SBD/February 17, 2011/Franchises

Jeff Wilpon Asserts Family Will Keep Majority Control Of Mets

Wilpon says talks are progressing on sale of part of Mets
Mets COO Jeff Wilpon yesterday reiterated that his family "will keep majority ownership of the team and predicted victory in the lawsuit filed by the trustee" for Bernie Madoff's victims that seeks as much as $1B, according to David Lennon of NEWSDAY. Wilpon, making his first public remarks since last month's announcement that 20-25% of the franchise is for sale, said, "We're not giving up control." He insisted that "any potential sale would involve only a limited partner." Wilpon: "We're not selling controlling interest in the team. It's not on the table." He added that "talks have been progressing on selling a part of the team, but he did not elaborate on specific investors" (NEWSDAY, 2/17). Several businessmen, including Donald Trump and Mavericks Owner Mark Cuban, have expressed interest in owning some or all of the Mets, and Wilpon said, "There's a lot of interest and good interest from real people that you haven't read about. Most of what you've read about is not real." Wilpon stressed that the lawsuit from Madoff's trustee, Irving Picard, is "an ownership issue tied to the Mets’ parent company, Sterling Equities, and has nothing to do with operating the Mets." He added, "Our payroll is going to be $145-$150 million, that is tops in baseball or right up there. And we’re going to be committed to make sure all the resources are here to continue to run this thing the way it’s been run" (N.Y. POST, 2/17). In N.Y., David Waldstein notes while the Mets' payroll "is high, almost all of it was committed before the lawsuit and before the team’s financial uncertainties." The Mets were "one of the most frugal teams" this offseason. Wilpon indicated that the "payroll could increase, or decrease, depending on decisions" by GM Sandy Alderson (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17).

PUTTING ON A BRAVE FACE: In N.Y., John Harper writes Wilpon "did the smart thing for his ballclub, showing up and making himself seen and heard in an attempt to show that it's business as usual." His father, Mets Owner Fred Wilpon, "apparently will do the same" today. Mets insiders believe that the Wilpons and President Saul Katz are "confident regarding the lawsuit," but no one "really knows at this point." Harper: "All they can do for now is at least give the impression that the Mets' finances won't be compromised, as Jeff Wilpon said again Wednesday, while hoping that, against all odds, the ballclub can change the conversation by being a surprise contender" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/17). Newsday reporter David Lennon said it was important for Jeff Wilpon "to answer questions and to put a voice to what's been going on since the Wilpons and the ownership group hadn't spoken about it" ("Loud Mouths," SportsNet N.Y., 2/16).

WAITING IN THE WINGS: In N.Y., Richard Sandomir notes Tritaurian Capital employees James Preissler, Bill Heyn and John Calce yesterday "started an Internet bid to acquire the Mets and the team’s nearly 70 percent stake" in SportsNet N.Y. BuyTheMets.com is "seeking fans to sign up to buy shares at $999 each." For now, "fans can sign up only to express their interest in investing; no money is being collected." Heyn said, "The whole goal is to do this for the people of the city. It would be great to pull the Mets out of their problems and return them to being a championship team." Sandomir notes the group "incorporated BuyTheMets.com with New York state on Feb. 8, four days after the unsealing of the federal lawsuit filed against the owners of the Mets" by Picard (N.Y. TIMES, 2/17). Meanwhile, Trump on Tuesday also expressed an interest in acquiring majority ownership of the Mets, and ESPN N.Y.'s Rob Parker wrote, "While there still would be no guarantee that a Trump-led organization would win anything, there's one thing for sure: You would never doubt that he tried to win. That's the kind of owner the Mets need now more than ever before" (ESPNNY.com, 2/16).

A GROWING LIST OF PROBLEMS: In N.Y., Josh Kosman cites sources as saying that "banks that provided roughly $400 million in loans to the New York Mets are starting to unload some of that debt at a discount, a sign that creditors are getting nervous about the team's finances." The sources indicated that "potential buyers are bidding around 90 cents on the dollar for the debt." One source said that "at least one creditor has bought a debt slice at a discount with the approval of Major League Baseball, which must sign off on any buyer of the team's loans" (N.Y. POST, 2/17).
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