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Lawsuit: Yankees network's key creator was cheated

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[August 29, 2009]  NEW YORK (AP) -- A former president of Madison Square Garden has sued New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, saying Steinbrenner reneged on a promise to make him a major part of the Yankees-operated television network after he suggested creating it more than a decade ago.

Robert Gutkowski accused the principal owner of the Yankees of breach of contract, fraud and unjust enrichment. He asked for at least $43 million in damages in a lawsuit filed Friday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.

Gutkowski said in the lawsuit that he urged Steinbrenner in 1996 to create a Yankees television network and that his work helped lead to the creation of the Yankees Entertainment and Sports Network in March 2002, when it was valued at $845 million.

The network, known as YES, has more than tripled in value, said the lawsuit, which calls Gutkowski its "conceptual architect."

Steinbrenner spokesman Howard J. Rubenstein called the allegations "false and frivolous." He said Gutkowski had nothing to do with the initiation of the idea for a regional sports network and no role in the establishment and success of it.

"He was never promised that he would be the CEO of the network, nor was he promised any high-level position at the network," Rubenstein said in a statement.

Gutkowski was president of Madison Square Garden Corp., which owns and operates the MSG arena, from 1991 through 1994. He said he told Steinbrenner that the Yankees needed to create the network or they would be left with "very little leverage" in local television broadcast and cable rights negotiations.

Gutkowski was the architect of a $486 million, 12-year contract to telecast Yankees games from 1989 through 2000, according to the lawsuit. He was president of the MSG Network, a cable TV and radio network that broadcasts games of New York City teams including the New York Knicks and the New York Rangers, from 1985 through 1991.

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According to the lawsuit, Gutkowski told Steinbrenner that cable executives had vowed to crush Steinbrenner when the rights to Yankees television broadcasts were renegotiated in 2000.

The lawsuit alleged that Steinbrenner promised Gutkowski that he would be responsible for building the Yankees' network if it were created and would be compensated for his efforts or have a role in the network as long as it existed.

The lawsuit said Gutkowski was hired only occasionally as an outside consultant.

Gutkowski, of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., is a former director of programming at ESPN and from 1995 through 1999 was a member of a sports and entertainment production, marketing and representation firm that he co-founded, the lawsuit said.

MSG is owned by Cablevision Systems Corp., based in Bethpage, N.Y.

[Associated Press; By LARRY NEUMEISTER]

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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