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.