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Cablevision To Buy Mets

Cablevision, the majority owner of Madison Square Garden, the NBA's Knicks and the NHL's Rangers, is close to buying baseball's New York Mets, according to a published report.

Citing two high-ranking team officials it did not identify, The Record of Hackensack, N.J., reported Friday that the deal could be announced within the next week. The officials said the price would be "in the neighborhood" of $400 million, but the newspaper said others estimated the price as high as $500 million.

Nelson Doubleday, who owns 50 percent of the Mets, refused to confirm or deny the report when contacted by The Associated Press. His partner, Fred Wilpon, did not return a call seeking comment.

"As is our corporate policy, we will not comment on rumors and speculation in the media," said a statement from James L. Dolan, Cablevision Systems Corp. president and CEO.

"It's basically done," one source told the newspaper. "Now it's just a matter of when they announce it."

Doubleday said that was news to him.

"It's a no comment," he said. "I don't know where this story came from. I really know nothing about it, but I'd love to know who the Mets officials were. Nobody talked to me."

He said he wouldn't turn a deaf ear to an offer, but said he personally was not involved in talks with Cablevision chairman Charles Dolan.

"As I've said more than once, I have six children and eight grandchildren, and if somebody wants to make me an offer for my half of the Mets, I'd have to sit down and listen to it," Doubleday explained. "I haven't talked to Chuck Dolan in months, and he's a good friend of mine."

"I just don't negotiate in the press. Obviously, the phone has been ringing off the hook."

Cablevision and the Mets are believed to have been discussing a sale since the Yankees broke off talks with the cable television company in February and decided to merge with the NBA's New Jersey Nets a deal still pending.

Day-to-day operations of the Mets won't change, the newspaper reported, adding that Wilpon and Doubleday would retain small equity stakes. General manager Steve Phillips has been told not to increase the Mets' $70 million payroll until the deal is finalized, the newspaper quoted a source as saying.

In addition to owning controlling shares of the Garden, the Knicks and the Rangers, Cablevision has the lease on Radio City Music Hall. It also has broadcast rights to the Yankees, Mets, Knicks, Rangers, the NBA's New Jersey Nets and the NHL's New York Islanders and New Jersey Devils.

Cablevision also agreed to help the Devils build an arena in Hoboken, where the NHL club's owner said he wil move the team.

The Dolans also have been mentioned as leading candidates to buy football's Jets from the estate of the late Leon Hess.

The Mets were sold by the family of original owner Joan Payson to Doubleday & Co. in 1980. When the publishing company was taken over by a German firm, Doubleday and Wilpon bought the team in 1986 for $81 million.

Any deal would be subject to approval from baseball owners, a process that usually takes six to 18 months.

©1998 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed

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