SBD/February 23, 2011/Franchises

Mets Ownership Willing To Part With Minority Stake Greater Than 25%

Wilpons had insisted that they were looking to sell 20-25% of the Mets
Allen & Co. Managing Dir Steve Greenberg said that the Mets owners are "not wedded to selling a specific share of the team as long as they hold the majority," according to Sandomir & Belson of the N.Y. TIMES. Mets Owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon and Saul Katz have insisted that they "want to maintain control of the franchise" and sell a 20-25% stake, but the statement from Greenberg, advising the Mets on the sale, "appears to be a sign of growing flexibility." Greenberg said, "Let’s just say that a noncontrolling stake could be north of 25 percent." Several potential investors who have "stepped forward publicly and others who have formed groups privately have said they want either a majority share of the team or an option to obtain control of the club over time." Some of those bidders have applied to MLB "to be approved to examine the Mets' books." They must "prove that they have the financial wherewithal to buy the one-quarter share being sold -- a stake that could cost at least $100 million -- and the background that will make the other 29 owners comfortable with them." Sandomir & Belson note "all sorts of hypothetical sales packages are being floated by executives in the sports investment industry." Some suggest that the Wilpons and Katz could sell 51% of the Mets "over several years," or ownership could "sell only 25 percent of the team but throw in 15 percent" of SportsNet N.Y. The Mets also could sell 25% of the team "but insist on getting a put option from the buyer that allows them to sell another 26 percent to the new investors at an agreed-upon price anytime over the next three years." Potential buyers also could "ask for a call option, which would give them the right to buy a larger stake." But it is "unlikely that Wilpon would give the buyer of a minority stake the leverage to buy control of the team" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/23).

NOTHING TO SEE HERE: On Long Island, David Lennon notes with the Mets' ownership group facing a $1B lawsuit from the trustee in the Bernie Madoff case, MLBPA Exec Dir Michael Weiner "has a responsibility to make sure that his members' checks won't bounce -- regardless of the outcome -- and he confirmed that wouldn't be a problem." Making the second stop of his Spring Training tour, Weiner said, "We want to make sure all contractual obligations to the players are honored, and we've been assured through the commissioner's office that's the case." He added, "It's in the interests of everybody associated with baseball that the National League franchise in New York be a strong franchise" (NEWSDAY, 2/23). Weiner added that he believes the Wilpons and Katz were "still able to pursue expensive free agents when they chose to do so" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/23).

COURT REPORT: Mets ownership in a court filing yesterday "continued to push" Irving Picard, Madoff's trustee, to "turn over documents and testimony that provide the basis for his lawsuit." Lawyers for the Mets owners claim that they "need access to expedited information from Mr. Picard after a judge earlier this month appointed former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo to mediate the legal dispute" (WSJ.com, 2/22). Meanwhile, the N.Y. TIMES' Belson reported two Mets fans are selling blue T-shirts with "Madoff" printed on the front in orange text, "evoking the 'Mets' emblazoned on the team's uniforms." The fans' website, metsmadoff.blogspot.com, went live last week and the "first few dozen shirts were quickly sold for $20 each." Since then, "several hundred more have been ordered." The creators, "longtime Mets fans who asked not to be named because they did not want their professional reputations compromised," developed the idea "mostly as a way to laugh at the absurdity of the Mets’ situation" (NYTIMES.com, 2/22).
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