Wilpons on Verge of Important Re-Fi

According to the New York Post, Mets ownership is close to refinancing a $250 million dollar loan. The re-fi is expected to give the team more financial flexibility:

Until recently, it wasn’t certain investors weren’t going to insist the team owners pay down some of the loan to get the refinancing done.

Wilpon and Katz will not be asked for any cash paydown, sources said.

Plus, interest payments are expected to stay about the same, a source with direct knowledge of the situation said.

The Mets spent about $87 million on free agents this offseason – a marked jump in spending from the past few years, in particular last offseason, when they spent only $5 million. Perhaps optimism about this re-fi was part of the reason the Wilpons felt comfortable loosening their wallets this winter.

They’re still not spending with the big boys – and no one is going to outspend the Yankees, whether you play in New York or not – but the point is to have the financial flexibility to make the moves you have to make, rather than settling on a team full of minor league contracts with invites to Spring Training.

I doubt this news will inspire any more huge transactions this offseason – Stephen Drew is still in play, but the Mets seem to be treating him as a nice-to-have, not a must-have.

As much as I’ve been critical of the Wilpons, they are at least making an active effort to get out from under the debt left to them by Bernie Madoff.

I hope the next time Fred Wilpon says his financial troubles are over, like he did last year, that it’s really the truth.

Tags: , ,

Paul is a freelance writer, blogger, and broadcast technology professional residing in Denver. A New Jersey native, he is a long-suffering Mets fan, a recently-happy Giants fan, and bewildered Islanders fan. He's also a fair-weather Avalanche and Rockies supporter. In his spare time, he enjoys the three Gs: Golf, Guitars, and Games.
  1. DaveSchneck January 31, 2014 at 1:06 pm
    This is good news for the Wilpons, and hopefully for Met fans, but the story has been overblown from the point that it was “hanging over their heads”. Thanks to the YES/FOX deal, the sale of the Dodgers, and the recent new TV deals signed by the Dodgers, Phillies, Mariners, etc., the Wilpons have more than enough equity and near certain future cash flows for any bank to refi that $250 mil.

    The signing of $87 mil in FA contracts this season should not be mis-represented as “spending”. It is not spending, it is a commitment to spend, and the commitment is spread over several seasons. Alderson bragged the other day about “spending” the 5th most of any team in this FA market. The only thing that matters is the total payroll commitment for 2014, and how that relates to the quality of the product on the field and the ticket prices. In that regard, he should be utterly embarrassed, as Met ticket prices remain near the most expensive, they operate in the largest market, they have a bottom third 2014 payroll, and a bottom third record, with a growing streak of losing seasons.

    If I was a lender, I would be imploring them to spend more to up the talent level and competitiveness of the team, right now, as that is the only way to increase revenues and approach profitability.

  2. friend January 31, 2014 at 1:09 pm
    According to Adam Rubin, ESPNNewYork.com: “The refinanced loan reportedly also does not restrict the Mets’ payroll, whereas the original loan’s terms capped how much the Mets could spend on players.”

    Did/do we know the details of this original restriction?

    • argonbunnies January 31, 2014 at 7:42 pm
      I got the impression that the payroll cap was something that could have happened, not something that actually did happen. Not positive, though.
    • DanB January 31, 2014 at 8:15 pm
      According to many reports, JPMorgan Chase, who held the $250 million loan which was due this summer (imagine a balloon mortgage with a one time payment of $250 million at the end), was placing restrictions on the Mets. For example, they refused to allow David Einhorn become the primary creditor hence killing his attempt to own part of the team. The bank also, reportedly, told the Mets that if they resigned David Wright, they had to pay him LESS then he was originally making until after 2014. I have to assume the Jason Bay buyout was also entangled here but I have not read anything to back it. Some say the bank didn’t want the Mets to raise payroll this offseason. Bank of America, the new bank, didn’t seem to include such restrictions. However, maybe BofA realizes the Mets don’t have the money to raise the payroll anyway.
  3. argonbunnies January 31, 2014 at 7:45 pm
    I’m reading: “freeing the cash-strapped owners from an immediate, burdensome obligation” and thinking YAY! but then I get to “that could put their ownership of the team in peril” and think NOOOO! All we needed was a refused re-fi and we’d be rid of the Wilpons?!
  4. DanB January 31, 2014 at 8:01 pm
    Sorry to be the party pooper, Paul, but the Wilpons don’t have financial flexibility yet. By the way, if you think the Wilpons deserve credit for, “at least making an active effort to get out from under the debt left to them by Bernie Madoff” then you should bake me a cake to celebrate the active effort I put into paying all of my mortgages. And technically, Madoff didn’t create debt. The Wilpons used revenue from Madoff to hide the fact that they couldn’t balance their books. And the current financial problems have nothing to do with Madoff, Omar, or anyone not named Wilpon or Katz.

    There were some positives to come out of the terms that I have read. The big one is that the Wilpons don’t have to pay down the $250 million load as condition for refinancing. This will be important because they will need all the capital they can get their hands on because the next loan (against SNY), comes due in 2015 for $600 million. If you were worrying how the $250 million would effect 2014’s payroll, how do you feel about 2015’s payroll knowing the Wilpons need to settle a $600 million loan?

    As far as financial flexibility, I don’t see how the terms of the loan improves it. From what I have read, the Mets will continue to pay the same in loan payments per year, but the length of the loan has been extended. The Mets have been losing money for years. Since their loan payments are fixed, they either have to increase revenue or cut payroll to balance the budget. The Wilpons could use their own money to pay the difference, but from what the Madoff trustee had to say, that doesn’t seem likely to happen. Right now, based on what I have read, I am predicting the Met’s payroll to go even lower in 2015, not up.

    The Mets have a knack for turning corners. They turned a corner when they got rid of the Perez and Castillo contracts. They turned a corner after the Madoff settlement. They turned a corner after they shed the Santana and Bay contracts. Now they are turning a corner with the $250 million refi. Yet after each corner, with each gain of financial flexibility, they cut spending across the franchise, especially in payroll. Why exactly are you believing them now? Oh, one last rant. Financial flexibility means you have the money and the willingness to spend/invest money. Wake me up when that happens.

  5. NormE February 1, 2014 at 11:04 am
    The saga continues.
    Like any soap opera the decision to own the Mets is a mixture of the heart and the ego for Fred Wilpon. However, he is smart enough to separate his real wealth (real estate) from his play money (the Mets). Besides, if he didn’t have the team what would he do with li’l jeffy? Owning the team gives Fred a place to park his son and keep him away from the real family business.
  6. DaveSchneck February 1, 2014 at 10:22 pm
    Good points above. However, I do not agree with the sentiment that the Wilpons are still “in the woods” in any way. That is yesterday’s news. The owners of the Mets, love them or hate them, are billionaires, with a capital B. This debt is drastically overrated. Yes, the Mets are refinancing a $250 mil loan coming due, and yes, they do not need to raise a dime to pay it off. The reality is that multiple banks will willing to take on that loan. Why? Because the Mets are a sound bet. And why are they a sound bet? Just look at what else is going on financially in MLB. Look at the selling price of the Dodgers. Fox paid $1,5 billion for YES. The Dodgers signed a TV deal getting them $340 mil a year. These numbers place the value of SNY at a minimum of $1,5 bil. The refinancing of $600 mil will not be difficult.

    The Wilpons do have a lot of debt, but relative to the value of their assets, it is not overwhelming or unmanageable. They basically need their assets to generate more revenues to offset the losses. They will likely need to increase payroll to improve on the field talent and competitiveness.

    • DanB February 2, 2014 at 10:22 am
      “They basically need their assets to generate more revenues to offset the losses. They will likely need to increase payroll to improve on the field talent and competitiveness.” This statement has been true for years but every year they lower payroll. Why is this year different then any other year? The pattern has been the Wilpons keep lowering payroll in attempt to offset drops in revenue. Revenue will continue to drop. If the Wilpons continue their pattern, payroll will also drop. Also, just because the Wilpons are worth a lot does not mean they have the capital to invest their own money into the Mets. Traditionally, investing in real estate is a great way to create wealth but not so good in creating revenues. Do the Wilpons want to sell off a commercial property to raise the cash to invest in the Mets? Doesn’t sound like it based on their past experience. Dave, we may agree the Wilpons need to invest in the Mets to increase revenue but it doesn’t mean it will happen.
      • DaveSchneck February 3, 2014 at 10:30 am
        Yes, I guess it is pretty easy to blog and to agree to spend other people’s money! That said, I have been claiming last year and this that they should be spending some (not Yankee, Dodger, Angel) to preserve a better on the field product. I believe Joe J. agrees with the notion that you can rebuild and compete at the same time. I can give them a pass on 2010 and 2011 given the devestation of the Madoff mess and the Picard lawsuit. But, albeit without access to their full financial picture. I don’t get why they couldn’t invest another $10 to $15 million to fill some gaping holes on the team and five it a puncher’s chance, be it last year or this. No, they can’t spend their way to matching up with the Nats, but there is something to be said for truly fielding a competitive team, one that has a good shot at finishing over .500 and playing solid baseball without AAAA players being imposed on the paying customers. They still have a chance to do this for 2014 if Alderson can acquire a legit bullpen arm and a legit candidate to compete with or usurp Tejada at SS. For my 2 cents, I think that approach would position them much better for 2014-2016. Alderson knows damn well that while Drew is no savior, he would clearly improve the team in 2014, so long as he can be had for no more that 2 years. Ditto with Balfour, even though that ship has sailed, an arm like his would fit perfectly in providing depth while still leaving room for young guns to take a leadership role if they earn it.
        • Joe Janish February 3, 2014 at 12:49 pm
          Two things are at play. First, the bank wouldn’t allow the Mets to spend more on payroll. Second, the conspiracy theorist in me is convinced that Bud Selig allowed a bank to put a cap on the Mets’ payroll to a) keep all MLB player salaries down; and b) try to prove that a big-market team could compete without spending big money.