SBD/February 18, 2011/FranchisesPrint All
Mets Owner Fred Wilpon Thursday said his family "has nothing to hide" and "will be vindicated" despite allegations by trustee Irving Picard that the Wilpons knew or should have known about Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme, according to David Lennon of NEWSDAY. Wilpon spoke with reporters for roughly 20 minutes, his "first public comments since Jan. 28, when he announced plans to sell a partial share of the Mets." He said, "We did not know one iota, one thing about Madoff's fraud. We didn't do anything wrong. If anything, we trusted a friend for a very long time." Asked later what he meant by vindication, Wilpon said that he was "not necessarily talking about the financial side," which he noted "will be determined by the law." He is "more concerned now with repairing his family's reputation." Wilpon also supported comments from his son, Mets COO Jeff Wilpon, that the family "will not sell 'controlling interest' in the Mets." They remain "adamant that they are looking for only a limited partner to buy" up to 25% of the franchise (NEWSDAY, 2/18). Fred Wilpon Thursday also "pledged the resources would continue to support a New York-level payroll 'for years to come'" (ESPNNY.com, 2/17). But in N.Y., Harvey Araton notes in responding to Picard's lawsuit, Wilpon "never uttered the three magic words -- 'we won’t settle' -- that would establish an all-or-nothing gambit to bring the full-blown vindication that he vowed" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/18). Wilpon indicated that the Mets will answer Picard's lawsuit "in about six weeks." Sources contend that the Wilpons are "intent on proving their innocence and retaining control of the team." Rather than "feeling defeated by the accusations, and potential financial issues, they feel emboldened to challenge them" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/18).
SILENCE IS GOLDEN? In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes there is "something a little desperate and disingenuous to the defiance that both Jeff and Fred Wilpon have deemed their default position now." Vaccaro: "I do think it's fair to wonder how a man with 50 years of almost ceaseless success in business ... could allow himself to be taken in so completely" (N.Y. POST, 2/18). On Long Island, Ken Davidoff writes, "I'm not sure how much Wilpon's outreach and access helped his family's cause, which prompts this question: Are the Wilpons, so often private when they should have been public, now making themselves visible when they should be hiding?" It is "fully understandable that Wilpon wants to fight," but the Wilpons' standing "seems to drop every time they open their mouths" (NEWSDAY, 2/18). In N.Y., Bob Raissman notes Wilpon's decision to address the Madoff litigation "has led various commentators to suggest Mets ownership should shut up and go into exile." But if he "stayed locked in a closet, those calling for his self-imposed exile would accuse him of stonewalling." Raissman: "When the rhythm of the baseball season kicks in, Fred and Jeff Wilpon will be in the background, working behind the scenes, as they normally do" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/18).
READY TO LEND A HAND: On Long Island, Davidoff & Baumbach note while MLB Commissioner Bud Selig is "waiting for more information, he could help the Wilpons by trying to find a buyer for the 25 percent of the Mets they want to sell." If the Mets are "struggling to cover expenses, he also could help by giving the Wilpons a line of credit" from MLB, or Selig could "simply help by meeting with the Wilpons and listening to them, as he already has done." Selig will "do what he can to protect Wilpon in a way that the commissioner wouldn't" for Dodgers Owner Frank McCourt. Former MLB Commissioner Fay Vincent said, "Of all the people I knew in baseball, it's hard for me to think of another owner as close to Selig as Fred is, with the exception of (White Sox owner Jerry) Reinsdorf" (NEWSDAY, 2/18). SI.com's Jon Heyman reported Selig is going to give Wilpon "substantial time to sort through the Madoff mess." The commissioner "surely hopes that Wilpon will hold onto the team," but neither Selig nor "anyone else knows whether Wilpon will be able to do that" (SI.com, 2/17).
L.A.-based Lightning Pictures CEO Stephen Rollins, an Atlanta native, Thursday said that he has "well-funded support in his ongoing interest to purchase the Thrashers," according to Charles Odum of the AP. Rollins said that he is "working with a large investment firm which has interest in 'various teams,' including the Thrashers." Rollins: "We're hoping to move forward in the near future. With the state of the economy, nobody wants to rush into anything." Rollins noted that his group is "cautiously seeking 'adequate data' on the team's finances." Rollins: "The only issue now is getting correct numbers because we've gotten like five different sets of figures." He added the investment group's CEO "wants the numbers certified." Rollins said that he has "met with a group representing the Thrashers' owners" and with NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman. Rollins said that Bettman "stressed he wants the team to remain in Atlanta." Bettman said that there are "no plans to do anything with the Thrashers right now." He conceded it is a "struggle right now" for Thrashers and Hawks Owner Atlanta Spirit "with respect to both of the franchises." Bettman: "The basketball team isn't in much different shape than the hockey team. With all the problems that they've had and the ownership issues that they've had, maybe it's not a surprise. Hopefully they can find a way to right it, but it has been a struggle for them" (AP, 2/17).
NAMING RIGHTS WON'T PREVENT MOVE: In Atlanta, Jeff Schultz noted Atlanta Spirit in the past has suggested that the $10M annual deal for naming rights to Philips Arena was "tied to having two tenants," but Thrashers President Don Waddell now "claims that's not the case." Waddell said that if the Thrashers leave, the ownership group "merely receives a reduced pro-rated amount." Schultz wrote the Thrashers' situation is "tearing up the insides" of Bettman. He "doesn't want to be the guy who allowed Atlanta to lose an NHL franchise for the second time," but he "knows it's a horrible situation created by horrible ownership." There is "no incentive for an outsider to purchase only the hockey team and keep it in Atlanta." And there is "no market right now for the Spirit to sell both teams and the arena rights, even though both have been on the market for at least two years" (AJC.com, 2/17).
As the Giants prepare to defend their World Series title, there is a "gold rush for tickets" at AT&T Park, according to a front-page piece by Tom FitzGerald of the S.F. CHRONICLE. Giants Managing VP/Ticket Sales & Services Russ Stanley said that "total ticket sales are about 25 percent ahead of last year," despite a roughly 7% increase in prices from '10. The Giants have sold 25,000 season tickets for '11, up from 21,000 last year. The Giants are the only MLB team "that doesn't sell partial plans, although they help people find partners to share them." At this rate, "only two other teams -- the Yankees and Phillies -- will sell more season tickets, or full-season equivalents in partial plans." FitzGerald noted the Giants have "so much ticket momentum that it's possible they could challenge their club record attendance" of 3.3 million in '00, AT&T Park's opening season. Stanley: "It would be a real stretch, but not out of the realm of possibility." StubHub Corporate Communications Manager Joellen Ferrer indicated that single-game tickets on the resale market are "moving at well over double the pace of last year at this time." StubHub also reported that the Giants' home opener against the Cardinals on April 8 is "its top selling major league game for the season so far." FitzGerald noted given the team's success, it "might be a good time to sell a charter seat license, a requirement for buying season tickets for 16,000 of the best seats." On the Giants' online seat-license marketplace, 418 licenses "were for resale recently with asking prices as high as $35,000 for a premium field club seat" (S.F. CHRONICLE, 2/17).
GIANTS, SHOWTIME ON SAME PAGE: Showtime Sports Exec VP & GM Ken Hershman said that after some "early miscommunication with the ... Giants, the club 'likes what they are seeing so far' of a new show documenting the team's 2011 season." Some Giants players and execs were concerned about the show being a "Hard Knocks"-style reality show, but it will be filmed in documentary form instead. Hershman said, "We told them exactly what we are doing and that changed the whole dynamic in a positive way. We said, 'You'll see as we roll out what we'll be doing, we're just here to document,' and they like what they are seeing so far. ... There wasn't any great drama involved. MLB has done a great job in walking them through what they should expect." Hershman "hopes that this will be the beginning of a regular series." He said, "We're hoping to have other teams knocking at our door to be next" (Ben Grossman, BROADCASTINGCABLE.com, 2/18).
In Philadelphia, David Murphy reports after "setting attendance records in each of the last two seasons, the Phillies are well on their way to another season of full houses" at Citizens Bank Park. Phillies VP/Ticket Sales & Operations John Weber said that the team has "already sold out" 15 of its 81 home games. The Phillies take a "club-record 123-game home sellout streak into the 2011 season." Furthermore, the Phillies sold more than 70,000 tickets on Thursday, a "record on the first day that single-game tickets were available." To date, more than 3.3 million tickets have been sold for the upcoming season (PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS, 2/18).
NOT ALL IS LOST IN QUEENS: Mets Exec VP/Business Operations Dave Howard said the team's season-ticket renewals are "substantially higher than where we were last year," though he declined to offer specifics. Howard indicated that the "improving economy has helped, as have decreases in prices and increases in perks for season-ticket holders." Ticket prices at Citi Field are down an average of 14% compared to '10, "with season-ticket holders getting" 10% off individual game prices. The Mets last week also unveiled "five-, 11- and 17-game packs that include a ticket to one of the biggest attractions on the calendar -- Opening Day or the Yankees series -- and add a free bonus ticket." Howard said response to that promotion has been "almost surprisingly strong" (NEWSDAY, 2/18).
SHOW YOUR CARDS: Before the Cardinals' contract negotiations with 1B Albert Pujols were suspended on Wednesday, team Chair & CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. said that the club "explored 'different avenues' to modify its offer." Sources confirmed that "one possibility explored was offering Pujols a stake in the team to increase a contract's potential value." In St. Louis, Derrick Goold notes it is an "option that appears to be against baseball policy, but a deeper look at the rules shows it's not expressly forbidden" (ST. LOUIS POST-DISPATCH, 2/18).
FAN SUES BRAVES: In Atlanta, Rhonda Cook reports a Pirates fan is suing the Braves "because the baseball club's security officers and ushers allegedly ignored complaints about six rowdy fans who later attacked the Macon man, knocking out 11 teeth, breaking his jaw and leaving him in a pool of blood outside a Turner Field restroom." According to a suit filed Tuesday in Fulton County State Court, Elmer Collins is "asking to be reimbursed at least $38,714 for medical bills, almost all of it for 'estimated future surgery'" (ATLANTA CONSTITUTION, 2/18).