Ownership changes are not really something we’re used to in Philadelphia. The Phillies have been owned by a relatively stable and quiet partnership led by David Montgomery and Bill Giles since 1981, while some incarnation of Comcast Spectacor has owned the Flyers since their founding in 1966. Comcast Spectacor bought the Sixers in 1996, but let’s face it, no one gives a crap about the Sixers; we’ll say the last sale of a major Philadelphia sports franchise was the $195 million purchase of the Eagles by Hollywood producer and mock turtleneck enthusiast Jeffrey Lurie in 1994. Whatever your perspective, Philly fans are not too familiar with having one of their teams go on sale.
This is the reality Mets fans woke up to about a week ago, when owner Fred Wilpon announced his intention to sell as much as a quarter of his team to cover litigation costs involved with the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme, of all things. How this state of affairs came to be is bizarre and complicated in the way that New York City sports so often are. I’m not sure I understand it, so for more of the backstory, check out Patrick Flood of SNY, Amazin’ Avenue, ESPN’s Adam Rubin, or Matthew Cerrone.
The short version is that the people who hired Tony Bernazard and Omar Minaya, then oversaw the Willie Randolph/Jerry Manuel fiasco (and “fiasco” hardly does it justice) are alleged to have benefited from the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme and are being sued for $1 billion, necessitating the sale of part of the Mets (valued at $845 million but with a phenomenal amount of debt) to cover litigation costs and potential damages.
Despite the laundry list of celebrity bidders (including Mark Cuban and Martin Luther King III), the fact of the matter is that no matter what, it appears that the Wilpons will remain majority shareholders in the franchise. With that power, they will retain control over the team, and since they just hired a new manager and GM, it’s unlikely the middle management will change.
The only way that happens is if the Wilpons fail to settle out of court and actually go to trial. In a chat today on ESPN New York between Adam Rubin and bankruptcy lawyer Charles Tatelbaum, if the Wilpons pay the entire amount they’re being sued for as part of a court ruling, they’ll be forced to sell more or all of the team to pay the damages. (Click here and scroll about a third of the way down the page.) This is the worst-case scenario, and it is unlikely, and it will take months to come about if it happens. More likely, the Wilpons, if they sell, will sell to someone who hasn’t entered the picture yet and won’t alter the team’s makeup too much.
So what does this mean for Phillies fans? Not too much. As much fun as it is to laugh at the Mets, this story is sort of sad, and no one likes to see the inside of a courtroom on the front of the sports section. Right now, it’s too early to tell the substantive impact of the Wilpons’ Madovian missteps, but barring some shocking news, the Mets will just have to tighten their belts slightly if the new minority partner is more miserly. Of course, something crazy and disastrous could still happen–these are the Mets, after all.