How the Wilpons repelled Major League Soccer, and why they may regret it

Jeff and Fred Wilpon. ()
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For Fred Wilpon and the New York Mets, Tuesday's announcement that Major League Soccer's twentieth team has been awarded to New York City, but won't be owned by Wilpon and his partners, had to be a bitter pill to swallow.

After all, for several years, when M.L.S. commissioner Don Garber talked about New York expansion, he talked about the Wilpons as owners.

On Tuesday afternoon, M.L.S. not only announced an ownership that leaves out the Mets (who are in no financial position to participate), but includes the New York Yankees. Manchester City's ownership group has partnered with the Yankees (who declined to disclose the percentage of their share) to own NYCFC, the city's new team-to-be.

Randy Levine, president of the Yankees, was quick to assert that the baseball rivalry wouldn't come into play, as it related to New York soccer, or where the newly named N.Y.C.F.C. will play beginning in 2015, while a new stadium is built.

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"This has nothing to do with the Yankees and the Mets," Levine said in a conference call on Tuesday. "And as far as I'm concerned, one of those temporary sites can be Citi Field just as easily as Yankee Stadium."

The Mets declined to comment.

But the extent to which the Mets remain an obstacle to the permanent placement of the new soccer team's permanent home was detailed in a New York Times piece. Executives from M.L.S., Manchester City and the Mets had reportedly gathered at Garcie Mansion. And the Mets, represented by Jeff and Scott Wilpon, reportedly made demands of a more than $40 million payoff, along with the right to dictate when N.Y.C.F.C. could play (not within a few hours of Mets home games, for instance) and the right to all parking revenue generated by the soccer team at what are, in fact, city-owned lots.

According to the Times, the issue remains unresolved.

That's led some observers to conclude that a Queens stadium deal is now a nonstarter, with the Mets unwilling to sign off on a direct summer competitor to their own product, let alone do something to benefit the Yankees.

A similar attempt at cooperation between the two franchises, but on a vastly lower scale, ended without a deal and with a great deal of mutual recrimination back in 2011. The Yankees, whose Triple-A franchise in Scranton/Wikes-Barre faced a year-long stadium renovation, sought to place the team in Newark, N.J. for a season. They even offered the Mets an evergreen chance to do the same if any of their minor league affiliates needed the same courtesy at some point for any reason. But the Mets declined.

The dynamics of this decision are different, though. For an ownership group expecting to hold onto the team for many years to come, the balance would be between the expected eating into Mets revenue that a rival could lead to, as opposed to the added cash flow from new parking revenue.

On the other hand, if the Wilpons are forced to sell in the near future, the balance is a simple one: can any deal to allow the proposed new stadium in Flushing to access Citi Field parking manage to be worth more than the hit such a deal would provide an eventual appraisal and sale price of the Mets?

That assumes purely rational thinking from Mets ownership, which isn't necessarily a wise assumption. (Ask David Einhorn, former would-be Mets minority owner, about that.) But in either case, those stakes don't seem insurmountable, financially, if M.L.S., Manchester City and the Yankees believe Queens is the best location, and all other hurdles can be worked out (a far from certain possibility).

After all, the biggest thing the just-announced ownership group has going for it is money. And what the Wilpons need now, more than anything else, is money.

As Mayor Bloomberg put it at that Gracie Mansion meeting, "Reasonable people can work this out."