SBD/February 14, 2013/Franchises

Meet The Mets: Wilpon Says Team Finances Are Improving, Might Expand Payroll

Wilpon said the Mets' payroll recently contracted as ownership paid down debt
Mets Owner Fred Wilpon arrived at Spring Training yesterday "with a hopeful message: The team’s finances are improving, and the payroll will expand if necessary," according to Andy Martino of the N.Y. DAILY NEWS. Wilpon also provided a "new explanation for the Mets’ austerity over the past several years, saying that the payroll contracted as ownership paid down debt." Wilpon said, "We were still getting revenues, lots of revenues, but those revenues were going to pay off debt. That’s done." The payroll took a "historic dip" in '11-12, from about $140M to about $90M. Wilpon "anticipates a reversal of that trend, if there are players worth spending on." Although a potentially $1B Bernie Madoff-related "clawback suit hung over the team until the settlement was reached, several other economic factors impacted the Wilpons, whose primary business is real estate." Wilpon: "We had to stay very tight on everything that was happening. So who would know? Real estate has gone zimbo, OK? We have many, many many apartment buildings around the country. There is no building, so they are all rented. SNY has done spectacularly. The stock market is up. So we benefited from all those things." Wilpon added that it will be "difficult for the baseball team, which has lost money in recent years, to turn a profit until Citi Field attendance improves" (NYDAILYNEWS.com, 2/13). In N.Y., Andrew Keh noted Wilpon was "not specific" as to just when GM Sandy Alderson "might open the spigots, although he did say there was a '50-50' chance that Alderson would do something significant in the middle of the 2013 season to improve the team if its performance on the field justified such a move." The franchise remains "heavily leveraged." For instance, Wilpon did "not discuss the several hundred million dollars of debt still attached to the club or the refinancing of the SNY network -- which is said to" total $700M -- or the "remaining hundreds of millions of dollars in debt on Citi Field" (NYTIMES.com, 2/13).

MONEY FOR NOTHING? In N.Y., Ken Davidoff writes, "We will believe the Mets are once again a big-market team only when we see it." And if "we don’t see it, then we will be free to question once more whether Wilpon should be running one of baseball’s jewel franchises." The Mets "owe it to themselves and to their fans to seriously engage" in the free-agent market after the '13 season. Davidoff: "For real. No conditional discussions. Bona fide, big-time, market-appropriate offers" (N.Y. POST, 2/14). SportsNet N.Y.'s Jonas Schwartz said, “Nobody is saying you have to spend money stupidly. But if you’re going to say you have the money now, don’t you have to have a payroll that somewhat reflects the market that you’re in?” The N.Y. Daily News’ Bruce Murray said, “You got to invest first expecting (fans) to show up later.” The N.Y. Daily News’ Bob Raissman: “I don’t see the payroll right now in the short-term being the issue (but) going forward, I do” (“Daily News Live,” SportsNet N.Y., 2/13).

PATIENCE IS A VIRTUE: The Mets, who have not had a winning season since '08, had a relatively quiet offseason outside of signing 3B David Wright to an eight-year, $138M extension. N.Y. Daily News’ Pat Leonard said Wilpon and Alderson “seem to be on the same page with the fact that this is a long-term thing” ("Daily News Live," SportsNet N.Y., 2/13). But SportsNet N.Y.’s Sal Licata asked, “What is the plan exactly? Because to me, it sounds like hope and waiting and I’m tired of waiting” (“The Wheelhouse,” SportsNet N.Y., 2/13). Mets Special Assistant to the GM J.P. Ricciardi said, "The club has not been good for a couple of years, and I think you're trying to tell people to be patient. No one has patience in any city in the world today” (“Clubhouse Confidential,” MLB Network, 2/13).
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