 2010 he bequeathed the team to his two sons. There is absolutely no way that Papa George, who was every bit as egocentric and monomaniacal as Murdoch except on a much smaller financial scale, would ever sell what could turn into a majority share in his blue-chip sports network. And there is also no way that Murdoch makes this purchase to just sit idly by with a minority stake in the network. If his past business practices are any guide, he wants control not only of the network but the team who play on it as well.

But, really, how is any of this an outrage or a cause for concern? Murdoch is basically the de facto owner of many a proud and lucrative franchise from Manchester United to the Dallas Cowboys. In the UK, his Sky Sports has just paid US$3.6 billion to broadcast the English Premier League, the world's most popular league, for three years. Without that money, there is no Manchester United. Fox is also paying the NFL US$4.2 billion to broadcast games, a figure that will more than double in 2014. There is no other company that is close to Murdoch's Fox Sports Media Group when it comes to regional sports programming in the US. They are in 20 regional markets and are the local TV home to more than half of all of Major League Baseball, NHL and NBA teams.

TV money is king in sports and nobody has more of it than Murdoch. Buying the Yankees would simply be an affirmation of his control. I mean, the man even owns Homer and Bart Simpson. Ethically, there are certainly questions to his methods but Rupert wants it all and that is really all that matters. This world has a price and he is simply paying it. So ask yourself, what would you do facing the last chapter of a storied life? Spend, baby, spend.

Do you agree or disagree with what Tim has to say? Email your comments to tim.noonan@scmp.com