Fred Wilpon is Debt-free But Mets Are Broke

Fear not, fans of Mets ownership: Fred Wilpon — the entire Wilpon family, in fact — and Saul Katz have pulled themselves out of debt. They are now free and clear to buy all the popsicle sticks, furniture, and junk bonds they want. The Mets, however, are still in the red.

While the suddenly free-spending Fred Wilpon was making grandiose promises such as expanding the Mets’ budget to levels not seen since Omar Minaya was still on the Right Coast, Mike Ozanian at Forbes revealed the real story about the Mets’ finances. Specifically, that the Mets baseball franchise and the TV network it owns are both over one billion dollars ($1,000,000,000.00) in debt.

I don’t claim to be a math wizard, so please excuse my ignorance. I don’t entirely understand how ticket sales can continue to plummet, debt continue to rise, yet the payroll will be able to swell.

Maybe someone with financial background can explain to we laymen how this is going to work? If so, please do so in the comments. Thank you.

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. TexasGusCC February 18, 2013 at 11:01 am
    Joe, they may owe a billion, but when is it due? For example: Say I have a mortgage and I owe $200,000. I am in debt for that amount. However, if I have the income to pay it down, then no problem.
    In this case, the Mets owe a debt from building Citifield. However, if they have the income to pay it off, then no problem. Having debt is not a big deal if you have the assets, but more importantly to banks, the income to pay the debt.
  2. TF February 18, 2013 at 11:28 am
    SNY has been very profitible despite the debt and the poor play of the Mets. Two major things will increase revenue to the Mets in 2014-15. Central revenue funds are expected to nearly double from somewhere around $25M per team to $50-52 per team.
    Contract from SNY to Mets for TV rights increases from $65M-$83M. Yes, I recognize that means they will be making less in one place more in the other, but their SNY partners are also picking up some of that tab. Declining attendance isn’t good. But many calculations only look at about 70% of ticket revenues, some don’t calculate concessions, and stadium advertising is also important, as well as parking. Yes, when attendance declines they all decline, they were declining relative to much better times.
    not defending Wilpon or saying things are all rosy, but I have looked at a lot more info then some report. Tthere is a lot of reason to believe they are solvent, and can increase payroll in future. Also, MLBPA will have responsibility to insure that some of the revenues from SNY as contracted plus central revenue funds go to more payroll. Particularly once bad contracts are done. Also the change in CBA. Prior to 2012 when teams were building new stadiums they got exemptions from paying into non central revenue funds. Central funds come from MLB associated earnings the rest are high revenue teams sharing with low revenue teams. It is also possible that the Mets, as some believe recieved revenue as opposed to gave based on decline on how this portion is calculated including expenditures. New CBA phases out the ability for large market teams to receive. The way it is structured large market teams have more incentive to spend on payroll rather than send there money other place, fangraphs explains it well. Central funds and increased SNY money that is actually counted will give incentive for mets to increase their payroll, consistint upon it making sense too.

    Their have been blogers who have covered this well, others who don’t understand it at all..most I can say is H.Megdal is the most off point, and spreads the most incorrect information, not about what the mets owe, but how debt is managed at a corporate level. Most businesses are highly leveraged. Also, their ability to borrow is usually based on equity, or a financial institutes analysis showing cash flow will cover it.

    • Joe Janish February 18, 2013 at 2:15 pm
      TF, thanks for all that info — it does shed more light on what is a complex situation.

      Well, then, the Mets should be able to increase their payroll and player development budgets very soon. Perhaps they can increase it enough to run the club as if it were located in a big market, like the New York-Metro area.

      Should I hold my breath?

  3. DaveSchneck February 18, 2013 at 11:46 am
    Texas and TF both make good points, Please forgive the lengthy reply, but here is my 2 cents worth. There are a lot of semantics going in all these financial reports, while being accurate, and this distort the realities. “Mets still $1 billion in debt! Oh my!”. Additionally, since the Wilpons Sterling Entity is not public, all the financial figures aren’t available to show the entire picture. Nonetheless, with the available info, like that pubished in the article you reference, the bottom line is that the Sterling Group and by extension the Wilpons are much better off than they were a year ago. Like it or not, they are in no danger of having to sell due to financial reasons. Fred is most likely accurate that he, Jeff, and Uncle Saul don’t have “personal debt”. The debt referenced in the article is that of the Sterling Equities, the corporation they own made up of the Mets and SNY Holdings and probably Citifield as well. Like any corporation, the owners are not personally responsible for the debt.
    Some reasons why they so much better off than one year ago:
    1. They settled the Madoff $1 billion lawsuit, and now with clawbacks will own a max of about $86 mil., and probably less as more clawback money comes in
    2. The sales of the Dodgers and 49% of YES network showed that the assets they own, the team and SNY, are worth a lot more than previous appraisals suggested. Yes, as the article says, they have $1 billion in debt, but the assets pledged against the debt are worth $2 billion, making the net billionaires with a solid ratio of debt to equity. By most standards net billionaires are very wealthy people.
    3. In 2012, they sold 12 minority shares to raise $240 million. Jeff bought 1, Uncle Saul bought 1, and SNY bought 4, meaning the ownership bought half of those shares, putting up $120 mil cash. Jeff and Uncle Saul came up with $20 million each. Not bad for people in tough financial straits.
    4. Among their problems the last 2 years was no cash flow, since the revenues of the businesses couldn’t cover all the expenses, and banks were reluctant to loan money with the lawsuit and business losses hanging over their head. In late 2012, the banks refinanced hundreds of millions of dollars of debt with SNY and the team. These banks are not in the business of losing money, and had access to all the Wilpon/Sterling financial records, unlike you and me and the people writing these articles. Along with that refinance was access to credit lines, meaning they have cash they can get instantly, earlier reported at up to $160 mil. Cash flow problem solved.
    Like any business, increase the revenues generated to cover expenses plus debt service. For an MLB team, this is done by via ticket sales/concessions, TV money, and licensing. Improve the product, win more, and all those go up. Lastly, I agree that over the next two years they will most likely not go back to the $140 million payroll. This may be interpreted by a lack of ability to pay that amount, but it will more likely be a reflection of the fact that Alderson has lowered the baseline by gutting the team. Next year, with contracts and arb-eligible players, they project to around $50 mil in salary for 9 guys. That leaves a lot of money for the other 16.
    I may not have all the facts right here, but barring any major distortions or missing info, the general theme should be accurate. They can start spending today, and if serious about competing in 2013 and giving the paying fans the best product possible at this point, they would.
  4. Mike B February 18, 2013 at 3:00 pm
    I am no Finance wiz either but there is an old saying “The proof is in the pudding” . And when I see this team investing in themselves thats when I will believe they are out of trouble not 1 second sooner.
  5. Dan B February 18, 2013 at 5:33 pm
    Owing a lot of money on your mortage is a sign that you have money and other people are betting their money that you will continue to have money. Owing a lot on your credit cards means you don’t balance your monthly budget. Mets taking out large loans to create SNY and build Citi Field is not bad as these entities should generate income higher then the payments. Mets taking out loans from MLB and selling off shares is a sign they are having trouble paying their credit cards. The Wilpons’ troubles was not only revenue vs. income, but that two large loans had balloon payments due recently and those loans had to be refinanced. All the Mets recent actions point towards them reducing spending and using the savings to pay down those debts. There are reports that the SNY loan has been refinanced. I believe their Citi Field loan needs to be refinanced by June 2014. Until that loan is refinanced and their monthly debt payments are figured out, I expect the Mets to keep costs down. That is why Bay’s contract was reworked to be deferred past 2014 and Wright’s contract actually lowered his 2013 salary but then jumps up afterwards.