MANHATTAN (CN) – George Steinbrenner III took baseball’s tradition of “stealing” to a new level when he reneged on a deal to have a business associate run a team-operated TV network, Robert Gutkowski claims in Federal Court. Gutkowski, a former president of Madison Square Garden, claims he’s the “conceptual architect” behind the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network, and says Steinbrenner “knowingly lied” to him in 1996 so he would “give” the concept to the Yankees and prevent him from sharing his idea with other parties.
Steinbrenner’s spokesman Howard J. Rubinstein called Gutkowski’s charges “false and frivolous,” saying in a written statement that not only was Gutkowski never promised an executive position at the network, he had nothing to do with the initial idea or the establishment of the network.
When it began broadcasting in March 2002, the network was valued at $845 million, and its value has tripled since then, the complaint states.
Gutkowski seeks at least $38 million in damages.
When he proposed creating the network, Gutkowski says, he had just left the employ of the Garden, and made his pitch based on the belief that after years of modest success the team would have “very little leverage” in impending negotiations over local and cable television broadcast rights.
Gutkowski was in a position to know. Early in his career, after a stint as director of programming at ESPN, Gutkowski says he had been the architect behind the 12-year, $486 million contract for Yankee broadcasts that was due to expire in 2000. As president of Madison Square Garden, he oversaw its cable TV and radio broadcasts of the New York Knicks and New York Rangers.
At the time, the Yankees had yet to embark on their string of late 1990s playoff and World Series victories.
Gutkowski claims he was privy to comments by cable executives who vowed to crush Steinbrenner when the rights to Yankees television broadcasts were renegotiated.
Gutkowski said Steinbrenner told him that if such a network came into existence, Gutkowski would be responsible for building it and would have a role at the network as long as it existed.
Despite these assurances, Gutkowski says, he was never hired as more than an occasional outside consultant, a breach that was compounded when the sporadic assignments stopped altogether.
Steinbrenner, the once colorful but now largely retired majority owner of the team, has declined to comment beyond the written statement issued by Rubinstein.
In 2008 Major League Baseball approved shifting control of the team from the elder Steinbrenner, now nearly 80, to his son, Hal Steinbrenner, 41.
Gutkowski seeks damages for fraud, breach of contract and unjust enrichment. He also claims he is due “the 2-3 percent equity interest traditionally paid to persons providing the kind of services provided by plaintiff to defendant.”
He is represented by Neal Brickman.