LI fan's plan: You can buy the Mets!

New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon chats with New York Mets owner Fred Wilpon chats with fans before the game against the Chicago Cubs at Citi Field. (April 22, 2010) Photo Credit: John Dunn

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Want to buy a piece of the Mets but don't have millions sitting around? One Long Islander has just the ownership plan for you.

James Preissler of Northport and two of his Wall Street buddies are trying to pitch the Wilpons on the prospects of selling an interest in the team to a publicly traded group of Mets fans.

Two weeks ago the group put together www.buythemets.com - a website in which they solicited the names and information of fans who are interested in buying a share of the Mets if such a scenario became a reality. The response, Preissler said, "was much better than I thought it would be."

A graduate of East Islip High School and currently a managing director with the brokerage firm Tritaurian Capital, Preissler, 39, said he has since reached out to the Wilpons' financial representatives in hopes of scheduling a meeting to discuss the upside of selling to group of their own fans.

The website states their pie-in-the-sky goal of buying the Mets outright as well as a controlling interest in SportsNet New York, but Preissler said they also are open to purchasing a minority stake in the team. His top priority is to simply get fans their own stake in the team.

Preissler's group envisions an opening share price of $999, but he said it could be lower.

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"The reality is that no one knows - probably the Wilpons don't even know - how this whole thing is going to play out," Preissler said. "So it would be premature to try to guess one way or another. But what we can do is put something in place that would be in the best interest of the fans . . . and depending what happens with the ownership, we could potentially step in and buy more if need be."

The NFL's Green Bay Packers represent the most successful modern-day model of a team owned by its fans. The most relevant comparison in Major League Baseball is the Cleveland Indians, who were owned in the late 1990s by Cleveland Indians Baseball Club Co., a publicly traded company.

The Wilpons, who said they are looking into selling a 25-percent share of the team, are facing a lawsuit seeking as much as $1 billion by the special trustee in the Bernard Madoff fraud case. The team has thus far sent the info of 12 prospective buyers to Major League Baseball, according to a baseball official with knowledge of the sale process. The Mets declined to comment on the process.

Pat Courtney, MLB senior vice president of public relations, said baseball allows publicly traded groups to own controlling interest in teams, though there are several rules, including that one person must own at least a 10-percent share.

Robert Boland, a clinical associate professor of Sports Management at New York University, said the prospect of selling a minority share to a publicly traded group of fans would likely be far more attractive to the Wilpons than partnering with one person whose goal is to ultimately buy them out.

But Boland doesn't think such a plan would attract significant interest among the team's general fan base because he doesn't see enough financial incentives to buy in. He likened the model to a personal seat license, where fans pay a one-time fee for the right to then buy their season tickets. Preissler believes his model could produce dividends to the team's shareholders, giving them even more financial reason to continue investing money in tickets and merchandise. But Boland said publicly traded sports teams rarely are in a profitable position to pay dividends to its shareholders.

"The financial power of a pro sports franchise is that it appreciates," said Boland, who also is a labor, antitrust and criminal lawyer and former sports agent. "You get your joy while you own it and your money when you sell it, and I'm not sure there's enough joy in this equation to make this practical."

That remains to be seen. But Preissler remembers growing up with his grandfather in West Babylon and East Islip and seeing him glued to the television every day watching Mets games. With such a strong emotional investment already in place, why not give fans the chance to take it one step further?

He envisions fans framing their certificate of ownership meeting at a game every summer for "shareholder day." Added Preissler, "I think there's a lot of things we can do here that could benefit the image of the team and get people really excited like you see with the Packers."

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