NY Times sells part of Red Sox stake

New York Times Co. revealed Friday it has sold more than half of its 17 percent stake in the holding company of the Boston Red Sox to three separate buyers for $117 million in cash.

The sale, disclosed in a regulatory filing, represents 390 of the 700 shares Times Co. held in Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Red Sox and most of the cable network that airs its games.

Times Co. did not disclose the buyers. The company said it expects to recognize a pre-tax gain of about $64 million, which will be recorded in the third quarter. The company said it is exploring the sale of its remaining stake in whole or in parts.

Times Co. began trying to sell its stake in the Red Sox and related properties in late 2008 when steep declines in revenue at its core newspaper businesses were threatening the company’s ability to manage its debt. Since then, the publisher has taken several steps to help stabilize its finances, including a sale-leaseback of its headquarters building and a $250 million loan from Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim.

Though those efforts largely eliminated the company’s near-term liquidity concerns, Times Co. has continued to pursue a sale of Fenway Sports Group.

The process has been difficult. The Red Sox have become one of the most valuable franchises in sports, but Times Co.’s interest was considered by analysts to be too small to give the owner any influence, yet too large for many prospective buyers in a tough economy for obtaining financing.

More than a year ago, the company sold 50 of its then 750 units in the asset. Before that sale, analysts had pegged Times Co.’s entire stake, which was then 18 percent, at between $170 million and $200 million.

The sale gives Times Co. a financial cushion at a time when the outlook for the publisher’s core businesses, though much improved from a couple years ago, remains murky.

Besides the Red Sox, Fenway Sports Group also owns Liverpool soccer club, about 80 percent of the New England Sports Network and 50 percent of Roush Fenway Racing, a NASCAR team.

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