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.

Farfetched?

A Mets fan since 1971, Dan spent many summer nights of his childhood watching the Mets on WOR Channel Nine, which his Allentown, PA cable company carried. Dan was present at Game 7 of the 1986 World Series and the Todd Pratt Walkoff Game in 1999. He is also the proud owner of two Shea Stadium seats. Professionally, Dan is a Marketing Communications Coordinator. He is married, lives in Bethlehem PA and has a 10-year-old son who unfortunately roots for the Phillies.
  1. Ryan May 7, 2014 at 8:41 am
    Met fans are boycotting the Wilpons hoping they sell.

    They are the worst owners in MLB, and possibly in all of professional sports.

    • Dave May 7, 2014 at 12:00 pm
      Ryan don’t say stuff like that on a public forum. Jeffrey Loria will get his hackles up and trade Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez to the Yankees for B-level middle relief prospects!
  2. Klecko73 May 7, 2014 at 9:06 am
    Ironically, we’ve been here before. By 1979, M. Donald Grant and Lorinda DeRoulet were hemorraging money and fans. In four years since Joan Payson died, they publicly embarrassed one of their most popular players in Cleon Jones, traded away Tug McGraw, Dave Kingman, Rusty Staub, and most heretically, Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman. For 21.5 million dollars, they sold to Nelson Doubleday (77 percent) and other minority partners including Fred Wilpon who had less than a 1% stake.

    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.

    • Dan Capwell May 7, 2014 at 11:00 am
      Let the market kill the Wilpons. They won’t kill the Mets.”

      We hope.

      • Jane McGee May 7, 2014 at 8:20 pm
        Oh God, I hope not!! First article I have seen that goes here, but you make a very valid argument! Would love to see the Wilpons gone, but hope you are wrong about the Mets going with them!!!!
    • DanB May 8, 2014 at 8:32 am
      What does 1979 and 2014 have in common? Joan Payson arranged to have her daughter, Lorinda DeRoulet, take over the team. She was considered a failure and almost ruined the franchise. Today, we have Fred Wilpon arranging to have his son, Jeff Wilpon, take over the team. To quote former Met manager Yogi Berra, “it’s deja vu all over again.”
    • DanB May 8, 2014 at 8:49 am
      Being a bad team will never be a cause for an owner being forced to sell. After all, someone has to lose in every game. The mostly likely scenario for the Wilpons selling, short of a Donald Sterling blowup, is someone with money seeing the potential revenues that the Wilpons throw away every year via mismanagement and give the Wilpons an offer they can’t turn down. After all, as much as we know how much owning the Mets is an ego stroke to the family, every year of mismanagement leads the family to be recast from titans of business into someone who got lucky with a few real estate transactions and now can’t manage a baseball team. Seriously, how much longer does Fred Wilpon want Jeff to be ridiculed in public?

      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.

  3. Craig May 7, 2014 at 11:45 am
    Perish the thought? The Mets leave New York?

    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.

  4. Steven May 7, 2014 at 11:46 am
    Under the current awesome economics of baseball, the market can never kill the Wilpons. the reality is that TV revenues alone can soon support a $60 million payroll if it came to that. Plus, ML baseball will never set the precedent of forcing out ownership because of inept management of the product on the field, as distinguished from taking out money for personal uses. I doubt if any of the current owners would want to be in the position of losing their most precious and prestigious asset because the team performs poorly no matter how many years.
  5. chris May 7, 2014 at 12:26 pm
    Anything is possible, but for the amount of money it would take to pry the Mets from the Wilpons, there would be no logical reason to then move the team to a smaller market, with smaller tv deals, smaller potential fan bases, and less upside.

    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.

  6. Brian May 7, 2014 at 12:59 pm
    NY can handle 2 MLB teams, as they do in all sports.
    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.
  7. Andrew May 7, 2014 at 1:07 pm
    This article is one big troll job. Congratulations, you got hits. But your premise is absurd. Even small-market teams like the Pirates and Royals can go decades without sniffing a winning season and yet, they haven’t moved to Memphis and Las Vegas. Relocations happen, but they are extremely rare.

    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.

  8. Seymour May 7, 2014 at 1:27 pm
    Bryce Harper already banished to 1B at age 29?
    • Joe Janish May 7, 2014 at 1:34 pm
      After running into an outfield wall for the fifth time, and undergoing six knee surgeries, the move to 1B is made to keep Harper in the lineup.
  9. Louie May 7, 2014 at 2:05 pm
    Mets fans don’t trust nor have any love for the Wilpons who I refer to as the Coupns, that’s the problem rite there. We as fans where told that the Mets were going to spend money for the 2014 season and exiting times coming. They only spent what came off the books last off season, and nothing more, we have grave needs at shortstop, our relief pitching and I don’t like our first base situation. I see all these international signings that only cost money to add young talent, and their not aggressive enough to get them because of money only. So im not aggressive enough to but tickets to mets games for namely these reasons. I remember 2000 being one bat shy of winning world series, wilpons didn’t spend then, before the Bernie incident, they kept their money then and also 2006 I felt they could have added some more help but same thing didn’t want to spend, Familiar theme through out, that’s what I remember when I think about attending a game so I don’t spend my money on mets tickets.Its a shame cause im from a long line of mets fans from my queens bred family that has a history dating back to Brooklyn Dogers
    • steven May 8, 2014 at 9:47 am
      im not the biggest wilpon fan just like the rest of you, but you cant say that he didnt spend money before madoff. the payroll was at 140m (in the top 5). they just didnt spend there money wisely.
  10. Jeff May 7, 2014 at 2:21 pm
    Is this guy a troll?
    • Dan Capwell May 7, 2014 at 6:28 pm
      Read my bio.
  11. murph May 7, 2014 at 2:25 pm
    In a city with James Dolan and The Steinbrenners, it takes a lot to be the most hated owners in NY sports.
    Congratulations, Wilpons!
  12. BklynCowpoke May 7, 2014 at 2:32 pm
    Eventually there are going to be teams in such places as Mexico, Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I can see this in the Mets future if the people of N.Y. do not start supporting their team; and the Wilpons do not get their act together.
  13. Matt May 7, 2014 at 4:09 pm
    Not farfetched at all. I even remember doing something simple at Shea like moving down a section or two at games late in the innings without a problem. Now, the ticket guys police every section no matter how diminutive the crowd. Plus, even those $3.50 one-off seats don’t make up for the crazy amounts for food & beer. It’s not fun when you can’t even distract yourself from the piss-poor play on the field (for the last five years).

    LASTLY, if Jeff Wilpon is the nepotistic future owner…oy vey.

  14. David May 7, 2014 at 4:15 pm
    Very farfetched. Bryce Harper will be a Yankee by then.
  15. david May 7, 2014 at 5:40 pm
    Since the letter to fans came out there has been a lot written about “the disconnect between the fans and ownership.” I, and my siblings, had box seats. My father had them before he passed away and even though I lived overseas anyway because the seats were great and easy to sell. This was at Shea Stadium. For my own part, I split my 1/3 of the tickets (season baseball tickets are perfect for 3 people to share) between 5 of my closest friends and my cousin. They each got 4.5 games and were happy to have, and to pay, for them. When Citi Field was built the box went up by about 500%, or $100,000, to a ridiculous price and that wad the end of that. Citi Field did not kill the fans, but I can tell you the dramatic price rise did not help. Add to that the way the team has been run, and it is no mystery as to what has occurred. Bad business leads to bad baseball. I have no doubt in time the Mets will rebound, but suggest fans counter with their own online petition pleading with the Wilpons to sell the team. I will be the first to sign. Rgds
  16. meticated May 7, 2014 at 5:51 pm
    It would take a bulldozer to pry the dying claws of the Wilponzis from the decaying carcass of the Mets. ..we must he resolved to endure countless decades of rudderless, tight fisted bonership of our beloved team…maybe the Nets become a powerhouse and deflect some of our hometown angst…not for me mind you. ..I’m a baseball fan forever…and perish the thought I would embrace the Stankees or the Miamians ..but I also won’t give my hard-earned to enter citi field until mgmt treats the fans like we are owners as well…I say hit em where they feel it..In their wallets, not that it will change anything but it will at least make a statement that’s visible. ..it’s illustrative but a shame that giveaway tickets abound, and we can’t sellout. .I’m embarassed but it’s totally understandable
  17. Norton Nork May 7, 2014 at 6:53 pm
    The really crazy thing is, that when I was growing up, the Mets were way more popular than the Yankees. The Mets were drawing 2.5 million fans and the Yankees about 1.2 million. Citi Field is not a great park, but it is about 100 times better than Shea, which truly sucked (and I probably went to over 100 games there over the years).

    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.

  18. Joe culpepper May 7, 2014 at 8:19 pm
    This just in…. After being banished from the NBA, Donald Sterling has just purchased Sterling Equities and the New York Mets… Mostly out of envy that the article and subsequent comments on this site have caused him to believe that the Wilpons might be a rival candidate for the worst owner in sports and secondly because he wouldn’t have to change the name of the company. The Metropolitans will have their name changed however to The New York Knights (…of the Klu Klux Klan)

    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!

  19. H Ray May 7, 2014 at 10:10 pm
    Your September 28, 2022 is very far-fetched.

    No way it’s a sell-out.

  20. John Autin May 8, 2014 at 12:36 am
    Start with a factual correction: The Mets were also “relevant” in 2008, when they lost a wild card spot on the last day.

    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.

  21. argonbunnies May 8, 2014 at 4:23 am
    The Wilpons will never be forced to sell by the Commissioner’s Office, whose first priority is to serrve the interests of the good ol’ boys club of which the Wilpons are part.

    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.

  22. Dave May 8, 2014 at 8:17 am
    Lets Go Mets!!!! Ha ha
  23. gary s May 8, 2014 at 10:36 am
    Wayne Gretzky was traded in his prime..That was never supposed to happen. Can only pray for the unexpected here.. i used to buy mini plans or tickets off stub hub for years. Now, i cannot even watch them on the television anymore. They are just too depressing to bother with anymore..Most of my Met pals all feel the same way..I do not think they will ever move, but nothing is impossible in sports anymore.
  24. Alan May 8, 2014 at 12:34 pm
    The Mets should first of all change their name and team colors. The blue is from the Brooklyn Dodgers and the orange is from the New York Giants. Those teams left New York over fifty years ago. No need to honor them any longer. Change the name from Mets to something else. Some animal or bird. Condors? Remodel Citi field so it doesn’t resemble Ebbetts Field. It will have to be done with private funds. If none of this works move the team to New Jersey. The New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority offered to build them a 45 seat stadium before Citi Field was built. Then the team could be called The New Jersey Owls. “The Smart Team.” Then at that time a new team can come and play in Citi Field. Perhaps the Tampa Bay Rays or Oakland A’s
  25. Alan Shapiro May 9, 2014 at 5:44 am
    This is a very valuable article. However, the Mets won 88 or more games in 1997-2000 and in 2006-2008, so that’s 7 relevant seasons, not 4. Also, the Yankees are baseball’s most successful franchise, so a comparison with them only has limited relevance. The Mets were utterly terrible from 1977-1983, then they bounced back. If you want a team always dedicated to winning, then be a Yankee fan. Being a Mets fan is more like how life really is: sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. It must be worse to be an Atlanta Braves fan: always winning in the regular season, then choking in the postseason. At least the Mets have a fairly decent postseason performance history. Just like the Jets.
  26. John D. May 9, 2014 at 9:01 pm
    Interesting post, but completely far-fetched, as other posters have pointed out. One-third to a quarter of the NY baseball market is more lucrative than any available non-baseball market.

    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.