5 Deals That Defined George Steinbrenner’s Career

George Steinbrenner Field


George Steinbrenner, owner of the New York Yankees, died today of a heart attack. He was 80 years old. An icon of the sports world, Steinbrenner saw the Yanks win 11 pennants and 7 World Series. But it wasn’t just about winning on the baseball diamond: Steinbrenner was also a shrewd businessman, whose dealings helped revive the struggling franchise financially. Here we present the five most noteworthy deals of Steinbrenner’s career in chronological order.

1. New York Yankees. Steinbrenner along with a small group of
investors purchased the ailing team from CBS in 1973 for an estimated
$8.8 to $10 million. It’s been reported that he only put up $168,000 of
the original equity for the team purchase, but has since bought out the
other limited partners. In his tenure as the head of the Pinstripes, the
team won 7 World Series championships, are now the most valuable
franchise in the MLB, with an estimated worth of $1.6 billion.

Yankees logo

2. MSG and YES Network. Steinbrenner had signed a long-term deal for
television rights to the Yankees games with Cablevision, but made
certain to set a date for renegotiations. Steinbrenner exercised that
option in November of 1988, and the Yankees had a month to shop for new
distributors. At the time, the Madison Square Garden (MSG) Network, not
yet absorbed by Paramount, thought they could break Cablevision’s
monopoly on sports programming by telecasting Yankees games. The deal? A
12-year contract worth $493.5 million, which MSG agreed to within 48
hours. Steinbrenner would go on to start the YES (Yankees Entertainment
& Sports) Network in 2001 with Goldman Sachs and other partners. The
network is now said to be worth more than $3 billion.


3. Lifetime Ban. In 1990, MLB commissioner Fay Vincent banned George Steinbrenner from baseball for life. Steinbrenner, it was revealed, had paid a gambler named Howie Spira $40,000 to dig up dirt on outfielder Dave Winfield. The “lifetime” ban, however, lasted a mere two years before Steinbrenner was reinstated, but when he returned, Steinbrenner decided to leave day-to-day baseball operations. Instead, he placed his trust in general manager Gene Michael, who developed the Yankees’ farm system and built a team around younger players such as Bernie Williams, Andy Pettitte, and Mariano Rivera. These players served as the seeds that led to the Yanks’ golden era, when they won championships in 1996, 1998, 1999, and 2000.

4. Adidas. In 1997, Steinbrenner sought new sources of revenue for the Bronx Bombers and believed a sponsorship deal with Adidas would do the trick. The unprecedented 10-year deal was worth $95 million. The agreement let Adidas display ads in prominent areas of Yankee Stadium and allowed the company to use the Yankee name in its advertising. According to BusinessWeek, Steinbrenner was so determined to strike the deal “that he filed suit against each of the other 29 teams and MLB properties to force their acquiescence.”

5. Yankees Stadium. The House That Ruth Built served as the Yankees’ homefield from 1923 until 2009, when it was replaced by the House That Steinbrenner Built. Steinbrenner had been heavily pushing for the controversial project for years–as early as the 1980s, some say–and threatened to move the stadium to Manhattan or New Jersey. Eventually the stadium was built for $1.5 billion, with the help of significant tax subsidies.


[Image via flickr/sean hobson]


About the author

Austin Carr writes about design and technology for Fast Company magazine.


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