The New York Times revealed the existence of a $25 million loan from MLB to the Mets last November. Under pressure from a $1 billion lawsuit by the trustee for the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, the Wilpons reached out to their old friend, MLB Commissioner Bud Selig, for a line of funding to keep the Mets operating for a short time.
The loan was so secret that Selig didn’t even tell the other owners that he was providing a bailout to the team one of the highest payrolls in the league and one of the priciest front offices as well. Selig finally told baseball’s executive committee in January about the existence of the loan. A Times reporter asked Fred Wilpon yesterday if he received financial assistance from MLB. Wilpon said he didn’t want to talk about team finances and dashed away quickly. When Wilpon was told that the Times found out about the secret loan, the team issued a brief statement to the media:
We said in October that we expected to have a short-term liquidity issue. To address this, we did receive a loan from Major League Baseball in November. Beyond that, we will not discuss the matter any further.
Last year MLB provided about $40 million in assistance to the Texas Rangers. That was because the owner and team were in bankruptcy. The loan that the Mets received isn’t far off in dollar value and is very telling about the state of the Mets finances compared to where the Rangers were last year.
The issue that concerns me is that the Wilpons haven’t been forthright, whatsoever, with the fans and the media about the real situation. Last year the Wilpons said the lawsuit didn’t have any financial impact on the operations of the Mets. It has. Last month the Wilpons admitted that they’re trying to find a minority investor in the team but there was no issue with operations. Last week the Wilpons arrived in Port St. Lucie and reiterated that the Mets had no financing problems.
The owners haven’t been forthcoming with the fans about the real situation with the team’s finances. Going forward, we have to take everything they reveal about the finances with a grain of salt. They’re being careful not to lie about it, but they’re certainly not talking about the true nature of the problem that this caused for the team.
This is the video that aired Sunday morning from ESPN’s Outside the Lines show on the Mets relationship to Madoff. Much of the segment is conducted with Larry King, who was introduced to Bernie Madoff by Fred Wilpon. The piece is well done, as most of the ESPN segments are, but there really isn’t any groundbreaking material here that you probably don’t already know.
There are so many potentially negative scenarios that could arise from the Madoff trustee’s suit against the owners of the Mets that it’s difficult to pinpoint any one of them as the worst case scenario. Obviously, the Wilpons and Saul Katz could lose a judgment or a costly settlement that could cause them to sell the team or plunge the team into financial ruin.
In addition to the potential disasters that the Mets’ owner face is the collateral damage that could occur from the lawsuit. Ken Rosenthal and Jon Paul Morosi wrote a great piece for Fox Sports that examines the possibility that the lawsuit could force the exposure of some MLB financial data related to the Mets. That’s a nightmare scenario for MLB and the other owners. One former baseball executive described the damage that could be done to MLB if their finances are exposed in the Madoff lawsuit:
The executive added that the league’s business partners — such as networks, corporate sponsors, and other advertisers — could conceivably become aware of financial information that wasn’t previously available to them. Armed with this data, those entities may be able to negotiate contracts on terms less favorable to MLB and its clubs.
It’s possible that the Madoff lawsuit could cause irreparable damage to not only the Mets, but the entire league if it can’t be settled before it goes to court. Both the trustee and MLB will be putting tremendous pressure on the Wilpons and Katz to get this issue settled before the collateral damage impacts MLB as a whole.
Jayson Stark and Karl Ravech bring up some good points about the whole Madoff mess that the Wilpons are in. Why would anybody want to buy into a minority share of the team with the controlling partner in such a dire predicament? That’s the thing that doesn’t make sense to me. I suppose that a minority owner could have a stipulation in their agreement to purchase the team from the Wilpons at some point. Other than that, I can’t think of a reason that someone would want to buy a stake in this team right now.
Another good point they brought up in the video was about the settlement talks. Why would the Wilpons be so adamant about losing money to Madoff and then entertain the idea of settling the case? A losing investor shouldn’t be talking about settling the case!
I have to say that I agree with a lot of the opinions that I’ve read about the future of the Wilpons owning this team. I believe, at some point, that the Madoff lawsuit is going to force the Wilpons to sell all or most of the Mets and SNY. How about you?
There’s been so much news about the lawsuit against Sterling by the Madoff trustee this week. Everyone is speculating on the impact it will have on the Mets. Some writers believe this will result in the Wilpons and Katz being forced to sell the team entirely. Others believe that a $300+ million lawsuit is something that Sterling Equities can handle even if they lose.
I put together a good list of links to articles about the Madoff lawsuit to summarize this week’s coverage of the story.