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Yanks' schedule hectic, but worth it
03/27/2004 10:27 AM ET
TOKYO -- A typical week in the Yankees kingdom is hectic, but this one has been particularly energetic.

It began with the Yankees signing reliever extraordinaire Mariano Rivera to a two-year contract extension and ended with the team landing in Japan early Saturday morning in preparation for its season-opening series against Tampa Bay, to take place in the Tokyo Dome on Tuesday and Wednesday.

YankeeNets LLC, the holding company that controlled the Yankees, the National Basketball Association Nets and National Hockey League Devils, is no more, and has been replaced by Yankees Global LLC. The dissolution, approved earlier this week by the Board of Directors, allows pending sales of the Nets and Devils to reach conclusion.

"It is what it is," said Steve Swindal, one of three Yankees general partners, who declined to discuss the specifics of the dissolution.

The new holding company umbrellas the Yankees, their ongoing global expansion, plus the YES Network, which on Wednesday won a key binding-arbitration decision against Cablevision. For the first time since YES started broadcasting the Yankees in 2002, almost 3 million Cablevision customers in New York City will get the games as part of their basic package.

Cablevision immediately raised its rates by 95 cents, although company president Jim Dolan said in a statement that the cable system would absorb "most of the cost of carrying YES in an attempt to keep prices reasonable despite this ruling."

But the important point for Yankees fans is that every Cablevision customer in New York will now be able to see the games. Two years ago, Cablevision refused to broadcast the Yankees, insisting that their games be included as a premium channel at an additional charge to subscribers. The Yankees balked.

Last year, when the two sides agreed to binding arbitration to settle the matter, the Yankees signed an interim agreement to offer their games as a premium channel. Subscribers had to pay $1.95 a month extra for YES, or $4.95 more per month for a package that included Fox Sports New York and the Madison Square Garden Network.

Cablevision owns the MSG Network, Madison Square Garden, the NHL's Rangers and NBA's Knicks. As recently as the mid 1990s, Cablevision tried to buy the Yankees, but a deal broke down in 1998 when George Steinbrenner, the team's principal owner, declined to give up control of a franchise he has owned since 1973.

Cablevision once paid the Yankees $486 million over 10 years to televise the Yankees and determined it would be more economical to own the team rather than pay double that fee to continue broadcasting the games.

After the transfer of ownership talks broke down, YankeeNets was created as a holding company that owned the three major sports franchises, while developing a regional cable network to broadcast their games. Lewis Katz and Ray Chambers, who owned the Nets, became partners along with Steinbrenner in YankeeNets.

At the same time, a division of YankeeNets was created to build a basketball and hockey arena in downtown Newark, NJ, while the Yankees continued to pursue the construction of a new Yankee Stadium adjacent to the current facility.

Later, the partnership bought the Devils, creating another division -- Puck Holdings -- in which Chambers was the controlling owner.

Also under YankeeNets, two years ago, the Yankees signed a working agreement with the Yomiuri Giants of Japan's Central League to exchange scouting information and minor league personnel. The deal preceded by several months the Yankees' signing of former Giants center fielder Hideki Matsui to a three-year, $21 million contract as a free agent.

The Yankees, under Steinbrenner, had never played a game outside of North America. And until 2002, Steinbrenner had not granted any of his players permission to participate in the biannual Major League Baseball postseason barnstorming tour of Japan.

But two years ago, Steinbrenner had a change of heart and the Yankees' Bernie Williams and Jason Giambi were allowed to take the tour.

"It's tremendous for the Yankees," Swindal said. "Any time you get to broaden the brand, especially in a country like Japan where baseball is their national pastime like it's our national pastime, it's a tremendous opportunity."

The relationship has been tremendous for MLB as well.

Spurred, in part, by the departure of Matsui to the U.S., regular season games this year will be carried on four Japanese television networks -- NHK (Japan Broadcasting), Sky PerfecTV!, TBS (Tokyo Broadcasting System), and Fuji TV.

Japanese baseball fans will tune in to the Yankees with Matsui and the Seattle Mariners with Ichiro Suzuki. And each year, the World Series and All-Star Game have been attracting record television numbers in Japan.

The new broadcast deal with Japan's networks -- $275 million over the next six years -- increases the rights fee paid MLB from $13 million a year to nearly $46 million a year.

Those dollars get distributed evenly among MLB's 30 teams, which means that each team, including the Yankees, stands to earn about $9 million each over the course of the Japan television agreement.

It's a good enough reason to make the Yankees look forward to opening the regular season in Japan, even if it comes at the end of another hectic week.

This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.