Partial sale of Mets could take a while

Although owners Jeff and Fred Wilpon won't want Although owners Jeff and Fred Wilpon won't want the process to drag on, they are not under any pressure to sell part of the Mets by a certain deadline. Photo Credit: AP

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By going public Friday with the precariousness of their finances, the Mets left many fans concerned and confused, and they ensured a dark cloud will hang over the team as it begins spring training this month.

When might it lift?

It is too soon to say, but experts doubt it will be anytime soon.

"Once you make an announcement like this, you would like to be able to have a defined party within six months,'' said Marc Ganis, president of the Chicago-based sports consulting firm SportsCorp. "You do not want this thing going on for a year.''

Six months? A year? What about the looming lawsuit against the Wilpons by Irving Picard, the trustee for victims of Bernard Madoff's Ponzi scheme?

The suit seeks an undisclosed figure that could be in the hundreds of millions of dollars, but the timing, structure and amount presumably are open to compromise.

"It's all part of the negotiation, when and how it's paid,'' said Joel Evans, a professor at Hofstra's Zarb School of Business and a fan of the Mets since their inception in 1962. "There is no fixed answer. I think he is going to come down as hard as he can, but he is going to give them some room.''

Said Ganis: "I don't see a need for an accelerated time frame. There will be a buyer for an interest.''

It's not as simple as having a deep-pocketed business or individual write a $200-million check by the end of the week and being done with it, Evans said. Prospective buyers will want to assess the team's true value and not simply accept Forbes' much-quoted figure of $858 million. They also likely will want to move the Mets off their position that SNY is off the table.

"The pressure on them is [the Wilpons] feel they have to hit a number to satisfy Picard,'' Evans said. "Somebody out there is going to buy it. But I do believe they're going to look for a bargain.''

A sale would have to be approved by Major League Baseball. That generally does not take as long as in the NFL, according to Robert Boland, an NYU professor who represented a prospective buyer of the Rams before Stan Kroenke bought the team last year.

"These transactions are usually six to 12 months,'' he said, but added MLB might expedite the process, especially for a non-controlling shareholder.

Ganis said the Wilpons could agree to a payment plan with Picard. They also could ditch the partial sale altogether and opt to go further into debt.

"If they don't get a qualified buyer on the terms they think are acceptable to them, there are options the Wilpons have,'' Ganis said. "I don't think it's just PR spin when they say this is one of a number of options they're looking at. But this might be the most attractive option.''

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