The Mets: Gone in Ten Years?
Somewhat ancient history already, but right before this season got started the Mets and the Blue Jays played a two-game set in Olympic Stadium, the former home of the now-relocated Montreal Expos. Nearly 97,000 fans turned out for a nostalgic look at baseball in La Métropole du Québec. I enjoyed the bits of the broadcasts I was able to catch and boy, did the Expos have a lot of good players, a few of which ended up having big moments, both for and against the Mets.
But the story of the Expos also carries a warning: alienate your fanbase and your brand is toast. They went from being the best team in baseball in 1994 to gone after 2004. While there isn’t space here to elaborate on all of the twists and turns, but it took only ten years for that franchise to disappear. I wonder if this process hasn’t already begun with the Mets.
On Easter Sunday, I took advantage of the $3.50 seat offer and took the family and a friend to Citi Field. Despite the incredible ticket price, the beautiful day and the extended weekend, the stadium wasn’t even half full. Attendance was announced at 33,000, but from my perspective, at least 10,000 of those people came disguised as empty seats. Not too long ago a Mets holiday weekend home game (with a giveaway and against a hated rival to boot) would have drawn 50,000. Now apparently, they can’t even give tickets away. Perhaps I am viewing the past through a gauzy nostalgia, but crowds used to be a lot more raucous than Easter’s subdued souls that had to be prodded by music videos just to cheer.
Are we seeing the beginning of the end of the New York Mets? Make no doubt about it; the Yankees now completely dominate them in this marketplace. A recent Quinnipiac Poll revealed that 61 % of all baseball fans in New York say the Yankees are their favorite team, vs only 27 % who said the Mets are. (The remaining 12% picked other teams.) Even more alarming are the future trends: 75 % of all respondents under the age of 30 favored the Yankees, vs. 13% from that segment who favor the Mets. Small wonder, as since the breakup of the 1986-era Mets team, the Mets have had exactly four seasons of relevance: 1999-2000 and 2006-2007, both eras (if you can call them that) ending in disaster. Yes, Fred is passing the Mets on to his son, but very few other fathers are doing the same. A key target demographic of Tri-State fans have either never seen or don’t remember a championship Mets team, let alone a sustained run of success. Instead, they grew up watching the Yankees every October. Perhaps just as important than the five championships won is how the Yanks responded to defeat, which was to immediately reload for the next campaign. Disappointed fans take those actions both as a commitment to winning and a reward for loyalty and come back the next year. Meanwhile, the Mets have repeatedly added self-inflicted wounds to humiliating losses, fading from the spotlight almost as quickly as they appeared. The last five years have been particularly excruciating and with each passing season, the downhill slide has picked up speed. The latest embarrassment is this True New Yorker email, which essentially blamed us for being bad fans. FWIW, I called this here.
Unlike the Expos, the Seattle Pilots, the Washington Senators, the Boston/Milwaukee Braves or the Philadelphia/Kansas City Athletics, the Mets have survived previous losing stretches because, the theory went, New York must have both a National League and an American League team. Interleague play and the easier-than-ever access to out of market games have all but eliminated that old argument. The Angels, White Sox and A’s stay aggressive and survive in their marketplaces against more famous neighbors by putting an entertaining and competitive product on the field. The Mets meanwhile seem to be stuck in a pre-internet, terrestrial radio and TV mindset, content with the idea that the size of their market and the league they play in guarantees them a baseline revenue stream. My stance is that they are using an outdated point of reference and have no such guarantee anymore. For starters, the economy has changed so much in just a few years. One more alarming statistic: 82% of the self-identified Mets fans in the Q poll don’t think attending a Mets game is worth the price of admission. That’s big trouble. The Mets have so damaged their own brand that they have created a tide of apathy and ridicule that left unchecked will carry them out of this marketplace entirely.
“Left unchecked” is the key phrase here. There is still time for the Mets to solve their woes organically, getting better players and coaches and/or improved performances from players currently in their organization. Or (and more likely) they continue to flounder, finally driving the new commissioner, whoever he or she is, to address “The Met Problem” by forcing a change in ownership.
Otherwise…it’s September 28, 2022. With two outs in the ninth inning in Game 162 at a sold out Citi Field, Met outfielder Brandon Nimmo launches a high pop up into the late afternoon autumn sky. Nationals’ first baseman Bryce Harper settles under it in foul ground. As he squeezes the ball, it marks the second end of National League baseball in New York, the Mets having announced a move to Memphis prior to the start of the season.
They are the worst owners in MLB, and possibly in all of professional sports.
At the same time that was going on, the Yankees were having a resurgence of their own.
The Mets are an iconic baseball brand and will not go the way of the Expos who played in a small market Canadian city or the Seattle Pilots who were bleeding money and sold to a man desperate to bring baseball back to Milwaukee- a used car salesman named Bud Selig.
This is still New York, and the National League still will always have an entry here. And here, I am all about the unfettered free market. Let the market kill the Wilpons. They won’t kill the Mets.
One simple change could quickly use market forces to correct the Mets? Have MLB remove the barriers of movement by teams. If the Mets thought that a team like Tampa Bay could move to NYC and steal their market, they would be forced to properly run their team. The players union has been pushing for this for a long time.
Highly unlikely, however, should it happen, within days it will be announced that a investor group will petitioning the MLB for a new franchise for New York to represent the National League. It will either be granted or a team will be moved from another city. Guaranteed.
The Expos had a problem as well with currency, an issue that doesn’t currently plague Canada, but will never plague New York.
Finally, the Mets just got a shiny new stadium, which I for one thing is fantastic, and don’t really get any of the objections to.
The team just needs a new owner who knows how to play to its strengths and things will be fine. It’s not like the Wilpons are moving the team, and I can’t see MLB allowing them to be relocated by a buyer, nor the financial incentive to do so.
There’d be at least 10 teams that I’d say would be in more danger right now than the Mets.
The Yanks will always be #1 in NY, but you don’t move teams out of NY. It hsppened before when CA markets were there for the taking. Unless another large market opens up, you don’t leave NY.
The Mets draw bad for NY, but are still utdrawing many teams.
The bottom line is, Major League Baseball needs two teams in New York and will always have two teams in New York. Relocation is just not a viable option for this franchise. Unfortunately for us Mets fans, the Wilpons know that and so they don’t have the incentive to spend whatever it takes to win.
LASTLY, if Jeff Wilpon is the nepotistic future owner…oy vey.
I don’t think the Mets will move, but it is not inconceivable. If the Wilpons were offered a boatload of incentives to move the team to North Carolina or somewhere else that lacks MLB, they might do it.
His plans include making the team wear all white while fielding an all black team. He has already told Curtis Granderson that he will be providing him with food and a house but will not be allowing his (60 years junior) girlfriend to bring other black former players to Citifield. Particularly former Yankees players like Derrick Jeter, Dave Winfield and Reggie Jackson. Additionally, he plans to hire “Doc” Gooden to be his manager but only after a long and racially charged legal battle and contract negotiation.
Additionally in addition to being a racist and terrible owner he wants to bring the “winning Clipper way to NY”.
Come on folks, I don’t like Wilpons either but I write above to show you just how bad an owner we could have. Magic Johson led a group to buy the Dodgers, can’t he lead a group to buy the Mets too!
No way it’s a sell-out.
The bigger point is, comparing the Mets and the Expos is silly on its face. The differences are almost too big to bother listing, but start with the fact that baseball in general has always been far more popular in New York and the U.S. than in Montreal and Canada. Then, the size of the population.
And the facilities: troubled as they are, the Mets have a nice new park. The Expos played in a pit from day one to day last. They did have a period of high attendance, but the park was an albatross. Their attendance crash was an accident waiting to happen as soon as the team had some fallow years.
Now, consider Mets history: If they didn’t kill the franchise by trading Seaver and the dull, awful teams they put out for several years after, you know that it would be very hard to kill.
The financial feasibility of the Mets or any club is based on far more than attendance. And despite the current attendance problems, the club has begun to treat season-ticket holders very well, with lots of free tickets and perks. Mets fans are restless, but I think they’re far fro disaffected.
The owners are creeps, but they’re far from the worst creeps in pro sports.
As for Yanks vs. Mets, of course the Yankees are far more popular, given their success of the last 20 years. But the Mets don’t have to win that popularity contest to be financially profitable. New York is a huge metro area; there’s plenty of pie even for the kid brother. And let’s check on the Yanks in a couple of years, after Jeter’s gone and they get further from their last title.
This whole notion is just overcooked.
I suppose it’s possible that the Wilpons will be forced to sell by economics, but I kinda doubt it. All the sharing and revenue streams present in MLB effectively insulate owners from disaster, and I don’t think anything short of disaster will cause this proud family to part with their favorite toy. As badly as the Wilpons manage the Mets, they do care about the Mets. They’re not the indifferent Pohlads or the opportunistic Lorias.
I can see two scenarios in which the Wilpons sell:
1) With the Mets playing badly and earning poorly, some group throws too many billions of dollars at the Wilpons for them to ignore. This won’t happen while Alderson’s rebuild is still presumed to be in progress, but at the end of 2016 I imagine it’ll be much more plausible. As for whether the right group exists, I don’t know. I don’t really want Comcast or the Waltons owning the Mets.
2) The Mets are utterly destroyed as something that any owner could have any pride in. The Wilpons are vilified daily in the press, the stadium is vandalized, “Mets” becomes synonymous with “pathetic”, every bit of wishful thinking or prospect over-hype is called out for what it is, and the whole franchise becomes toxic. At that point, merely getting fair market value might look pretty decent to Fred & Jeff.
In neither of these scenarios would it make any sense to move the team. In the latter case, though, they’d probably be re-named.
Also, I don’t believe that the Yankees have the hammerlock on the market. If the Mets had some sustained success, they would peel a segment of Yankees fans off. Yankees fans are notorious front runners. Many who claim to be lifers were rooting for the Mets in the late 1980s.