SBD/February 8, 2011/Leagues and Governing Bodies

MLBPA May Use Wilpons' Financial Situation As Leverage In CBA Talks

Mets owners' involvement in Madoff scandal expected to be issue in MLB CBA talks
The MLBPA is "concerned that owners may be unwisely investing millions of dollars in deferred compensation owed to players," and during upcoming negotiations for a new CBA "will ask for stricter rules to be implemented that would better safeguard the cash and bar owners from playing fast and loose with it," according to sources cited by Josh Kosman of the N.Y. POST. The Mets "owe roughly $20 million in deferred compensation," and as a result team Owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz' involvement in the Bernie Madoff scandal "is expected to become an issue" when MLB and the union open discussions on a new CBA. A source said that the MLBPA "will use the Mets' problems as leverage." Contract talks are "due to begin shortly after teams arrive for spring training, which starts for some teams on Sunday." MLB told the union "in the last several days that former Mets players who are owed deferred compensation, including Bobby Bonilla, will be covered" (N.Y. POST, 2/8). Bonilla played for the Mets from '92-95 and in '99 (THE DAILY).

BEHIND IN THE COUNT: In N.Y., Ken Belson cites legal experts as saying that should Wilpon and Katz "choose to fight" in court a lawsuit from Madoff's trustee, Irving Picard, "they could well face a very hard road, whatever the merits of their claims of innocence." A court case "would cost millions of dollars in legal fees, prolong their public association with Madoff potentially for years, and perhaps even drive down the value of their remaining financial holdings, including the Mets." If Wilpon and Katz "took their case to a jury, the burden of proof would be on them to establish that they never had any serious reason to suspect Madoff was a fake." Belson notes Picard, "having been rebuffed at the negotiating table, would probably have fewer incentives to settle for less than the full amount he originally sought" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/8). In N.Y., Clyde Haberman writes no matter "how the lawsuit plays out, the rancid air of impropriety now permeates the Wilpon-Katz Mets, unlikely to be cleansed soon, if ever." The situation is "hardly improved by that name above the ballpark," Citi Field. Citigroup's naming-rights sponsorship "remains a symbol of all that went haywire on Wall Street and propelled the United States economy toward disaster." By "clinging to the Citi name," the Mets are "saying they have no qualms about identifying themselves with a central player in one of the biggest financial debacles in this country’s history." Haberman notes the city of N.Y. "cannot compel the team and Citigroup to agree to a divorce, amicable or otherwise," but as "the Mets’ landlord, the city could lean awfully hard." However, Frank Barry, a spokesperson for Mayor Michael Bloomberg, said, "We're going to honor the lease agreement, which gives them the authority to designate a sponsor" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/8).
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