Rumors have the Mets reducing payroll for 2010 due to the Wilpon family’s massive losses in the Bernie Madoff scandal.  But at the beginning of the year the Wilpons assured the fans the scandal would have no impact on running the club.  Mets fans deserve better than lies and having the club run with its owners pinching pennies.

When it became public knowledge that the Wilpon family were among those swindled out of large sums of money by the Ponzi scheme run by Bernie Madoff, the team issued the following statement, as published in the New York Times:

“As we have said before on numerous occasions, this does not and will not affect the day-to-day operations and long-term plans of the Mets’ organization and the Citi Field project.”

Now comes news that the Mets will be looking to cut payroll after a disappointing, injury-plagued season. As Mets fans, we are used to things going horribly, horribly wrong. That is part of the bargain when we signed up. However, bald-faced lies are another matter entirely.

The party line espoused by the Wilpons was that the Mets were a separate, profitable entity and that money lost in the scandal would not have any impact on the club.  Here is a quote from an AP story on the scandal.

“It’s just not affecting the business,” Jeff Wilpon said. “The best thing is for the business to continue going and help with cash flow to replenish, you know, what was lost.”

Let’s examine how profitable the Mets have been for the Wilpons. Generally, owners have no interest in allowing their income to be as public as the players they employ. It is much easier to get taxpayer assistance in building stadiums if the general public has no idea how much money you rake in on a yearly basis.

Forbes puts out an annual “Business of Baseball” report in which it details the financial numbers for each of the 30 MLB clubs. Usually these numbers are ridiculed by MLB brass as being inaccurate. I have my doubts about these numbers, too (if for the opposite reasons) but they are by far the best numbers available to the public. Here are the year-by-year numbers for the Mets since 2002:

Year Current Value Revenues Operating Income
2009 912 261 23
2008 824 235 32.9
2007 736 217 24.4
2006 604 195 (16.1)
2005 505 180 (11.2)
2004 442 158 (19.3)
2003 498 NA 11.6
2002 482 169 14.3

Operating income is defined as: Earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization. All numbers listed above are in millions.

If these numbers are accurate, the Mets made $80 million over the past three years heading into the 2009 season. So, if the Mets are really run as a separate business entity, there is no reason that the team should have to cut payroll for the 2010 season.

Through 66 games the Mets have an average home attendance of 39,153. This is down from last year’s numbers but raw totals are misleading since a) the Mets had a bigger ballpark last year and b) ticket prices are higher for this season. Last year the Mets sold 89.1 percent of their tickets. This year the number is 93.2 percent.

Also, the Mets are still taking in their share of national TV money and MLBAM money, along with sky high revenues from their local TV network and the largest naming-rights deal in sports history. And even the amount that they helped pay for their new ballpark helps out in reduced revenue sharing payments made to other clubs.

There is no reason for Mets fans to accept a smaller payroll for 2010. The Wilpons assured us that the team was a separate entity and there is no reason if the club is making money for it not to increase payroll the following year to help get the bad taste of a sub .500 team out of our mouth.

And if it is not a separate entity, then by all means sell the club to someone who can afford to run the team. I cannot imagine how the loss of $700 million (or more) would not affect operations. There is no shame in admitting that you have less money than Bill Gates, after all.

If the Wilpon’s financial empire is in trouble, they have an obligation to both themselves and the fans to sell the club. Fred Wilpon should ensure the wealth of his great-great-great-great-great grandchildren by selling the team for the Forbes estimate of $912 million.

According to Wikipedia, Wilpon and then co-owner Nelson Doubleday purchased the Mets in 1986 for $100 million. In 2002, Wilpon bought out Doubleday for $131 million. The New York Times reported that Doubleday would “receive $20 million if there is an agreement for a new stadium and $20 million more if it is built.”

So the Wilpons can count their stake in the Mets at $221 million. If they were to sell for a figure anywhere close to what Forbes estimates the team’s worth, they would walk away with over half a billion dollars in profit.

That could leave the Wilpons saying, “Bernie who?”

And that could leave Mets fans not feeling like they rooted for a small market team. So, it is time for the Wilpons to piss or get off the pot. If the Madoff scandal did not hurt the Mets because they are a separate entity – spend money this off-season to improve the club. If it did hurt, sell the team and rebuild your empire.

No other choices should be acceptable.