Many analysts thought that James Dolan would try to sell MSG Networks, and use the proceeds to take private his family-controlled Madison Square Garden Co., when the companies split in late 2015. Now investors believe that’s back on the front burner following a New York Post report today saying that Dolan is “sounding out” potential buyers such as Verizon and AT&T.
MSG Networks shares rose 6.5% today, touching a 52-week high, while Madison Square Garden was up 1.1%.
The network company owns regional sports networks MSG and MSG+ and streaming platform MSG Go. They offer games for basketball’s New York Knicks and New York Liberty and hockey’s New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres.
The Dolan family controls about 70% of the voting shares — including the Class B stock that entitles it to pick 75% of the board members.
As a stand-alone network owner, MSGN’s services were seen as vulnerable to being dropped by cable and satellite distributors eager to reduce their outlays for sports.
Time Warner Cable, now owned by Charter, ran into trouble in Southern California when most other distributors refused to carry SportNet LA, which offers the Los Angeles Dodgers. And last year Comcast allowed YES Network, which offers the New York Yankees, to go dark.
Operator resistance to rising sports costs created a squeeze for some regional networks: Cash flow margins for RSNs dropped to 34.4% last year from 37.1% in 2013, S&P Global Market Intelligence’s Kagan research arm reports.
MSGN bucked the trend somewhat in the last six months of 2016. At $329.2 million for the half year, its revenues were up 3.5% vs. the same period in 2015. But it also reported a “low-single-digit percentage decrease in subscribers” for the last quarter, while the bottom line has been buffeted by interest expenses for the company’s $1.5 billion in debt.
The Garden owns venues that — in addition to the New York sports and concert arena — include Radio City Music Hall and the Beacon Theatre in Manhattan, the Forum near Los Angeles, the Chicago Theatre and Boston’s Wang Theatre. It also has New York’s Knicks, Rangers and Liberty.