When talking about the Wilpon Era Mets, it’s best to take nothing for granted. Which is why we could understand another round of cautious optimism regarding Steve Cohen’s now-exclusive window to purchase the franchise.
Just look what happened a day earlier in Flushing. All the Mets had to do Thursday to take a unified, teamwide stand on racial injustice was not play that night’s game against the Marlins.
Stay home, see you tomorrow.
But as we’ve seen too often from this current ownership group, the most honorable of intentions end up getting twisted somehow, adding senseless obstacles where none need exist. Ultimately, it was the players — aided by general manager Brodie Van Wagenen’s pushback on his own boss, chief operating officer Jeff Wilpon — who made sure to do the right thing: a unique, powerful on-field tribute with the Marlins.
Even then, the Wilpons couldn’t just let the moment shine. Hours after the day’s narrative had shifted in the Mets’ favor, from Brodie’s hot-mic video to the perfectly executed Citi Field ceremony, both Fred and Jeff released joint statements that not only scolded Van Wagenen, but incorrectly spelled his name, “Brody.”
We bring this up again in light of Cohen’s winning bid for a few reasons. One, to be wary of the Wilpons finally completing the sale of a team they’ve had control of since buying out Nelson Doubleday Jr. in 2002. Their reluctance to ease that grip over a built-in five-year transition period is what led to Cohen backing out of his $2.6 billion purchase attempt earlier this year.
The good news? There is no such clause this time around. And for people familiar with Cohen’s business acumen — he’s now worth an estimated $13 billion — you can expect a far different vibe around the Mets than the circus atmosphere that tends to set up its Big Top in Flushing far too often.
The two adjectives that seem to come up the most about Cohen?
“Smart and competitive,” one friend said.
That’s a great baseline. As is ultra-wealthy, and the Mets, should this sale go through, will be piloted by the richest owner in Major League Baseball. This would be a total paradigm shift for the franchise, even beyond the pre-Madoff years when the Wilpons were consistently among the sport’s top bidders for free-agent talent.
But those days have been over for a while. And if Cohen can finally navigate through the Wilpons this time around, the last roadblock would be approval by 75 percent of MLB’s owners (23 out of 30). Back in December, Manfred sounded welcome to the idea of Cohen buying an 80% stake, at $2.6 billion, and it was impossible to imagine the other owners balking at a price that would significantly raise the value of their clubs.
Though it’s unclear what Cohen’s winning bid was Friday, he put up $2 billion to advance past the first round, and certainly needed plenty more to topple the other finalists: one group headed by Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez; the other the private-equity duo of Josh Harris and David Blitzer.
Of course, Cohen’s greatest advantage was cash. The only impediment? That depends on how MLB views some of the problematic behavior of his business holdings. His former company, SAC Capital, paid a $1.8 billion penalty for insider trading and received a two-year ban. It was later shut down and replaced by Point 72 Asset Management, a firm with 1,000 employees that trades only Cohen’s own fortune.
Currently, Point 72 has been named in multiple gender-discrimination lawsuits, obviously a very serious red flag as MLB prepares to begin financial and personal background checks as part of its due diligence. The Mets have yet to provide a timeline for Cohen’s path to ownership, and until those details are completed, MLB must wait on its own approval process. How long that takes depends on just how complicated the nature of the purchase.
When you factor in the staggering losses of this virus-affected season to the more than $50 million the Mets already lose per year, it becomes crystal clear why the Wilpons — and MLB for that matter — needed someone like the mega-billionaire Cohen to bail everyone out. Cohen grew up a Mets fan in Great Neck, and already owned an 8% share, so that strong bond to the franchise suggests this probably won’t be operated strictly by the bottom line, as it became with the Wilpons.
In the bigger picture, MLB is catching a break with Cohen stepping up again, even if he’s bringing less than the original $2.6 billion to the table. All 30 teams are heading into a scary financial future, regardless of how long COVID-19 continues to have a dramatic impact on professional sports. And Cohen’s purchase price for the Mets is all but certain to crush MLB’s previous record of $2 billion, which is what the Dodgers went for way back in 2012.
It shouldn’t be too difficult to get a majority of owners to sign up for that boost to their franchise value. As for what Cohen has left over, put it this way: money won’t be something that holds back the Mets any longer. And neither will the Wilpons.
METS: THE WILPON OWNERSHIP
Jan. 24, 1980: Doubleday & Co. purchases controlling interest in the Mets from the Charles Payson family for $21.1 million. Minority partner Fred Wilpon’s share is a reported to be 5 percent.
Nov. 14, 1986: Wilpon and Nelson Doubleday, Jr., purchase the Mets from Doubleday & Co. for $80.75 million, becoming full partners with each owning a 50-percent controlling interest.
Aug. 13, 2002: The Wilpon family agrees to buy Doubleday's 50-percent interest in the team. The deal is officially completed 10 days later.
Dec. 7, 2010: Irving Picard, the trustee appointed to recover and distribute Bernard Madoff’s assets, files a lawsuit against Fred Wilpon and his real estate firm, Sterling Equities, for withdrawing money they invested with Bernie Madoff. In 2009, Madoff was convicted of defrauding thousands of investors in a massive Ponzi scheme.
Jan. 28, 2011: Fred and Jeff Wilpon announce they will sell a 20-25 percent minority stake of the Mets.
Feb. 4, 2011: Picard's lawsuit becomes public. The Wilpons are accused of feeding off Madoff’s Ponzi scheme. The report also states that Fred Wilpon tried to get Madoff to buy a piece of the team in 2002. Picard wants the Wilpons to surrender at least $300 million to help pay back Madoff investors.
Feb. 16, 2011: At the Mets spring training, Jeff Wilpon tells reporters his family is not selling control of the team. The next day Fred Wilpon says his family “will be vindicated” in the Madoff case.
Feb. 25, 2011: It is announced the Mets received a $25M loan from MLB in November, 2010, to cover short-term operating costs.
March 2011: Forbes Magazine values the Mets at $747 million, a 13%-drop from the $858 million the season before.
March 18, 2011: Picard amends his original complaint and now seeks more than $1 billion from Fred Wilpon, Saul Katz and Sterling Equities.
May 26, 2011: The Mets announce an agreement to sell a minority share of the team to hedge fund manager David Einhorn for $200 million.
Sept. 1, 2011: The exclusive negotiating period between David Einhorn and the Mets expires and ownership decides not to extend it. Since no deal was reached, the Mets will have to explore other options to cover their losses.
Dec. 12, 2011: Five days after the Miami Marlins introduced Jose Reyes as their new shortstop, the cash-strapped Mets confirmed they took out another loan. A source said the loan was for $40 million. The team owes $25 million to MLB for a loan issued in November 2010 and, reportedly, hundreds of millions more to financial institutions.
March 3, 2012: Newsday obtains a report that the Mets' ballpark-related revenue (parking, concessions, stadium advertising and more) has dropped more than 30% since Citi Field opened in 2009, and premium-ticket sales have fallen almost 50%.
March 19, 2012: Mets ownership reached a $162M settlement with Picard on the day a civil trial was set to begin.
Dec. 4, 2019: Mets announce they are in talks to sell a majority stake of the team to hedge fund titan Steve Cohen.
Feb. 6, 2020: Cohen’s deal to buy up to 80% of the Mets falls through over disagreements about the Wilpons’ continued control of the organization after he took over. The Wilpons announce they will look for a new buyer.
Aug. 28, 2020: After more than six months of rumors, Cohen is the last bidder standing, entering exclusive negotiations with the Wilpons to buy the Mets.
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