Amway provides some details of its deal with the Mets

The Amway Business Center at Citi Field. (http://www.amwaybusinesscenterny.com/)
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After I reported that the Mets are hosting Amway's first U.S. storefront at Citi Field, and after reaction to the story became a story unto itself, the Mets emailed me the following, muted statement:

"We designed the ballpark with approximately 40,000 square feet of retail along 126th Street and are pleased that Amway has joined McFaddens as a retail tenant at Citi Field."

My report followed a Saturday "grand opening" of the Amway storefront that wasn't promoted by the Mets and which got no coverage at all, as far as I can tell.

(By comparison, when the Mets and McFadden's reached a deal, the Mets sent out this press release.)

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Amway is talking, though.

In a wide-ranging telephone interview on Wednesday, Jori Hartwig, vice president of marketing for Amway's North American operations, explained to me some of the details of the deal between her company, which recently settled a lawsuit for $155 million that alleged it was a giant pyramid scheme, and the Mets, who have yet to recover from their owners' involvement in Bernie Madoff's Ponzi scheme.

According to Hartwig, the ultimate selection of Citi Field had to do with the number of their Independent Business Owners (I.B.O.s) in Queens. 

"Amway selected the space due to the high concentration of our highly successful Independent Business Owners in the Queens area," Hartwig said. "As well as Citi Field's ability to offer an highly functional, attractive space, lots of parking, traffic opportunities. So our decision was really, space first."

So ostensibly the storefront isn't primarily about recruiting new people to buy and sell Amway products (and recruit yet more people do the same).

But the parking and traffic opportunities are largely tied to the daily operations of the Mets. The new Amway facility is on a street, 126th Street, which offers little in the way of people or other businesses. There's McFadden's, the bar that opened in Citi Field which is often packed during Mets games, and some auto body shops across the street. 

The lease itself, which Hartwig confirmed runs from now through the fall, corresponds to the Mets' season itself. And the Mets' home schedule is featured prominently on the site's main page.

Hartwig said that the primary goal of the space was to provide a meeting place for I.B.Os, and that although "we welcome everyone to learn more about the Amway opportunity," whatever walk-in custom they got during the season from Mets-fan traffic was secondary.

"We are there," Hartwig said when asked about the presence of the Mets' schedule on the home page. "So it's an opportunity. Because a lot of our I.B.O.s in that area are passionate Mets fans. So it's an opportunity to tie things together. But I can tell you that as a decision-making process, that was not one of the drivers."

Someone will be on-site at all times when the building is open, Hartwig confirmed, to recruit new potential I.B.Os.

Other sites that were considered, according to Hartwig, included a storefront in a Flushing-area mall, though she wasn't certain which one. Price did play a part in the ultimate decision to choose the space they did, though Hartwig didn't reveal how much Amway is paying the Mets.

Hartwig said the Mets and Amway kept the opening quiet by design, because the storefront is a pilot program. Invitations were sent to I.B.O.s in a 60-90 mile radius, she said.

"We had a huge opening with those people," Hartwig said. "And those are really the people we're testing it among." Hartwig said that since the low-key opening on Saturday, "thousands" of I.B.O.s had come to the storefront.

In just over a month, though, there will be a whole host of other people participating in this pilot program: anyone who buys a ticket to a Mets game and walks past the storefront.

"We want to throw the doors open for everybody," Hartwig said. "Everyone is welcome."

Hartwig did seem surprised that the presence of an actual storefront in Citi Field as part of a sponsorship deal with the Mets that also is to include stadium signage, other advertising and even the chance for someone from Amway to throw out the first pitch, had garnered so much more negative attention than Amway's sponsorship deal with the Detroit Red Wings back in 2011, or getting naming rights for the Orlando Magic's Amway Center.

(Amway's connections to those two franchises are more obvious: Amway is based is Western Michigan, in Red Wings territory, and an Amway co-founder owns the Magic.)

"We know sports fans are very passionate about their teams," Hartwig said. "Are we-"

Hartwig stopped, then continued, "We look at this as an opportunity."

It is undoubtedly that, not only for Amway but also for the Mets, whose owners are still in debt and are facing another money-losing season, and are presumably not in a position to be picky about tenants.

But there has already been a P.R. cost to both organizations, too, which likely would have been the case whether or not I wrote about the unfortunate-looking pairing, which the Times' Richard Sandmomir called "strange," New York's Will Leitch called "baffling," and Deadspin's Tom Ley wrote was the Mets' "latest source of embarrassment."

When asked if the Mets discussed Amway's lawsuit with Amway at any point, Hartwig responded, "I don't think so, no."

When I asked a Mets spokeswoman the same thing by phone Wednesday, she referred me back to the official statement on the deal.

When I asked Hartwig whether Amway was at all concerned about being associated with the Mets, she was unequivocal.

"Not at all," Hartwig said. "We were not troubled by the Mets' past. They have been amazing to work with. They're an organization that has huge brand equity overall. So, not a concern."

The two are partnering in responding to the media's reaction to their partnership as well.

"Yep, yep," Hartwig said. "We talk back and forth all the time."

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In a Wednesday night conference call with bloggers, general manager Sandy Alderson spoke on a range of topics from the state of the outfield to Downton Abbey.

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Two of the biggest success stories in conference history, Georgetown and Connecticut, battled for two overtimes Wednesday night, with Georgetown winning, 79-78.