Over the past few seasons, the New York Mets have shrunk payroll and quickly spiraled into non-contention. They haven’t finished with a record above .500 since 2008, and they haven’t made the playoffs since 2006. Their payroll in 2009 was $149 million, second highest in the league behind the Yankees. Their payroll in 2012 was 14th highest at $93 million.
Much of this blanket minimalism stemmed from the $1 billion lawsuit brought in 2011 against the team by the victims of the Bernie Madoff Ponzi Scheme. But as pointed out by New York Times, the roots of financial instability were already in place. Beginning in 2009, when the Mets’ record dipped below .500 to 70-92, poor on-field performance led to a declining attendance; an average attendance of 38, 941 in 2009 was 7th best, but by 2012 that number had slipped to 28,035 and 17th. Coupled with the unfortunate timing of an economic downturn coinciding with the opening of Citi Field (2009) – a financial strain in its own right – dollars in Queens were at a premium. Then, the Madoff lawsuit.
In March, Mets ownership settled with the ponzi scheme victims, owing only $60 million, 6% of the original suit – which is to say that, given the recent fiscal freefall, things were looking up. The team had walked into another $240 million from 12 new minority investors, providing enough money to pay off loans from Bank of America and Major League Baseball.
Though the expected trajectory of progress was forward leaning, it was still a few years away from reaching its pinnacle. But according to Mets owner Fred Wilpon (by way of ESPN’s Adam Rubin), Mets ownership is now completely free and clear, financially speaking. Although Wilpon makes a point of illuminating the true cause of the financial hair-splitting over the past few years – it wasn’t all Madoff-related – the more salient point is that the team has finally broke back even.
“‘It [the Madoff lawsuit] wasn’t, as people have written, the reason,’ Wilpon said about the Madoff issue and payroll slashing. ‘It was a balance there, because we had to make sure the banks got paid off all of the debt. There’s no one in my family — there’s the Katz family, the Wilpon family, kids — [that now] has any personal bank debt. Zero. Everything has been paid. We don’t owe a dollar to anybody. We have mortgages on buildings and stuff like that, but we don’t owe a dollar.
‘That’s what made us tight. We were still getting revenues. Lots of revenues. But those revenues were going to pay off debt. That’s done.'”
Field a competitive team, eh? Then you probably shouldn’t mess with the ballpark to help the visitors.