Sinclair, Amazon Back $3.5B Yankees Deal to Take Full Control of YES Network

Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City - Getty-H 2019
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The Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network is the highest-profile of 22 regional sports channels that Disney agreed to sell to get regulatory approval for its $71.3 billion acquisition of large parts of Fox.

TV station giant Sinclair Broadcast Group and Amazon are backing the New York Yankees in a $3.5 billion deal to buy back Disney's 80 percent stake in the Yankees Entertainment and Sports (YES) Network.

Redbird Capital Partners is also a financial partner for the Yankees' Yankee Global Enterprises — which already owned a 20 percent stake in the network — in the deal. Under the new ownership structure, the Yankees will own 26 percent of YES, Sinclair will own 20 percent, Amazon will own 15 percent and the remaining 39 percent will be split about evenly between Redbird Capital, Blackstone and Mubadala Capital. 

YES Network's current management team will stay on under the new ownership, Yankees president Randy Levine said Thursday, with YES president Jon Litner having signed a new employment agreement.

The network airs games of the Yankees and the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets and is the highest-profile of 22 regional sports networks that the Walt Disney Co. agreed to sell to get regulatory approval for its $71.3 billion acquisition of large parts of 21st Century Fox. Regulators argued Disney's ownership of ESPN and the regional channels would give it too much power in the sports TV sector.

Earlier this month, Sinclair completed its $10.6 billion deal to acquire the 21 other Fox regional sports networks that Disney had to divest under the agreement with the Department of Justice. 

Both the YES Network purchase and the acquisition of the other RSNs were made through a new company called Diamond Sports Group, in which Entertainment Studios CEO Byron Allen is an equity partner. 

For Amazon, which streams the NFL’s Thursday Night Football, the deal is another step into the sports field. Last summer, the company, led by chairman and CEO Jeff Bezos, also struck a deal to air 20 English Premier League soccer matches per season for three years starting this year.

Fox had owned its stake in YES for years. In late 2012, the then News Corp., which in 2013 split into entertainment arm 21st Century Fox and publishing company News Corp (no period), agreed to buy a 49 percent holding in a deal that valued YES at around $3 billion. In 2014, Fox, which then housed the YES holding, raised its stake to 80 percent in a deal valued at $3.9 billion.