SNY turns 5 next month, making it a mere babe compared to the team whose games its carries.

Yet a combination of favorable economics and effective stewardship has helped put the network at the heart of the struggle for the Mets' financial future.

For would-be partners of the Wilpon family, SNY is presumed to be a greater object of desire than the team itself, at least in business terms.

But one objective of the Mets' owners is holding on to their nearly 70 percent stake in SNY, which has a total worth surely more than that of the team and likely more than $1 billion.

It is not clear if that will be possible; The Wall Street Journal reported last week that if all else fails, at least part of the network could go on the block.

What is clear is that SNY is an attractive business. Its president, Steve Raab, gives much of the credit to the approach of Fred and Jeff Wilpon and their partner, Saul Katz.

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"They didn't start the network with the idea of, let's get it up and running and let's get out," Raab said yesterday. "They're really proud of it. They want it to be a really great network."

Much of the attraction of SNY is based on its business model, one it shares with other wholly or partly team-owned networks such as YES and MSG.

It benefits from a steady stream of subscriber fees from 9.1 million homes in its primary distribution area, which are believed to add up to nearly $300 million per year even before advertising is sold.

But Raab said the network has taken steps that have increased its value beyond that. For example, SNY recently signed to carry University of Connecticut sports, helping it get full distribution in that state.

Just as important, in Raab's view, has been ownership's support for moves such as creating and adding a Big East sports package and enhancing Mets telecasts in ways without a direct economic payoff.

To Raab, ownership has been consistent in its philosophy in building the network. "If you don't take a long-term view and a leap of faith, you would not make these investments,'' he said.

So, will the Wilpons eventually relent and turn to SNY if they need the money? Raab does not know.

"I accept that in life in general things change,'' he said, "but I have not had subsequent conversations with them about it. What they say, they mean. That's my experience with them.''

Cable giants Time Warner and Comcast own a total of about a third of the network, but it is not clear whether they would have a say if the Wilpons sought to sell part of their stake.

It also is not clear what effect a $450 million loan the Wilpons took out on SNY last year would have on a sale price.

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Raab is not privy to every nuance of the Wilpons' finances. But neither are many of those who have said there will be no takers if SNY is not part of the deal.

"Conceptually, I understand why they're saying it,'' he said. "I also know that they have no visibility not only to SNY's economics, they have no visibility to, I assume, the situation in general.''