Fred Wilpon’s Empty Seats


By New York standards, Mets ownership has existed under the radar this season.  They can probably thank Sandy Alderson and his new operating procedures, Matt Harvey and several of this year’s call-ups for that.  But entering next season, if not sooner, they will once again be front and center.  For a few years now, this fan base has been very patient, but the time is soon coming for improving the talent level of this team through financial means.  I’m not saying that is the answer, as much as I’m saying it will be time again for ownership to operate like a National League club representing the largest market in the country should – which is smartly, with confidence and conviction, and of course, with ample resources.

May 7, 2013; New York, NY, USA; New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon walks off the field after watching batting practice before the game against the Chicago White Sox at Citi Field. Mandatory Credit: John Munson/THE STAR-LEDGER via USA TODAY Sports

Without delving back into the Madoff mess, let’s agree in simple terms, on one item without casting any aspersions upon Mets ownership.  In whatever manner, the Wilpons, in part used Madoff accounts as a way to fund Omar Minaya’s spending spree.  Fair enough?  My question then, since the overall scandal broke and is now supposedly behind us, is, what if anything has replaced that so called means of (fuzzy) revenue?  The answer is most likely, nothing tangible.  Unless I missed it, I’m not aware of a recent bull run-up of Sterling Equity stock on Wall Street.  Without Madoff, club marketing has instead gotten pretty crafty in their attempts to draw more customers to the park.  Which, in effect makes club finances a stand-off between us fans and the Wilpons.  Have their efforts worked?

Last season the New York Mets drew slightly over 2.2 million fans to Citi Field.  That ranked them seventeenth in baseball, and eleventh in the National League.  At present, Mets attendance ranks eleventh in the National League again, but nineteenth in baseball.  After sixty-five home dates, they have drawn just over 1.7 million fans to Citi Field for an average of 27,000 per game.  I’ll be generous and say if the Mets draw only 25,000 per game over the remaining sixteen home dates, they will break two million for the season.  Whether they hit or miss last year’s attendance figure is inconsequential however.  Since last year, ownership has been projecting a financial loss for this season, and by golly they’re going to get it.

This is the part where we start getting into Mr. Wilpon’s voodoo economics, which I’d really rather not.  (Sigh)…It’s not the fans problem that Fred promised his original creditors a repayment plan based on a packed house every game to get Citi Field built.  That was his folly, and an issue not entirely behind us, because as recently as last Fall, ownership was already on record saying this season’s payroll and next year’s were linked to attendance.  Our problem remains thus, when you expect 3.5 million fans, like they originally told the banks, and do not realize that, you pay the company accountants to claim a loss.  Ownership’s newly restructured debt via the deal with SNY is already worked out, so this is just an amusing way for me to question ownership’s ability to spend money on next year’s product, which I’ll admit, is not treading new ground.  But we’ve gotten the run-around before, and I’m afraid our owner still counts his beans the old fashioned way.

With no magic beanstalk in sight, what then can we expect ownership to do with Johan Santana‘s and Jason Bay‘s money due to come off the company books?  The two alone accounted for forty-three million of the team’s ninety-some odd million dollar payroll.  John Buck‘s six million is Pittsburgh’s responsibility now, and pitcher Frank Francisco most surely won’t be back next season creating even more spending potential. The Mets can realistically have upwards of fifty-five million monopoly dollars freed up for reinvestment.  The question is, will they, and by how much?  Earlier this summer, Jeff Wilpon said the club will not be pocketing next season’s potential savings.  Then again, we have been told half-truths by ownership since the Madoff incident and throughout the  recovery process, while even the general manager has practiced double-speak and spin at times as well.

To date, we fans have dealt with all that, and have been somewhat content to read between the lines with regards to money.  We even dealt with bad financial jokes in Spring Training.  The operational-organizational grace period is almost up however, and I would hope having survived such a humbling and reforming experience, ownership gained at least some valuable, if not practical knowledge.  Fred Wilpon isn’t getting any younger, but he still has time to create his lasting legacy.  Right now it needs work.  I hope for his sake, and ours, the Mets get things right this time.  But if Fred and Jeff want three million fans attending Mets games again, they’ll need to start  raising their game first.

Funny thing about this town – so long as you’re spending money and winning, no one cares what you say.

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