SBD/February 28, 2012/Franchises

Fred Wilpon Says His Family Has No Plans To Sell The Mets

Wilpon said decision to cut payroll was as much a baseball decision as a financial one
Mets Owner Fred Wilpon yesterday said that he has "no plans to sell the team despite its recent financial troubles and the fact his family is embroiled in a clawback lawsuit by the trustee for victims of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme," according to Mike Puma of the N.Y. POST. Wilpon in his first appearance at the Mets' Spring Training complex said, "We intend to own the franchise for a very long time. Whether they’re happy about that right now, I don’t know.” He indicated that the Mets have "seven commitments in place in their effort to sell 10 shares of the club and raise $200 million in capital." The Mets would use much of that money "to repay loans," but Wilpon said that he "intends to reinvest leftover money in the team." Wilpon confirmed that four of the shares in the team "have been sold to SNY -- the sports network in which Wilpon and his partners own 65 percent." He also said that his family "bought two of the shares." He "did not identify other investors, although billionaire hedge-fund investor Steve Cohen reportedly will get a piece of the team." Although the Mets lost $70M in '11, Wilpon said that the decision to "slice the payroll from $140 million to about $90 million was as much a baseball decision as a financial one" (N.Y. POST, 2/28). The WALL STREET JOURNAL's Brian Costa noted each minority share "will represent a 4% interest" in the Mets. Wilpon said, "It will be better for the organization because we’ll pay off a lot of debt. We’ll reduce the first mortgage on the team debt. And we will have additional ready cash to run the team" (WSJ.com, 2/27).

CITI LOVE
: In N.Y., Tyler Kepner notes Wilpon yesterday "spent more than 20 minutes with reporters, a rarity in recent years." He acknowledged that the "possibility of a trial had stretched the team’s finances, but insisted that General Manager Sandy Alderson was the real architect of the new vision of a leaner, more efficient operation." Alderson probably could have "used another $10 million or so to construct the 2012 team, but anything more might have been excessive" (N.Y. TIMES, 2/28). Wilpon said, "A higher payroll does not necessarily constitute a better team. We've had higher payrolls" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/28). When asked if the team's finances "will affect whether he authorizes Alderson to add payroll if the Mets are in contention," Wilpon said, “I would tell you let’s see how this team plays, and let's see what we need" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/28). Wilpon: "We’ve got to win the fans back. No, strike that, we’ve got to win the fans and the customers back. They love coming to Citi Field. People love going to Citi Field. But we have a diminished population coming to Citi Field. We need that revenue. We just can’t do it on the air. We need that revenue to support (the team). And the only way we’re going to get that revenue is if we have a competitive, interesting team on the field” (Bergen RECORD, 2/28). 

GOOD HUMOR MAN? In N.Y., Mike Vaccaro writes Mets fans "can appreciate a good sense of humor, even with times as dire as they are." But they "don’t appreciate being made fools of." Wilpon yesterday pulled out a roll of $5 bills and said to reporters, "I’m OK. I’ve got fives!” Vaccaro: "If nothing else, the Mets should have the common sense and the common decency to realize their fans are not idiots, that if there are real financial concerns hanging like a millstone around the Wilpons’ necks ... then it is particularly stupid to taunt their customers so blithely, and so blindly" (N.Y. POST, 2/28). On Long Island, Ken Davidoff writes when Wilpon "appeared at the Mets' training complex Monday, you thought about possible endings." Davidoff: "How long can Mets fans and Major League Baseball tolerate the desecration of a jewel franchise?" (NEWSDAY, 2/28).

LOOK! UP IN THE SKY! In N.Y., Andrew Keh noted to "motivate the team," Mets COO Jeff Wilpon ordered "orange T-shirts for the entire roster that featured the U-shaped logo from the cartoon series 'Underdog,' which aired in the 1960s" (NYTIMES.com, 2/27). Also in N.Y., Peter Botte notes while most Mets, including manager Terry Collins, "appeared to enjoy the stunt," Mets 3B David Wright "wasn’t thrilled." Wright said, "I don’t really like using the whole underdog thing. I don’t really like playing that card" (N.Y. DAILY NEWS, 2/28).
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