Wilpons open to selling minority stake in Mets

Wilpons open to selling minority stake in Mets

Wilpons open to selling minority stake in Mets
Due to what they called an "air of uncertainty" with regards to the ongoing investigation of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme, the Mets are exploring the possibility of selling a 20-25 percent stake in the team, owners Fred and Jeff Wilpon announced Friday.

During opening statements of a conference call with reporters on Friday afternoon, Fred Wilpon emphasized that the potential sale of a minority stake in the club -- one of a few options the Wilpons are considering -- will not affect day-to-day operations, adding that the blueprint of new general manager Sandy Alderson will continue as planned and that "we will continue to operate the franchise in a first-class manner."

The Mets could not comment on an ongoing lawsuit in which Irving Picard, a trustee trying to recover money for some of those affected by the Madoff scandal, sued the Wilpons and Sterling Equities -- the real-estate firm controlled by the Mets' owners.

The Wilpons stated Friday that there is no timeline for selling a minority stake in the team and added that they were not pressured from Major League Baseball to do so. Other options, the Wilpons added, include going to their personal banks, insurance companies and other avenues in order to pump additional funds into the organization.

A potential minority stake would not include SNY or Citi Field, the Wilpons said.

"I don't think the suit has had any impact on the cash flow or the liquidity of the Mets in any major way at all," Fred Wilpon added.

In a statement, the Mets said: "Regardless of the outcome of this exploration, Sterling will remain the principal ownership group of the Mets and continue to control and manage the team's operations. The Mets have been a major part of our families for more than 30 years, and that is not going to change."

To help with selling a minority stake, the Mets retained Steve Greenberg, a managing director at Allen & Company, as their advisor. Greenberg said that despite the current economic climate, the market for team ownership is "never stronger," even for a minority share. Greenberg added that he expects to soon have a "robust" list of interested suitors.

"There's a wide range of precedence for this [teams having minority owners] across sports, so it's not really that unusual," said Greenberg, a former deputy MLB Commissioner and son of Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg. "What's a little unusual is that we're doing it after we've already owned the team. But even that isn't so unusual."

In April 2010, Forbes listed the Mets as the third-most valuable franchise in baseball, at $858 million (20 percent of that figure is just over $170 million). This year, the Mets' payroll figures to be $145 million to $150 million, which would be among the highest in baseball once again.

In the statement, the Mets said they're looking at selling a minority stake in order to "address the air of uncertainty created by this lawsuit, and to provide additional assurance that the New York Mets will continue to have the necessary resources to fully compete and win."

When Madoff -- a former Wilpon family friend -- was arrested in 2008, it was reported that the Mets had lost hundreds of millions of dollars from the multibillion-dollar scam. But in October 2009, Picard claimed in a court filing that the Mets profited almost $48 million, withdrawing about $571 million after an initial investment of $523 million.

While announcing the dismissal of GM Omar Minaya and manager Jerry Manuel in October, Fred Wilpon addressed the media and said that the Mets would not be impacted financially by the Madoff situation.

In December, the Mets acknowledged Picard's lawsuit, but once again stated that it would not affect them.

"Things have changed, like Fred said before, from October to now and the last few years with the lawsuit, No. 1," Jeff Wilpon said. "And No. 2, I don't say that we're not going to take on a partner, but there are other options out there that we're going to explore. So we'll take on whatever we think we should do in the best economic interest of the ballclub. So it could be a partner, it could be some other kind of mechanism to recapitalize a little bit."

Alden Gonzalez is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Gonzo and 'The Show,' and follow him on Twitter @Alden_Gonzalez. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.