James Dolan may have gotten some more material recently for his blues band. According to reports Wednesday, a lawsuit filed on behalf of Madison Square Garden shareholders accuses the company CEO and Knicks owner of “excessive” compensation and what it describes as a lack of attention to his day job.
Dolan, the lawsuit alleges, has been spending far too much time making music with his act, JD & The Straight Shot. Of course, more than a few Knicks fans might want the highly unpopular owner to spend all his time touring and making records, in hopes that his absence could only improve the fortunes of their beleaguered squad, but the lawsuit also expresses dissatisfaction with the pay Dolan has been taking home.
Pitchfork, citing an account at the boardroom-focused subscription site Agenda, reported that the complaint says Dolan was paid an “excessive” $75.6 million over the past three fiscal years. “By comparison, MSG’s peer companies paid their CEOs an average of $17 million for the same three-year period,” the complaint states. “The highest-paid peer CEO received $32.4 million, over $43 million less than James.”
Describing Dolan as a “part time” CEO, the complaint reportedly claims that he “travels and performs extensively,” both in the U.S. and overseas. The complaint cites 50 2017 performances by JD & The Straight Shot “in six countries and 41 U.S. cities,” which represented “an increase from the 32 shows it performed in 2016,” and the band is noted to have “released its sixth album, and is in the process of recording a seventh.”
MSG told the New York Daily News that the complaint was filed by the Norton C. Willcox Testamentary Trust, which it said represents a single shareholder. In a statement, MSG called the lawsuit “nothing more than corporate harassment,” saying, “The company stands by its policies and practices.”
The Dolan family, which includes several shareholders reportedly named in the complaint, said in a statement that the law firm that filed the suit in a Delaware court last month is among those that “represent the worst in our legal system.”
“They manufacture complaints and then advertise for clients, also known as trolling,” the family said, adding that “members of these firms tried the same tactic” at Cablevision, of which Dolan was CEO until its 2016 sale.
“They lost and will lose again. We look forward to fully litigating this matter to conclusion,” the family asserted. “We will never settle nor give in to this corporate extortion.”
In addition to the Knicks and the famous arena in which they play, Dolan’s MSG company owns the New York Rangers, and its other holdings include Radio City Music Hall, the Rockettes, The Chicago Theatre and, in the Los Angeles area, The Forum. The 63-year-old guitarist, singer and frontman has had his band booked into those venues — opening for The Eagles, among other gigs — and plenty of smaller concert halls, as well.
An MSG spokesperson told The Washington Post in an email that the majority of the $75.6 million cited in the lawsuit represents “a one-time award that further aligns Jim’s compensation with the success of the Company going forward.” The spokesperson added that Dolan has "has delivered tremendous value for shareholders” and emphasized that the court proceeding features “a singular plaintiff” — the Norton C. Willcox Testamentary Trust — and “is not about a ‘group’ of shareholders.”
Regarding the other kind of court proceedings involving Dolan, his NBA squad has been mostly terrible since he took control of it in 1999, after his father, Cablevision founder Charles Dolan, acquired the team and MSG five years earlier. The Knicks have the league’s worst record over the past 18 years, and they posted the fewest wins this season with a mark of 17-65.
Along the way, Dolan has earned a reputation for being thin-skinned and for having imbued MSG with a culture of paranoia and retribution. He garnered notice, not to mention derision, in March for having banned a Knicks fan who got his attention as he was leaving the arena following a loss by yelling at him, “Sell the team!”
A few days later, Dolan asserted that he was the victim of an “ambush” by the fan and a companion who filmed the exchange. He also denied a claim by the Ringer’s Bill Simmons that Dolan was “courting offers for the Knicks,” saying that Simmons and an unnamed NBA general manager — widely presumed to be Rockets’ Daryl Morey — were “trying to destabilize what we have because they know we’re favored” to land coveted free agents this summer.
The Knicks have indeed been strongly linked to, among others, Kevin Durant, who can opt out of his Warriors contract when the season ends, but a major impediment could be Dolan himself. The New York Post reported in March that “a Garden official recently told an NBA source a concern exists” that the owner’s “reputation” does not “help the Knicks’ free-agent mission.”
This post has been updated.
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