An interesting debate broke out last week between Gotham Baseball’s Mark Healey and Mets Police’s Shannon Shark. The question: whether to purchase Mets tickets in 2012 if you disagree with the path taken by Met ownership.
“The Mets? I love the Mets. My kids love the Mets. Most of my extended family loves the Mets. But the people that run the Mets have used up all of my patience, enthusiasm and trust. I can no longer support their efforts with my wallet because I do not believe that they have the interests of the New York Mets first and foremost in their minds.
“Is that fair? Do I have no compassion for their financial and personal situations? Of course I do. But having empathy for their situation is one thing. Enabling their ability to cling to the New York Mets is something else. They are a bad ownership group, it’s as simple as that. Now their past failings have not only created a serious crisis of confidence among their fanbase, tyhere is a growing number of people who are (finally) starting to realize that the Mets and MLB’s relationship is a little too cozy to be ignored.”
In reply, Shark writes:
“But I’m telling you right here and now that if you sit out a few seasons and then show up with 100 wins show up then I will call you a frontrunner. It’s OK if you want to be a frontrunner, just recognize that you’re a frontrunner. I’m a Mets fan. Sometimes being a Mets fan sucks, but it’s what makes us Mets fans…
“Back to the owner. His name is Jeff. He’s around my age. He’s going to be here for a long long time.
Why would he sell the baseball team? When you own a baseball team you’re somebody. You’re The Owner Of The Mets. That’s cool.
Wouldn’t you like to be The Owner Of The Mets? Why would you give that up?”
Both pieces are well worth your time. At the risk of being disagreeable, neither one lines up with my view of things.
Regarding Mark’s take, he is absolutely right that the fewer people that come to the ballpark, the less revenue the current ownership will receive, and that hypothetically, that could create a need to sell sooner. However, in practice, there are two things to remember.
One is that even if the Mets simply retain their current fans, they will lose massive amounts of money- $70 million in 2011 when they drew 2.34 million fans, $50 million in 2010 when they drew 2.56 million fans. In other words, even if they add around 200K in attendance this coming season- not taking into account the drops in price between 2010 and 2012- they aren’t coming close to making money on the New York Mets. And no one thinks the 2012 Mets will be adding attendance this coming season.
As someone who was part of the 2010 ticket buyers, and intends to be in 2012 as well, I am nothing more than the status quo.
The other point worth making is that the event that likely ends the Wilpon ownership of the Mets isn’t coming on the rounding error that is your ticket purchase. They owe $430 million in principal of a loan against the team, due back in 2014. They owe $450 million in principal of a loan against SNY, due back in 2015. They owe around $600 million, due in $25 million increments every six months, against Citi Field. And they have an unspecified judgment coming against them in the lawsuit filed by Irving Picard, trustee for the Bernie Madoff victims. That’s currently at $386 million, a number that is likely to rise on appeal.
In other words, it isn’t clear that selling out Citi Field from now until 2015 will be remotely close to enough to save them. And they clearly aren’t doing that anytime soon.
And that’s at the heart of why I disagree with Shannon’s piece as well. As I detailed in my forthcoming book, it isn’t that this ownership wants to sell. It’s that it likely doesn’t have any choice.
So the question becomes, what to do in the meantime?
For me, the answer involves plenty of trips to Citi Field with my family.
My wife is a baseball fan. My daughter, who will be two next year, loves baseball already. I don’t intend to keep myself from the pleasure of attending games with them over a principle that won’t actually affect the outcome of ownership change. Mark is right when he says that certain beliefs require sacrifice. Judge it however you like, fewer moments in a baseball stadium watching with my wife and daughter isn’t one I’m willing to make.
And the Mets, to their credit, have created a far better 15-game plan for fans. Back in Shea Stadium, my wife and I were Saturday Plan holders. That meant our same seats, Section 7, for all 13 Saturday games.
Seeing the chance to take advantage of fans desperate to see the Mets, the “Saturday Plan” changed in Citi Field. Suddenly, we received only 10 Saturdays. And we were forced to buy five weeknight games, usually during the school year, that were of little use to us.
Well, times have changed. Part of it is a decline in demand, to be sure. But new Vice President of Ticket Sales and Services Leigh Castergine has ushered in a very different experience. Starting today, the 15-game pack is as user-friendly as any plan that size in baseball. You pick the games. You pick the price points. Want all Saturdays? Done. Want some Saturdays, some Sundays, and a few Wednesdays? Done.
Is there still work to be done? Absolutely. But in her first year designing packages for fans, Leigh has taken the Mets from almost entirely unresponsive to extremely responsive. Cynics would note, correctly, that it took a crisis, cratering sales, and desperation to make this so. Certainly, that is likely a contributing factor to other fan-friendly measures, such as Banner Day’s return.
But we all know what the mother of invention is. And I, for one, am happy to see it, whatever the reason. My father was a Mets fan before the current ownership group even took control, and my daughter will be a Mets fan long after they’ve sold.
Ultimately, the hope is that these changes remain under new, eventually-capitalized ownership, providing Mets fans with the combination of winning team and fan-friendliness available down in Philadelphia. I recently purchased a six pack from the Phillies that offered the same flexibility as the 15-pack of the Mets, while providing the added benefit of choosing my own section and seats, not just a price point. I’ll get to see plenty of Mets games, and will likely partake in some Bull’s BBQ while I’m at it. The hope is that the Mets soon add that same technology. (The choose-your-section technology. They already have excellent BBQ.)
In the meantime, however, I’ll be there with my family. I won’t begrudge those who, like Mark, stay away out of principle, or the many other fans who aren’t frontrunners- they simply have many other places to spend their hard-earned money other than a baseball team that’s spending its own money on survival, not product.
And the reason that ownership won’t make money on its team next year is precisely that. There aren’t enough of the Mes or Shannon Sharks around for a baseball team to make a profit. If the past few seasons have taught the Mets anything, it is that. So I applaud Leigh’s efforts to make purchasing tickets as easy as possible, and wish her luck selling what is clearly, in the public’s mind, a devalued product. She can’t re-sign Jose Reyes. Being good to the fans that remain is her only play. And she’s certainly maxed it out so far.