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Ugly Mets a pretty good investment

New York Mets mascot Mr. Met attends the

New York Mets mascot Mr. Met attends the Family Festival Street Fair & Tribeca ESPN Sports Day. (May 3, 2008) Photo Credit: Getty Images

The Mets have been ugly on the field in recent years, but they would likely be a solid hit in the investment portfolio of a minority partner.

Sports economists and consultants said Friday that sports franchises have proved to have staying power - even in a recession.

"Almost every franchise is an appreciating asset," said Robert Boland, a professor of sports business at New York University's Tisch Center for sports management. Even in the recession, he said, "sports teams haven't really lost a great deal of their value."

Steve Greenberg, the Allen & Co. adviser the Mets hired to seek investors, said he wasn't worried about his task. "The market for franchises has never been stronger," he said.

The Mets are in the largest market, have a well-to-do fan base and a new stadium, Chicago sports consultant Marc Ganis said. Investing in the team could be smart, he said.

Almost anyone with money could be a logical investor, said Andrew Zimbalist, a sports economist at Smith College.

"If you look across professional sports at the owners, the only thing they have in common . . . is that they're all rich," he said. They come from all walks of life and business, he said.

Still, the Wilpon family won't choose just anyone to be their partners, Ganis said. The investors would come from one of three groups, he said:

Existing corporate partners in other businesses, such as Comcast and Time Warner, who own minority shares of the Mets' baseball network, SNY. Owning a part of the Mets would tighten an existing relationship, Ganis said.

Friends and family members of the Wilpons. Ganis said he'd heard the Wilpons had talked to people they know in the hedge fund and real estate industries about a stake in the Mets.

Wealthy Mets fans who would enjoy the benefits of ownership, including having the Wilpons' ear on the team's direction.

A minority share of the Mets would be more attractive if it included a right to match any offer if the Wilpons decide to sell out, experts said. Ganis said investors would want to be protected from covering operating losses.

Minority partners are common in baseball. The Yankees have dozens of them, and the Boston Red Sox have at least 16, including The New York Times Company.

In some cases, minority partners end up running the team. Michael Jordan started with a minority share of the Charlotte Bobcats and now is primary owner.

A minority stake in a team can develop into full ownership, said sports economist Craig Depken of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte.

But Depken also repeated an old joke about how to become a multimillionaire: "Be a multi-multimillionaire and buy a baseball team."

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