SBD/March 2, 2011/Franchises

Mets Owners Believe They Have Handful Of Legitimate Candidates For Stake

Rays' Sternberg reportedly among those interested in acquiring Mets stake
Mets owners "think they have a handful of 'legitimate' candidates who are seriously interested in buying part of the ballclub," according to Robbins, Kosman & Mangan of the N.Y. POST. Out of 30 or so groups "who expressed an interest in obtaining a minority stake in the Mets," the team has given "more than a dozen names to Major League Baseball for vetting." MLB "must preapprove their qualifications before the club opens the formal bidding process." But sources said that the Mets "believe just a few of the contenders are strong enough to be a potential buyer." One source said that the "heavy hitters include groups comprised of New York financiers." One group includes Goldman Sachs Global Securities Division co-Head David Heller, "as well as other former and current Goldman partners." Sources said that "another group includes Steve Starker, co-founder of the global-trading firm BTIG, Ken Dichter, the co-founder of Marquis Jet, and other New York investment professionals." The sources said that a third group, which includes ESPN analyst and former Mets manager Bobby Valentine, is led by SkyBridge Capital Managing Partner Anthony Scaramucci. In addition, sources said that Rays Owner Stuart Sternberg is "strongly considering taking a crack at buying the Mets -- but not just a small piece." Sternberg said last night, "The Wilpons have been great owners, and I have no interest in buying the Mets." Still, sources said that if the Wilpon family is "forced to sell its majority stake -- against its current wishes -- Sternberg would be interested" (N.Y. POST, 3/2). In N.Y., Coffey, Thompson & O'Keeffe cite a source as saying that Mets officials "have been contacted by approximately three dozen investor groups, and the 14 most intriguing groups have been or will be referred to Major League Baseball for further vetting." The source: "It is the most hotly pursued sports deal I've ever seen" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 3/2).

ON THEIR OWN: In N.Y., David Waldstein cites sources as saying that the Mets, "in need of cash to pay off loans and meet other financial obligations, can no longer look to Major League Baseball for substantial monetary assistance." The sources said that the league "will not make another major loan to the club." They added that MLB "could conceivably re-evaluate its position in the coming months if it thought it needed to protect its larger interests, like trying to avoid a fire sale of one of its elite clubs." The league also "could make a modest short-term loan to help the Mets avoid defaulting on certain payments, like player salaries," but the sources said that it "would not be enough to rescue the Mets' owners in any long-term sense" (N.Y. TIMES, 3/2).

FOCUSING ON THE FIELD: In New Jersey, Steve Popper writes with an "uncertain product on the field, the Mets still hope it's good enough to somehow distract from the financial troubles principal owner Fred Wilpon is enduring in the wake of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme." Mets Exec VP/Business Operations Dave Howard said, "I don't think that presents a big challenge. People are still looking to be entertained when they make a decision (on tickets). They look at the team. The off-the-field stuff, the lawsuit, other issues, are not fundamentally part of that decision. It certainly affects the overall media environment. But I think fans want to get back to baseball, watching games, rooting. If the team plays well, early indications are the fan base will be there with the distractions." Howard said that the Mets' ticket sales are "running ahead of last year." Popper notes the club "dropped its ticket prices by 14 percent across the board, restructured its ticket operations, implemented incentive-based plans and added a free bonus game to ticket packages." Single-game tickets "don't go on sale until March 14, making it difficult to pinpoint on the secondary market the extent of the ticket-buying resistance" (Bergen RECORD, 3/2).

QUESTION OF CREDIBILITY: In New Jersey, Bob Klapisch writes, "Who can believe anything this ownership group says anymore? They've been lying about their desperate financial state ever since Madoff's arrest in December 2008." The Wilpon family "has destroyed its good name in the baseball community" and "discredited itself with a once-loyal fan base." Klapisch: "This is hell for everyone. If the Wilpons really loved the Mets and their fans, they'd sell -- sell everything -- and just disappear" (Bergen RECORD, 3/2). Mets VP/Media Relations Jay Horwitz said that his "greatest professional misery has come in watching the Wilpons suffer through" coverage of Madoff's Ponzi scheme. Horwitz said of Fred and Jeff Wilpon, "A lot of it has been really unfair. I don't know two more decent, honest people. And I'm not saying that as a media person or employee. I'm saying it as a human being" (WALL STREET JOURNAL, 3/2).
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