The New York Mets and their fans hoped the worst was over after four trying seasons. But their dual despair may only be beginning.
The New York Times reported Friday, January 28 that Irving Picard, a trustee representing the victims of Bernie Madoff’s Ponzi scheme, may seek to recover as much as $1 billion from Mets owner Fred Wilpon and his brother-in-law Saul Katz — both of whom are longtime friends of and investors with Madoff — in a suit he has filed against the Wilpon family. It was believed the Wilpons lost money, like so many others, with Madoff, but a Picard court filing from 2009 revealed the Wilpons actually made $48 million on the infamous Ponzi scheme.
Also on Friday, Wilpon said he would look to sell a minority stake in the team — as much as 25 percent — which was notable because Wilpon has long said he envisions his family solely owning the Mets for generations to come. In addition, Bergen Record baseball columnist Bob Klapisch reported the Mets revenues have fallen by between 30 percent and 35 percent since they moved to Citi Field, which might explain the Mets’ relative inactivity in the free agent market this winter.
The Mets, which missed the playoffs on the final day of their last two seasons at Shea Stadium in 2007 and 2008 before finishing with sub-.500 records the last two years and suffering the biggest attendance drop in baseball in their second season at Citi Field in 2010, weren’t expected to contend in the loaded National League East this year but hoped to begin a new era by hiring a new general manager and manager while slashing ticket prices at Citi Field.
After the news of the last few days, though, the era of empty seats at Citi Field — where tickets to a series against the Milwaukee Brewers during the final week of last season went for as little as $4 on the resale market — may not end any time soon, especially with Mets fans already losing patience with the stewardship of the Wilpons. The Mets have made the playoffs just once since the Wilpons became the sole owners of the franchise in 2002.
“The Mets are one of the teams we’re super light on,” Jeff Greenberg of ASC Ticket told TicketNews. “It’s really hard to find money on any of the seats. The seats, for the product that’s out there — I mean, the seats are just too high priced, especially coming off their second year [at Citi Field].”
Greenberg said the Mets might have experienced a bit of a bump in ticket sales if the news of their price cuts coincided with the Madoff news. But the Mets announced their ticket prices almost three months ago — just another example of the bad timing that seems to follow the Mets around these days.
“I don’t have a surplus of Mets season tickets,” Jeremi Conaway, the vice president of Wanamaker Ticket Office in Philadelphia, told TicketNews. “Thank God.”
Conaway said if the Mets fail to draw at Citi Field this season — or if the Wilpons sell a stake in the team — it’ll be because the team is struggling, not because of the off-field troubles of ownership.
“If the team is winning baseball games, people are going to want to go — it’s as simple as that, you know what I mean?” Conaway said. “And I don’t think they’d have to sell part of the team if they weren’t winning baseball games. Let’s be honest.”