02.05.11

Ex Commish : The Wilpons Are Screwed

Posted in Baseball, The Law at 9:03 am by

(monster truck rallies! flea markets! mass weddings! Good Rats reunion gigs! Promise Keepers’ sack-races!)

Madoff recovery trustee Irving Picard’s voluminous lawsuit against Mets owners Fred Wilpon and Saul Katz was released yesterday, and while some (including the Mets P.R. department) have described much of the contents as an elaborate smear job, other observers are predicting Wilpon’s plan to sell a minority stake in the team won’t be nearly enough to satisfy a potential judgement or settlement.  The New York Times’ Richard Sandomir recaps what might be the worst thing to happen to the Wilpon family since Omar Minaya said, “I’ve just signed Oliver Perez to a 3-year extension.”

“It looks like a very messy situation for Fred,” said Fay Vincent, the former MLB commissioner who is friendly with Wilpon and Picard. “I know Picard and he’s a serious and solid lawyer, and what he’s doing has to be taken seriously.”

Vincent said he did not want it to appear as if he were advising Wilpon on what to do, but added, “It’s important for anyone in a situation this treacherous to consider whether he can run his main business and defend himself simultaneously.”

Michael Ozanian, the executive editor of Forbes, which valued the Mets at $858 million last year, said, “I think the Mets have been a franchise that for many years relied on borrowed money.” He said Wilpon would have to sell the team and the SNY television network “to get out of this mess.”

Robert Boland, who teaches sports law at New York University’s Tisch Center, said that Wilpon, his partners and their families looked more vulnerable than ever and were unlikely to find relief from any substantial improvement in the financial performances of the team or Citi Field.

The team, the stadium and the SNY network have considerable debt — about $1.5 billion in all by some estimates — and two analysts said there might not be enough money available to Wilpon to settle with Picard and make bond payments, including $52 million a year for the stadium.

Sandomir describes Madoff as “the team’s personal banker….making sure that the Mets could withdraw cash, when needed, to cover the team’s day-to-day operations.” The damning implications are that without a steady stream of Bernie Bucks, the Mets’ baseball operations, in and of themselves, were not a particularly profitable enterprise.   It would not be a huge surprise if the 2011 campaign in Flushing was marked by a number of belt-tightening innovations (Gary Cohen working TV and radio simultaneously, R.A. Dickey being asked to serve as the #1 and #3 starter, Adam Schein making his exotic dancing debut as part of a ‘dudes-only’ reboot for Citi’s McFadden’s outpost).

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