SBJ/March 8 - 14, 1999/No Topic Name

Duo step up big for unprecedented wedding

One is famous for getting Coca-Cola Co. into — and out of — perhaps the most renowned marketing blunder in U.S. retail history. The other controls some of New York's most famous landmarks. Together, Donald Keough and Jerry Speyer could make the new YankeeNets a force to be reckoned with.

While Yankees principal owner George Steinbrenner and Nets owners Lewis Katz and Raymond Chamber got the headlines for their blockbuster deal to merge the teams, it might never have happened without Speyer and Keough. Speyer, through his real estate firm, Tishman Speyer Properties, and Keough, through a group led by his investment banking firm, Allen & Co., may have put hundreds of millions of dollars in the new team.

Details of the transaction have not been released, but published reports say the Nets, backed by the Speyer and Keough groups, paid Steinbrenner and the Yankees as much as $200 million to $350 million to buy into the new company. Speyer and Keough will be on the board of directors. Neither man was available for comment.

When Keough, 72, retired from Coca-Cola Co. as president in 1993, his annual salary, including options, was $40 million. Speyer, 58, amassed a fortune controlling properties such as Rockefeller Center and the Chrysler Building.

Speyer could prove more instrumental to the YankeeNets in the immediate future because of his links to New York developers and politicians. He is one of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani's largest financial supporters. With the Yankees and the Nets wanting new facilities, and with both having warred with local leaders in the past, Speyer's skill at bridging political and economic factions could be a key asset for the new company.

"He brings an ingenious approach to how to assemble a group of people and to align them with him," said Jay Islen, president of Cooper Union, the New York school that owns the Chrysler Building lease. "When you see Jerry involved with extraordinary ventures like the [YankeeNets], or leading the Museum of Modern Art, or running the Chrysler Building, it is not surprising because those institutions demand more than one-dimensional solutions."

More than a dozen groups made serious bids on the Chrysler Building lease last year, but only Speyer brought an aesthetic sensibility to his offer, understanding both the business aspect of the deal and the building's cultural role in New York, Islen said.

Despite his reputation as the most important real estate developer in New York, Speyer works behind the scenes. A recent New York Times Magazine profile called Speyer the anti-Trump, in contrast to better-known developer Donald Trump.

Keough is no stranger to publicity. He was instrumental in the launch of New Coke in 1985, but his handling of the debacle was widely applauded.

After retiring from Coke in 1993, Keough became chairman of Allen & Co., a New York investment-banking boutique influential in the media industry. The firm may be best known for introducing the heads of Capital Cities, the parent of ABC and ESPN, and Walt Disney Co. before the two media giants decided to merge.

This will not be Keough's first foray in sports. At Coke, he was instrumental in the company's strategy with sports sponsorships, said Marc Ganis, president of Sportscorp Ltd. of Chicago

Keough also owned 4 percent of the Carolina Panthers in 1995, when the expansion franchise began play. It is unclear how much he has now.

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