Mets' income from Citi Field dips

Starting pitcher for the National League, Matt Harvey of the New York Mets, during a news conference for the 2013 Major League Baseball All-Star Game at Citi Field. (July 15, 2013)

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The Mets' ballpark-related revenue dropped last season for the third straight year, to $121.5 million, about half the $234.3 million the team had expected.

Analysts expect that figure to decline even more because 2013 ticket sales are 10,000 fewer per game than the team projected.

A portion of the team's ballpark-related finances are far from what the Mets anticipated before the 2009 opening of Citi Field -- site of tonight's All Star Game. They told prospective bondholders in 2009 they expected to sell the majority of their game tickets for five years. Had that come true, the Mets projected that annual revenue from a part of their ballpark revenue for such items as premium seat tickets, suites, concessions and parking would eclipse $200 million each year and reach more than $240 million this year.

A Mets spokesman declined to comment, saying the team does not talk publicly about its finances. Earlier this month, the team announced the hiring of Pittsburgh Pirates chief marketing officer and executive vice president Lou DePaoli as its new chief revenue officer.

Despite the Mets' inability to meet projections -- and the downward trend of their finances -- the team's bonds are still attractive to investors.

Thomas Metzold, the co-director of municipal investments at Eaton Vance Investment Managers, said the Mets' bonds are regarded by investors as "money good" -- meaning they still expect the team to continue to make bond payments.

The Mets' inability to meet projections has the potential to financially impact New York City, which was hoping for an economic boost from the new stadium, experts said.

"If attendance is dropping and activity within the stadium is dropping, then you're going to have less economic activity [in the city] and less tax revenues coming from it," said the city's Independent Budget Office spokesman Doug Turetsky.

 

Getting the numbers

The five-year projection figures for Citi Field revenue come from a bond prospectus published by the New York City Industrial Development Agency in January 2009, as the Mets received an additional $82.28 million in tax-exempt bonds to complete the construction of Citi Field. Newsday obtained that document, along with quarterly financial statements, through Freedom of Information Law requests with the NYCIDA, which issued the bonds.

The financial statements are filed with the city by Queens Ballpark Company LLC, the Mets' subsidiary that leases the stadium from New York City. The statements present a partial window into the cash flow of the franchise and are designed to show only that the Mets can repay its annual bond payments of about $43 million.

Not included is the revenue from the Mets' television contract with SportsNet New York, minor league operations expenses, revenue from 30,000 non-premium seats at Citi Field and the player payroll, which this year is $90.9 million.

The Mets' revenue projections in the 2009 bond prospectus show how optimistic the team's management was that Citi Field would provide revenue far greater than Shea Stadium, which opened in 1964 and had grown antiquated by modern ballpark standards.

 

Low sales on premium seats

From 2009, the team's actual ballpark revenue has fallen well below its projections. That year, the team projected $224 million and received $180 million. The following year, it projected $226 million and received $144 million.

The most significant financial difference between the Mets' forecast and actual revenue took place within Citi Field's most expensive seats. Revenue from these 15,000 seats is included in the team's revenue stream to pay back its bonds.

The Mets expected $123.5 million in 2009 from "retained seats revenue," which represents 10,635 premium seats, about a quarter of the stadium's capacity. The Mets expected to build off that an annual average increase of about 3 percent for five years, through this season.

But the "retained seats revenue" never met 2009 projections and continues to drop. The Mets reported $99.3 million in ticket revenue in 2009; last year it received only $43.9 million, 67 percent shy of their 2012 projection.

Sports business experts said the Mets' projections were consistent for teams opening new stadiums before the economic downturn that began toward the end of 2008, but two ratings agencies that study the bonds -- Standard & Poor's and Moody's Investors Service -- described the Mets' forecasts at the time as "aggressive."

Jodi Hecht, a Standard & Poor's analyst who has issued annual reports on the Mets' bonds since they were first sold in 2006, said the team's projections were overly optimistic because game attendance is largely related to the team's performance. The Mets have not had a winning season since 2008.

The Mets' estimates assumed paid attendance would decrease slightly in five years, dropping from an anticipated 39,981 tickets sold per game in 2009 to 37,983 this season. In reality, the Mets averaged 38,942 in 2009 and have averaged 26,655 through 44 home games this year.

 

Smaller crowds than Shea

The Mets' attendance of 2.2 million last season was lower than its 2.4 million average during the team's last 20 years at Shea Stadium, one reason Hecht said S&P's slightly lowered its rating on the Citi Field bonds last December.

"It was surprising to me personally that they had fallen last year below what their 20-year historic figure was at a less modern arena," Hecht said.

With smaller crowds than projected lately, companies have been less willing to advertise at Citi Field. Records show revenue from stadium advertising and signage has averaged $46 million per year since 2009, about 25 percent short of the team's annual average projection of $62 million.

Concessions' revenue has also dropped each year, from $15.2 million in 2009 to $11.4 million last year, well short of the Mets' annual projection of about $21 million. Citi Field hosts Major League Baseball's All-Star Game Tuesday. The Mets have said most of the revenue generated that day goes to the league, not the team.

Robert Boland, academic chair of New York University's Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management, said the Mets did not enjoy "the honeymoon period that was once typical for a new stadium" because fans quickly discovered they were paying to watch a team that was not as good as previous seasons.

The Mets opened Citi Field after four consecutive winning seasons, including a 2006 postseason appearance. The franchise sold more than 4 million tickets during its last season at Shea Stadium in 2008, leading the Mets to believe there would be a carry-over into Citi Field, Boland said.

"Those predictions, they're rosy, but they were rosy within the range of what the Mets had been doing in the latter half of 2000s at Shea Stadium," Boland said. "They thought they could replicate that in their new stadium and add to that, which was logical."

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