Madison Square Garden explores spinoff of Knicks, Rangers

Taxi cabs sit in front of Madison Square Garden (MSG) in New York, US. (Bloomberg pic)

NEW YORK: Madison Square Garden Co. is looking to spin off its pro-sports franchises, including the New York Knicks and New York Rangers, a bet that it can wring more value from the iconic teams if they’re an independent business.

The proposal would split off the sports teams from MSG’s live-entertainment operations and be structured as a tax-free deal, the company said on Wednesday. Shareholders would receive a two-thirds economic interest in the Knicks and Rangers, as well as the New York Liberty, a women’s professional basketball team that the company has been trying to sell.

The move sent shares up as much as 11% to US$296.40 early Thursday, putting the stock on course to reach a record high in regular training. The announcement also earned a ratings upgrade from Jefferies LLC analyst John Janedis, who is valuing the Knicks at US$3.7 billion and the Rangers at US$1.6 billion.

Madison Square Garden “possesses a collection of unique world-class sports and entertainment assets which are largely underappreciated by investors,” Janedis wrote in a note. Spinoffs would unlock the value of the parts, which are scarce, high-value assets, he said.

The live-events company would keep famous venues such as Madison Square Garden and Radio City Music Hall, as well as a hospitality group, a music festival producer and about US$1 billion in cash. The New York-based company plans to open new venues in Las Vegas and London in coming years.

Dolan’s Role
James L. Dolan is expected to be executive chairman and chief executive officer of both companies. The split will let shareholders better evaluate each set of assets while allowing them to pursue their separate strategies, the company said.

The new entity would be publicly traded and serve as “a pure-play sports company driven by the strong financial performance of the storied Knicks and Rangers franchises,” Dolan said in a statement.

The proposed split marks the latest shake-up in the Dolan empire. Last fall, David “Doc” O’Connor stepped down as CEO of Madison Square Garden. In 2015, the company separated its regional sports networks from its live sports and entertainment businesses.

Madison Square Garden’s stock has climbed in the past year, partly due to the rising valuation of the Knicks. Other National Basketball Association teams, such as the Houston Rockets, have changed hands in multibillion-dollar deals, bringing a brighter halo to the rest of the league.