A Tabloid Tale of the Tape: Dolan vs. Catsimatidis

Battle for the Daily News

(Image courtesy of The Library of Congress)

John A. Catsimatidis, the supermarket bigwig, has reportedly been tussling with James L Dolan, the Madison Square Garden heir, over the still-huge New York tabloid, the Daily News. Mortimer B. Zuckerman, who has run the paper for more than 20 years, announced in late February that he was looking to sell the flagging publication.

Zuckerman, the Canadian-born media and real estate mogul, has been weathering the steady decline in circulation and revenue experienced by newspapers across the country. In 2009, much to the puzzlement of industry executives and analysts, Zuckerman placed all his eggs—well, 150 million of them—in a sophisticated printing plant, rather than looking to enhance the papers’ online platform.

Looking bolder and brighter thanks to its makeover, the Daily News was rewarded with an 11.5 percent decline in its print circulation and readership between the years of 2011 and 2012.

However, this hasn’t deterred courtship efforts from two New York tycoons. In 2014, The Daily News still had a circulation of 313,178 and continues to provide New Yorkers with a solid news source.

So: In this corner, weighing in with a net worth of $3.1 billion dollars is John A. Catsimatidis. Embodying the American Dream, Catsimatidis is a Greek-born, first generation immigrant, and grew up in an apartment with his father in Harlem, as “a prisoner of the ghetto,” as he told The Real Deal in an interview. His father got a job as a busboy. Castimatidis first worked as a delivery boy for a grocery store on 135th St, a store that he would eventually buy.

Castimatidis owns the Gristede’s supermarket chain. He also runs The Red Apple Group, whose subsidiaries include United Refining (which processes and distributes crude oil), real estate companies, and the Hellenic Times newspaper.

Castimatidis has also flirted with politics. In 2013, he ran as a Republican candidate for New York mayor, marketing himself as “a common billionaire,” joking about how he would not be buying his daughter an $80 million dollar apartment, while standing in front of City Hall.

He never made it past the primary, but still dabbles in the political world, writing big checks annually to organizations such as The Republican National Committee and John Boehner’s “The Freedom Project,” to Republicans running for the U.S. senate, as well as to a handful of Democrat hopefuls (predominantly from New York City).

In the other corner, whose family weighs in with a net worth of $4.9 billion dollars, is James L. Dolan, heir to the kind of legacy promised by the American Dream but inherited by very few. Charles Dolan, junior’s father and the patriarch of the Dolan dynasty, is the 125th wealthiest man in the United States, says Forbes.

The Dolans own Cablevision and The Madison Square Garden Company—which encompasses New York icons such as Radio City Music Hall, The New York Knicks, and The New York Rangers. James L. Dolan is the president and CEO of both empires.

In 2008, Cablevision purchased Newsday for $560 million, outbidding both Rupert Murdoch and, in an interesting twist, Zuckerman himself.

James Dolan was described as “The most hated man in New York” by the Daily News for his perceived mismanagement of The Knicks, who have advanced to the playoffs only five times over the last 14 years. Earlier this year, Dolan received a disgruntled email from 72-year old Irving Bierman, a longtime Knicks fan, attributing the team’s downfall to Dolan’s poor leadership.

Bierman clearly struck a nerve. Dolan spat fire in response: “I’ll bet your life is a mess and you are a hateful mess. In fact I’ll bet you are a negative force in everyone who comes in contact with you. You most likely have made your family miserable. Alcoholic maybe.”

Last November, Cablevision was charged by the National Labor Relations Board, after Dolan reportedly threatened to deny the company’s technicians higher wages (as well as improved technology and training) unless they left their union. Dolan also has a bluegrass band called JD & The Straight Shot.

May the best man win.