Sunday, March 6, 2011

Fire Sale for the Mets?

The Post's Joel Sherman suggests that the Wilpons may have to resort to "an all-out fire sale" if they want to keep the Mets. But such an idea is not only repugnant, but wouldn't even work.

Sherman quotes unnamed executives who tout such a plan:

Two executives heavily involved in major league finances said it would be wise for the Mets to reduce payroll dramatically; even to, say, the $70 million range as soon as the 2012 season. This hardly would solve all of the Wilpons’ financial problems because they carry hundreds of millions of dollars in debt before even learning their ultimate fate in the Madoff debacle.

But the two executives felt even a stripped-down version of the Mets still would draw no worse than two million spectators to Citi Field.

In 2008, the Mets' home attendance at Shea Stadium was 4,042,047. In 2009, that figure dropped by 900,000 to 3,154,270 at the new Citi Field, which was a lot smaller. With more expensive ticket prices, the Mets probably came out ahead.

But in 2010, attendance fell to 2,559,738. The Mets were in the second year of a new ballpark that just about everyone praises. The Mets had a competitive team for the first half of the year that was eight games over .500 at the All-Star break. And still their attendance dropped by 600,000.

With a brand-new ballpark and a high payroll, the Mets have lost 1.5 million paying customers in two years. Is that a business plan - to try to hold the losses to another half a million?

These days, it's not even a big deal to draw two million. 21 of the 30 clubs did so last year. Even the Pirates, who haven't had a winning season since 1992, drew 1.6 million.

But you know how the Pirates managed to convince that many people to watch the team go for its record 18th straight losing season? Let's say you want to go to a Pirate game and you'd like to sit behind the dugout. You know how much that will cost you?

Thirty-five dollars.

Granted, that's if you buy your dugout seats in advance. If you wait to buy them until the day of the game, they will set you back $40.

The Mets already cut ticket prices going into this season, and reports are it isn't doing any good. That fancy new ballpark was built under the assumption that not only would it be filled, but filled with people paying premium prices. So in the long run, propping up attendance by slashing ticket prices isn't likely to impress bankers all that much.

Not to mention what destroying your product will do to your other streams of revenue. People buy jerseys and shirts of your stars, not the cheaper replacements. And good luck maintaining viewership on SNY. At least the announcers will be able to get to know the remaining viewers personally when they appear on "Ask the Booth." Once the games become meaningless, they can start "Ask the Booth" in the third inning so everyone can get a turn.

The Mets also have something the Pirates don't - the Yankees on TV every night. And playing 81 home games a few miles away, plus more in the postseason. Most Met fans won't desert to the enemy. But their kids might have an odd preference for the packed house in the middle of a pennant race. Even Shake Shack is less of a lure now that they have several new locations.

Sherman goes on to quote an executive who says that "smart fans" will realize that the Mets need to rebuild. But most Met fans have already been patient throughout this offseason when the team spent almost no money. "Smart fans" will realize that, even if they went along with a rebuilding plan, it only works if the team drafts over slot and invests in international free agents. And at some point, you'll have to pay to keep those players, or you'll end up like Tampa, where the fans realize that every good player is destined to leave.

The odds of fans supporting the destruction of the team just to preserve the current ownership is about the same as Hank Steinbrenner having a smile on his face if he has to sign over a revenue-sharing check to Fred Wilpon.


Uncle Mike said...

I did the math, Jon: The Yankees and Mets, combined, brought in 6,325,545 fans in 2010, a bad year for the U.S. economy, and with high ticket prices. The Yanks had 3,765,807; the Mets, 2,559,738 -- a 60/40 split in favor of the Yankees. I suspect that this is the highest it's ever been in favor of the Yankees.

I can think of a few reasons for this, but it doesn't help that the generation that became Met fans because they were Giant and Dodger fans is aging -- many have died (RIP, Duke Snider), many are old and ill, many are far out in the and don't feel like schlepping out to Flushing at their age, and certainly not at these prices -- not just tickets, but tolls and parking fees if you drive, bus/train/subway fares if you don't. So they stay Met fans, but just watch on TV. That's probably the main reason why the attendance figures no longer reflect what is probably closer to a 55/45 advantage for the Yankees.

It also doesn't help that the Yankees have kept winning. I've checked the attendances of the Chicago Cubs and White Sox, and, in spite of the Sox finally winning a Pennant and a World Series in 2005, the Cubs still outdraw them nearly every season, but it's not by much, and the sizes of the ballparks don't really factor in (the AL park can outseat the NL park 44K-40K in Chicago, as opposed to 50K-41K in New York). When both teams, as in Chicago, are perpetual "losers," it's no big deal; but when one team is seen as a winner and the other as a loser, it's long-term bad news.

It's not just that, it's HOW the Mets have won. In 1969, it was a "miracle," suggesting that it shouldn't have happened. In 1986, it was "inevitable," and this bunch of party boys (much worse than was known at the time) was rammed down our throats by the media, and they nearly blew it -- against both the Astros in the NLCS and the Red Sox in the World Series. And they never won another Pennant. In 2000, it was an exciting team, but their baserunning and bullpen practically handed the Series to, of all teams, the Yankees. And they didn't follow up 2006, either.

I know this is long; believe me, I cut it. I'll have a better version on my own blog. But the Mets don't need a fire sale, they need rebuilding. Sacrificing 2 or 3 years so that the next 7 to 10 years are contending ones is no shame. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is not only a shame, it's "the classic definition of insanity."

Subway Squawkers said...

Uncle Mike, when the Mets were winners in 1969 and 1986, they consistently beat the Yankees in attendance, doing so every year from 1964-1975 and 1984-1992. The first era coincided with a new Shea Stadium, the decline of the Yankees, and, as you point out, all those Dodger and Giant fans with no place to go. But in the 80s, the Mets were simply more popular, with better results, bigger names and more back pages.
Fans come out to see the Mets when they are winning and not when they are losing. That's true for almost all teams besides the Cubs, including the Yankees.
In hindsight, the Mets weren't the dominant team in the 80s that they appeared to be at the time, but if you're going to point to an unlikely World Series that did not transform the team's image, that would be 2000.
As for big Yankee/Met splits, check out 1979, when the Yankees drew 2.5 million and the Mets drew 788,000. That's the kind of split we could be seeing again before too long, the way things are going in Queens.

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